The TDI story started way back in 1986 when three young designers came together to form a new design consultancy...
1986 Warwick Design Consultants established (above left) by Martin Pemberton, Robert Tansley and Mark Isherwood - a multidisciplinary partnership (later incorporated) offering services in industrial design, mechanical and electronic engineering, model making and prototyping.
1987 Transport Design International (TDI) created as a trading name of Warwick Design to undertake international transport projects
1988 Transport Design International Ltd Pty formally established in Australia as a joint venture between Warwick Design and Design Resource in Sydney to undertake projects in the Asia Pacific region (above centre)
2000 Martin Pemberton sells shareholding in Warwick Design to focus on global projects with Transport Design International Ltd
2005 TDI forms alliance with AVE Rail Projects (formerly British Rail Interiors at Derby Carriage Works) under the trading name TDI-AVE Design and Engineering Services to provide turnkey design and supply of rail interiors and cabs direct to rolling stock builders
2008 AVE Rail sold to Compin Group and TDI relocates to Clifford Mill in Stratford upon Avon (above right)
2009 TDI forms strategic alliance with SL Transportation Ltd in Alcester to provide turnkey design and supply of 'Minitrams' and light urban transit vehicles
2011 TDI formalises technical partnership with Vectus Ltd to develop the next generation PRT technology; Martin Pemberton appointed Vice President, Vectus
2013 TDI heads up 'Revolution VLR Consortium' working alongside Cummins, Eversholt Rail, Prose, RSSB, Transcal Engineering and WMG (University of Warwick) to develop sustainable, 'very light rail' technology
2019 TDI is acquired by Idea Catalyst Partners LLP; Martin Pemberton steps down as MD
1979, when a postgraduate student of Industrial Design at Birmingham Polytechnic, Martin Pemberton won first prize in an RSA ‘Bursary’ design competition for office/business equipment. His entry, which was subsequently exhibited in London, was possibly the first ever conceptualisation of a smart phone - although it was never referred to as such. The term ‘smartphone’ first appeared in 1997, when Ericsson described its GS 88 ‘Penelope’ concept as a Smart Phone.
The RSA Bursary was sponsored by the (then) Italian typewriter giant Olivetti and the brief involved devising a future product concept for improving business to business communications. Effectively predicting the invention of 'Skype' operating on a modern ‘iphone’ by almost 30 years, Martin’s similarly slim, white slab design featured a large, portrait style LCD screen, with integrated CCD camera technology, mobile telephony, miniature keypad and data recording facilities. Using both forward and rear facing cameras combined with split-screen formatting, several individuals and documents - all from different locations - could be viewed simultaneously. In the 1970s and early eighties, this type of service was only available using a network of land based studios called ‘Confravision’ run by the GPO (now British Telecom).
Martin used his bursary winnings to undertake a study tour of America. In an ironic twist of fate, he turned down a first job offer with Bill Moggridge (to work at David Carter Associates) who was just setting up his Palo Alto based studio ‘ID Two’ and was keen to employ young British designers. One of Bill's clients at this time was GRiD Systems for whom he designed what is widely regarded as the world’s first laptop computer, the ‘GRiD Compass’, launched in 1982.
The Olivetti competition was judged by Sir Kenneth Grange, founding partner of Pentagram, who also helped devise the brief. By happy coincidence, Sir Kenneth is now Visiting Professor at Falmouth University - Sustainable Product Design - where Martin was also a part time Associate Lecturer.
Above right: Sir Kenneth meets the staff at Falmouth University in April 2014 (Martin is behind the camera).
A Family Business: the 'Pemberton Arrow'
Edited from an article by Ron Sant which first appeared in 'Northern Wheel' cycling magazine 2002
Transport Design International was founded by Martin Pemberton, an industrial designer with many years experience in the transport industry. It occurs, however, that TDI is not the first transport design and development business in the Pemberton family. As far back at the nineteenth century, Pemberton’s great grandfather was designing and building innovative bicycles, a brand which came to be known as the Pemberton Arrow.
1896 Edward Pemberton opened their first shop "Pembertons" at 289-291 Ashton Old Road and continued until grandson Harold closed the shop in Washway Road, Sale in 1984. Edward Pemberton, born in 1863, was employed as a loom maker in Coventry and Leicester before coming to Manchester. Edward worked as a frame builder for the Belsize works in Clayton (very close to Ashton Old Road) before he opened his own shop in 1896, where he continued until 1920. We know little of the early bikes, called "The Pemberton", but they would probably be of the roadster, safety type with pneumatic tyres. It is also likely that sporting versions were made for the local clubmen to race with at the Fallowfield cycle track. Edward had three sons: Bernard, Albert and Fred who were all called up during the First World War; Bernard and Albert going into the Army and Fred being an aircrew observer in the Royal Flying Corps. All three returned and Fred worked for a short while at the Royal Ruby works in Altrincham before joining his father in the business. As well as cycles, they started to make radio sets, then a very new invention, which they called "The Pembertone".
