Cycling Sources #5, ‘Mrs. Matilda Manleigh’

As an add on to the articles on ‘Womanly Cycling‘, here is an piece which appeared in Cycling shortly after the furore that surrounded Tessie Reynolds racing from Brighton to London and back. In it a journalist from Cycling goes forward in time to 1920, where he interviews ‘Mrs Matilda Manleigh’ (pun intended), who is a symbol of the new ‘women’s era’. It gives some idea of why Cycling was so opposed to female cyclists breaking records and cycling in ‘masculine’ attire (and also the ridiculous nature of this opposition). If female cyclists carried on like this, who knew where it might lead?

We are advanced; this is the women’s era. It is the year 1920, and I, a masculine worm, crushed out of recognition by the feminine heel, have been deputed by Cycling (full of energy as ever), to interview Mrs Matilda Manleigh, the famous female phenomenon of the period. Mrs. Manleigh is a marvel. She has just won, for the second successive year, the one hundred miles championship of the Up-to-date Female’s Emancipation Society’s Cycling Club; and she also holds the twenty-five miles path, and fifty miles road, championships for the Women’s Rights Federation C.C. In addition to her connection with the institutions named above, Mrs. Manleigh is also a member of the ‘Female Society for the Suppression of Despotic Man’ (Mr. Manleigh knows it!) and is President for the ‘Women’s Records Association.

Cartoon from Punch. Source:

There is no denying that Mrs. Matilda Manleigh is a truly remarkable woman, and as the male servant- whom I afterwards discovered was none other than the deposed and despised Mr. Manleigh himself- cringed and ushered me into the presence of the Amazonic creature, I confess to a feeling of some trepidation, and a desire to be anywhere out of the way- running a trial trip on that 150-mile-per-hour-electric railway for preference.

Mrs. Manleigh is a tall, imposing (very!) woman. On this occasion I discovered her dressed for a ride in the cycling costume of the period, which I would describe were it not for the fact that several personal friends of mine, and a relation- an aunt with money and respect for myself-read this paper.

On my entrance Mrs. Manleigh laid down her cigarette and rose to greet me. Gripping my hand like a vice, and shaking it as though my arm were a refractory signal, she bade me be seated.

‘A representative of Cycling, I see’, said Mrs. Manleigh, glancing at my card.

‘Yes madam’, I replied, politely.

‘Ah! Some time ago, I am given to understand, your journal had the temerity to enter a protest against the, ‘female scorcher’. Your presence here for the purpose of interviewing me suggests the inference you have changed your views. Pardon me, do you smoke?’

‘Thank you’, I replied, accepting the proffered cigar. ‘Yes madam, we have, as you remark, changed our views. You see, first the editor got married, and then I got- but why bother you with my little troubles, Mrs Manleigh?’ I said, apologetically.


‘And on the subject of dress?’ queried the lady.

‘Well, in the matter of dress our wives have long since convinced us that the more masculine the costume adopted by females, the more inconspicuous the person so attired.’

‘Just so. Now here, Mr. Cycling, is a portrait of myself taken just before the start of the, ‘Up-to-date Female’s Emancipation C.C.’s Championship. None but the brutal and depraved could cavil at that, and any man- but no; what has he got to do with it? Why, you are blushing sir!’

‘No madam, I assure you not. I have the toothache, and as you know the poet says, ‘There never was a philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently. Do you train seriously?’, I enquired, anxious to change the topic.

‘Why rather! I spend four months every year up north, and..’,

At this moment the interview was interrupted by the sudden entrance of Mr. Manleigh in an apron carrying a broom and a basin of tea leaves. On viewing the situation he immediately departed with a scared look, muttering apologies for having broken up our têteà-tête.

Female cyclist in rational dress (does it say Tessie Reynolds underneath?) from 1889. Source:

‘Do you allow men to pace you?’ (when a cyclist in front protects the one behind from headwinds and creates a slipstream for you to cycle in), I enquired.

‘Certainly; why not? In the ordinary work of life I regard man as a necessary evil, but as a pacer he is a faithful creature. Under ordinary circumstances I find him an unmitigated bore, but we endure him as he is; it is as a pacer, however, that we find in man a useful and truly well-meaning automaton. He has a place, and as the chairwoman of the ‘Society for the Suppression of Despotic Man’, I can assure you it should be the endeavour of every right-minded woman to keep him there!’

Mrs. Manleigh delivered this speech with flashing eyes, and the terrible last words showed the pent-up enthusiasm that burned her soul. Wonderful woman I thought, fumbling for my hat, and edging towards the door.

‘I think I have gleaned all the information necessary, thank you Mrs. Manleigh. I will leave you now.’

‘Good day! Said the Amazon, extending her hand. ‘Mrs. Cycling will be welcome at our next Suppression Society conference on Saturday- subject for discussion, ‘Man, and where to keep him.’ Good day!’

