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Raleigh Factory Closure - Chris Richards

I was saddened this week to hear of the closure of the Raleigh cycle factory on Triumph Road, Nottingham. Although cycles will still be manufactured abroad under this name, and a warehouse retained at Eastwood, the Radford association with Raleigh will be severed forever, and the 1952 Triumph Road factory will crumble under the bulldozer to become the dust of history, to be replaced with new buildings for the Nottingham University Campus, serving not manufacturing industry but the needs of students.

My own association with the factory began in 1962, when I was born, the son of Raleigh labourer Harry Richards. Both my father and mother worked in the 3 speed hub factory on Cycle Road, which was demolished in 1990 to make way for housing. Throughout the 1970s, mum and dad toiled on, so Raleigh was very much a part of my teenage life, the Chopper’s striking fashion statement equalling that of David Bowie or Marc Bolan in those far-off glam-rock Watneys Red Barrel days of Cresta pop, Space Hoppers and Vision On.

Raleigh suffered a number of strikes in the mid 70’s, and a number of takeover bids in the 1980s which meant that the workforce had dwindled from thousands in the 1960s to just a few hundred by the time it closed its doors on 28 November 2002.

The place was not just a factory but a little family contained within itself, with 2 Social Clubs, offering dozens of sports to participate in your leisure time. It was the very pulse and lifeblood of Radford itself, and the lunchtime scene in the Social Club was one of hundreds of blue-overalled workers hastily drinking beer in a fog of laughter and cigarette smoke. My father had by then retired, but still knew everyone who passed his table on the way to the bar for their dinnertime drink. Some workers even came round to visit him each week, and he was still part of the pools syndicate ten years after he had retired!

In 2001 I published a book ‘Images of England – Radford’ and took many photographs of the Faraday Road factory being demolished. Workers on cycles paused to look through the wire fence at their workplace being pulled to pieces, cars slowed down to have a look, and I wandered round the shell of the old Social Club, the smoke and laughter replaced with open sky, brick dust and live electric cables. I laughed at the comments the workers had written on the walls, and smelt the odour of suds, oil and grease rising up from the foundations, as if Raleigh still existed somewhere in an underground bunker, far from the summer sun which burned above.

As I parked my car up on a wet Saturday to take pictures of the Triumph Road factory after I heard the news about the closure, I gazed up at the white building with its RALEIGH INDUSTRIES LIMITED lettering, as vivid a picture now as when I was a child. Further up Ilkeston Road, a building had been named Sillitoe Court, fronted by a tubular white bicycle sculpture. But in my own mind, I can recall the real Raleigh, a world of sweat, grease, toil, laughter and camaraderie, just working people grafting together to produce the greatest bicycles the world has ever seen.

Link to Picture Gallery http://www.radfordgallery.fsnet.co.uk/raleh/ral.htm

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