The Lewis Cycle and Motor Works and its successor Vivian Lewis Limited were vibrant companies in the early days of the motor industry in South Australia, and a large amount of information exists in various forms. In this project we hope to bring together as much information as we can, so if we can keep enthusiasm high, there will be lots of entries on this page over the next year or two.
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Oldsmobile was the only successful post-war agency for Vivian Lewis Limited.
I was fortunate to meet the owner of a surviving Pullman car last weekend, and since Lewis were the agents in the period 1915 to 1918 it's a good time to do a brief history of Pullman cars at Vivian Lewis Limited.
More information has been forthcoming about Lewis employees, both at the country branches and in the city, before the first war. I've added these to the Lewis people page. The story of Herbert Tyley is particularly interesting.
August 2011 marks an interesting centenary: 100 years ago this month the first ascent by motorcycle was made on Mr Gambier, on a 3 1/2 h.p, Lewis by Mr Gilbert, of the Mt Gambier branch Vivian Lewis Limited. A celebration will be held at the mount on Saturday 27 August - I'll take my 1908 water-cooled Lewis down although from experience I know it won't climb to the top! To mark the occasion, I've updated the page on the Lewis branch at Mt Gambier. Still no photo or exact location. Help!
One of the remaining problems on the technical side of the Lewis Project is dating machines made after about 1915. Here we take a look at the three-speed countershaft gear box V twins made by Lewis in the period 1916 - 1920.
In the last couple of years, I've continued my search into Mlle Serpolette's early bicycling history in Europe - a rather fringe topic but one that fascinates me. I have updated a number of the Serpolette pages, and added some material on her early races as an amateur cyclist in Aix les Bain and Avignon, and her later races in Strasboug and Rouen. Of course the outcome is proof that the claims made for Serpolette by her publicist M. Ullmo are, well, exaggerated. Well what's new?
Thanks to Gary Smith for info on the still-standing c1900 Lewis building in Broken Hill, and to John Holden for another beautiful colourised postcard of the c1905 Lewis premises in Kadina.
Still toiling with research, which is reaching the point of diminishing returns. Although new material is constantly uncovered, I am rarely surprised by its content. This is probably the signal that it is time to wind up the research side of things (a dangerous comment!). I have updated the George Brooks Lewis Index to Version 5.0, now with around 1050 entries (the previous version had 870). Now back to writing, and perhaps more importantly locating high quality photos to illustrate the story. Help if you can!
An enormous amount of work has been done on early Talbots and Lewis: special thanks to arch-enthusiast Alan Meredith for adding his Talbot wisdom to my bumbling efforts. The Talbot research will gradually filter in, like this comment on a 1905 four cylinder Talbot in the Lewis Motor House.
I have updated the list of pre-1924 employees - there are now 195 people noted! If you can add anything to the list, please let me know. Also more info has come to light regarding the Lewis Cycle Works building in McHenry St, including a (later) photo of the facade.
Well another long bout of research with no web site updates. Please be sure that the story has progressed enormously in the last 6 months! As proof, I have updated the George Brooks Lewis Index to Version 4.0, now with around 870 entries (the previous version had 370). Please have a look at it - it is encouraging that so much information is contained in early newspapers and magazines. I've also been busy with early two cylinder Talbots at Lewis. I have updated the Cars in the Lewis Garage page to include entries for the 1904 11 h.p. Talbot Type 2K and the 1905 Talbot Type 2-O.
In 1924, Vivian Lewis Limited announced a new business plan, in some ways marking the end of the Vivian Lewis era which had begun with the Ormonde Bicycle Depot in 1892.
After leaving his Adelaide-based motor company in 1913, Vivian Lewis began a different kind of life as a farmer in the new settlement of Karoonda, in the South Australian Mallee.
The first Lewis car made its public debut in November 1900, but went through two major upgrades in the next few years on its way to surviving as a "relic" in the 1920s. Here's a development history of Lewis car number 1.
Writing history on the internet is a tricky business: it's sometimes hard to decide when to break from the research and commit something to words. Although still "work in progress" I have added short histories of the Ormonde Bicycle Depot and Lewis Cycle Works 1893 -1899, Lewis Cycle and Motor Works 1900 -1907, Lewis Cycle Works Limited 1924 - 1976 and Lewis Parking Station Limited 1925 - 1958. These should be considered "framework histories", and should at least provide context for other materials.
Although the glory years for the Lewis motorcycle were undoubtedly before the first war, there were some Lewis motorcycles built in the 1920s.
Added some delightful photographs to illustrate the story of Serpolette cycling at Olympia in 1896.
Lewis added spring forks to their machines from 1907, but it looks like they might have cheated just a little.
