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History Of Reg Allen

A History Of

Reg Allen (London)

 

 

1932 - Bill Crosby was born in Westminster Barracks in late April, the son of Sgt. William Crosby, Master of the Stables in the Grenadier Guards. His son would turn out to master a different kind of horse power. He lived in London all his life apart from a brief evacuation to Suffolk to stay with his grandparents during the war.

1945 - After returning to London he left school at 13, and went to work at an electro plating works.

1947 - The plating works closed and young Bill became a plumber’s mate until his National Service a couple of years later.

1949 - Bill joined the First Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps and ended his service as Lance Corporal Acting M.T. Sergeant, seeing service in Germany and Britain - ‘the best years of my life’.

1952 - Back in Civvy Street he returned to plumbing as maintenance plumber at Pritchard’s Bakery, whilst remaining a TA Reserve. A motorcycle accident kept him from lining the route for Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation and for the next 5 years he was in and out of hospital - and out of work. During this time he did some work for a local motorcycle shop, Jack Demmar M/C’s and considered his career options. Motorcycles had always been a big part of his life. He repaired his own bikes and those of his friends, leaving a thick patch of oil outside the house. One youthful attempt at repairing a petrol tank took the side out of the garden shed.

1958 - Reg Allen Motorcycles in Northfields Ave. W13, came up for sale. An enthusiastic young Bill bought the “name and good will” which included an impressive neon “Reg Allen M/C” sign. After months of waiting for Mr. Allen to move out of the shop, it transpired that the premises were not part of the deal and the hunt was on for a shop and workshop to trade from.
It was difficult to find somewhere locally that was already repairing motorcycles (as council permission for “change of usage” to a motorcycle business was very difficult in those days) but his perseverance paid off when he spotted a shop in Grosvenor Road W7. Things were looking up again. With stationery printed, neon sign installed (at great cost) and the stock he got with the business (some pressed tin spanners and some W.D. lorry bulbs) Bill opened at the new premises just after August bank holiday. It consisted of the corner shop with a tiny workshop behind. The bikes were brought into the workshop via a passageway from the alley at the rear. The previous tenant had repaired radios and the occasional autocycle, charged accumulators, sold Ever Ready batteries and household bulbs, so Bill continued to do this as he built up the moped and motorcycle repair side. After about 18 months, some of the original Reg. Allen customers found Bill at the new address and seemed strangely pleased to find it under new management. This attitude made him wonder if he should have kept the Reg. Allen name after all, but things had moved on – the letter heads had been printed some time ago and the sign was up. Unfortunately, the much prized neon sign was causing problems - as it ran on a high-voltage system which required council permission. That had not been a problem but the bill to install it had been steep and so were the subsequent fees for the frequent repairs when parts of it went out. Eventually, reluctantly, it was taken down.
Bill became agent for several marques –
> Mobylette - which were delivered to the shop
> NSU Quickly - which he collected from Hammersmith
> Excelsior - which he collected from Hanwell main line station.
Everything British which arrived on the doorstep was worked on, from girder fork models to Vincents, but even then Triumphs were his main love. As well as new machines there were also second hand ones for sale. A Vincent Rapide that was proving hard to shift was sold for £145 when he got fed up backing it through the shop doorway every night (they try to fall over when reversed). “If we knew then………”
He worked most days, taking lunch times and Wednesday afternoons to do the “running around” necessary to a one-man business – taking barrels in for reboring, items to the plater or delivering one-off machining jobs. In those days there were plenty of these small businesses locally and Bill would take a barrel to Hillthorne Engineering in Boston Road and enjoy a cup of tea while it was bored. Anything needing a lathe would be ably dealt with by Mr. Smith, a man with a wealth of experience and machinery. Bill even steered his way through the old Sunday trading laws and opened on Sunday mornings. Did you know that he could legally sell a light bulb but not a Bible (not that he had any Bibles) on a Sunday, or that he could sell enough spares to build a bike but not a complete machine? The rules were something about giving aid to passing travellers.

