"The Bicycle King"
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© Peter Trevelyan-Johnson
"Many contributed to the meteoric rise of The Hercules to a greater or lesser degree, but basically it was a one-man show. It was Ted Crane's foresight, audacity and relentless will which drove it to success. He defied the rules, confounded the experts and battled against the tide, relying solely on the conviction that he knew best. Impervious to attack or appeal he bulldozed his way through half a century of commercial and industrial adversity."
D D McLachlan
The lateSir Edmund Crane outside his Lapworth home
Crane male family members and 'nicknames'
Father - Edward John Crane - Jack
Eldest son - Edmund Frank Crane - Ted
Second son - Henry Arthur Crane - Harry
The young Edmund Crane showed early signs of his determination and ambition. At the age of four, having just been punished for some childish misdemeanour, with fists clenched and shaking with anger, he vowed to his parents that one day he would be Mayor of Birmingham.
Edmund Crane was born on 21st November1886 to a middle class family in Birmingham. He was one of eight children, two being still-born. Another, Daisy, died when she was just 10. The family had an uncertain and insecure life. They moved house six times in fourteen years and their parents’ business, The Petros Cycle Company, became insolvent.
As a young boy, Edmund had a disarming smile but could sometimes be rather abrupt. He particularly disliked being interrupted if his attention was otherwise engaged. He was sitting at a railway station one day reading a book and waiting for the train to arrive. After a while the station master, seeing the lone figure on the platform, approached him and pointed out that his train had come and gone. Edmund looked up, gave him a cool stare and remarked that he still had a chapter to finish!
He could also be very determined. When his parents decided to take a short holiday, he pleaded to be allowed to go with them but was told he must stay at home. His father piled the bags on the Brougham and with his wife set off for New Street station. When they arrived they found Edmund perched on the top of the luggage!
Edmund and Harry shared a tandem. They were out on it one day when they came to a steep hill. Harry said the only thing to do was to get off and push. Edmund disagreed, so Harry, who was seated behind, decided not to pedal in order to force his brother to give up halfway, but despite the extra load, Edmund managed to get them both to the top.
These few anecdotes give a glimpse of the steely determination of the young Edmund Crane.
Edmund and his brother, Harry went to Handsworth Grammar School where Edmund developed an interest in football. This was an interest he never lost.
Handsworth Grammar School celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2012.
Edmund and Harry left school at the age of 14 to start working in their father’s business, assembling and selling bicycles. It was the turn of the century and the bicycle business had become very competitive with too many bicycle manufacturers and not enough customers. The advent of motor vehicles only added to the problem and Edmund’s parents’ struggled with The Petros Cycle Company. This had a profound effect on the twenty year old Edmund who now felt he had to fend for his parents and younger sisters.
But it wasn’t until 1910 that Edmund, together with his brother Harry, formed Hercules Cycles. The brothers had watched the mistakes made by their parents with Petros Cycles and vowed that this company would not go the same way. Hercules was to become the biggest bicycle manufacturer in the world.
Edmund was charming, hardworking and very determined. He was viewed by employees with a mixture of respect, admiration and fear. One worker remarked:
"Mr Ted was a regular visitor on the shop floor. He showed a good interest in the workers and would talk to the foreman and others as if they were his friends".
Another, a fourteen year old boy recalled:
"I often saw this well-dressed man pass through the Department, and being a little frightened of all people not in overalls, I kept my head well down. After I had been with the firm a few weeks I was told to report at Mr Ted’s office.
With a thumping heart and trembling legs I knocked on the door not knowing what to expect. I entered the huge room and saw Mr Ted seated behind his desk. He began by asking me questions - my name, where I lived, did I like my job and so on. Then he went across to a cupboard in the corner and took out a large dead rabbit (I later learnt it was a hare) and asked if my mother would accept this as a gift from him, saying it would make a nice meal for our family."
Edmund married Naomi Tamkin on the 22nd May 1911. At the time of their engagement Naomi had just completed her training at the Birmingham branch of the Trinity college of Music. Edmund and Naomi set up married life in a two-up, two down semi in Russell Road, Hall Green. Russell Road ran parallel to the main Stratford Road where the trams rumbled past on their way into Birmingham.
Edmund and Naomi had one child, Joan who went on to produce three sons, Brett, Peter and David. Having no sons of his own, Edmund was devoted to his grandsons.
Edmund played a good game of golf and won various trophies in competitions organised by the Dunlop Company, had a shoot at Long Marsden in the Cotswolds and became an expert shot. He was also a generous supporter of Moor Green Football Club and was eventually appointed president both of Moor Green and of the Birmingham and District Amateur Football Association.
"Edmund Crane was a man who appeared at the right time and in the right place in the history of the bicycle. Perhaps not earlier in the century, and certainly not since, have circumstances been more appropriate for a man of his vision and enterprise to appear on the bicycle scene."
Ronald Sudbury - The Cycle Trader
Edmund Crane at 21