The following article by John Liffen appeared in The Boneshaker, No. 145, Vol. 15, Winter 1997, and is reprinted here by permission of the editor. Photos.

The Origins of the Hetchin's Cycle Business

Ever since its introduction the Hetchin's has been held in high regard by very many cyclists. This is not just because of its distinctive frame incorporating the rear vibrant triangle (the 'curly stays') and ornamental cut-away lugs, but also the high quality of manufacture and general standard of finish. The main facts concerning the history of the firm are generally known, largely owing to the efforts of Hilary Stone and others [see end notes: 1,2,3], but no full history has yet emerged. It is hoped that these notes, which present the results of recent research into the firm's earliest days, will provide a stimulus for further work.

Facts concerning Hyman Hetchin's early life are sparse. He was born in Russia on 20 Dec. 1894, the son of Lazarus and Leah Hetchin.[4] He came to Britain around 1917, presumably a refugee from the Russian revolution, and settled in London's East End. He married 22-year old Millie Kirston at Philpot Street Synagogue, Stepney, on 30 April 1918, the marriage certificate giving his occupation as 'tailor's presser.' He also sold sheet music as a market trader and was able to move into permanent premises in about 1922 when he opened a gramophone and music store at 780 Seven Sisters Road, south Tottenham, which also provided the family home.[5]

Hetchin's entry into the cycle business was almost casual, and cannot be dated with any certainty. He was an enthusiastic cyclist, and like many gramophone dealers at that time ran a sideline in cycles and spares on the basis that both were somewhat seasonal trades. A son, Alfred Josef, was born at 780 on 24 Sept. 1923, Hetchin giving on the birth certificate his occupation as 'general music and accessories dealer.' Music and gramophones continued to be the principle business for the next ten years or so, judging by the entries in local and telephone directories. In 1927 Hetchin applied successfully for British citizenship; on the certificate of naturalization his occupation is given as 'gramophone and music merchant.'[4]

In about 1932 Hetchin obtained the neighboring premises at 782 Seven Sisters Road, possibly because the cycle side of the business was becoming significant by then. A local directory for 1933 specifically states 'gramophone dealer 780, and cycle dealer 782 Seven Sisters Road.'[6] By 1934 Hetchin was an official agent for BSA, Raleigh, Rudge, Humber, and Hercules cycles [7], but was also selling cycles bearing his own name using frames made by local frame builders. Other writers have related elsewhere [1,2] the steps by which one of these, Jack Denny, came to be Hetchin's partner during 1934, bringing with him a design of frame which Hetchin was convinced had great sales potential. So important did he regard this, the rear vibrant triangle, that Hetchin submitted a UK patent application, 'Improvements in the construction of cycle frames.' This was left with the Patent Office on 20 Nov. 1934 and was given the number 33317/34.

Denny's arrival did however present a difficulty: if complete cycles were now to be made, space for a workshop was needed which was not available at Seven Sisters Road. Instead additional premises were taken in Leyton, about three and a half miles from Tottenham, which could provide space for the workshops plus the opportunity for retail trading in a new area. 'Hetchin's Cycle Stores' opened at 461 Lea Bridge Road during 1934 and was probably managed on site by Denny.[8]

Business, therefore, was thriving. It was a time when there was a nationwide upsurge of enthusiasm for cycling and Hetchin was determined to make a name for himself. He was consequently not best pleased to learn of a proposal by Tottenham Borough Council to renumber their portion of Seven Sisters Road along the south-west side.[9] The notices were served on 20 April 1934 and on the following day the council received a letter from Hetchin complaining of 'injurious affection consequent upon the proposal to renumber his premises.'[10] Concerted protests by householders led to a postponement but the proposals were implemented on 1 January 1935, 780 and 782 becoming respectively 798 and 800 Seven Sisters Road.[11] [PS In February 1974 Hetchin was forced to abandon the premises entirely, as it was condemned to be knocked down to build a road. --Editor]

Once the rear vibrant triangle had received patent protection it was possible to start making and selling bicycles incorporating the new design. This development was noticed by the weekly magazine, Cycling in January 1935 [12] and it was soon apparent that it would be successful. An illustrated catalog was produced, detailing six solo models and three tandems. These were described as being built with Reynolds HM tubing (the tandems with Reynolds A tubing). Only three models incorporated the new stays, the Brilliant No.1, Brilliant No.2, and Superbe, others having conventional straight stays. Even at this early date another characteristic feature of Hetchin's cycles through the years made its appearance, with a reference to 'lugs cut to an unique design and filed to safety limits.' Reynolds 531 was introduced later in 1935 and Hetchin's quickly changed over; in fact, this first catalog was reissued before the end of the year with little change apart from detailing an additional solo model and substituting 531 tubing for HM. The headbadge adopted incorporated the shield of the arm of the city of London. It has been asserted that this was because Hetchin was a Freeman of the City of London,[13] but a recent search by the Chamberlain's Office of the Corporation of London for the years to 1940 has failed to find corroboration.

