The Raleigh Cycle Company was founded by Frank Bowden in 1888, seven years before Ignaz Schwinn hung his shingle in Chicago. Bowden was a lawyer working in Hong Kong who had to return to England because of his ill health. In 1870, a doctor in Harrogate suggested he take up cycling to build up his strength, so Bowden bought a tricycle and set off to France to tour around. His health improved and he decided to try and encourage others to recognize the benefits of this new form of transport.
Bowden also saw the business potential and while visiting Nottingham he invested in a small company on Raleigh Street which was run by three men, Woodhead, Angois and Ellis, and was turning out about three bicycles a week. Bowden offered his business skills (and money) and The Raleigh Cycle Company was founded. An old lace factory on Russell Street was purchased as a new workshop, and when they outgrew that, a new factory was built on Faraday Road, increasing production to about 10,000 bicycles a year by 1900.
The company continued to grow, reaching the landmark figure of one million bicycles in November 1951, and a new factory was added, opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1952. By taking over rivals, growth continued and another factory was built and opened in 1957 by Field Marshall Montgomery, who arrived in full uniform standing in his jeep. Raleigh workers who had served under him during the war were invited to form a guard of honor, a very proud day for them and their families. There were 6,000 employees and visitors there to hear his speech. The site now covered 60 acres. In 2003 the last remaining British Raleigh factory was demolished; production moved overseas and the head office relocated to Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.
“I Worked At Raleigh” is the result of a three-year period in which Nottingham-based community arts organization Hanby and Barrett created a series of videos and audio recordings marking the presence of Raleigh in Nottingham, England, and the company’s impact further afield.
“Having met dozens of people and heard about their experiences of working at Raleigh first hand, it became apparent that there was a desire for the everyday experiences of the people that worked in this huge enterprise to be set down for posterity,” said creators Andy Barrett and Julian Hanby.
“At present we have interviewed fifty six people who have a connection with the factory, the large majority of these having worked there,” they added. “These interviews, most of which are available as audio recordings but some as short films, present a comprehensive overview of what it was like to work and play at The Raleigh. With over fifteen hours of material to listen to and to watch, and with new material being uploaded at regular intervals, this site is an incredibly valuable resource, committed to preserving and recording the memories of those who worked for one of Nottingham’s most iconic companies.”