1960 - The previous owner of the shop died and Bill purchased the whole building. Now he had the corner shop and a much bigger workshop which extended back to the yard, with direct access to the rear alley. It also had a flat above, which he moved into with his family.
There now followed a couple of decades of sponsorship for scrambling, grass, trials, speedway and later for road racing. Bill not only prepared the Greeves, Tribsa and Kundle scrambles bikes, but went to all the meetings as well. His riders, Eric Bateman and Alan Harle, rode in the Isle of Man Grand National in 1960 and ’63 and, together with fellow riders Pete Rogers and Bill Bunn (of Bill Bunn M/C’s), they rode the length and breadth of the country. Nick Thompson and Dave Beavis, the scrambles sidecar team, won the European Championship. Many of the riders were also involved in other disciplines – trials, grass track and speedway.
Bill also began to sponsor a road race outfit ridden by Pete Tyack/ Johnny Meehan, competing in club and international races and at the T.T. When Johnny teamed up with his brother Patrick, Pete found another passenger.
The 1960’s and 70’s saw the business get steadily busier with various people helping in the workshop part time. Apart from regular repairs, Bill built a few choppers and lots of Tritons. He had some alloy tanks made with a small race bike outline and RAT (Reg. Allen Triumph) embossed on the side. Numerous specials were commissioned and built and all the time his involvement with competition machines and especially Triumphs, continued.

1971 - Bill was sponsoring a 500c.c. Daytona ridden by Bob Biscardine and Declan Doyle in 24hr. Production races. They competed in the T.T. and raced all over Europe, winning the 500c.c. class at Barcelona. It was the racing abroad that inspired Bill to change that shop name to Reg. Allen (London). The next bike was a 750c.c production works racing Rocket 3, ridden by Yobo Bates and Bob Biscardine. When they stopped racing in the mid 70’s, the Rocket 3 was sold, only to be rediscovered in the 1990’s and bought back by Yobo Bates who had surprisingly little to do to return it to the original race trim.

1974 - Bill had been quietly hoarding some choice bikes as they came along and was approached out of the blue, by a friend asking if he would like to display them. The friend owns the Chater Scott book shop which specialises in all forms of transport literature. They had a collection of vintage cars on display in a building at Syon Park in Brentford, acting as an added attraction to the bookshop. The proposition was that Bill’s bikes would look good displayed alongside the cars. This was arranged and all worked well for a few years. However, when the area on the other side of the boundary wall was being ‘rejuvenated’, it led to the local hooligans finding a way in and causing damage to the book shop building. This, coupled with an increase in the lease, sent Chater Scott in search of a regular shop and their Syon Park premises closed in February ’79.

1975 - No. 39 Grosvenor Road came up for sale – another victim of the decline of the backstreet shop. Bill bought it and spent the Easter break knocking through into no. 41 and putting up the girder.

1976 - The lack of race classes where a British bike could remain competitive had declined to such an extent that when a keen young man called Richard Horton called in the shop, Bill was persuaded to give him limited help with his Yamaha which he used for National and Club Racing. Richard progressed from 250c.c to 350c.c with considerable success but only raced for a few years before an accident made him decide to quit while he was ahead.
The long hot summer found Bill enjoying himself lurking round the film locations of The Eagle Has Landed. He had been contacted by a desperate location crew who were having trouble with the Royal Enfield Flying Flea that Donald Sutherland’s character, Devlin, had to ride. It was difficult to start and unreliable – they needed both faults dealt with! Now! The bike was delivered to the shop and Bill soon realised that it was never going to be as reliable as they wanted it to be. When he reported this to the film rep. he was asked to get another one. After some discussion, Bill managed to get them to understand that he could not find another bike just like that and even if he could, it would not be any better than the one they had! He was asked if he could put a more reliable engine into the bike he had in the workshop. After some thought, he bought a complete 125c.c. Yamaha from the local dealer, Broadway Cycles in Hanwell Broadway, and grafted the engine into the little Flea. By spraying some areas with Dag he was able to tone down parts of the engine and exhaust that needed disguising, but nothing could be done in the time allotted ( a long holiday weekend) with the gear change. He left the hand change lever in place, but gear changes would have to be done with the left foot from now on. The modified bike worked well but their paranoia was such that they insisted Bill stayed on location for all the shots the bike was needed for. He became known on set as Bill the Bike and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the film crew, but had to pay an Australian mate to stand in the shop and field enquiries from customers. It was only after all the excitement had died down that Bill was told the original bike belonged to another local bike shop – Knights - who knew nothing of the alterations until the bike was returned to them. Things were settled amicably by the film makers in the end.

