Victorian Romances A-wheel, Part Two

Evidence for the romantic activities of Victorian cyclists can be found in all sorts of places. ‘Love Lane’, a quiet country road located in the countryside to the east of Lincoln, supposedly acquired its name because it was a popular haunt for cyclists who sought more private spaces for courting and romance. That cyclists used quiet spaces on the outskirts of cities as places for meetings with members of the opposite sex can also be seen in an article in the Aberdeen Weekly Journal from 1896, which commented how, ‘Albyn Lane, the once secluded vernal bye-way sacred to whispering lovers’, had become a place where,

‘Any fine evening maidens may be seen acquiring the art of cycling with the aid of their male friends and advisers, and the comicalities of the situation- the ill-concealed flirtation- the agonising efforts to sit on the bicycle- form a spectacle worth a visit.’

It was not only the middle-classes whose romantic lives benefited from the bicycle. For those living in rural working-class communities, possessing their own means of means of personal transportation allowed men and women to meet a much greater number of potential partners. P.J. Perry attributes the decline in same parish working-class marriages in rural Dorset the late 1880s to the bicycle and the greater distances it allowed individuals from these communities to travel.

The new possibilities that cycling opened up for men and women looking for romance were not celebrated by all of those living in Victorian society. Losing large amounts of control of the courting process was particularly worrying for middle-class parents and relatives. They could no longer monitor what went on whilst their children went courting, and there was the additional worry that they might meet ‘unsuitable matches’ below their social station whilst out cycling. As such efforts were made by family members to gain control of their sons and daughters cycling activities. One mother described how she started cycling after she saw,

‘Two of my husband’s nieces, who are not anything like so pretty as my three girls, had got engaged whilst bicycling. It was my duty as a mother, although an unpleasant one. Young men now-a-days are quite mad about bicycling. Formerly they used to come to one’s house; now their bicycling excursions always prevent them from doing so, and one always hears that Miss so-and-so is going with them. So I had to let my girls learn to ride too; and as I cannot let them go alone, I have had to learn as well in my old days, although it is torture to me. Do you think I would be such a fool as to ride at my age if I was not positively obliged to do so?’

For those mothers who wished to avoid such ‘torture’ altogether there was an alternative- cycling chaperones. In 1896 the Chaperone Cyclists’ Association was set up, whose members would accompany women on their rides to ensure nothing untoward took place. All members of the association were either wives, widows or unmarried ladies over the age of thirty. The service cost either three shillings sixpence (around £10.50 in modern money) for an hour, or ten shillings sixpence (about £31.50) for the day. The fact that there was no further mention of the association after 1896 suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it didn’t last long. As one newspaper commented at the time,

‘As for its success we are doubtful. The cycling young lady is generally able to take care of herself without the aid of a chaperon, and we have an idea that wives, widows and spinsters above a certain age are not very congenial company for her.’

These themes can be seen in the article below, named ‘The Trails of a Cycling Chaperone’, which appeared in Cycling in 1897. In it a concerned mother gets ‘Miss Elderly’ to chaperone her daughter, whose cycling trips have led to meeting a young, penniless ‘ineligible’. Miss Elderly’s failed attempt to follow her young charge whilst cycling leaves her, ‘limp, weary and wholly miserable.’

The story of cycling romances does not stop with the young and single. For those who had left courtship and entered marriage cycling was an activity which both could enjoy on bicycles made for two. One member of the Stanley Club, reflecting on his cycling experiences, commented how,

‘Year in and year out I find no form of cycling so quietly enjoyable as to trundle out the tandem and take my wife for an impromptu, objectless, un-concerned dawdle through the bye-lanes.’

Another writer in the club’s gazette advised that if his fellow club men should marry then it was essential that they should choose a wife who shared their love of the pastime. He concluded his article with the sound advice to,

‘Pick out a rider who will be your accompanist in cycling excursions, and you will both be happy forever.’

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