Well, there it goes. 109 years of UK bike manufacturing by Raleigh. Todays two-and-a-half hour auction saw buyers from around the world converge on Triumph Road, Nottingham, although most of the 211 lots were sold to UK manufacturing companies (few of which had anything to do with bicycles). Most, in fact, were from the Midlands.
There were bargains to be had. Three laser tube-cutting robots, which cost Raleigh £1 million new when they was installed in 1992, fetched £60 000 each. And three year old multi-robot automatic welding machines were also sold for a song.
Raleigh management is peeved by the amount of media interest the sale has generated (the auction was on the BBC One oClock News, for instance, where author Alan Sillitoe – a former Raleigh factory worker, said it was a sad day for Britain and that Raleigh, along with Boots, was the soul of Nottingham) and want to get on with the job of producing half a million bikes a year.
Raleigh released the following press statement this afternoon: Contrary to press reports, Raleigh is not ceasing production of bicycles in Nottingham. We are completing a process which was announced in May and which involves the cessation of frame manufacture. We will continue to produce half a million bicycles in Nottingham using our world class painting and assembly facilities. These changes and our ongoing product development will be significant factors in improving our competitiveness in the market place.
The moves we have made are in response to the economic circumstances of our times and reflect changes that are affecting the majority of manufacturing industry in the UK.
It was confirmed today that of the 70 workers who worked in the frame making department, 20 have been found jobs elsewhere in the company but 50 have been made redundant.
Door-stepping reporters from the Press Association interviewed Raleigh workers today and say the sale has added to workers’ fears that more job losses could be on the way, despite reassurances from Raleigh’s American parent company, Derby Cycling Corporation.
According to the PA, one assembly worker, who did not want to be named, said there was an atmosphere of gloom within the factory heightened by the announcement of the frame-making department’s closure
He said: "Everyone is worried what is coming next and what is going to happen to the company and our jobs. There is a lot of distrust of management and we feel as if we are running on borrowed time."
At the sale itself the PA reports that Charles Moses, of auctioneers DMM Asset Management, said despite initial interest from overseas most of the equipment had gone to manufacturers in Britain.
"A lot of the equipment could be used in a wide variety of manufacturing, not just bicycle making. It seems this is who the majority of the buyers were and most were from this country," he said.
In the 1950s Raleigh employed 7000 people at its main factory in Nottingham. Now its down to 700+, thanks, in large part, to automation.
Raleigh was founded by Messrs Woodhead, Angois and Ellis in the 1880s who made bikes (including high-wheelers) in a tiny workshop in Raleigh Street in the centre of Nottingham. In 1887/8 the company was bought by Frank Bowden, the first chairman, who was enamoured of cycling when it helped him recover from illness. Thanks to the expansion of the market due to the cycling boom of the 1890s, Bowden was able to make Raleigh into a household name by sponsoring cycle racing and producing the world-famous all-steel bicycle.
Of course, it is aluminium which is now the material of choice and this is why todays auction has taken place. It is far cheaper to buy in good quality aluminium frames from the Far East (where wages are lower) than make steel ones in the UK.
Raleigh is currently run by caretaker MD Reggie Fils-Aime of Derby Cycling Corporation before the new MD, Phillip Stanton, takes over on January 4th.
Thanks to Dr. Paul Rosen of the Science & Technology Studies Unit at Anglia University, Cambridge, for correcting the historical details given in our first draft of this article.