Author Topic: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle  (Read 3346 times)

Offline Dave Palk

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EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« on: December 19, 2010, 10:05:29 PM »
As a 19 or 20 year old obsessed with history and all things mechanical, I discovered Burnetts whilst at the art college nearby in 1986-87. It was the most amazing time-capsual anyone could possibly have imagined. Many happy hours were spent standing in a dark and cold showroom listening to Les and drinking in the atmosphere of that untouched Alladin's cave. Unfortunately Reg had already died by the time I first visited, and the shop was to last only a few more years. I remember Les with fondness, and memories of the Dutch auction when it all ended are very sad.

I found this forum due to someone asking in another thread some time ago about the 'Brunette' motorcycle produced at Burnetts. I remember Les talking about the Brunette, and showing me its Barr & Stroud sleeve-valve engine which resided on a bench in the workshop. From what he told me it would seem that the Brunette was never a production machine, but simply a one-off project - or series of re-builds - for the musment of its creators.

Does anyone else have memories of Burnetts?

wetdog

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2010, 10:16:37 PM »
i would like to see a pic , i think i might have the Barr & Stroud sleeve-valve engine used

Offline Dave Palk

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2010, 02:06:25 AM »
A great regret is that I never took any photos at Burnetts. However, Les was very private and modest, and wouldn't have liked it.

I seem to remember 'the end' coming in '92 or '93, with Les going into a home. He had become frail, and a couple of accidents, one very serious but from which he recoverd well, in the preceeding few years had taken their toll on him. Some relations, nephews I think, arranged a strange open sale over a few days, where you just turned up and made offers to them on anything that took your fancy. Some bits went there and then for cash, whilst other items were subject to sealed bids. I think I've got some paperwork relating to it somewhere. No professionals or experts were engaged as far as I could tell. The place was trashed. I remember the office floor strewn with interesting old brochures and literature trampled into the dirt. Many valuable items were sold very cheaply, with other items having unrealistic asking prices attached. A professional auction would have been much better. There were several NOS British bikes from the fifties and sixties, quantities of NOS spares and dozens of machines suitable for restoration, but I expect it all found appreciative new owners.

Do you know that your engine definitely came from Burnetts? If so it must be the same one that I saw.

Offline Rex

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2010, 11:21:16 AM »
Very different memories from me, then.
The old boy knew the worth of everything down to the last penny, and the eagerly-anticipated closing down sale was organised by one of the big auction houses.
Prior to that there had been some disposal of scrap items to whoever wanted them, but they paid the going rate+ for them. The most vivid memory is of a BSA B31 engine, box and centre frame section assembly which lookd like it had been sawn up and dumped in Southsea Castle moat for thirty years, and as Burnetts were insurance repairers (the basement was full of damaged Lambrettas said to be in for "assessment") that may have been the case. Fair enough, but not priced at 500!

The auction realised quite a high figure if I recall, and when it was over, someone must have cleared every last nut washer and drawing pin. A business associate later viewed the premises with  a view to house conversions, and said you'd never have known it was a bike shop, absolutely not a trace left.

Not nice to speak ill of the dead, but I didn't find shopping at Burnetts pleasant at all. A long wait for a short and often curt conversation with an old bloke who wouldn't give anyone the steam off his piss.

wetdog

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2010, 03:54:25 PM »
Sounds like he might have been a relative of Vale Onslows to me , as i have the exact memorys of this bike shop back in the 70s , cowboys and rip off spring to mind

Offline Dave Palk

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2010, 08:48:29 PM »
This has prompted me to look out the paperwork for the items that I bought from the sale.

The sale was actually in July 1996. My receipt, complete with a full set of legal terms for the sale, shows a David Wood as the vendor, whom I seem to remember being described at the time as a solicitor who was a family member - the husband of a neice I think. There were others present, also described as family members, to oversee the sale. I bought several items for cash and used the prepared offer sheets to leave 'sealed bids' on other machines and various promotional material and ephemera. I visited on two days of an open 'garage sale'. No lot numbers were attached to anything and no auction house was involved, although many items were probably bought by dealers and may have found their way into mainstream auctions shortly thereafter. It was just a case of picking items out of the mess and making an offer, or leaving an offer on items considered by the vendors to be more valuable. If an offer was considered high enough it might be accepted and the 'valuable' items could be taken away there and then. I know that some dealers bought job lots of items left over after the open sale, and that the remainder was eventually cleared for scrap.

There were quite a few Lambrettas, but Burnetts had no basement. When I started visiting in 1986 there were over 400 old machines in storage, including batches of ex-police Velocette LE's with consecutive reg. numbers. The quantity of machines had dwindled, mainly due to interest from registration number dealers over the preceding few years, but there was still a significant quantity of bikes at the sale. There were several NOS British bikes at Burnetts which had been remaindered due to parts having been taken from them for repairs and never replaced. These may possibly have been sent to auction by the family ahead of the open sale, as I don't remember them being there. I got on well with Les on an old fashioned customer/shopkeeper basis. I bought many interesting items over the few years when I was a regular visitor, and didn't mind paying a fair price. Some of my most treasured possessions have come from Burnetts.
 
