Sunday, 31 January 2010

Recyled memories

Part 1

Caroline's Miscellany has just posted an article about Witcomb Cycles, ex of Tanner's Hill. It got me thinking about them. I remember buying a second hand Witcomb bike from them back in the days. It was white, not particularly light and, surprisingly for a Witcomb bike from Witcomb's it had had the serial number ground off it. When that bike got nicked from outside the Duke, many many years ago, I went back to the shop to sort out the insurance that I'd bought from them at the same time. Ernie was only going to let me use the money to buy another Witcomb bike. Annoyed at feeling like a captive customer I contacted the insurance company and they paid me the money very quickly, very few questions asked.

Looking back it strikes me as being a carousel. Sell 2nd hand bike plus insurance, nick it (or buy it from the thief, no doubt with a deductions for the frame grinding) and then get the bikeless customer to buy another one from them with the insurance money. And once I was out of the shop, they could get back to selling my old bike...

So they've gone and moved to Wales while old Ernie is celebrating his 75th wedding anniversary in Bexley.

Their website is still promising to go online late in 2009, their blog seems to have had most of its photos removed, so the business is clearly not going according to plan. But while I was looking around, I came across this old (early 70s?) short film about them. Made by the Central Office of Information for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as part of a series ''This week in Britain,'' it shows the workshop-cum-shop, the road outside, still open to traffic. At the same time, it give a curious - nostalgic for some - cultural view of the world as it was. Towards the end of this 5 minute film, you see the presenter cycling up Hyde Vale - well, failing and dismounting actually. Their bikes are so good you can't get up onto the heath via the gentlest hill in West Greenwich....

If you've got 5 minutes.....Witcombs

- 0 -

Part 2

Last week, while cycling down on the Woolwich Road, I came across something I'd never seen before. On the site where Stella Chandler, the cyclist killed under the wheels of a HGV at the bottom of Vanbrugh Hill at the end of last year, there was an accident reconstruction under way. A team of officers, equipped with the actual truck, the actual bike, as well as cameras and a theodolite, were painstakingly working their way through how the accident had happened. In fact, as I was coming in the opposite direction, the first thing I saw on the other side of the road was a cyclist almost under the front wheels of a truck.

I slowed, stopped and crossed over the road. There, Stella's sister plus friends and family were watching. I spoke to her sister. Though she didn't give her name, I think it is Eileen. She explained to me that she'd been there for 2 hours already and she was happy to talk at length about Stella. She was 67, a retired careworker who still visited the people she used to care for. Living near the bottom of Maze Hill she found that hill too steep to get up on her journey to Charlton so she took the lower Trafalgar/Woolwich Road to get to Westcombe Hill because it was a gentler way of getting up to her Charlton visit. I mentioned that I had been shocked by the lack of press interest and she told me that the Mercury had run an article on her a couple of weeks ago. I don't have a hard copy of the article, but this is the online version (Mercury)

So, unusual among deaths involving bikes and lorries, Stella was caught under the front wheel of the lorry. And the bike was undamaged, though I can't imagine how it got away from the lorry when the rider was under it.

But that's a strange strange job for the policewoman riding the bike in the reconstruction: getting on a dead woman's bike and manoeuvring it virtually under the wheels of the tons of steel that killed her.


Walrus said...

I've only ever been to Witcomb's twice. First time was looking for a pannier. The ones they had on offer looked great, but were way over-priced.
Second time I needed a replacement screw for one that had come loose from my gearchain. Old man Witcomb told me they didn't stock that type of screw, but he could sell me a new gearchain for about 25 quid.
I never went back.

Marmoset said...

I suppose the ''let's sell what's in stock'' instinct is strong in bike shops, as in any other business. As Witcombs disappeared for Wales, Cycles UK reappeared in Creek Road. I went in about 3 months ago looking for a longer stem for the handlebars (my cheapo bike is just a bit too small for me). No, didn't have that, but they immediately (and seamlessly) tried to sell me a set-back seatpost (which I already have). They then went into a spiel about saddle heights when I queried their recommended solution.

Meanwhile, I felt as though I'd gone to the doctor about a pain in my arms and they'd started to examine my anus....

Walrus said...

Have you tried the bike shop in Lee High Road? After I fell out with Witcombs I went there and they were incredibly helpful...

Marmoset said...

No, Walrus, I haven't. I've just decided that I need some new tyres as the punctures are starting to come hard and fast. I might take a look. Besides, bike shops in Lee High Road remind me of Youngs bikes who used to have their main shop there. (The Youngs bike I owned was the best bike I've ever had.) Clearly, I'm in a nostalgic mood at the moment!

Deptford dame said...

I have found Witcomb's helpful in the (distant) past when they dug out some second hand brake levers to match what I wanted, but towards the end of their residency, less and less so, since they seemed to run down their stock. I used the Lee High Road bike shop when I lived over there, found it useful for spares but never had to use it for repairs. I've found Cycles UK very helpful and reasonable for repairs I needed (headset maintenance; they managed to cure the problem without needing to buy spares) and accessories, slightly disorganised but willing and friendly. And not at all patronising, something that Dames often have to deal with in bike shops/garages.

Deptford dame said...

Ps for basics such as tyres, tubes, lights, clothing etc I go to Decathlon.

Marmoset said...

@ DD

''And not at all patronising, something that Dames often have to deal with in bike shops/garages.''

Marmosets get patronised too! And I've been patronised in there.

It's good to hear something positive about Cycles UK - my experience has been somewhere between ''average'' and ''poor'' and it's been a disappointment to me. I was excited about having a local bike shop just round the corner.

Decathlon are very good for the everyday budget stuff. They also have a couple of road bike ranges which are excellently equipped for their prices.


After yet another puncture today, I ended up forgetting where I was meant to be going and found myself cycling downhill - and why spoil the pleasure - past the Lee High Road Shop. And yes, it is where Youngs used to be. Obligingly, they've left the Youngs Cycles sign outside...but as it was one of those grizzly grey days I didn't have my camera with me.