John Kemp Starley seated on his very own Rover 'Safety' cycle

J. K. Starley was a cycle manufacturer based in Coventry from the 1870s.

John Kemp Starley was born in 1854 at Walthamstow. He was educated in Essex, but in 1872 moved to Coventry and lodged with his uncle, James Starley, who found him a position at Haynes and Jefferis - the company that was making Starley’s ‘Ariel’ cycle under licence.

In 1878 he became a cycle manufacturer in his own right in association with William Sutton, establishing the business of Starley & Sutton. This lasted until 1886 when the company was reformed as J. K. Starley & Co. Ltd., which in-turn became the Rover Cycle Company in 1896.

His first cycle was the ‘Meteor’ but it was the introduction of the rear-driven ‘Rover Safety’ cycle in 1885 that brought about instant success, and changed the future of cycling. Within two years the design of the Rover was perfected and before long, all cycle manufacturers began to construct cycles based on Starley’s design – still the basis of cycles made today.

As Starley’s wealth increased he and his family moved to Barrs Hill House in the Radford district of Coventry. Although the house itself was demolished in the 1980s, Barrs Hill is now a comprehensive school.

John Kemp Starley died of heart failure at the young age of 46 in 1901.
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