Founded in 1898 by
Fred Hanstock in the village of Carlton, Nottinghamshire, Carlton Cycles moved to Worksop in 1934 and began to concentrate
solely on lightweight club and racing cycles. Under the slogan "Hand Made Cycles at Mass Production Prices", Carlton established
itself as a leader in the field with a wide range of specially designed frames for timetrialling, road racing, track, club
and even cycle polo which were renown for their craftsmanship, finish and distinctive lugwork as well as their advanced design
and engineering. Moreover, it mostly sold complete machines with carefully selected components and fittings with a broad price
range. In 1939, Carlton was bought by the O'Donovan family with D.R. (Dan) O'Donovan the Managing Director. In 1958 his son,
Gerald O' Donovan, joined the firm and became Manager and Chief Designer two years later.
By the mid 1950s, British bicycle sales were in a prolonged slump concurrent with a marked increase in private car
ownership aided by hire purchase schemes. Although use of bicycles as basic transport diminished, the market for racing, sports
and leisure machines remained hopeful with increased leisure time and intense interest in cycle racing especially the growth
of mass start racing in Britain with the Tour of Britain, Tour of the South-West, London-Holyhead etc.
It was a market, especially at the high end, that Raleigh, the world's largest cycle manufacturer, was
unable to tap at the time. Its last professional grade, custom order lightweight bicycle, the fabled Raleigh Record Ace, was
out of production by 1954 and by the end of the decade its longstanding Lenton series of entry level sports machines with
hub gears was nearing the end of its productive and profitable life. Indeed, Raleigh was so wedded to the hub gear through
its ownership of Sturmey-Archer that it was ill-served when the derailleur came to dominate sports and racing cycling. Moreover
as the epitome of bicycle mass production, Raleigh had little penetration of the discerning club market which always favoured
small independent bespoke frame builders.
As early as 1957, Raleigh explored setting
up a specialist lightweight building unit in the old Sturmey-Archer gear works which was vacant after its new factory extension
had opened. This new unit was to be a subsidiary under Reg Harris, Raleigh's longstanding spokesman and track star, and branded
under his name. But plans were dropped amid the upheaval of the ongoing negotiations over the takeover of Raleigh by Tube
Investments and the absorption of its expansive British Cycle Corporation brands and production at Nottingham.
To provide a quick "key in the door" to the top-end racing and sports cycle market, Reg Harris
instead suggested acquiring Carlton as a going concern. It not only had the reputation among clubmen that Raleigh lacked,
but its product and production offered an unusual but very effective means of selling "custom made" bicycles within a set
range of options and features that gave most of the benefits of a truly bespoke frame, but at a lower price point. It also
enabled semi mass production.
So it was that in March 1960 that Raleigh acquired all of the share capital
of Carlton Cycles Ltd. Such was its reputation and capability, that Carlton's name, design and manufacturing capacity (at
Worksop, 24 miles from Raleigh's Nottingham's works) was not only retained but expanded to be the centre of all high-end racing
bike and Reynolds 531 production for the whole of the Raleigh "empire" which now included all of British Cycle Corporation's
brand and markets. Carlton would now, in addition to its own range, manufacture lightweights for Raleigh, Triumph, Sun, Dunelt
and others based on the Raleigh "branding" principle. Finally, heading Carlton's design department was Gerald O' Donovan who
proved one of the leading designers of racing bicycles both for professional use and also commercially.
Moreover, starting in 1963 Carlton fielded its own racing team, Carlton-BMB (British Manufactured Bearings),
comprised of George Shaw, Michael Coupe, Mike Harpham and Sean Ryan. Based on the vagaries of competing corporate
marketing goals, the team would be variously called Carlton-BMB or Raleigh-BMB (1966, 1968) and in 1967 George Shaw became
manager and the squad, composed of such star riders as Bob Addy, Bernard Burns and Arthur Metcalf, tallied 40 first-place
wins in road, track and cyclo-cross competition.
Although many moaned about Carlton
being yet one of many proud independents "swallowed up" by Raleigh, its name, brand recognition, sales and overall market
impact in lightweight cycling increased exponentially not just at home but throughout a now truly global market under the
aegis of TI Raleigh. Significantly, this now included the potentially enormous American market.
A great piece of research on Carlton and Raleigh.