1977 - Reg. Allen (London) became a Main Triumph Agent and Spares Distributor. It had been difficult to remain a totally British bike shop during the early 70’s when first bikes, then spares became harder and harder to obtain and it was probably Bill’s extensive store of second hand parts which helped in this respect. Now it all seemed worth the effort.

1978 - The 1st. August saw 10 smart, shiny, new Triumph 750 Bonnies lined up outside the shop with their new “T” registrations, waiting to be collected. The extended shop was now full of excellent new Triumphs and mail order spares were increasingly in demand.
The next few years were to be a very good time for Triumph and Bill’s business. Saturdays were particularly busy with extra staff and an additional till needed to cope with the queues of customers - and a visit from the local Triumph Owners Club branch (West Middlesex) being an integral part of the day.
Bill continued to hoard bikes and memorabilia at every opportunity.

1979 - February arrived with a suitable amount of rain and the day dawned for his bike collection to be moved out of Syon Park to the new home Bill had found in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. It was further away than he would have liked but they were heading for an otherwise ideal home with an enthusiastic minder. A friend of Bill’s, who knew of the imminent closure of the Chater Scott premises, had put him in touch with a chap who ran the ex-Roman Spa Bath House in Matlock Bath, as an Aquarium and Gift Shop. The first floor was unused and Bill’s collection seemed ideally suited to fill the space. The village had become one of those biker meeting places that spring up, probably for no other reason than the great countryside and no one showing any inclination to chuck them out. A few phone calls had tracked down the double-decker lorry that used to deliver the bikes from the Triumph factory and it duly arrived at Syon Park, backed across the grass to the building entrance and started to load the bikes. Loading completed, it soon became obvious that he lorry was now too heavy to drive off the grass unaided. There were already big hollows under the wheels and the beautifully tended lawn was looking decidedly the worse for wear. Bill sought help from the garden centre who had a small tractor – it turned out to be too small, leading to more lawn deterioration. There was speculation about unloading, moving the lorry and loading up again but this would take too long as the driver had to get back up North for another job the following day. Bill had a brain wave. He knew where to find a Scammell tank recovery vehicle! It belonged to a circus troupe and was in their winter quarters a couple of miles away. A quick ride down the road and a ‘pound note’ deal later, saw the Scammell, a young man perched on the front bumper pouring water into the copiously leaking radiator, follow Bill back to the stricken lorry. It pulled the lorry out of the mud as if it were a toy. It also added to the rearrangement of the lawn. The bikes were safely delivered to their new home and spent 3 years there, displayed in a long hall with floor to ceiling wire mesh keeping them safe and a dedicated bike cleaner keeping them smart.
Motor Cycle New readers voted the Triumph Bonneville “Machine of the Year”.

1982 - The Spa bath building was sold and the collection moved to a folly called Riber Castle, overlooking the next village. It was used as a wild-life park and had become famous as being the only place that had successfully bred Lynx cats in captivity. This was fine for a while until the owner sold up. The new regime did not find enough time to look after the bikes and Bill was forced to look for a new site when a visit revealed missing parts and encroaching rust.

1983 - The closure of the Triumph factory at Meriden meant that the remaining 5 spares distributors needed to create a new, reliable source of good quality spares. They joined ranks and Reg. Allen (London), TMS of Nottingham, Roebuck M/C’s in Ruislip, Charlie’s of Bristol and Alan Jefferies Shipley, Yorkshire, formed Lectra Manufacturing, recruiting one of the Triumph men who knew the original spares suppliers to the factory. Spares were sourced, ordered, split between the group, with much exported to the U.S.A. After a few years their number gradually dwindled – Alan Jefferies falling foul of the mine closures in his area, Roebuck M/C’s leaving to sell the new Harris Bonnies and eventually TMS preferring to go his own way. With a falling demand for the quantity that Lectra had to buy, the company was closed.

