1898 Cooper No 4 Roadster
‘A SPLENDID MOUNT FOR THE ROAD’
‘EQUAL TO ANY ON EARTH’
Any pre-1900 British bicycle is now hard to find, especially in good working order. But this 1898 Cooper ‘No 4 Gentleman’s Roadster’ is an extremely rare machine. As far as we know, it is the only known survivor. The company, although not well-known now, was one of the top wholesale suppliers; you can peruse their excellent catalogue, reproduced further down the page.
Their other products are equally interesting. At the turn of the century, William Cooper Ltd was the prime manufacturer and supplier of complete corrugated iron houses.
This No 4 Roadster has a 22 inch frame of weld-less steel tubing. Specifications are an inch pitch chain with 6 1/2 inch cranks, rat trap pedals, plunger front brake, and narrow 15 inch handlebars with period raffia grips. It’s currently fitted with good 28″ Westwood wheels, but its original 28″ cushion tyred crescent rims and hubs are with the machine.
The metalwork has been rubbed down so there is no paint: it can easily be repainted as a restoration …or left as is, which is my personal preference. This quality machine is very sound all round, and is eminently usable.
Wholesale Cycle Manufacturer
753 Old Kent Rd, London S.E
William Cooper’s adverts claimed that they were the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world. Their advertising byline was ‘COMPETITION DEFIED’ and they certainly published an impressive trade catalogue (below). In fact, as they offered retailers to ‘fix your own transfers, if desired, free of charge, and shall be pleased to supply sample machines on receipt of order’ we might have some difficulty nowadays to know whether small bicycle shops’ output were actually re-badged Cooper machines.
William Cooper Ltd Corrugated Iron Building Supplies
Largely unnoticed and ignored, corrugated iron buildings can be discovered scattered across Britain and the Empire. The initial proliferation of buildings constructed of corrugated iron was sparked off by an invention of 1828. In that year, Henry Robinson Palmer invented the “Corrugation and Galvanisation” of sheet iron. The resulting increase in strength encouraged the rapid adoption of corrugated iron as a cheap and practical material. Suppliers such as William Cooper of Old Kent Road in London, realized the economic benefit and robustness of corrugated iron, and consequently rapidly adopted it as a building material.
I’ve noticed a book published in 1905 on William Cooper Ltd that states that the company was ‘Established in the Old Kent Road about 1893, the firm supplied buildings, machines, tools, manures, etc.’ I’ll try and find a copy of it. I’ve also read the following: …William Cooper Ltd of the Old Kent Road, S.E. London. This catalogue lists and illustrates and huge variety of corrugated iron buildings that can be erected from their kits. Likewise, I’ll try and obtain a copy to publish here to add to the history of the company. Of all the bicycle manufacturers I’ve listed on this website, William Cooper Ltd is the only one I’ve come across that also manufactured buildings!
Another reference to William Cooper Ltd:
‘In 19th century Britain corrugated iron flatpack houses were a proud product of the industrial revolution. According to The Independent, corrugated iron was exported all over the world to make buildings of every size. While others were putting up corrugated iron churches or civic centres, the staff of William Cooper Limited, based in London’s Old Kent Road, cornered the market in cheap, prefabricated agricultural buildings, including the Ballintomb Cottage. A local farmer ordered it from the catalogue of a London company and had it delivered by steam train, then horse and cart, to a site near the village of Dulnain Bridge in Strathspey. He assembled it by hand, so he could move his family in during the summer while he rented out his farmhouse to wealthy holidaymakers. It cost just £425.’
When this property was on the market recently, the estate agents report stated:
It is highly probable that Ballintomb Cottage was delivered in kit form to the local station by William Cooper Ltd of Old Kent Road in London. At the turn of the last century Coopers had an illustrated catalogue of iron buildings (for home and export) of churches, hospitals, club houses, residences, cottages, offices, stables, motor car houses, billiard rooms and ballrooms. This type of house was normally constructed as secondary accommodation on large estates either for estate workers or overflow accommodation for shooting parties from the main lodge.
The construction of these iron buildings was fully detailed in the catalogues. They quote that “sheets of standard Birmingham grade galvanised iron are used, truly and evenly corrugated, thickly coated with pure Silesian spelter, true and even in temper, and free from flaws and cracks.” Floorboards were supplied of thoroughly seasoned deal in 1″ thicknesses and lining boards in 1/2″ tongue and grooved. The walls were insulated by a liberal use of felt. A handsomely designed residence, delivered and erected cost approximately £425.
Special Offer to the Trade
If you agree to become Agent for my Cycles, I will supply you with 250 8-page Cycle Lists, with your own name and address Printed on Same; 250 Post Cards with your Name and Address printed on back; three handsome Coloured Show Cards, Mounted and Varnished ready for hanging up; different designs: Size 20in by 30in; one handsome Coloured Poster in Six Colours, Size 60ins by 40ins; and 250 handsome coloured handbills. The whole will be Carefully Packed and sent Carriage Paid on receipt of 2s 6d for Packing and Carriage.
This bicycle has now been sold