Southend-on-Sea, in Essex, more commonly referred to as Southend, or Sarfend, is a seaside resort town and borough on the north side of the Thames estuary. It was a busy holiday destination in its heyday, and it’s still a charming place to visit, if just to stroll along the boardwalk and reminisce about what lay behind the modern facade.
It was also home, for a while, of one of the most revered and, now, collectable, British marques of handmade bicycle: Hetchins. Vintage Hetchins are highly sought-after, and this one made it all the way to Sydney with its owner, where it was restored by one of the city’s oldest bike shops — Clarence Street Cyclery.
Known for their curly stays and elaborate ‘lug’ work, Hetchins are still considered the Rolls Royce of Bicycles. The workshop was located at 117-119 Hamstel Road, Southend-on-Sea which, ironically, is currently occupied as a bike shop. Although, it has to be said, the bikes sold there today are not quite of the same pedigree.
‘Harry’ Hyman Hetchins settled in the United Kingdom after fleeing the Russian Revolution. He opened a music shop in London where he repaired gramophones and sold sheet music, alongside a sizeable stock of Rudge and Raleigh bicycles. Harry was an avid cyclist, a member of the Allondon Road Club, and being a natural engineer, soon began to dream of making his own frames.
Hetchins built his first frame during the early 1920s, and it was nothing like the bikes he became famous for. It was a standard design, but he sold it, and demand continued to grow. He subsequently hired Jack Denny, the son of a local frame builder and owner of two London bike shops. It was actually Denny who first imagined the attributes of the modern Hetchins.
Many of Jack’s riding buddies had fallen victim to frame failure where the tube had sheared away from the straight lugs that were in use at the time, and so began to reinforce the frames with extra pieces of metal. He wasn’t happy with their aesthetic and started to carve them away with fleur-de-lys designs, which helped to spread the load over a larger area.
Denny also looked at the rake of the forks and thought that the same concept could bring a comfortable amount of compliance to the rear of the bike. It was tested, and it worked. Harry saw the frame, and asked Denny to join his business and produce these elaborate frames under the Hetchins name, to which he agreed.
The story behind this frame extends over three generations of men. A son had ordered the base model from the Hetchins workshop, and his father went back into the shop, unbeknownst to his son, and upgraded the order to very top model, which proved to be a wonderful surprise. It was brought with the son to his new home in Australia.
Sixty years later it was brought into Clarence Street Cyclery by the grandson for a complete restoration. The frame was stripped and the dropouts were adjusted by Geoff Scott to accept modern brakes, the rear end widened and new seat and chain stay bridges were installed. It was then resprayed and lug-lined by Peter at Star Enamel.
The customer sourced new decals for the frame, including the rare seat tube decal. It was then built up with a modern Dura-Ace groupset and saddle. The new components might shock the purists or the collectors, but it was selected for its modern-day usability. It’s going to be ridden every day, and that’s exactly what Harry Hetchins would have wanted.
Special thanks to David Cook and Gid at Clarence Street Cyclery.
For more information on Hetchins and to view an amazing collection of beautifully lugged bicycles, head to the exhaustive Historic Hetchins site.