Lewis Cycle Works, McHenry Street, Adelaide

When Vivian Lewis began his business on Freeman Street Adelaide in 1893, trading under the name Ormonde Bicycle Depot. Business was brisk, and we take up the story as reported in the S.A. Cyclist, 29 January 1897:

The depot grew rapidly too small for the rush of business, and so the Lewis Cycles Works were erected in McHenry Street, off Freeman Street. To visit these works is an education. The genial, clever, and resourceful Tom O'Grady is monarch here. The structure itself is his special creation. It is a lofty building, with a saw roof, all the vertical sides being filled with glass, ensuring plenty of light. The floor, which is as clean as a new pin, is asphalt. The building covers 3,000 square feet.

The McHenry Street factory was, then, the true "Lewis Cycle Works" when it was constructed around 1895, pre-dating the ill-fated attempts to form of the Lewis Cycle Works Limited in 1896.

The Cyclist article goes on to describe the men and equipment at work in the factory, but we can do better than that by taking an illustrated tour of the McHenry Street works, c1904, courtesy of photographs from the Lewis album.

When, or shortly after, the growing motor business was moved to the Lewis Motor House on Victoria Square in late 1904, most of the equipment from the McHenry Street works was relocated to a new workshop in Molton Street,  immediately behind the Motor House. The Lewis Cycle Works in McHenry Street was listed in the directory until 1910, even though it was advertised for sale in March 1908. Presumably the acquisition of the large premises on Gawler Place South at that time meant that it was no longer required.

Lewis Cycle Works, McHenry St, Adelaide

An early block plan of Adelaide shows the layout of the Lewis Cycle Works building. It was on the north side of McHenry Street, flanked by Dittmar stables and bakehouse to the east and Alma Chambers to the west. A laneway at the rear of the Freeman St/Gawler Place building led onto McHenry St, directly opposite the works.

Contemporary photographs of the Lewis Cycle Works have proved elusive, but a c1914 photograph has recently come to light. Published as part of an advertisement in the April 1914 edition of S.A. Motor, the photograph shows the building much as it would have been in the Lewis Cycle works era. The painted signage on the facade would have belonged to the tenants who used the building from about 1910 on - the Broad Motor Co. and Jas. Hill & Co. The crude "B. Lewis" banner refers to Bert Lewis who ran a secondhand motor business in the old Lewis Cycle Works for a couple of years. Bert was described in advertisements as "Motor Expert (late with Eyes and Crowle)". At this stage, it seems unlikely that there is any link, other than coincidence of surname, between B. Lewis and the other Lewis enterprises.

The search for a contemporary photograph of the outside of the McHenry Street works continues. What we do know is that the galvanised iron facade fronting McHenry Street must have been a little embarrassing for a business with aspirations: when the first Lewis Car was photographed with the proud Lewis workforce in 1900, the backdrop was the brick Dittmar building next door, just out of view to the right in the photograph above.

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