And what of the curly stays themselves? The 1935 catalog introduced them as follows: "the vibratory action caused when riding over uneven ground lessens the retarding force on the rear wheel, resulting in less loss of speed. [In] the test made regarding rigidity on the chain stays we found that owing to the rake in stays the resistance put up was a fraction over 4% more than straight stays of the same gauge tubing, the triangle is not intended to spring, only to vibrate at [the] rear ends and take off all dead shock from the apex [seat lug]."

The manner of carrying out the test is not described, nor how the results were measured--four percent is a fairly precise figure of resistance, whatever that term might mean. It is thus impossible to repeat Hetchin's test to find out if the same results could be obtained today. As the supposed benefit of the stays has been the subject of much spirited speculation over the years, a resolution would be welcome--perhaps the National Physical Laboratory might be persuaded to investigate. Jack Denny himself expressed some general reservations in later years, stating that the concept was never intended for touring cycles, only for racing: "I designed it back in the days when road surfaces were even worse than they are now. We all rode on wooden rims in those days and we needed something to take up the road shocks." [14] Nevertheless the purely touring models sold well from the beginning, justifying Hetchin's hunch that the looks of the rear vibrant triangle alone were a selling feature.

Many racing cyclists were attracted as well, of course, and the first successes quickly followed. Hetchin's took a prominent place at J E Holdsworth's fourth Lightweight Cycling Exhibition, held at the Royal Horticultural Hall, London, between 26 Oct. and 2 Nov. 1935. Their entry in the catalog described them as 'makers of patent vibrant seat and chain stays known to racing men as the curly seat stays.' Leaving aside the slightly pompous language this reflects, even so, a remarkably quick acceptance of a new design in less than a year.

On 20 Nov. 1935, exactly a year after the provisional specification was filed, Hetchin delivered to the Patent Office the complete specification for the rear vibrant triangle. The remaining stages were quickly dealt with and the patent was accepted and published on 28 Feb. 1936 under the number 443,454. [15] {Original Patent}

Expansion of the cycle business was now so rapid that the gramophone side at Seven Sisters Road was becoming irrelevant, with the added inconvenience of Denny and cycle manufacturing being located some distance from [the] head office. It was decided that this could not continue; the music side was dropped altogether (if it had not already gone), the workshops were installed and the business at 461 Lea Bridge Road was closed down.[16] These changes took effect by the end of May 1937, [17] Hetchin's advertisement for Cycling for 1 July 1936 stating 'having now moved from Lea Bridge Road address to more suitable and commodious premises, Mr. Hetchin can now give his personal supervision to all jobs.[18] 461 Lea Bridge Road continued as a cycle shop, being taken over by Bates Brothers by June 1936.[19] There was no lightweight show in 1936 but Hetchin's confidently took their place for the first time at the Bicycle and Motor Cycle Show, held at Olympia, London, between 31 Oct. and 7 Nov. 1936.

The following year Hetchin's supplied a curly frame to Tony Merkens to ride in the 1937 Wembly Six-Day race and, though Merkens was not outright winner, he did well in the various primes and sprints. Hetchin made much of this in his advertising, though it is curious now to see a photograph of Merkens riding his Hetchin's in a jersey bearing the German Nazi swastika.[20] In the Wembly Six-Day event in 1938 Hetchin's supplied nine riders.

The tandem trade in the 1930s was very important, and conventional designs were offered from the beginning. A short-wheelbase tandem was developed in 1937, incorporating a fluted seat tube.[21] The Competition Tandem, as it was called, was available with either straight or curly stays, but neither variant achieved much in the way of sales. A patent application for the fluted seat tube was made in July 1937, 'construction of cycle tandem frames.'[22] Hetchin and Denny demonstrated further ingenuity in 1938 with [the] design of the 'Hetchin's universal rear fork end,' which provided a forward opening for single or multiple gears plus a rear opening for track racing. This was incorporated in the Trio model, together with the fluted seat tube and optional longer-rake forks, to produce an all-purpose racing or touring cycle.[23,24] A patent application was made for the universal fork end in July 1938, 'cycle frame construction.'[25] However, for neither application was a complete specification subsequently filed, and on 31 Aug. 1938 the application for the fluted seat tube was deemed abandoned by the Patent Office [26], with the fork end application being treated likewise on 16 Aug. 1939 [27]. One can only speculate on the reasons why no further action was taken. It is possible that the Patent Office advised Hetchin that the claims were not valid within patent law, but it is more likely that Hetchin felt that provisional protection, with its official-looking number, was sufficient to provide a warning to would-be imitators. Full patents also require a renewal fee to be paid annually after the fourth year in order for them to remain in force for their full sixteen-year span. {Fewer than a dozen Trios and racing tandems were sold; thousands of curlies were. Harry knew a dead horse when he saw one.--Flash}

