“GRIGG - THE HALLMARK OF EXCELLENCE IN ENGINEERING!”
British motorcyclists are a sentimental bunch. They can get just as excited by a list of British motorcycle ‘marques’ as doing the ton up the Kingston by-pass on the back of a 1959 650cc Bonneville Twin and who can blame them? It is an illustrious catalogue - B.S.A, Triumph, Arial, Norton, Vincent, Matchless, Royal Enfield and so on. But there is one name missing from that roll of honour…
“…a little remembered South London marque which blossomed and withered in 5 short years.”
DAVID EARNSHAW - “Old Bike” magazine, Autumn 1995
That marque was Grigg Motorcycles based at ‘Winchester Works’, in Winchester Road, St Margarets, squashed in between ‘Avenue Pharmacy’ at No. 2 and ‘Poupart and Sons’, Cowkeepers and Dairymen at No 4. It was set up in 1920 by Harry Grigg to produce “miniatures”, small motor scooters with tiny 1¾ hp 2 stroke engines “as docile as any power propelled vehicle is possible to be. It is undoubtedly the type which should be used by the girl, lady, or elderly gentleman who is nervous to make a start with a power-propelled vehicle”.
One Exeter rider declared that he beat the snow by rubbing the juice of raw potatoes on his goggles. Although this is ineffective in rain he confirmed that it kept his goggles quite clear of snow.
MOTOR CYCLING Jan 9th 1924
Basically they were no more than motorised skateboards. Poorly equipped, with inadequate caliper brakes, an open frame and no protection from the weather there was little demand for these machines. Realising his error Harry Grigg decided to change his business plan and produce proper motorcycles instead. ‘Winchester Works’ was extended and by 1923 the company was producing a wide range of motorcycles under the banner “Grigg - the Hallmark of Excellence in Engineering.”
There were 3 single cylinder models, the ‘Ajax’, the ‘Zeus’ and the ‘Mars’ with engines ranging in size from 2¼ hp to 4¼ hp. These cost between £52 and £59 each. Then there were the Orion and the Libra V Twin models with 5 hp and 8 hp engines that came equipped with side cars. These cost between £89.10.0 and £115.10.0. Business was good and by the end of 1923, Grigg motorcycles had a healthy balance sheet and a full order book. Harry Grigg was able to tell the AGM in December 1923 that the company had already set up another factory in South Croydon. Prospects were good.
The Grigg Factory is London is one of the most modern Motor Cycle Factories in the world. By the scientific selection and preparation of materials… and the installation of the most efficient plant the Grigg productions maintain their well known reputation for soundness and reliability.
GRIGG PROMOTION 1923
During 1923 Grigg Motorcycles had also extended their product range offering larger engines up to 1000cc some of which were water cooled. Unfortunately by then the bottom was beginning to fall out of the UK economy. Unemployment had risen to over 10, interest rates to nearly 20 and demand for motorcycles was falling like a stone. Like many other small companies Grigg Motor-Engineering was failing. They attempted to keep going by providing general machining facilities but the slump in the motorcycle market had hit them badly. By 1925 it was all over and the factory closed. Despite a wide choice of attractively designed bikes, not many Grigg motorcycles had been sold and the marque was largely unknown outside the London area.
Several riders who relied upon leather coats for weather protection learned to their cost that leather will not stand prolonged soaking. On the other hand one rider who was wearing a new 40/- trench coat kept perfectly dry.
MOTOR CYCLING Jan 9th 1924
Grigg motorcycles are now extremely rare and only 4 models carrying the name
are thought to survive:-
- An early scooter at the Hull Street Life Museum,
- A 3 ½ hp 2 speed Model E bike in the National Motorcycle Museum,
- A 1923 700cc V Twin reputed to be in Ireland awaiting restoration.
- A 1000cc V Twin model from 1923 with a Bacher and Hellon Engine.
There is some confusion as to the exact location of ‘Winchester Works’. All house numbers in Winchester Road below 28 (The Turk’s Head) disappeared around 1930 when buildings were demolished to make way for the new A316 arterial road. It has been suggested that the Globe Building on the Chertsey Road, currently being redeveloped for housing, was once ‘Winchester Works’ - and it is true that motorcycles were sold on the site as recently as 2009 when Dexters the estate agent took over - but this seems unlikely as the art deco building wasn’t built until after the construction of the A316. I suspect that ‘Winchester Works’ was one of the many buildings demolished in the road clearance. Now all that remains of St Margarets’ fleeting motorcycle industry is the scream of modern day bikers burning their way up the Chertsey Road to who knows where…
A song by Richard Thomson about another legendary British motorcycle - the 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. “Red hair and black leather- my favourite colour scheme”.
– from Martyn Day