Sunday, May 27, 2012

BBL (Brown Brothers Ltd.)

Brown Brothers Ltd. was a manufacturer and wholesaler of bicycles and cycle accessories, and later in its history, of motorcycles and aircraft parts.

In 1889, Albert and Ernest Brown rented the company's first premises at 7 Great Eastern Street, London, and began dealing in bicycles, cycle parts, and tools. In that same year, Dunlop patented and developed the pneumatic tyre. By 1890, practical tyres had replaced the solid tyres that had been used until then, and bicycles suddenly became hugely popular. The 1890s were the bicycle trade's first boom years and Brown Brothers were in an ideal position to capitalise. In 1891 the premises at Great Eastern Street were expanded and in the following year the company opened a branch in Paris.

The beginning of the 20th century saw a slump in the bicycle market and Brown Brothers Ltd. diversified into the motorcycle and motor car business. Brown motorcycles were manufactured from 1902 until 1915. After the First World War, all production of motorcycles had ceased and the company focused on motor accessories, aircraft parts, and the popular Vindec bicycles.

Brown Brothers Ltd. continued until at least 1989. The site of the company's original premises in Great Eastern Street is now occupied by an office block.

Brown Brothers original premises in Great Eastern Street c.1900

Despite the long history of Brown Brothers, the B B L overprint appears to have been used only in the George VI period on SG 465 and SG 488.

by Mark Matlach


  1. "Brown Brothers Ltd. continued until at least 1989". Indeed, 1989 was the centenery for the company, then under the ownership of Dana Inc. Afterwards the company was divested to Partco, shortly afterwards Partco and Brown Brothers were sold to Unipart. Following this turbulent period, in 2008, an American coatings company (PPG Inc) purchased Unipart's Crash Repair Division via 34 branches. This was set up as Brown Brothers Distribution Ltd and today (2013) it is a thriving subsidury of PPG Industries (UK) Ltd, selling over £30MM market-leading refinish and Light Industrial Coatings paint and materials into the UK via a network of 14 modern branches.

  2. My great-grandfather J. Albert Thomson, LLD JP was Managing Director of BBL before, during and after WWII. His 2 sons Ian and Arthur were killed in action. He endowed both Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt Universities where he had studied. I have been lent recently some papers on J.A.T. and his long association with BBL for those researching this area.

    1. my grandfather was J Albert Thomson and my father Findlay Marshall Thomson. Although I knew a little about the founding of the Scottish Motor Trade Association by my grandfather and that there was a joining of his company to Brown Brothers and hence the company Thomson & Brown Bros Ltd was formed I am not aware of the history and neither of the endowments to the universities. I would very much like to read any information or papers on JAT that you might still have or pointers as to where to go next!

  3. I have a old Lathe made by Brown Brothers LTD Of Eastern Street London. Not sure if it is the same company. I have just put it on Ebay, take a look.

  4. is there an archive for BBL anywhere , I own a 1902 motor bicycle called the Brown and am trying to odentify the engine

  5. Who was better brown brothers or Joseph lucus?