Percy Thornley Stallard (1909-2001)
|Title:||Percy Thornley Stallard (1909-2001)|
|Held by:||Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies, not available at The National Archives|
For more than 50 years from the mid-1930s P T Stallard was in business, selling and manufacturing bicycles at 30 Broad Street, Wolverhampton. This solid achievement is not, however, what brought him fame. He was first and foremost a racing cyclist, and the energy and tenacity that he brought to his chosen sport helped transform competitive cycling from a fairly obscure pursuit into an activity with huge popular appeal. This collection of Stallard's papers is uncommonly comprehensive; even so, it offers hardly any support for the study of his formative years. He appears as a fully formed racing cyclist in his mid-teens and as a businessman a decade later. The Stallard lore, as represented by his obituary in the Guardian, suggests that he was born above his father's bicycle shop in Broad Street. In fact, official sources indicate that he was born above his father's butcher's shop in Penkridge, Staffordshire. The family had started out in Wolverhampton: Horace Casper Stallard was born in Heath Town and he was married in Wolverhampton, where his eldest son was born in 1900. But in 1901 the family was living in Market Street, Penkridge, where Percy was born in 1909. The move to Broad Street probably took place in 1911, and the Stallards appear in records in this collection as butchers for some years after that. Percy Stallard entered in his first proper cycle race barely 17 years of age, and from then on his devotion to the sport bordered on the fanatical. He was chosen for the British team in the 1933 world championship event in Paris, and again the next year, this time in Leipzig. What he saw on the Continent, in terms of the way in which road racing was organised and the popular following that it enjoyed, created an unstoppable urge in him to change British cycling. Cycling's governing body in Britain, the National Cyclists' Union, adhered to a strict code of practice laid down in the 1890s. Cyclists competed against each other only on special tracks or on closed roads. On open roads they rode singly, against the clock. For such events, the rider had to wear a black, alpaca jacket and black or grey tights and socks. He must not display bare arms above the elbow. What Stallard wanted to introduce was the kind of lively, colourful spectacle that he had enjoyed on the open road in France and Germany. By 1942 Stallard could restrain hmself no longer, and he organised a massed-start race to be run between Llangollen and Wolverhampton. The NCU had claimed that such an event was against not only their regulations, but against the law. Stallard approached every chief constable through whose district the race would run, and they all gave their approval. The fact that the second world war had all but obliterated British road traffic no doubt assisted the decision making. The race was a great success. The NCU responded by suspending the memberships of Stallard and the other riders in the event, which prevented them from entering in official races. However, the Llangollen-Wolverhampton had created a body of massed-start enthusiasts who were not going to be put down, and some months later, at a meeting in Buxton, a rebel governing body was created. Stallard had already set up the Midland League of Racing Cyclists, thereby creating a more or less ready-made constitution for the new body, which was given the name of the British League of Racing Cyclists. For seventeen years, until the NCU and the BLRC were amalgamated into the British Cycling Federation, cyclists had to choose allegiance and compete only where their allegiance allowed. Stallard's last triumph as a cyclist came in 1944 when he won the BLRC British championship, and from then on he began to focus his energy on his bicycle business. He designed a range of lightweight cycles and hired a team of mechanics to assemble them in the workshop at 30 Broad Street. Even though the popular interest in bicycles soon began to decline, Stallard managed to stay in business for nearly forty years, although the bicycle production ended in the 1960s, when he took on contracts for producing carriers for the big bicycle manufacturers. Stallard was evidently at his best when he could be out of doors, in company. In the late 1950s he discovered mountaineering, or rather, rambling across the hills of North Wales, and set about arranging coach trips there so others could enjoy it with him. His holidays took him and his bicycle and his son Michael or friends to such places as the Swiss alps, the mountainous parts of the Adriatic coast, and the Norwegian highlands. Nearly eighty years old he even returned to cycle racing, arranging events for the League of Veteran Cyclists.
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