I've also updated the page summarising the various models of Lewis motorcycle. I'm still searching for a couple of photos to complete the set!
There's something seductive about Serpolette, and this time it has taken me back to the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris, early in 1896.
Still on Mlle Serpolette, it wasn't easy being a woman racing cyclist in Australia in 1898.
As I come across new names of people associated with Lewis, or new information snippets, I add them to the lists on the People at Lewis page. I've just updated the list of early employees.
I've also added a superb photograph to the Alfred Moyle page, showing him in his best-known role as a club administrator.
Lots of research, not much writing! Let's start up again with some updates to the Mlle Serpolette pages. I've verified some of her racing pedigree (particularly her time at the Olympia Track in London in 1895-6), added two lovely photographs courtesy of the State Library of South Australia, and gained a better understanding of the link between the Gladiator Cycle Co. and the Lewis Cycle Works in 1898.
There is a bit of creative marketing going on in the Lewis Album photographs: many of the cars appear more than once. Here we take a closer look at the cars in the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works. Please be patient as I finish sorting the cars out - it might take a little while. Also updated the list of motorcycle agencies carried by Lewis which now includes (somewhat surprisingly) Ace, AJS, Triumph, Douglas and Levis.
Added an extract from a c1916 Saxon motor car catalogue, stamped with the Vivian Lewis Ltd stamp. Lewis did very well with the Saxon agency during the first war. Also updated the People at Lewis pages: in total I have now gathered more than 150 names of people who worked with the various Lewis companies between 1892 and 1975. Names of those I've missed, or additional details of those already listed, are always welcome.
Added a lovely period post card of the Lewis Motor House - just the thing for a quick note to your beloved.
In the early days of South Australian motorcycling, a few riders devoted themselves to Lewis machines. Alfred Moyle, doyenne amongst clubmen, was one of them.
I confess to being slightly distracted by the Mlle Serpolette's visit to Australia in 1898, which has elements of ripping yarn and mysterious intrigue in about equal proportions. While I try to answer the really important questions (Who was she? Should I believe anything I read about her past?) I have added an itinerary of her visit, and technical specifications of her Gladiator tricycle.
Just what was the link between Mlle Serpolette and the Lewis Cycle Works?
Mlle Serpolette was either a famous racing cyclist, or a spruiker of bicycles and ladies cycling garments, depending on who you listened to. Here is a list of her claimed racing successes - if someone can verify perhaps the record can be set straight.
Mlle Serpolette's tricycle was said to have been the first motor vehicle seen in South Australia when she visited in May 1898. And to where does a lady turn when the beast won't run? The Lewis Cycle Works of course.
Thanks to Brian Forth for the copy of this 1919 Lewis Motor House receipt, from H.K. Scott, a Lewis owner from Currency Creek. Also added an updated copy of the George Brooks Lewis Index: it now contains over 380 references to Lewis, mostly in the Adelaide press, over the period 1895 to 1975..
Added a couple of articles: one on Rover cars seen in the album photographs c1905, and one on the incident-prone motor mail contract of 1908. Also added a 1936 letter of reference for Lewis employee Andrew Sinclair on a delightful 1936 Lewis Cycle Works Limited letterhead.
Beginning in 1913, Lewis built a particularly fine racing motorcycle, with overhead valves.
Added in a view of "the southern block", taken from the Adelaide GPO tower and showing the location of the three key Lewis premises at the southern end of town, c1910.
Updated the ephemera section, with a couple of lovely items dated 1900 courtesy of the Adelaide City Council Archives: a very hurried note from Vivian Lewis about a missed bicycle tender, and a superb letter requesting permission to use the Lewis car on the streets of Adelaide. No other car was running in Adelaide at the time. Also added a couple of Oldsmobile badges from the Waymouth Street era.
The State Library of South Australia has been a mine of information, but arguably my most exciting find to date has been the block plans (1" = 40 ft maps) of early Adelaide. Using detail from one of these, we can see the layout of the Lewis buildings on Gawler Place and McHenry Street (the "northern block") as it was in the period 1895 - 1905. Also added the famous photograph of the first Lewis car. (Yes, I promise to add more information about the cars soon.)
W.C. Torode was a master builder, a master motorcyclist and a master customer, covering 120,000 miles on four Lewis motorcycles from 1903.
Added a photograph of Waymouth Street, and finally found a photo of the Unley branch, which seems to have been a rather modest outlet for bicycle and motorcycles. I've also edited most of the "locations" entires, but only changed minor details, and added some more photos to the Lewis motorcycles on the road section.
