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James Starley. Who?

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“Who indeed?” I wondered, as I first saw quite an elegant marble monument located on the edge of the City Centre. It’s positioned at the end of a Georgian terrace of estate agents and solicitors which borders the ring road, but which overlooks the pretty Greyfriars Green.


The lawns and flowerbeds are sculpted by the council, and a cycle path, which I occasionally use, runs past and on to the train station.


I like the presence of the cycle path next to his memorial. It seems fitting.

Over the twenty years I have been living in Coventry, I have gradually come to know who James Starley is and his significance. Brought up on a farm, the young Starley ran away to Coventry to pursue his interest in all things mechanical. He began his inventing career by fixing his employer’s expensive sewing machine. After visiting the factory, they decided to make their own versions and went into business. They later made bicycles which were further developed by his son.




It takes a while to appreciate his achievements. After all, the differential gear doesn’t sound too sexy at first, until you consider how many modern engines use differential gears.

1876 – James Starley of Coventry invents chain-drive differential for use on bicycles; invention later used on automobiles by Karl Benz
– From a quick look on Wikipedia.

Our world would be a very different place without it. Coventry itself was an industrial powerhouse in the post war years producing Daimler, Humber and many other cars with their related toolmaking inustries.

It was the demise of this industry in the 1980s that inspired this song by Coventry band The Specials".


James Starley? Oh yes – him.


  1. The Comedian's Avatar
    Highly enjoyable blog, Paul. Gear differentials, humor, beautiful imagery: Thanks!
  2. Paulclem's Avatar
    Thank you Comedian.
  3. OrphanPip's Avatar
    I often have those moments with my family where I'd mention a park, and they'd say something like "which park?" And I'd say, "you know the park with that statue of that guy, sorta 19th century, maybe British."

    People in the 19th century were fond of statues.

    I have a favourite in downtown Montreal of Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who spent his career supporting communist revolutionaries in Spain and China.

    Chinese tourist occasionally leave flowers on it, Mao apparently wrote an essay about him that was for a long time required reading in China.
  4. Paulclem's Avatar
    I find much of interest in my adopted city, which is admittedly bigger. It has a rich history which I intend to post about gradually. It has a rich engineering vein too.

    I regarded my own town with complacency, and didn't realise until after I had been gone for twenty years that it forms The Rhubarb Triangle - where they grow lots of rhubarb apparently.
  5. Virgil's Avatar
    Not sure if he was officially an engineer, but he certainly worked as one and it's nice to see him get recognition.
  6. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    Fascinating blog Paul. It's great, the things we can learn just by looking around us. Of course it happens more often when we walk and cycle.

    In Chorley they've just gone through a spate of putting up new war memorials. We've got a new one in the market car park and a plaque on the wall of Booths supermarket. It's nice to stop and take a look.

    Your blog is like that too. Fascinating and worthwhile stopping by for. Thanks
  7. Paulclem's Avatar
    Thanks Virgil and Fifth.

    I think you do get the chance to see more when you walk and cycle. I'm lucky - there's a lot to see here.