H.R.Morris Special Model 1963 – An English Lightweight Masterwork

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I recently carried out some work on this frame which in my opinion is one of the great masterworks of English lightweight frame building. It was built for Ray Bennis by H.R.Morris of Walthamstow, East London, in October 1963. Morris owned the bicycle shop that I used to frequent when I was in my late teens, and I was very fond of him. He was a big man with hands like bunches of bananas, but his work could be incredibly detailed and delicate. The lug cutting on this bicycle, all done with a tiny fret-saw and files, is second to none. His initials ‘HRM’ are cut into all the lugs, even at the bottom bracket, where the cutting is at its smallest and most difficult. These lugs took approximately two weeks to cut. It is rumoured that there are thirteen such bicycles built by Morris, but this is highly unlikely. I have seen only four similar frames, and all are quite different.

The collector that owns the bike wanted me to clean and conserve the frame, chrome and transfers. The frame is in its original finish, with some later touch-ins. After assessment, and tests on the underside of a tube, the frame was very carefully cleaned using Vulpex liquid soap mixed with water. This dissolves the grease and other grime very gently. A hog bristle brush was used to clean out the lug cutouts. After that, some over-spray was removed using Renaissance Pre-Lim. Chrome was cleaned using 0000 steel wool. Some new off-white lines were painted to replace the lost lining (fragments of which were visible under ugly vinyl tape) marking the border between paint and chrome, which gave the frame a ‘lift’. Finally it was protected with four or five thin coats of Renaissance Wax.

It was a pleasure to handle this wonderful frame… a Rembrandt of the bicycle World.

Click on photo for large scale image

Before:

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After:

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H.R.Morris Touring Bicycle c.1965

An H.R.Morris touring bicycle, from around 1965. Built in Orford Road, Wathamstow, London, E17. It has finely filed pleasing lugwork, with nice wrapover seat stays…. Not sure which lugs these are? Nervex – standard or reworked? There are numerous cable guide braze-ons, as well as front and rear lamp bracket, rear rack and bottle cage braze-ons. Frame number is H422.

H.R.Morris was the bicycle shop that I went to regularly when I was in my teens, and I always wanted one of his frames, but couldn’t afford it. Memories of Dick Morris are very pleasant for me…. He always had time to offer advice, imparting his extensive knowledge in the high pitched sqeaky voice that I didn’t realise until much later was a result of throat cancer when he was a younger man. The shop was a bit spartan, but in the cramped workshop out the back he produced some of the finest English lightweight frames ever made. His lug cutting was without equal, in my opinion, so finely done particularly bearing in mind that he was a big man and had hands like bunches of bananas! See an excellent article about Morris here.

When I bought the machine it had been built up with modern bits now consigned to the bin, and is now finished with more period correct parts. Chainset is Stronglight 49D, pedals Lyotard, Campagnolo Record rear derailleur and Campagnolo ‘matchbox’ type front changer, Renold chain, Campag bar-end changers. Handlebars GB Randonneur on GB stem. Wheels are Record rims on Maxi hubs. Mafac cantilever brakes and levers. Birmalite seat pin with Ideale alloy saddle. Purists will be pleased to hear that the front mudguard forward extension has been reduced since the photo’s were taken!

I agonised a bit about how to route the gear cables under the bar tape, and decided on this arrangement because it works best from a mechanical point of view, without tight cable turns, and I have another Morris bike which had the original bar tape with routing the same as this. Aesthetically its not so nice though! I prefer routing up to the levers and thence to the downtube.

Click on photo’s for large scale detailed images