E&S Worrall

E&S Worrall

53 Duke Street, Hamilton

Ernie Worrall outside his shop

At the start of the 1930s, a young Hamilton signwriter was beginning, like millions of others around the world, to feel the full effects of the Depression.

In fact, at times it seemed to Ernie Worrall that the only sector of the economy that wasn't in recession was cycling, as the ever-increasing numbers of new bike enthusiasts seemed determined to prove. Cycling was entering a "boom" phase, relative to the rest of the economy, and the bicycle industry seemed a good bet for the future.

Ernie and brother Stanley set up "shop" initially in a wash-house, honing their framebuilding skills while continuing with their original jobs. Ernie would work during the day as a signwriter and build frames in the evening while his brother, an engineer, operated the same system in reverse. They started by making bikes for themselves and took it from there.

Fine Lightweights

Bikes bearing the E & S Worrall transfer started to become an ever more common site in the Glasgow area. Scotland could boast some fine lightweight framebuilders in the 1930s but Worrall products stood comparison with the best.

The success they enjoyed enabled them to open a shop in Duke Street in Hamilton with a workshop nearby in Bailey's Causeway. They later moved to other premises a short hop away in Duke Street.

They made two frames-the Rigidity and the Continental. The Rigidity used "squatter" lugs with short points and thin, pencil-type stays. The Continental, borrowing some styling tips from European framebuilders, had lugs with longer, tapering points and thicker stays. Each benefited from Ernie's skill with a brush, exhibiting some fine box-lining and lug-lining work.

New Patent

In 1934, as their expertise grew, the brothers developed a sealed bottom bracket which they went on to patent. Concerned about the water and detritus that would find its way into the bottom bracket via the open-ended seat tube, they had started brazing a metal cylinder into the bottom bracket shell which completely isolated the bearings from grime, a major cause of wear.

Although an obvious-enough solution to the problem, no one had thought to patent it and the Worralls' application was duly granted. However, the cost of maintaining the patent proved prohibitive so it was only in force for a year.

Ernie and Stanley continued to build their frames with the patented device which had the added bonus of stiffening the bottom bracket assembly at a time when frame "whip" - the propensity of the tubing to flex under heavy pedalling - was becoming an issue.

Ernie Goes It Alone

The outbreak of WWII in 1939 and the subsequent years devoted by many engineering-based firms to the war effort caused the brothers to re-assess the business when the fighting stopped. Ernie bought out his brother's part of the company and continued making frames until 1966 when a compulsory purchase order on his premises brought the business to an end. The shop was among a number of buildings cleared to make way for urban development with the site now occupied by a car park. The workshop became a Marks & Spencer store.

The exact date when E & S Worrall began isn't known but it may have been as early as 1930. The brothers were never prolific frame-builders, managing, it's believed, at best a couple of hundred each year. Nevertheless, there were thousands made and many of these can still be found on the road in Scotland. Ernie's son, Ernie jnr, has kept examples of both. Framebuilders were notoriously reticent about their output for fear of giving competitors an unfair advantage. Ernie didn't reveal the dating key to his frame numbering system until a few years before his death !

Dating a Worrall

No catalogues were ever produced for Worrall frames but anyone wanting to date their particular bike now has an easy job. Unlike some companies that used complicated methods of dating their frames, the Worrall system was simplicity itself - provided you knew what you were looking for. The frame numbers are located on the bracket shell. The first part is in the form dd/mm/yy whilst the second part refers to that particular frame's place in that year's production schedule. The 233rd frame that year, built on August 31, 1937, would therefore have the number 310837/233.

Although Ernie remained an active cyclist well into his 70's, his own bike had latterly been stored in a shed in the garden of his Hamilton home. For years, it sat behind garden equipment and wooden sheets. Also to be found in the shed, which was like a little time capsule, were some of his tools and period accessories such as top tube-mounting Primus stoves used in roadside "drum-ups".

When he died on January 4, 2002, aged 93, his son presented the bike to the National Museum in Edinburgh along with his dad's unique sign writing equipment which had been put to such good use on the frames.