‘Good day madam!’

With that I fled back, and here I am in 1893.

A husband at home looking after the babies while his rationally dressed wife prepares for a spin. Source:

Cycling Sources #4- The Bristol Bicycle and Tricycle Club

The article below appeared in the monthly gazette of the Bristol Bicycle and Tricycle Club in 1897. It reflects on the twenty one years that had passed since the club was founded, and talks about all manner of things- the dangers of cycling in the days of penny farthings, the mannerisms of England’s ‘honesty peasantry’  and at the end, the growth of female cyclists (and bicycles made for two). The writer of the article had the pen name ‘The Unchained’, and used the club’s gazette to give kiss and tell accounts of what went on during club tours (alcohol and landladies daughters certainly featured prominently, more on these at a later date). Unlike the last couple of blogs on female cyclists, reading the first three paragraphs, in which ‘The Unchained’ looks back at childhood and ahead to old age, you are struck by the closeness, rather than distance, between you and those who lived in this period.

(All images of the Bristol Club are taken from, where you can find the retrospect which appeared at the start of the club’s gazette.)

Members of the Bristol Club, modelling many a fine moustache

‘One and twenty years ago some of number had not even entered upon this worldly sphere and into its mystery termed life. Others had entered long enough before to have experienced to the full its joys and sorrows, and possibly something of its regrets for the ‘might have been’. The most of us, I doubt not, at that time still beheld the world, with its actualities and potentialities, through the telescope of childhood, and thought of manhood as another state of existence, to be reached in the dim and almost impossible future.’

‘Then ‘all the world was young, John’, our geese were indeed swans, our ponds lakes, our streams rivers, and the line of blue hills showing faint on the horizon, mighty mountains, immediately beyond which to our youthful imagination lay the world of adventure and romance’ (this is a reference to the poem Old and Young by Charles Kingsley, which I’ve put at the end of the blog).

‘When we reach old age, those of us who may, shall we, I wonder- peer through the reverse end of the telescope, and our perceptions be correspondingly dwarfed and lessened; lessening still as time extends the instrument to its full. Who shall answer yay or nay; were it so, as in childhood, we unconsciously beheld the world with a magnifying vision, so when time has whitened the hair and dimmed the eye, would old age, unconsciously, minify our vista of the world. And the second awakening- but we may but conjecture and pass on.’

Members of the Club from 1892

‘Twenty-one years ago cycling may be said to have outgrown its swaddling clothes, and arrived at the stage (to pursue the simile) represented by the period in life when the garments of infancy consist of underdeveloped bloomer costume. The cycler of these days risked his neck, with the other portions of his anatomy, on what, in appearance at least, was a pair of cart wheels connected with by a pump handle. On this fearful contrivance he ventured forth into the country, and at that time, practically a terra incognita (unknown land) to the ordinary town resident. Like unto the Ishmaelite was he in the sense that every man’s hand was against him. The street loafer and gamin considered him fair sport to chuck ‘arf a brick at, and delighted to push a stick through his wheel, an ‘honest peasantry their country’s pride’ putting a clod of earth or a hayrake to the same noble end, ‘cos why, wot d’ ‘um want ter ‘ave then things fer; wy don’t ‘um buy our hosses.’ As, for consideration by other road users, why the very coaster’s or market woman’s donkey considered it infra dig to give an inch of road to the man of the wheel. No wonder, cyclists early found it necessary for self-protection to go for their afternoon spins in company, and started bicycle clubs.’

Two men on penny farthings, 1886

‘One and twenty years ago, a dozen or thereabout of the pioneers of the sport in the old city met in solemn concave, also in the house of one of their number, and decided to form a bicycle club. The next procedure was to find a name. Various high sounding titles were suggested and discarded, until one of the dozen, enthused for a love of his native city, arose and requested to know why, in the name of common sense and the Town Council, can’t we call ourselves the Bristol. There could be but one reply to this question, and the Bristol Bicycle Club was it named.’

‘Seven years are supposed to have elapsed, and many merry little jinks have been had by the boys on their boneshakers during the lapsing, and we come to the time when the tricycle was pushing forward its claims to favour. It is another meeting, at the Swan Hotel, Bridge Street, and a proposition to alter the name of the club to the Bristol Bicycle and Tricycle is under consideration.’

1880s cycling scene

Image of men and women on tricycles and penny farthings from the 1880s. Source:

‘One member let himself go in the following strain, ‘Gentlemen, I must vote against this resolution. If we admit the riders of the three wheeler into the club, we shall have an older set of men joining, and wanting to manage us; perhaps have ladies becoming members and ordering us about on club runs- and so on.’ The tricycle at that time was looked upon as a machine for the elderly and non-venturesome and a few lady riders, whose love of the pastime led them to brave the jeers of the vulgar and the jeers of Mrs Grundy. What must our said member think of cycling today with its vast number of lady votaries gracing the sport by riding the two-wheeled safety. And mark the irony of Fate- shortly after the date of his ungallant speech, he fell captive to the charms of a widow, and ere now might have been seen propelling a three (or was it a four) wheeler, this too, without the pedal accompaniment, and carrying a passenger.’

