Siegfried Bettmann

Bettmann was born in Nuremberg in 1863 but moved to Coventry to start the Triumph Cycle Works with fellow German Mauritz J Schulte, building the sprawling Priory Street works in 1894.

Siegfried Bettmann

The following year Bettmann married Annie Meyrick and they made a home in the Stoke Park area of Coventry.

Bettmann became a British citizen and was actively involved in city life.

He was president of the Coventry Liberal Association, a freemason, a founder member and president of Coventry’s Chamber of Commerce, a Justice of the Peace, and in 1913 he became Mayor of Coventry – the first non-British subject ever to do so.

But the outbreak of war and the anti-German feelings that came with it saw some turn against him.

Bettmann was forced to register with the Home Office as a German-born immigrant and within weeks he was ousted from the board at Triumph, and from his Masonic lodge.

He appointed English directors to the board of Triumph – replacing himself and two fellow Germans – and even the Cycle Manufacturers Union, which he had founded, tried to expel him.

By November 1914, a relatively small but vociferous group caused him to resign as mayor.

He was offered the post of deputy mayor but after a few days he received a letter from the town clerk asking him to withdraw “due to the poisonous agitation of a noisy minority.”

Ironically it was his “Trusty Triumphs” that were helping the British war effort.

Just two weeks after war was declared, Bettmann received a phone call from the War Office, asking the company to provide 100 Triumph motorbikes for the British Expeditionary Force, which was due to go to France.

They were to be delivered to an army camp in the south of England within 48 hours and although it was a Saturday and the factory was closed, Bettmann rounded up some workers and had the bikes ready and delivered to Coventry railway station in time for the evening train on Sunday.

He arranged for the empty Whitley Abbey house to be used by Belgian refugees and supported the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund, personally donating £250.

With his wife, he founded the Annie Bettmann Foundation to help young Coventry men and women – especially ex-servicemen – between the ages of 18 and 40 who wished to start a business.

The fund still exists today and has been extended to include grants for further education.

He also commissioned a memorial for the 66 employees of the Triumph company killed in action during the First World War, built in London Road Cemetery in 1921.

After retiring, he spent his final years with his wife at their home in North Avenue, Stoke Park, which is now home to several city council services.

Bettmann died in 1951 aged 88, but his name and legacy live on and a plaque has been unveiled in his memory in Cathedral Square – in the shadow of the Chapel of Industry, where Triumph’s sprawling Priory Street works once stood.

UPDATE: He sounded like a very kind and had a generous spirit, such a shame bigotry stood in his way. Ironic now that that the Triumph name should now be owned by a company that comes from his birth country.
Alan Crome