Vincent Motorbike Assembly Shop

By Simon Mortimer

Stevenage Museum
This page was added on 14/12/2010.

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  • Hi,
    My grandfather, Albert Eatoe, worked in the Stevenage factory for several years and I believe until it closed. His original HRD tie pin was passed on to me. Sadly, Albert died in 1974.

    I have a few photos of Albert, obviously he was motorcycle mad and a wonderful engineer. Mum often told stories of him doing engine rebuilds in the kitchen on his different bikes.

    On the off chance, if anyone has more history then I’d love to hear from them.

    By Ian Daniels (07/03/2023)
  • That last sentence in David Abram’s comment* is so true, Unfortunately I had two of my friends die riding Vincent’s at speed. The first was a good friend I went to Barclay school with, his name was Gerald Burdett- Coutts from around the Fishers Green area who lost his life after a road accident, and the other was Ian Ashwell who lived on Darwin Rd a few houses away from me, and was a Sprint Racer who lost his life at Brighton Speed Trials after a bracket holding his fairing broke. Vincent’s were great motorcycles of their time as long as you respected them.

    [*Comment dated 28/01/2015: “However one test-rider was quoted as saying, ‘If you ride a Vincent at maximum speed for any period of time, you are guaranteed… die.’”. Ed.]

    By Michael Tooley (09/02/2020)
  • hi.
    i know its a long shot but my grandad use to work for Vincents in Stevenage, his name was Leslie Keith Dyer, he was married to a lady Rose in his second marriage. (his first marriage was to a lady called Peggy). He had a daughter called Clare. he left when Clare was 3 years old.

    i would love to find out about his time there. thanks so much sara ( leslie granddaughter)

    By sara russell (09/04/2019)
  • My father worked with George Brown in the 30’s up until the start of the War. He worked on the specials and I always remember him telling me about testing them on the local roads.
    I am researching our family history so if anyone has any history from that period I would love to know more

    By Charles Briggs (25/03/2019)
  • As a boy growing up in stevenage i spent a lot of time in that shop .George was always willing to talk to me about his bikes .he had a Norton atlas there i fell in love with. Im now 67yrs old n still riding because of him n our talks in his shop . 60yrs of non stop riding . Tho ive lived in Australia for 52 yrs were the weather is all yr round good for riding

    By Tymothy Gurd (24/04/2018)
  • I was very interested to read all the letters about Vincent and George Brown. I was a pupil at Alleynes Grammar School from 1952 to 1956 and in 1957 purchased my first motorcycle from George. It was a Norman 197cc with a Villiers two-stroke engine with tele-forks and rigid rear. Some time later I became the proud owner of a brand new AJS 650cc twin which I purchased from Clark & Greenshields in the town centre. Later on I needed a sidecar which was provided by George Brown. I remember George explaining about having to change the gearing etc. He was a great character and very talented

    By Brian Robertson (09/09/2017)
  • Hi , this brings back the time I too went to Alleynes School , Also My Dad (Maurice) went to school with Tony and his brother, so we use to go down to his shop on a Sunday (no Sunday opening in those days)and they started Nero and Super Nero with the old Transit most of the time and run them up and down the High Street with me on the petrol tank,  years passed and it was last year looking around a North of the England car show and turned corner and there they where my childhood dreams Nero and Super Nero ,must admit shed a tear and the now owners a museum where very interested when I showed them dents in the fairing where my heels had tried to dig in on the way down the High Street at god knows how fast . Lasting memories thanks to the Browns Family

    Simon Ansell

    By Simon Ansell (11/03/2016)
  • Hi there – I have read this section with great interest. I am a Vincent owner and writer, and am preparing a book on the bikes, interviewing as many of those who worked on them as I can.

    So far, I have collated contributions from seven gentlemen who built the bikes in Stevenage, including John Surtees – as many will know he was an apprentice at the Works.

    If anyone has any leads on further possible ex-factory workers, or those who have any stories to tell about the bikes being built and tested, that would be wonderful.

    Looking forward to hearing back, and many thanks in advance of any help.

    David Lancaster

    By David Lancaster (31/01/2016)
  • I was a pupil at Alleynes from September 69 to April 75 and spent many an happy time looking at Nero and Super Nero in the shop window. Later I bought my first brand new ‘bike from George who handed me the keys. (A Yamaha DT100..a whopping £319) That would be 1977. I learned music in the maltings which were at some time part of Vincents. Somewhere in the past I’ve seen a photo of the end of the maltings which at the time had a pair of wooden doors with the Vincent motorcyle sign above them.

    By Stephen Cartledge (01/10/2015)
  • I was brought up in Stevenage from the age of 4 (in 1956) and lived there almost continuously until 25 years ago. I have only just found this page and was interested to read about the George Brown Motorcycle Shop in the old town. About the time of my last year or so at Shephalbury School, I dated a chap who went to Alleynes School and worked at George Browns on Saturdays if I remember rightly. It was obviously a big influence on him, as he went on to own a company building racing cars. The company was Reynard Racing and the chap was Adrian Reynard.

