The Annals of Riley: Part I The Formative Years

Here at BDRS we tend to associate the proper noun ‘Riley’ with attractive four-wheeled vehicles. However, if we were to trace the firm’s roots back to the tail end of the industrial revolution, we would find a prosperous weaving business. 

Based at King Street, Coventry, the firm was established by a Mr William Riley (1826-1910) of Foleshill. By the early 1870s, William Riley Jr (1851-1944) had joined his father’s business - now trading as “William Riley & Son”. By this point, the company not only produced silk ribbon - but also the quality machinery from whence it came!

Having honed his craft as a master weaver at the family business, William Riley Jr. entered into a watchmaking partnership with horologist Alfred Henry Read. They operated under the name “Riley and Read” from Norfolk Street, Coventry. The partnership lasted from 1875 to 1878, at which point Alfred Henry resumed business by himself, and William Jr. returned to William Riley & Son. 

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Examples of a pocket watch cased by Alfred Henry Read.

As time ticked on for Messrs Riley, it became apparent that the weaving industry had started to slump. As such, diversification was deemed imminent. In 1890, the Bonnick Cycle Co was acquired by William Jr. from an Arthur Bonnick, whom had established the cycle company in 1885.

 
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A Bonnick cycle, manufactured by the Riley family in 1892.

With this purchase, the manufactured product at King Street became bicycles. These first vehicles produced by Riley didn’t bear the family name, but Bonnick’s. But never fear; this would change six years later in the all-significant year of 1896….