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Charles Sangster, 1872-1935

Founder and Managing Director of Components Limited and Ariel.

This article by the well-known writer H.W.Bartleet appeared in Cycle and Motor Cycle Trader for December 6th 1940, one of his series on Early Cycle Trade Inventors. I have reproduced it here believing it to be of interest to Ariel enthusiasts and as a tribute to the man himself. If any organisation or indivual has an objection to this, please contact me.

There is a general idea that inventors are never good businessmen, and those who hold this belief are always ready to quote instances of ingenious men who originated novel devices which earned thousands of pounds for the cleverer commercial magnates who put such novelties in the market and organised sales campaigns to aid their progress, but from which the true inventor benefited but little. The history of our industry abounds with such cases; any "old inhabitant" of the trade will recall them.

An exception.
Now I want to tell the story of an inventor who could - and did - originate novel schemes and contrivances, but who could also select machinery to manufacture the novelty, get out drawings and blueprints, arrange an advertising campaign, organise a staff of commercial salesmen if necessary, float a company to develop the business, and preside over the annual meetings.

Charles Sangster in 1898
Charles Sangster
in 1898

A "Jack of all trades" you will say? Well, that is perhaps a rough and ready way of describing the man I have in mind; but I am sure he would not have objected to the term had it been used while he was still with us to chuckle at the innuendo. For he had a keen sense of humour, despite the strenuous rush in which his business life was spent.

Charles Thomas Brock Sangster was born at Aberdeen on May 16, 1872; his godfather was Charles Thomas Brock, of firework fame, hence the names. After a sound educational grounding at local schools he completed his training at King's College, London. After a brief period "in the city", he was apprenticed to Messrs Linley & Biggs, who made "Whippet" cycles at Clerkenwell Road, London; here he was surrounded by mechanical enthusiasm and it's not surprising that his latent abilities developed in such a congenial atmosphere.

Both the partners, C. M. Linley and J. Biggs, were cycle engineers of repute; they had invented the Whippet, probably the best spring frame the cycling world has ever known; on the staff were W. Chater Lea, later to make a name for himself in another branch of the trade; J. G. H, Browne, who, a few years later, left to start building "North Road" cycles, in Goswell Road; J. A. Poole, inventor of the expanding stem method of handlebar adjustment and others.

It was about this time that I became acquainted with Charles Sangster; we were members of the same cycling club, and met on club runs every week end. He was a good rider, and carried off several prizes, notably in hill climbing contests and road trials.

Hand power Gear.
It must have been about 1892 that "C. S" came in touch with F. W. Zimmer, inventor of the "Zimmer" hand power gear, a method of assisting the drive by means of a rocking handle-bar driving an auxiliary chain to the bottom bracket through a ratchet clutch. Sangster rode a tricycle fitted with the gear, but whether he was commercially interested in it I do not know, possibly it was made in the Whippet factory, and he merely demonstrated it for the inventor. The gear must not be confused with the Bricknell gear, which came along some ten years later.

In 1893 Sangster joined The New Howe Machine Co., taking a position in the Glasgow works under the banner of R. L. Philpot, a leader who was to exercise great influence on the rising young designer. His next move was to the Rudge factory in Coventry where he was associated with W. Radford, a works manager with a deserved reputation for efficiency.

Shortly after this the Philpot group migrated to the Cheylesmore works of the Coventry Machinists Co., and here Sangster had his great opportunity; with a free hand he designed the new "Swift" models for1895, completely revolutionising the somewhat stodgy patterns of the oldest firm in the cycle trade. The new "Swifts" were received by the trade and public with enthusiasm, and placed their designer - if not on a pedestal - in the front rank of his chosen craft.

Fresh Worlds to Conquer
But aspiring to conquer fresh worlds, our subject, while retaining his interest in the "Swift", secured financial backing to erect a big new factory at Selly Oak, on the outskirts of Birmingham, where, in collaboration with R. F. Hall and Harvey du Cros, jun., he inaugurated the Cycle Components Mfg. Co., making fittings for the trade.
Old traders will remember "Components" parts as being extremely well finished, and if I may say so a bit in advance of the times for which they catered.

While the Components Co. continued to supply ready to build fittings for the trade, a kindred concern was started in a section of the factory to manufacture “Ariel” cycles, under the direction of Charles Sangster. Ridden to victory in the world's championships of 1897 by J. W. Stocks (professional) and E. Gould (amateur) and paced by "Ariel" multi cycles, C.S.’s new marque quickly achieved commercial success, the agency being much sought after by retailers throughout the country and abroad.

