Starley, James (DNB00)

STARLEY, JAMES (1831–1881), improver of bicycles and inventor of the Coventry tricycle, born at Albourne, Sussex, on 21 April 1831, was son of Daniel Starley (d. 1856), a farmer. At the age of nine he commenced working on his father's farm; but, not liking the place, about 1846 he walked to London and became gardener to John Penn at Lewisham in Kent. While there he invented the adjustable candlestick, the one-stringed window blind, and the mechanical bassinette. About 1855 he entered the employment of Newton Wilson, 144 High Holborn, London, and made improvements in sewing machines. In 1857 he went to Coventry, bringing with him a sewing machine of his own invention, which he called ‘The European.’ The Coventry Machinists' Company was formed for manufacturing this machine, and Starley was engaged as managing foreman. In the succeeding years he invented and patented many kinds of sewing machines, and most of the modern machines now embody the results of his inventions. After seeing a French bicycle, in 1868, he immediately turned his attention to improving these vehicles. His first invention was the bicycle known as ‘The C spring and step machine, or the Coventry Model.’ The superiority of this was at once evident, the curved spring, the small hind wheel, and the step for mounting being the principal improvements. The ‘Ariel’ bicycle, which became widely popular, speedily followed. This machine was fitted with pivot-centre steering, being the first bicycle to which this improvement was applied. From that time his inventions and improvements followed each other in rapid succession. He left the Machinists' Company and started for himself in St. John Street, where he made ‘Ariel’ bicycles and sewing machines, and brought out the well-known ‘Europa’ sewing machine. Subsequently he went into partnership with Borthwick Smith, and the firm of Smith, Starley, & Co. commenced business at the St. Agnes Works, St. Agnes Lane, Coventry. Later on they sold the ‘Ariel’ patents. Starley dissolved the partnership with Smith after five years.

Still endeavouring to improve the bicycle, he finally introduced the ‘Tangent’ bicycle, and was fully employed in making ‘Tangent’ wheels. In 1876 he brought out the ‘Coventry’ tricycle. No similar machine is known to have existed before, and Starley may be regarded as its inventor. He invented the double-throw crank and the chain and chain-wheels to obtain rotary motion in tricycles, and the rack, and he first applied the pinion steering-gear to the same machine. Subsequently he produced his masterpiece, the ‘Salvo’ quadricycle.

Starley, by his many improvements, rendered bicycles and tricycles machines capable of general use. To his perseverance and energy Coventry owes its position as the centre of industry for the manufacture of cycles. Starley's ingenuity was as remarkably displayed in inventions which he failed to patent. These included the chain-wheels of the tricycle.

He died at Upper Well Street, Coventry, on 17 June 1881, and was buried in Coventry cemetery on 21 June. On 8 Nov. 1884 a granite memorial monument, having on it a portrait in profile of Starley, and on the sides representations of the ‘Rotatory’ tricycle and the ‘Royal Salvo,’ was unveiled in the Queen's Road, Coventry.

Starley married, on 22 Sept. 1853, Jane, daughter of William Todd. His three sons—James, John Marshall, and William—are members of the firm of Starley Brothers, cycle manufacturers, Coventry.

[Pall Mall Gazette, 23 June 1881, p. 10; Coventry Standard, 24 June 1881 pp. 3, 5, 1 July p. 5, 8 July p. 5, 14 Nov. 1884 p. 3; Cycling (Badminton Library), 1887, pp. 67, 492; Cyclist, 24 Jan. 1883; information from Messrs. Starley Brothers.]

G. C. B.