1920 Pembertons moved to new premises at 875-7 Stockport Road, Longsight (two adjacent shops) where they started to use the name "Pemberton Arrow". Fred joined the 'Manchester Wheelers’ cycle club and raced on the track at Fallowfield with the likes of George Owen, Jimmy Taylor and Jack Sibbit. Undoubtedly he encouraged his fellow cyclists to also ride Pemberton Arrows. George Owens and Wilf Higgins certainly did. In later years Fred became a Starting Judge at Fallowfield along with another Manchester builder called John Berry. The shop not only produced sporting cycles, including tandems, for the local clubmen and clubwomen, but also supplied proprietary makes of cycles and equipment. They became members of the Lightweight Cycle Manufacturers Association and had a stand at the shows in London.
1930 Edward Pemberton died and Fred continued the business, building frames with the help of his stepbrother, Frank.
1936 Edward and Frank decided to open another shop at 399 Washway Road, Sale. Fred moved to this shop and was helped in frame-building, before the war, by Charlie Cook and Andy Bent. The large double-fronted shop was a major cycle dealer in the Sale area for they also sold Raleigh, Sunbeam, BSA, Triumph and Elswick as well as their hand-built machines made to order for local club-cyclists. Frank continued to run the Longsight shop and carried it on through the war years until it was closed in the 1940’s.
1939 Being a reservist, Fred was called into the RAF at the start of the Second World War and was stationed at Ringway for some of the time. The Sale shop continued and by 1942 Fred’s elder son Harold, then 15, helped out after school and on Saturdays, before becoming a full-time worker in 1944. Fred returned in 1946 but shortly after, Harold had to go and do National Service for two years. George Lewis came into the shop to help Fred build frames and Harold joined him in 1948 when he returned from his National Service. After taking a brazing and welding course at Openshaw Technical College, Harold started to do some frame-building - although Fred did the majority of it and took exception to Harold’s theoretical knowledge. Enamelling was done by David Jenkins in Camp Street, Deansgate, and after he died, by Theo Parsons whose shop was only half a mile away in West Timperley.
1962 Fred retired and went to live in Abergele, North Wales, leaving Harold to continue with the business. Running the shop and building frames eventually became too much work (Goerge Lewis having left) so Harold decided to stop frame-building on the premises and find a builder who would produce frames to the same high standards which were a hallmark of Pemberton Arrows. Neil Shankland at Macclesfield built a sample frame which passed Fred’s scrutiny and so he became the builder of the last twenty-four or so Pemberton Arrow frames produced - although Malc Cowle says that he built the very last one in about 1983.
1984 Harold had a slight stroke, the cycle trade had diminished and so he decided to close the business, sell the premises and retire to Abergele close by to his father. Thus, eighty-eight years after starting Pembertons, manufacture of the Pemberton Arrow came to an end. It had been a remarkable achievement to maintain building such high quality machines for such a long period and to continue in the cycle trade through some very difficult times.
It is not easy to know how many machines were made, very few being for stock, as most buyers wanted to have a frame built to their own specification. In the boom years before and just after World War II, fifty a year was probably the maximum, so we can guess that perhaps, in total, three thousand were made. The earliest recorded Pemberton frame that we now know about is frame number 1200, thought to have been built in early 1930, although later frames built by the Pembertons have a six figure frame number indicating the build date. So, number 520212, the machine which Harold Pemberton owned, was built in 1952 on February 12th. This is marked under the bottom bracket and behind the fork crown. This numbering system, whilst allowing us to date the machines very accurately, gives us no clue to the quantity being built. The Neil Shankland built frames had a single letter and two-digit number.
Sadly, following a series of further strokes, Harold Pemberton died in October 2003, age 76, leaving his widow Joan. His Pemberton Arrow passed on to his nephew Martin Pemberton (son of Harold’s only brother John) who is also custodian of Fred’s original cycle. This machine however, has the unique serial number 58859 which in fact was Fred’s RAF service number. Martin is intending to restore Fred’s Arrow for his son Max who, born in 1994, is now the youngest Pemberton and direct descendant of (great, great, grandfather) Edward Pemberton.
The Pemberton family has the distinction of having produced bicycles longer than any other make in the Manchester region. Those who remember Fred still talk about his attention to detail and meticulous building methods which of course affected the price. Never cheap frames, in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s they were selling for £14 and 14shillings (over three months wages for a young engineering apprentice of the time). Although some thirteen are known to still exist, most being from the 1940’s and 1950’s period, those remaining are still cherished and show all the hall-marks of quality craftsmanship.
There must still be a number of Pemberton Arrows being ridden and cared for which we don’t know about. We would be very pleased to hear from anyone with information on the whereabouts of other bikes.
For more information on classic lightweight cycles see: http://www.classiclightweights.co.uk
The photographs (clockwise from top): founder Edward Pemberton; Pemberton's shop in Openshaw; Pemberton's shop in Longsight; Fred in his workshop; Pemberton's shop in Sale 1977; Harold riding his PA; Harold and Max with Harold's PA (just before his death); a 1948 PA; example of PA head badge