I met Ken Janes on 19 July 2003. He is a big, tall, lad born of Irish parents. There is not a trace of slouch or stoop in him. He has clear eyes, a soft voice, and a prodigious memory. He can tell you straightaway that the 5th of Dec. 1948 was a Monday and that the winter of '47 was very cold. If you ask him a foolish question, he looks you straight in the eye and lets you know there is no such thing as a foolish question, just a foolish person. Needless to say, I peppered him with foolish questions. I met with him for about three hours at his home; he showed me kindness and treasures, and demonstrated his craft for me in his workshop. Later, in detailed correspondence, he clarified and elaborated a number of points. The following is distilled from the interview and correspondence. Nearly all of the text is paraphrased from Ken; Ken's exact words are in quotes; [the Editor's comments are included in square brackets].
He was born "sometime in the 20s." He joined the military at 14, as his father had done: "family tradition." He served overseas many years with distinction; he served in many campaigns, was injured in some of them, and was a prisoner of war in Korea. Later, he taught the American Green Berets a thing or two. He was awarded citations and medals. Later, he was injured in a bomb blast and one of his lungs was poisoned by cordite (explosives). He thinks faster than he can breathe with only one lung. Sometimes he stops, labors for breath, and patiently waits for his body to catch up with his mind.
His father was a metalworker who cut lugs in the 1930s, and young Ken copied him using metal from saucepans. Ken's father invented the seat tube chain oiler; it consisted of a reservoir and a small pipe running down the seat tube; by actuating a lever, oil would drip onto the chain. His father sold the idea to Claud Butler for 6 pounds 3 shillings and 6 pence; Butler patented the idea and sold millions of them. "Even Coppi had one on his Bianchi in the 47 Giro."
Ken worked for several frame builders over the years, including Paris, Ephgrave, Hetchin, and Carpenter. He also knew, and lodged with, Harry Rensch. It was Harry Rensch who developed flamboyant paint, at the time called polychromatic. The paint with the deep lustre was achieved by applying many coats of color and clear lacquer and using emery paper to sand each one down before applying the next coat. At first, other frame builders had a devil of a time figuring out how it was done.
"I will get down to the nitty gritty of the Hetch episode. I remember things! I'd had a few friendly words with Harry Rensch regarding my [continuing] as a lodger. ... The winter [of 1947] was very hard, but a tin building extension with a plastic roof was added. Icicles hanging from the gutters, frames going rusty before delivery to enamelers at Stratford, only the charcoal furnace for heat. Mrs. Mary Rensch was a very oversexed woman and did on occasions wander into my room of nights! I'm no prude, but Harry had been very good to me after my marriage split up, so I chose the coward's way out. On 5th Dec. (Monday) '48, I moved all my belongings into 798 Seven Sisters Road. ... Hyman and Jack Denny treated me as an equal (except when it came to wages) and even after I'd been recalled on Z reserve [military duty] for the start of the Malaysian Scout campaign for the SAS in 1950, Hyman and Jack wrote to me sending [some cash] with which to get some goodies when on leave."
Ken lived upstairs over the shop in Seven Sisters Rd. from 1948 to 1950. This saved Hyman Hetchin 16 shillings a week on the fire insurance premium. He lived in the room just above the 'Tricycle Specialists' sign. But, he says, there was never a trike built. Apparently Hetch advertised them, but subcontracted trike orders. "Hetch had two [trike axles, one Higgins, one Abingdon] in 1948 [which] were thrown out after the shop was demolished under a section 30 slum clearance scheme . Also there [were] Holdsworth trike conversion sets displayed as well. Trikes are usually known in cycling terminology as Barrows. Over 67 years in the cycling game I've come across more cowboys than there are in Texas! ... I saw a bus this morning with an advert 'Epsom Salts'--should I expect the driver to call at every public toilet on route? An advert is not all that it seems!"
Hyman supplied materials and premises and got 60% of the profit; Jack Denny built frames and got 40%. Ken cut lugs, swept the floors, and opened the door on Saturdays, as I shall explain. Ken's workday was 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Sundays he had a half day off. 'Hymie' was an orthodox Jew and would not touch a machine on Saturday (including a key or a telephone), so it was Ken who ran the cash register and opened the door for customers on Saturdays. Hymie was a clever salesman who could sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo.
Few customers ever "saw the inside of [the] Tottenham workshop as this was a 'holy of holies,' [depending] on how much the customer spent. Hymie's anthem being: 'don't stop them working, time is money.'"
I asked Ken who had designed the Latin Series, whether Hyman or Jack, how they had hit upon the names, and whether there had been a set of master lug patterns. "With regards to the name Magnum Opus, this [name] was used by all and sundry in the 30s-40s [who were] frame builders, especially the Italians. ... in the 40s or 50s frame builders -- not only Hetchins but others, not only used latin, but also italian titles for [various] different brands: for instance Youngs named other models for Grandini, Whitaker, or Mapplebeck of Bradford, Scela Del Campioni, Re-Della-Corsa, etc. ... It didn't matter who designed the [Latin Series] lugs [for Hetchins]--Jack Denny took the praise... There were no master patterns [for the Latin Series lugs,] only sketches made on a blackboard and a few copper bi-lams [see below] for repetition work."
Ken refers to "bi-lams." These are flat sheets of elaborately cut metal, the thickness of a lug. These were folded round a frame joint, mitred, tacked, and then silver soldered. Claud Butler pioneered this technique of bi-lamination after the War; the frames were brazed together with lugless joints, then 'bi-lams' were added to the joints later. Hetchin apparently use this method, too, in addition to castings and pressed-steel lugs. "Design and hand cutting came very expensive for seat tube bi-lams, 16 pounds in the 1970s." Ken was still cutting such things when I visited him in July 2003.