Rewritten the section on Lewis-Precision engines, where the conclusion is that we probably shouldn't be calling them Precision at all! But they did come from the Precision Works... Also updated the Lewis-Stevens and the water-cooled Lewis motor sections.
Added yet more names to the people working at Lewis: the count is now over 100! Please help if you can.
Updated and expanded the entries for the Mt Gambier, Broken Hill, Port Pirie and Clare branches, and added a page to cover miscellaneous locations around Adelaide. If you'd like to help solve a couple of mysteries, I'm still looking for addresses to go with the early workshop and foundry listed on the miscellaneous page.
The last couple of months have seen huge quantities of Lewis information pouring into my brain, but little dribbling out onto the web site. I will rectify this somewhat over the next couple of weeks as I add the new material. To start with, I have significantly expanded the information on people working at Lewis. If you can add to this, please contact me - the "people" side of the story is proving particularly difficult.
Added some information about the Port Pirie branch of the Lewis Cycle Works.
Some serious hours have been spent at the State Library, followed by many more updating many of the entries relating to the Lewis premises in Adelaide. The story now begins at 68 Grenfell St in 1890, and more detail has been added particularly relating to the white garage (now identified as being on Molton Street) and the McHenry Street works. There are new entries for Waymouth Street in 1925 and the 1956 - 1975 Lewis Cycle Works on Gouger St. My view of the Vivian Lewis Limited presence on Franklin St has also changed. You will find a bit of Lewis corporate history now laced though these entries, but I intend to write story up separately, and more comprehensively, in the future.
Prior to 1910, Lewis sourced motors from The Stevens Motor Manufacturing Co. in Wolverhampton (forerunners to better-known A.J. Stevens) and had some interesting dealings with A.W. Wall, makers of the ROC motorcycle.
Updated material about the Adelaide premises of Lewis: added detail of the extensions to the Gawler Place South, and modified various entries relating to the white garage now that we know more about its exact location.
Added two early Lewis booklets to the ephemera section. The Lewis Cycles and Motors pamphlet shows cycles, de Dion cars and a Minerva-engined motorcycle (an illustration from the contemporary Chater Lea catalogue, crudely retouched to add "The Lewis" to the tank panel), and is probably late 1904. The Lewis Cycles booklet, with lots of Broken Hill content, is 1905 and uses lots of the earlier photos from the Lewis Album.
Updated the water-cooled motors page to include the De Dion-engined Lewis motorcycles exhibited in March 1905.
Updated the entry for the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, Broken Hill.
I have included a picture of the 1926 Vivian Lewis Motors premises on Franklin Street, Adelaide, as it stands today. Get down there soon and have a look before it, like all the earlier Lewis buildings in Adelaide, disappears.
Added information on the suburban Unley branch of Vivian Lewis Limited.
For the 1911 season, Lewis introduced a range of machines powered by Precision engines. Or were they?
The marvellous photos in the Lewis album were taken for a 1906 Lewis booklet. Does anyone have a copy?
The air-cooled Lewis models were not as exotic at their water-cooled brethren, but still worthy of note.
Some thoughts on the motorcycles seen in the early Lewis workshop, c1904.
Here's an overview of Lewis water cooled motors as used in their water-cooled motorcycles c1905 - 1920.
I've updated the list of Lewis motorcycle models - as an overview it's getting near complete. Does anyone have a photo of a mid-1920s "Lewis Sport" with a 350 cc s.v. Precision motor and 3-speed box? Or the 1918 w.c. Lewis with the radiator on the front down tube? Also added a 1913 letterhead, and a group photo taken at the Belair National Park in September 1914. Four Lewis motorcycles on display - an article to follow.
The Lewis motorcycles on the road section is growing. Down the track a little, I hope to expand this section of the site with larger copies of the photos and captions.
Added the final five album photographs (for the moment at least - I am in search of an important photo that is missing from this copy of the album). The photos show bicycle manufacture at the Lewis Cycle Works c1905: brazing a bicycle frame, preparing for painting, the stove enamelling ovens, painted parts awaiting assembly, and another shot of the final assembly area.
Added five more photos from the album, mostly related to the bicycle activities of the Lewis Cycle Works: the office, bicycle parts counter, repairing punctures, bicycle repair shop and bicycle assembly. I've also uncovered some history of the Gawler Place South premises before and after the Vivian Lewis era.
Public release - please excuse any gremlins that are still around from the construction phase. Feel free to link directly to The Lewis Project page at the URL: http://users.senet.com.au/~mitchell/lewis
20 May 2007
The Lewis Project site goes on-line for the first time in a pre-release form. There are no external links to the site yet. Initially the aim is to get the structure for the site in place, so expect the structure to change and new content to appear a little haphazardly over the next couple of weeks while we get organised.