1985 - Reg. Allen (London) became a Norton Rotary Dealer. Bill’s two sons were despatched to the factory for several training sessions and returned, armed with their certificates, to welcome a very different British beast to the workshop. The Nortons were certainly a radical change from the Triumphs but were, none the less, very impressive machines - particularly the water cooled ones which thrived on high mileage and daily use. The B.B.C. and Sky Television, who both had their sites a few miles from the shop, approached Bill and arranged for Reg. Allen (London) to service their fleets of Rotaries, used mainly as news despatch bikes. He had been servicing Triumphs for the A.A. and the Ministry of Defence for many years. Now the list also included the Rotaries used by the BBC, Sky and also Royal Horse Artillery who used them to escort their horses on ceremonial duties.
The Norton Rotaries were also highly competitive machines on the race track and although Bill did not sponsor any, it was great to follow the JPS team as they triumphed in two seasons of racing.

1988 - The mass removal of Bill’s collection from Riber Castle took place. This time there was no double-decker lorry, just a convoy of vans. The bikes were dispersed when they got home – each of his friends had an extra bike or two in their garage for a while, Bill’s own garden shed was full up and there was a whole window display in the shop sporting a big “not for sale” sign. Even so, some had to be sold but Bill refused to let any Triumphs go. He vowed that his ever-increasing collection would remain at home until he found a London site to open his own museum. He felt the capital should have its own motorcycle museum.

1989 - No. 37 Grosvenor Road is added to the Reg. Allen stable.

1997 - Bill heard about a site in Greenford, Middlesex, about 3 miles from the shop, which could make a good museum. As part of the London Borough of Ealing it was near enough to town to be accessible by road or public transport, but not so far into town to be cramped. It was an old farmyard, still hanging onto its original name of Ravenor Farm. Farming had ceased in the early 20’s and it had been used as a council depot ever since. Now in the control of an enthusiastic community group, talks were held, agreements made and plans submitted to turn the old stable block into the London Motorcycle Museum.

1999 - Over the next couple of years Bill put on two one-day displays to coincide with the community group’s fund-raising Open Days before opening officially in the newly refurbished stables on Sunday 1st. May. Guests included Ray Pickrell, Dave Croxford and Les Williams as well as local MP Steve Pound, a keen biker himself.

2000 - Reg. Allen (London) becomes Main Agent for the new Royal Enfields being imported from India by Watsonian Squire. Another new era opened.
Epilogue – Bill and Reg. Allen (London) have seen a lot of changes since the 1958 opening. From bulbs, batteries and mopeds to specials, Café racers and Main Triumph Agent. Exciting days in the 60’s and 70’s with racing involvement, sponsorship and victory. The Meriden Triumph factory closed, Norton Rotaries arrived and left, Bill decided not to investigate the new Hinckley Triumphs when they came along, and now the new Royal Enfields are installed in smart rows in the window. All these changes, added to the myriad outside influences, mean that the customers have changed as well. There are very few who thrash their bikes to work every day now. Most of the British beasts are regarded as “classics” and tend to get restored and treated with respect. This leads to lower mileage, which means parts do not get worn out, so spares sales are down. The workshop remains busy and Bill’s knowledge and experience are often in demand, but there is the feeling that things will never be quite the same again. British bikes attract great enthusiasm, and while there are still people out there who feel that way, Reg. Allen (London) will be happy to serve them.

2006 - Bill’s London Motorcycle Museum is going from strength to strength and, after 6 years there are signs that a grant is in sight to start renovating another barn at the farm, so much-needed expansion should not be too far away now.
Bill is looking forward to even greater things.

2009 - Bill successfully negotiates a 25 year lease for the London Motorcycle museum. Back at the shop, Reg Allen (London) is now the London Agent for the new AJS motorcycles. At the end of the year Bill had a pacemaker fitted and timed at 38° before top dead centre.