By the outbreak of war in Sept. 1939 Hyman Hetchin had progressed from being, in 1934, just another music and gramophone dealer with a sideline in cycles, to one of the UK's leading specialist suppliers of lightweight touring and racing cycles. Though this success owed much to Jack Denny, it was Hetchin's enthusiasm and flair as an entrepreneur that enabled those skills to reach their full expression. What is more, after the war the best was yet to come.


Anyone researching Hetchin's must be grateful to Hilary Stone, who has provided an accurate framework of history which others can build upon with confidence. Many of the unreferenced statements come from this source. The Hetchin's Register is now maintained by Len Ingram, and this article has benefited from many discussions with him. I must also record my thanks to Mrs. Rita Read of Haringay Archives, Bruce Castle Museum, London, for access to the records of Tottenham Borough Council; Peter Redwood, for supplying a photocopy of the Hetchin's record sleeve; Josephine Parker, Archivist, Waltham Forest Archives; the staff of the British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale; and many other record offices and libraries.


Notes and references:

1. Hilary Stone 'The Hetchin's Mystique,' programme for the third Hetchins Weekend, July 1992, pp.10-23.
2. Hilary Stone, 'Early Days of Hetchins,' Cycling Plus, March 1995, p.38.
3. Hugh O'Neill, 'Hetchin's: A Marque of Distinction,' Bicycle, Vol.1 Issue 9, Sept. 1982.
4. Certificate of Naturalization, Home Office, 6 May 1927 (PRO HO 334/105).
5. There were two revisions to the electoral register in 1922. Hyman and Millie Hetchin are not recorded at 780 Seven Sisters Road for spring 1922 but appear at that address in the autumn 1922 register.
6. Kelly's Directory of Essex (excluding London), Hertfordshire and Middlesex, 1933 edition, Middlesex section, p.345.
7. There are references in Hetchin's records to all these makes by Sept. 1933 (information from Hilary Stone). These agencies were listed in Hetchin's first catalog (1935).
8. Unfortunately the Rate Books for Leyton 1934 are not available, but the London Telephone Directory A-K, Feb 1934, gives only the Seven Sisters Road number, whereas the following edition (Aug. 1934) gives numbers for both addresses. The title of the shop is that given on a bill of sale dated 16 March 1935. This bill is probably completed by Denny and bears his signature.
9. Tottenham Borough Council Works Committee, 6 Feb. 1934 (minutes 2146 to 2149).
10. Ibid., 1 may 1934 (minute 153).
11. Tottenham Borough Council Special Committee, 30 Nov. 1934 (minute 107).
12. Trade notes and news, Cycling, 23 Jan. 1935, p.30.
13. Peter Soper, letter, News and Views, 201, Nov/Dec 1987, p.20.
14. Hugh O'Neill, 'The Bespoke Tourer,' Cycling, 11 Sept. 1982, pp26-7.
15. UK patent applications are allocated a number incorporating a year suffix until the full application is accepted and published, when the next serial number available is instead allocated, the application number then being deleted. The existence of two numbers accounts for some writers having been confused into thinking there were two patents for the rear vibrant triangle, not one. Knowledge of these numbers helps to date Hetchin's catalogs and other references when these are not specifically dated.
16. This sequence is a best guess based on the available evidence.
17. Hetchin's advertisement in Cycling, 27 May 1936 p.12, is the first to give only the Seven Sisters Road address.
18. Hetchin's advertisement in Cycling, 1 July 1936 p.51. This also stated that the head office was at 798 and the works at 800.
19. Bates Brothers' advertisement, The Bicycle, 23 June 1936 p.16.
20. Hetchin's advertisement, The Bicycle, 1 June 1937 p.21.
21. Cycling, 29 Sept. 1937 p.482.
22. The Official Journal (Patents), 21 July 1937 p.1310 (no.19430).
23. Bicycling News, 17 Nov. 1938 p.602.
24. 'An All-Purpose Machine', Cycling, 28 Dec. 1938 p.943.
25. The Official Journal (Patents), 13 July 1938 p.1340 (19643).
26. Ibid., 31 Aug. 1938 p.1695.
27. Ibid., 1 Aug. 1939 p.1613.

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