Johnny Kay

During the 1950’s and 1960’s  two members of the North Lancs Clarion C&AC – Alan Ramsbottom and Tom Hoyle – were given racing frames each year by Johnny Kay, because of the quality of these frames, it has been suggested that I compile a brief history of the company and to try and find any frames still in existence. This history is very incomplete and any information that can be given would be appreciated.

Tom Hoyle on the Oozehead Lane hill climb in Blackburn 1962

The firm was founded in 1930 but little is known of these pre-war days except that in 1936 Reg Harris had his first custom built frame built by Jack Herety at John Kay’s Rawtenstall cycle shop.

After the war the business re-started at Bank Street, Rawtenstall, and, with Johnny and his son Gerald using the frames to great success in time trials and road racing, business flourished.

Many of these frames were built using Nervex Professional lugs with beautiful ‘wrap over’ seat stays and pump pegs. The main claim to fame was a guaranteed weight of 6 ¾ pounds as the weight of the frame.

A 1950s 6 page catalogue lists three models “Campiano” at 17 guineas, “Track” at 16 guineas and “Mastrar” at £11 19 shillings, all built with Reynolds 531 double butted tubing and using Nervex Professional lugs. Extras included chroming and lining.

In 1956 Johnny introduced a less expensive frame “The Rossendale” at £8 19 shillings. Although these frames were built by Armstrong, Johnny insisted that the lugs be sent to him for filing and detailing before the frames were built.

After the War transfers took the form of a head and seat tube crest and script type down tube transfers in black, gold and red. Later, as RTTC rules relaxed, large down-tube block letters were used on track and racing frames. Some head tube crests show the name Gerald Kay due to an error by the printer who used Johnny’s middle name by mistake.

Enamelling was originally done by Holdsworth’s with the frames being sent down by rail to London and returned for collection by cart from the station. Chrome plating was carried out by East Lancs Plating.

Unfortunately, in an attempt to keep water out of the bottom bracket. Johnny used to plug the bottom of the seat tube with a cork, over the years this meant that the seat tube rusted through about three inches above the bottom bracket. This may be one reason why so few frames have survived.

Also during the early 1950’s Johnny asked Eric Wilson to come and work in the shop. Eric went on to record many of his hill climb wins on a Johnny Kay. The rivalry between the young Eric Wilson (National Hill Climb Champion in 1964) and the young Gerald Kay probably encouraged then both to greater successes. Gerald who now lives in Spain still regularly rides one of his own frames which following a search was given to him as an 80th birthday present.

In the early 1960’s Johnny’s son Gerald set up a shop in Halliwell Road in Bolton, where Johnny continued to build frames.

Frame numbering is difficult but it is possible that numbering started at 1000. A frame with early Nervex Professional lugs is numbered 31499 (assumed to be the 449 frame built in 1953. It is likely that production over an eight year period was about 100 frames per year. (all this is guesswork).

If you know of any Johnny/Gerald Kay bicycles or frames, or can add anything to the history of this iconic ‘classic lightweight’ frame please contact Robin Hatherell. Tel: 01200 423691 or email robinhatherell@btinternet.com.

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