    By Maureen Browning (nee Dayton) (30/04/2015)
  • Recently I chuckled whilst reading a story appertaining to the years when George worked at the Vincent factory as a tester (among other jobs) he undertook there and it stated that he had
    scant regard to any local speed limits as he roared along his test route often taking these machines to their limits through the gears, apparently the police became acutely aware of his
    escapades on this score and one day decided to take action in the form of an officer standing by the roadside using a stopwatch to time George over a given distance and he was well and truly caught and duly summoned to appear in court to stand before the beak and receive his punishment.
    During the hearing the Judge obviously having little patience with such trivial cases read the paperwork and asked to be told exactly what speed George was being accused of doing that
    day and when told, promptly replied, “rubbish!, impossible” and duly threw the case out of court, clearly, the beak had absolutely no idea as to the speeds that these iconic machines
    were capable of, either that or he was in a hurry to go home, LOL!, George was free to speed another day.

    By Peter Wonnacott (05/02/2015)
  • Thank you for your comments Peter.  I have more to add.  My father for a number of years had a motorcyle and we often went into George Brown motorcycle shop which was on the other side of the bowling green facing Alleynes School.  For a while he had his record making bike on display in the showroom window.  I remember it having a huge white/silver fairing.  I remember George Brown and his wife, and indeed his son went to the same school as me.  And whats more: one day in the shop George Brown let me sit on this machine.  It is only now I appreciate the full significance of it.  Thank you.

    By David Abram (04/02/2015)
  • As someone who is interested in the sculpture in Stevenage, I second your suggestion, Peter.

    You will be pleased to know that your other idea has already been adopted, and Vincent Place at the south end of the High Street commemorates this excellent firm.

    By Pauline Maryan (03/02/2015)
  • I second your views & comments Dave!, the local Council appears to have done little in the way of some form of recognition regarding this once remarkable company that graced Stevenage or the two brothers Brown George & Cliff both of whom worked there for a while, George was one of their Motorcycle Testers in the Development Department and Cliff was also involved with much work on the prototypes which George often rode at race meetings.

    After leaving the Vincent Company George set up a Motorcycle shop which served the Town for a few decades along with Cliff and they continued to race using mainly Vincent modified machines at Sprint venues frequently breaking many world speed records (some of which were often seen on television newscasts), all of which advertised the fact that it all originated from STEVENAGE,

    I believe George during his many runs actually topped in excess of 235mph at one given distance attempt although not officially recognised at the time, problem was no one ever knew exactly what top speed this bike was capable of as there was nowhere in the UK with a strip long enough to allow the Vincent to reach it’s full potential, George was convinced that even at that speed there was still more power in reserve but had no way to put it to the test and to go over to the likes of America on the Bonneville Salt Flats was an expense that they could ill afford to try.

    I have sent an E-Mail to the relevant authorities suggesting that some form of statue of George astride his famed Vincent machine with Cliff kneeling down seemingly making adjustments situated somewhere in the town centre may be a fine tribute to man and machine at best, if such a venture is simply way too expensive for the council to afford to spend on then at the very least a street or roads named after them may be a cheaper alternative. I think the younger generations of the town should be shown part of their past fame that originated in the area and spread worldwide, (whether anything will come of it remains to be seen in the future). An interesting book written by Cliff Brown before he passed away is well worth a read, titled ‘George Brown, Sprint Superstar’ although long since out of publishing print can still be obtained second hand from various book shops found on the internet covering many of their stories and achievements during their lifetime.

    By Peter Wonnacott (02/02/2015)
  • Following some research, I feel I need to add a bit to above.  The Vincent HRD Black Lightning could reach 150 mph.  This motorcycle was produced between 1948 and 1952.  Vincents were the Ferraris of motorcycles in the 1950s.  It also must be emphasised, that for the age, this was a collosal speed for a production road vehicle.  There is a tremendous history behind the Vincent HRD Motorcycle company with much entreprenarial engineering expertise.  And all this happened in a few sheds in Stevenage.  It would be so sad if the story of this great company and the many characters who worked for it was to be forgotten.

    By David Abram (29/01/2015)
  • This photo is almost certainly taken in sheds at Alleynes School (probably long gone), which when I was there were used to house tractors that mowed school playing fields in the region.  Vincent Motorbikes were literally the Rolls Royce of motorcycles in the 50s, very expensive but had a huge pedigree.  Some could reach 150 mph.  Each one of the production line were test ridden up to Graveley along the old Great North Road (dead straight).  However one test-rider was quoted as saying, ‘If you ride a Vincent at maximum speed for any period of time, you are guaranteed… die.’

    By David Abram (28/01/2015)