Any further info about Burnetts is of interest to me. Does anyone have further information on the Brunette?

Offline rogerwilko

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2010, 09:04:21 PM »
Hilarious Rex! Exactly the same down here in Oz. Every british bike shop seemed to be run by miserable old gits!!

Offline Rex

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2010, 09:39:22 PM »
Dave, maybe time is playing tricks on both our memories, but the clearance sale was well-publicised in Classic Bike and the rest for some time in advance of the sale, and that to me indicates someone organised and experienced in just this sort of clearance.
The notifications were in the editorial columns too, rather than just an ad that "anyone" could pay to put in.

I was told about the basement by a Gas pipe layer who had personally laid the pipe from the Eldon Street entrance through to the frontage in the road behind; maybe his incredulity (he was a Mod, after all ;) ) at seeing so many not-for-sale scoots led him to mis-describe the "basement" as such, but it was a wooden floored building and I'm sure there were stairs visible behind the counter going both up and down, too.

Much earlier (early 1970s) there was a Six-former at my school who rode in on an immaculate ES2. This apparently was a Burnetts buy, and was later featured in an early CB with the rider and his dad, who owned a similarly-purchased Red Hunter. I'm sure there was talk of a Velo too, and I have seen pics recently of one with a Pompey "J" Reg on it which would tie in with that.

Offline jimbotep

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2011, 11:39:01 PM »
I started going into Burnetts in the mid 1970s, 16 years old and motorbike mad. I always felt that if they liked you things were okay, if not, our phrase was "bring a tent". I remember one of the old guys showing me a brochure for a Brough Superior one day and talking about his dad making a motorcycle in the 20's called the Brunette. It's a long time ago but I had the opinion that it was a proper commercial venture rather than a play about. I still remember the tins of Triumph paint around the shelves and the mechanic with a beard who hardly ever spoke. I remember seeing an R reg, so 1976/7 registered, Ariel Colt that they had taken out of the crate and put on the road. We will never see the like of these shops again which is a pity. Bike shops are in the main so slick nowadays with suited salespeople and designer accessories and the personalitry of porridge. Sure, Burnetts were a law unto themselves but it was an experience!!!! You could always have gone to Motorcycle City if you were in a hurry!

Offline Matt

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2011, 01:09:14 PM »
What ever happened to Graham Morley?

Offline Sidecarcrosser

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2011, 02:57:13 PM »
Although I have no knowledge of the Brunette, I do remember going to Burnetts for spares for my James Captain K7 which was fitted with a Villiers 8E engine. I rode it on the old disused Portsmouth Airport in the late 70's. I can remember them opening late after lunch with me waiting patiently outside and then waiting inside while one of the brothers went off to find some clutch corks for me (we always said that if they went upstairs then that was it.) After a long while he returned to the counter and said "Yes young man, can I help you?"  I gave up after that and went to George Hodges who had Villiers spares from dealing with the old Invacars.

Things I do remember are the young bloke (40 years older than me) An Excelsior Talisman twin which had never been registered, an NVT Rambler an Easyrider and a Suzuki X7 which again hadn't been registered. There was also a Norton in there - don't remember what it was but it looked big to a young lad! There were all sorts of stories about the cellar being full of Series 1 Lambrettas which had been recovered from a ship which had sunk and that there were Broughs and other old veteran bikes stashed away. One of the Brothers ( the one who went first told me of his father who had the registration BK2 which was the second vehicle registered in Portsmouth - the Lord Mayor has BK1.

Always a frustrating time visiting the shop but what I would given to have a wander around and alas I wasn't around when the shop closed dow.
Triumph T140E 1979 (Oct78)

Offline runesika

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2012, 01:29:28 PM »
              My award for the best line of 2011 goes to Rex for " old bloke who would not give you the steam off his piss "

Offline Rex

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #12 on: January 02, 2012, 05:54:13 PM »
Humourous maybe, but sadly all too true (at least in my experience). Thinking back now, the arrogance of this type of shop-keeper was breath-taking; customers were a hindrance and there to be stiffed if at all possible.
Then again, they lasted longer (much much longer) than the local branches of Motorcycle City and the rest, so maybe they did something right.... ???

wetdog

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #13 on: January 02, 2012, 06:10:46 PM »
Vale Onslows is still going , i think as they have nothing else to do , in fact they are better now not having the inconvenience of customers seams to have made them almost pleasent

Offline Bomber

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Re: EW Burnett & Sons, Brunette motorcycle
« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2012, 07:07:05 AM »
Yet I had the fortune to visit Gaggs in Nottingham a few years ago... run by two old brothers. They were real characters too but very helpfull to say the least.
If iver tha does owt for nowt alus duit for thissen

 


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