The demand for quadruplets and quintuplets for the great Dunlop teams of pacemakers, provided scope for Sangster's ingenuity; these cumbersome machines had to withstand stresses which could not be calculated in the Drawing office, and it is to the credit of Charles Sangster that the "Ariel" quads and quints gave no trouble. It happens that I was in charge of the Dunlop racing teams in those hectic days; and I had the satisfaction of passing many of C.S.'s accounts for supplying quads at something like £100 each.

Ariel quintuplet, Charles Sangster as steersman

Ariel Quintuplet, designed by Charles Sangster.
The riders are: Charles Sangster (steersman), Grant Sangster, A.Stace, W.Bryce, and A.H.Quance,
all members of the staff of Cycle Components Manufacturing Co., Ltd.

Though himself the originator of many novelties and revolutionary processes in factory operation, Sangster (unlike other works managers who could be mentioned) was always ready to take up and commercialise the ideas of others. Notable instances are the Crabbe brake and the Lea reflex rear "light", both of which were made under his direction in the Components factory and marketed by his staff. He was one of the first to adopt the "Coslet" system of rust proofing, and before the advent of the present forward opening drop out, took up the "Cosset" patent fork-end and fitted it to “Ariel” and “Fleet” bicycles.

He devised the method of manufacturing the "Endless" rim, and designed the machinery for rolling the strip steel and welding the join.

From 1893 to 1908 inclusive the records of the Patent Office reveal no fewer than 145 applications for patents in the name of C. T. B. Sangster, so that he was one of the most prolific inventors our trade has ever known. Not all his provisional specifications were completed; indeed, he seems to have made a practice of taking out provisional protection for an idea while he worked it out and summarised its commercial possibilities. This applies to about 26 percent of his applications. One of his 1901 patents was for "an improved shirt and shirt front"! Unfortunately, this is among the applications which he allowed to lapse.

Charles Sangster was a pioneer motorist and motorcyclist. Importing a French de Dion tricycle soon after the repeal of the "red flag" Act, in 1896, he used it to gain experience, and by 1898 he had designed the “Ariel” motor tricycle, the main feature of which was the engine within the wheelbase. This was perhaps the most efficient tricycle ever marketed. During the last war C.S. took out several patents for armament details; these included an improved machine gun tripod, a metallic gun belt, a new type of hand grenade, and a wire cutter for attachment to rifles.

Finger language
A. J. ("Fred ") Wilson tells a story which illustrates the thorough manner in which Sangster approached even trivial matters. It happened about 1890; Wilson was president of the North Road Cycling Club; at a club run and tea at Barnet, a rather mild looking youth was introduced as a candidate for election. The newcomer seemed impressed by the fact that the president was deaf, so Wilson tipped the wink to some of the lads to kid him that he could not be elected until he had mastered the finger alphabet! A week later he turned up and spoke fluently on his fingers to the august president. The novice was Charles Sangster; his determination to learn the deaf and dumb language in a week was characteristic of his industry.

Charles Sangster died on March 18, 1935.

The obituary of Charles Sangster appeared in Cycle and Motor Cycle Trader for March 22nd 1935

Death of Mr. Charles Sangster.
We regret to announce the death on Monday last, at 74, Salisbury Road, Moseley, Birmingham, of Mr. Charles Sangster, one of the pioneers of the cycle and motor cycle industries.

His early associations date back to the first dawn of the bicycle as we know it to day, as he was first connected with the New Howe Cycle Co., of Glasgow, and then with the Coventry Machinists Co., the firm that gave rise to the Swift concern, generally regarded as the father company of the bicycle trade. He then went to Components, Ltd., in 1895.

For more than thirty years Mr. Sangster was managing director of Components, Ltd., and, of course, occupied a similar office in the Ariel Company. It will also be remembered that he was chairman of the Swift Company for a considerable period, and also owned or controlled, amongst other companies, the Rover Cycle Co., the Midland Tube & Forging Co., and the Endless Rim Co. He was President of the Motor and Cycle Trades Benevolent Fund in 1921.

One of his two surviving sons (the eldest was killed in the war) is Mr. Jack Sangster, managing director of Ariel Motors (J.S.), Ltd.

Mr. Charles Sangster's death is a matter of deep concern to many in the trade, more especially to that diminishing band of pioneers whose work did so much to establish our industries.

We offer our sincerest sympathy to those bereaved.

Charles Sangster
Mr. Charles Sangster


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