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James Starley (1830-1881) the 'Father of the Cycle Industry'

James Starley was a pioneer cycle maker situated in Coventry from the 1860s.

Known today as ‘the Father of the Cycle Industry’, James Starley was born in 1830 in Sussex. As a youth he left the family farm for London, finding a home at Lewisham. There he found work as a gardener for the wealthy marine engineer John Penn, before later joining a sewing machine business managed by Josiah Turner.

In the early 1860s, Starley and Turner moved to Coventry to start their own sewing machine company. Coventry was chosen because many of the workers employed in the failing watch industry were deemed perfect to adapt to the intricate work of sewing machine production.

First called the European Sewing Machine Company, by 1868 the business changed its name to the Coventry Machinists Company. The reason for this was that they no longer just manufactured sewing machines, but had been supplied with the lucrative order to construct 400 velocipedes of French design.

Starley became instantly captivated by this new mode of transport, and instantly began making improvements to its design. Before long he decided to work for himself, making sewing machines and working up designs for cycles in collaboration with William Hillman. By 1871 they began advertising the ‘Ariel’ cycle, the first all-metal cycle fitted with ‘Lever Tension’ wheels, which was a vast improvement to the previous French designs, and this was later built by Haynes and Jefferis under license. During this time he was joined by his nephew, J K Starley who later became famous in his own right with the successful introduction of the 'Rover Safety' bicycle in 1885.

Hillman left to pursue his own future and Starley carried on the business until he teamed up with W. B. Smith in 1873 as Smith & Starley - located on a site where Coventry Transport Museum now stands. This enterprise in-turn lasted until 1878 when Starley began working for a cycle business that he helped to establish with his sons - Starley Bros. Throughout his career, his most notable introductions were the ‘Ariel’, the ‘Coventry Lever Tricycle’, the ‘Salvoquadricycle’ and the collapsible ‘Sociable’s’ amongst others.

James Starley died in 1881, and a memorial to him exists in Coventry situated at Warwick Green, known as the Starley Memorial.
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