An account by Peter Barnsley of the firm of J. S. Rock and Sons, whose works were in Beecher Road, Cradley, and the brief but glorious story of their "Rockson" motor-cycle
First published in The Blackcountryman, Autumn 1970, Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 63-66
The 'Rockson' Motor-Cycle by Peter Barnsley
With the end of the First World War in November, 1918, many Black Country firms found their lucrative Government contracts abruptly terminated and had to look round for other sources of income. Because of the impetus that the war had given to the mechanisation of road transport, it is not surprising that many firms chose to try their hand at the manufacture of motor vehicles.
J. S. Rock and Sons, whose works were in Beecher Road, Cradley, decided to make motor-cycles. Mr. Harry Rock, now aged seventy-five and living in retirement in Colman Hill, Cradley, remembers their machine - the Rockson - very well. There were three models: Model A- - the single speed reliable Rockson which sold at 54 guineas; Model B- - the two-speed reliable Rockson ("Can take all hills') which sold at 63 guineas; and Model C -the reliable Rockson two-speed kick starter ("Requires no running to start up. Just one movement and you glide away"). This last model cost 70 guineas.
The firm started production in 1920 when times were good in the motor-cycle industry. As Harry Rock remembers, "You could sell any-thing on two wheels," and the Rockson flourished.
Two men worked on the Rockson: Harry Rock himself and a mechanic from Birmingham. The latter's job was to assemble the tubular frames from tubes supplied by Accles and Pollocks. Harry Rock then completed the assembling of the machine; every single Rockson passed through his hands but he has no idea what the total production figures were.
All the Rockson models were belt driven by a 350 c.c., 2¾. h.p. Villiers engine, made in Wolverhampton. The full specifications for the Model C were as follows:
Specifications for the Rockson Model C
The Model B was the same except that it had neither the hand-operated clutch nor the kick starter. The Model A had no foot-boards and, since it was a single speed machine, it had no gearbox either.
All the machines were examined and tested before they left the works and they carried a three month guarantee: ". . . the damages for which we make ourselves responsible under this guarantee are limited to the replacement of any part manufactured by us which may have proved defective, other accessories carrying with them their maker's guarantee. The guarantee only applies to the actual purchaser and ceases on the machine changing hands."
Sales were good; the Rockson was popular locally, and Harry Rock remembers that one consignment went to India.
One Rockson which Harry Rock remembers particularly well was a specially built demonstration model which he fitted with a four-stroke Blackburn engine. His brother, Sim, still possesses a gold medal awarded by Stourbridge Motor Cycle Club which he won in 1921 when riding this four-stroke Rockson in a road reliability trial. The course included steep hills around Clent and Walton, and stretched as far as Bewdley. Sim Rock had been persuaded to enter a Rockson by Stan Barnes, secretary of the Stourbridge club, and won in the face of stiff competition from more experienced Birmingham riders. "I rode like the devil that day," he says, though he was more used to riding Nortons - in speed trials between Bewdley and Clows Top.
The Rockson prospered only briefly; its end was inevitable. The sales organisation of the better known makes soon pushed the Rockson out of the market. In 1923 production ceased.
Sim Rock believes that it was not just competition from the big firms that finished the Rockson. He remembers a slump in 1923 which hit the whole industry, large and small firms alike. At any rate the Rockson did not survive either the competition or the slump, and passed into history.
Joe Rock, the founder of the firm, died in 1943, and the firm finally closed down eight years ago. During the sale of the works several frames and handlebars of the old Rockson were turned up, their enamelling and nickel plating as good as new. Sim Rock still hopes to find a surviving Rockson intact. He has heard that someone in Old Hill has one if he can only run it to earth.
The Rockson was a good little machine in its day. If Sim Rock can find the rumoured survivor, one might yet be preserved to remind an astonished posterity that they did other things in Cradley than make chain.
Details of the Specifications of the Rockson and of the guarantee which it carried are taken from the Rockson catalogue, kindly loaned by Mr. Harry Rock.
This essay is © Copyright Peter Barnsley, who has generously granted permission to Cradley Links to reproduce it on this web site.
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