Ken was paid piecework wages for lug cutting. Along with Ken, the other lug cutter in Hetchin's employ was Jack Jones [who died in summer 2003]; Jack Denny also cut lugs. After 1950, Ken cut lugs at intervals when he was off duty and on leave; there was always work waiting for him when he got back.
"Following the Victorian era ... everything was cast iron, so many small companies [were] set up--especially round Acton (West London)." One of these local foundries was almost certainly used by Hetchins for producing the Latin Series lugs. "Chater Lea cast their own lugs and other companies' as well [including those used on early Hetchins]. ... It's not practical to order large amounts of ... [different types of cast] lugs." So small numbers were ordered. The danger of ordering too many was apparent "in the case of the Cognoscenti, where at Southend there was a stretcher-full never used."
I asked Ken about the process of cutting lugs. How much did he have to do to a casting before brazing? "...lots of cleaning, with wire brush and file, to give a clean appearance. ... No need to put additional tangs on a cast lug--all details are included. Tangs were added only to pressed steel lugs."
He said that cast lugs are stronger than pressed. Most of the repairs which came into the shop were pressed Expertos which had failed.
Stack-cutting of lugs Ken considers "a load of rubbish". The saw blade would bow outwards and distort some of the layers. Ken, at any rate, did not use this method, although I have reliable sources who claim that others did; perhaps the stack-cut method was developed later, after Ken left the firm, and was used for other, simpler designs than the Latin Series.
Ken said that a "fly press" was used in making some lugs. This is something like a cookie cutter applied to flat stock.
I had been given some drawings of lug patterns and told that lug cutters would have used these to transfer the patterns to flat stock or lug blanks. But Ken did not need such things: "Once I learned to write my name, it was always the same. When one has drawn out hundreds of lugs, he can do it in his sleep."
I sent him a foto of a lug with some extra brazing on it. "With regards to the pre-1957 pressed steel lug, I can tell this is pre-1957 by the TECALMIT hole and thread. This has either been reinforced as on all track bikes, or else the lug has been stretched to obtain the correct angle, i.e., if one had only a 73-degree lug. Put it in the forge while hot, insert 2 one-inch bars into the apertures, exert [a young Irishman], and you will obtain an added 2 degrees."
Ken also built frames while at Hetchins. "I only made 441 frames between 1948 to 1950, most of these ending up on the American market... set up by Dick Swann [who died in Sept. 2003]." Ken's 'signature' was a triangle with 3 punch marks inside, under the bb shell, so get out your close-up lenses; I expect to see a foto of this! [Len Ingram points out that the production figures for 1948 to 1950 make Ken's claim of 441 frames implausible; 528 frames in total were made during this period, and Jack Denny presumably made most of them. Ken's contribution is difficult to asses without independent evidence.]
"Alf never picked up a torch or a file all the time I knew him. ... But I was informed that at Amstel Road [Southend], Alf and Jack were always disagreeing on things! Hyman died 9th Oct. 1961 of a bronchial cancer. I was in Libya at the time, so couldn't get leave... My mentor Jack Denny died 4th Aug. 1991 and I did see him off, 'to build curlies in the world above'. He was a good man."
Ken claims to have christened the Condor. Conway was the man's name, and on a visit to Conway's shop, Ken asked how many frames he had sold the last couple of weeks. Conway had sold few; Ken mentioned that Hyman had sold rather more and said that Conway couldn't expect to do much better with the name Conway. Ken suggested CONDOR instead, joining Con from Conway, with Dor, Conway's wife's name, Doris. The rest is history. [Bill Hurlow says that the name Condor was formed from the first part of Wally Conway's name and his partner who had originally had a shop selling Triumph bikes at Triumph House. Wally Conway was Monty Young's brother-in-law and Monty's parents, Harry and Lotty Yarovitch, bought some of the business for Monty. When Bill built for Monty there had only been one or two poor Condors built, with very few orders. Bill transformed that and the rest is history.]
Monty Young was the wheel builder at Condor at the time; he would later run the shop. Ken also knew Bill Hurlow and thinks very highly of him and his work as a frame builder and lug cutter/designer. Hurlow worked at Condor for a while, then for Harry Rensch, and later built frames under his own name, Hurlow of Kent. His frames were every bit as elegant as Hetchins. Click here for samples of Bill Hurlow's work.
Ken built frames for Paris, then under his own name. He built one of Chris Boardman's bikes. He cut lugs or ornaments for Roy Cottingham and Trevor Jarvis. [Editor's note from August 2006: I visited Ken again and am pleased to say that he is still working. He had at least six orders to fill for lug sets and ornaments.]
Below is one of Janes' frames:
Ken has some very fine collector's pieces. These include a 1955 Holdsworth Cyclone and three Paris frames. Ken used to make indexed gear levers for Osgears, so there is nothing new under the sun. Ken advises: mount the Osgear 4-3/4" forward of the stay end so as not to foul the chain. The Paris featured a double-plate fork crown by Henri Bastide; this twin-plate idea was copied by Claud Butler in the 1930s and later on by Hyman Hetchin (ca. 1947). Ken also has a Mills Special, ca. 1963, in magnificent red flam with gold dust glittering in suspension.
He was awarded the Deucher Medal in 1992, a prestigious engineering award for lifetime achievement. This means more to him than his military medals, he told me.
Postscript: Ken Janes died in June 2009.
Click here to see one of his frames.