John Howes & Sons was founded on Regent Street, Cambridge, in 1840, originally as a coach-builder and wheel-wrights. It’s the world’s oldest bike shop.
Store and family historian Richard Howes says:
“Family legend has it that one of the [Howes family] went to Paris to an exposition in 1868, saw this strange two wheeled thing and thought ‘I could make that with the equipment we already have in Cambridge.’ So he did."
That would have been a boneshaker. From the boneshaker Coventry bike builders developed the ‘penny farthing’ and John Howes & Sons made and sold these.
"We still have one of the high wheelers we made back then,” said Howes.
John’s great-great-great-grandson Michael Howes currently runs the shop, alongside his wife Pat. A notice on the shop website says:
"After 173 years of trading in Regent Street Cambridge Howes Cycles is finally bowing out. The shop will close on December 31st 2013.
"We would like to thank our valued customers for your support and loyalty over the years and hope your cycling needs can be met adequately elsewhere. During December we will be selling off our remaining stock at greatly reduced prices."
Howes told the Cambridge Evening News there would no chance of the Howes Cycles name continuing: “If your surname is not Howes then you are not taking over."
The shop is closing because Michael and Pat Howes wish to retire. It’s not closing down because of competition from the internet, it’s not a ‘survival of the fittest’ thing. And, yes, according to family legend, John Howes & Sons sold a bicycle to Charles Darwin. Darwin died in 1882, before the introduction of the Safety bicycle. Might have he bought a high-wheeler? Unlikely. A tricycle then? Possible.