Heritage: How bicycles, manufacturing and gas lights created Roneo Corner

An Ormonde Safety No 2 bicycle of 1880s vintage made at Roneo Corner

An Ormonde Safety No 2 bicycle of 1880s vintage, made at Roneo Corner - Credit: Angela Finch

Historian Andy Grant takes a look at how Haveringwell became the local landmark Roneo Corner.

Almost any local will know of Roneo Corner, but before the advent of the 20th century, it was just a tiny hamlet named Haveringwell, where the Hornchurch Road turned through a right angle on its path from Romford to Hornchurch.

In previous times there had been a natural well here - hence its name - and it was where horse-drawn carts forded the River Rom to and from Dagenham.

It was upon this corner, just behind The Crown pub, that William G Lewis opened his Speedwell cycle manufacturing works.

The company was established around 1874, but the Romford area factory was opened around five years after then. During the final decades of the 19th century, cycling was all the rage and an analogy might be made today with the present rise in electronic gadgetry.

1888 advert for an Ormonde Safety No2 bicycle

1888 advert for an Ormonde Safety No2 bicycle - Credit: Submitted by Andy Grant


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The Speedwell works produced several types of very successful machines, being the Speedwell, the HFS, the HFB, the Climax and the Speedwell Tricycle. In 1885, Ernest J Willis, Robert Willis and Elena Canepa established an agency and cycle repair business which subsequently became the Ormonde Bicycle Co.

In 1888 the trademark for the Ormonde Bicycle was acquired by the West London Cycle Stores, one of the leading UK suppliers of bicycles.

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In 1890 the Romford cycle works were blighted by a ’flu epidemic that decimated its workforce, and in that same year, it amalgamated with the St Andrew's Cycle Co, assuming this name and with capital of £20,000 in £5 shares.

The Ormonde trademark was later transferred to the St Andrew's Cycle Co and the sales premises of the West London Cycle Stores off Oxford Street were also later amalgamated with it.

In 1896 the company was renamed the New Ormonde Cycle Co.

However, the new company was unable to meet demand levels without further investment. As a result, in February 1897 the company was wound up and a new company, named the Ormonde Cycle Co with a subscription of £100,000 in £1 shares, was set up to acquire the previous businesses.

With this investment of money, the works on the Hornchurch Road site were expanded and modernised with new machinery.

The board of the new company comprised Sir Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett (chairman), Lord Athumley, Ernest Day, WH Bowater, Robert Willis (general manager), Frank William Grainger (commercial manager) and Thomas Groves (works manager) as directors.

By October 1899 the capital raised by its 219 subscribers was £85,000, but £70,000 paid for the previous company, loans, running costs, salaries and a 7.5 per cent shareholder dividend, and the company was unable to meet its liabilities and petitioned shareholders to be voluntarily wound up.

Following its closure, in October 1900, the lease of the cycle works in Hornchurch Road, together with all the fixtures and machinery, was sold for £2,550.

Although the company ceased to trade in Romford, it reformed as the British Ormonde Cycle Co and built its first motorcycle in 1901, thereafter becoming the Ormonde Motor Co.

William Gue and John Taylor of Taylor Gue Ltd, which supplied frames to the company, joined it in 1904 in order to produce their own motorcycles, ultimately becoming the iconic brand of Velocette.

After the Ormonde Cycle works were vacated, the premises at Haveringwell stood empty for a while until it was taken over by the Ramie Fibre Co, manufacturing mantles for gas lights.

A company initially called Neostyle was founded by Augustus David Klaber, renaming itself Roneo by 1901.

In May 1907 he sought new premises for the company and settled on the former works used by the Ormonde Cycle Co. The works were greatly expanded over the years, ultimately occupying most of the site bounded by Clydesdale Road and Park Lane.

A feature of particular note was the large white wall, emblazoned with the Roneo trademark that stretched around the corner.

This still remains in the local psyche more than anything, perpetuating its landmark name as Roneo Corner.

  • More Andy Grant articles can be found on the Romford History Facebook group. 

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