Johnny Kay and Kay Cycles

Those of us that hail from Rossendale and have already worked their way through quite a few Vet categories will remember the names of Johnny Kay and later Eric Wilson from the bike shop on Bank St. Below is a very interesting potted history of the Kay bike brand and if you have any information to add please get in touch with Robin using the contact info below.

John Kay and Son Cycles – An incomplete history

During the 1950s and 1960s two members of the North Lancashire Clarion C & A C – Alan Ramsbottom and Tom Hoyle – were given racing frames each year by Johnny Kay. As we have all got older we  have talked about these days and, because of the quality of  these  frames, it has been suggested that I compile a brief history of the company and try to find any frames still in existence.

This history is very incomplete and any information that can be given  would be appreciated. Gerald Kay and his wife Kay are living in happy retirement in Spain and, following a search for a Johnny Kay frame, Gerald is  now  regularly riding one of his own frames, given to him as an 80th birthday present.

The firm was founded in 1930 but little is known of these pre-war days except that in 1936 Reg Harris had his first custom built track frame built by Jack Herety at the Rawtenstall shop. Another pre-war Jack Herety frame still exists and is in the ownership of the Herety family.

After the war the business re-started at Bank Street, Rawtenstall, and, with Johnny building and son Gerald using the frames to great success in time trials and road races, business flourished. Many of these frames were built using Nervex Professional lugs with beautiful
wrap over seat stays and pump pegs. The main claim to fame was a guaranteed weight of 6 3/4 lbs and, on the evidence of the frames I have weighed, the claim is well founded.

Johnny also produced experimental frames and rode up and down the Bank Street cobbles on his Unicycle and on his bike with front suspension in the form of two curved supports from the head tube to the front fork ends. A 1950s 6 page catalogue lists only three models “Campiano” at 17 guineas, “Track” at 16 guineas and “Mastrar” at £II / I 9/0, all built with Reynolds 53I double butted tubing and using Nervex Professional lugs. Extras included
chroming and lining. The catalogue is illustrated by three johnny Helms cartoons showing Johnny Kay bikes in various situations. In 1956 Johnny introduced a less expensive frame,“The Rossendale” at £8/ I 9/0.Although this was built by Armstrongs, Johnny insisted that the lugs be sent to him for filing and detailing before the frames were built! After the war transfers took the form of a head tube/seat tube crest and script type down tube transfers in black/gold and red. Later, as RTTC rules relaxed, large down tube blocks were used on track and racing frames (originally these were sign written on). The head tube crests show the name Gerald Kay due to an error by the printer who used Johnny’s middle name by mistake. Enamelling was originally done by Holdsworth’s with frames being sent by rail down to London and returned for collection by cart from the station. Plating was carried out by East Lancs Plating. Unfortunately, in an attempt to keep water out of the bottom bracket, Johnny used to plug the bottom of the seat tube with a cork, over the years this meant that the seat tube rusted through about three inches up. This may be one reason why so few frames have survived. Also during the early 1950s Johnny asked Eric Wilson to come and work in the shop and Eric went on to record many of his hill climb wins on a Johnny Kay. The rivalry between the young Eric Wilson and the young Gerald Kay probably encouraged them both to greater successes. In the early 1960s Gerald set up a shop at Halliwell Road, Bolton, where Johnny continued to build frames. The RawtenstaII shop was bought by Jack “Sox” Spencer who, until then, was working for Charlie Parker. From the small sample of 17 frames so far found, dating frames is difficult. The majority of frames have a four digit number, some with a suffix of f•1 (lflastrar) or A (Rossendale). Two frames have five digit numbers but I have not seen these in the flesh so they may be wrong. Confusingly of the only two frames for which the date of purchase is known, 1360 is known to be 1957 but frame number l498 is known to be 1956.
Each year one or more new discoveries are made and the inclusion of a Johnny Kay page on Charles Jepson’s Hill Special website has raised the profile of this builder.

This history is compiled from talks with clubmen and enthusiasts from Lancashire and there is still much to add and so, if you are able to contribute reminiscences please contact:

Robin Hatherell, 18 Church Close, Waddington, Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 3HX.