Old and Young by Charles Kingsley

When all the world was young lad,
And all the trees were green;
And every goose a swan lad,
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse lad,
And round the world away;
Young blood must have its course lad,
And every dog his day.

When all the world is old lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale lad,
And all the wheels run down;
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maimed among;
God grant you find one face there,
You loved when all was young.

Charles Kingsley

‘Womanly Cycling’- Part Two

Opposition to female cyclists who used the bicycle as a tool for anything other than graceful, leisurely riding was strongly revealed in the furore that followed the achievement of Tessie Reynolds, who, aged sixteen years old, raced from Brighton to London and back (a distance well over a hundred miles) in 8 and a half hours in 1893. This is was not a cause for celebration within the cycling press. Dubbing the whole event a ‘lamentable incident’, Cycling argued that,

‘Every wheelman who has managed to retain a belief in the innate modesty and sense of becomingness in the opposite sex, will hear with real pain, not unmixed with disgust, of what we will call a lamentable incident that took place on the Brighton road early last Sunday.’

Cycling’s main objection to Tessie Reynold’s achievement came from their belief that,

‘Nothing is more calculated to give cycling for women a set-back than this racing, above all, the sight of a young girl tearing her heart out along the highway, cheered on by a crew of male pacemakers. Gentlemen of England, doth (you) like the picture?’

Cycling did not just object to Tessie Reynold’s style of riding. The editorial also included a complaint about her manner of dress, which Cycling had heard was,

‘Of a most unnecessary masculine nature and scantiness.’

As you can see in the picture above, Tessie Reynold’s wore cycling attire which revealed, horror of horrors, her legs and calfs. In the late-Victorian period for a woman to reveal even a clothed pair of legs in public was seen to challenge her feminine modesty and ‘becomingness’. Ideas of feminine beauty were very much focussed on women appearing refined and graceful, and it was deemed that women’s legs, particularly those belonging to ‘stouter’ women, did not fill this criteria. As one writer in the Yorkshire Evening Post put it,

‘A pair of legs working like cranks on a pair of pedals is ugly enough in a man; but in a woman, especially with abnormal hips, the sight is a caricature of the sweetest and best half of humanity’.

As such it was commonly advised that women wore skirts whilst cycling. These were not ideal from a practical point of view. These skirts were often heavy and cumbersome, offered a large surface area to any headwinds and made the very act of pedalling much more exerting. In the words of one lady cyclist,

‘A skirt is intrinsically feminine, though it is idiotically irrational for cycling.’

There was also the additional worry of skirts getting caught in the wind and flying up whilst a lady cycled. A vicar described how watching ladies cycling down hills in a wind had led to him and a ‘group of idle lads at the street corner’ seeing,

‘What none of the male sex ought to be allowed to see, and what every woman with any pretention to modesty takes great care to avoid being seen.’

Efforts were made to combat these problems. Many women wore narrower, shorter skirts which rested an inch or two above the ankle, with knickerbockers underneath to replace the layer of petticoats. However, although an improvement this attire still did not offer the same freedom, safety and lightness as trousers.

This meant that, like Tessie Reynolds, some women took to wearing ‘rational dress’ whilst cycling, costume which consisted of either knickerbockers or ‘bloomers’ being worn without a skirt on-top of them. These were often accompanied with a jacket, cut in a manner similar to those worn by men. As revealed by the case of Tessie Reynolds, the British public were not exactly enamoured with this new form of feminine attire. There will be another article about how women in rationals were received by the wider British public, but for the time being here is one women’s description of riding through a town in rationals from 1895.

‘I was favoured on numerous occasions with selections from ‘Daisy Bell.’ Thirteen persons saluted me with the polite command of, ‘Git yer ‘air cut!’ Eight were extremely anxious to know my tailor’s address; an even greater number requested the name of my hatter. A ragged urchin ran alongside for some distance, and asked, ‘Could yer oblige us with a match, guv’nor?’ A barber further down the road went one better by standing on his step and enquiring, ‘Shave sir?’ Several pedestrians thoughtfully suggested that I should, ‘Git orf and push!’ While an elderly lady imparted the information I was, ‘a forward young minx!’ One man- how I thanked that man- doffed his oily cap and exclaimed, ‘Bravo! I likes yer pluck!’ In spite of the attention my appearance excited, several acquaintances passed me without notice.’

‘Womanly’ Cycling- Part One

It was only during the 1890s that it became commonly accepted that cycling was a pastime which women could participate in as well as men.  This period, and in particular the mid-1890s saw a rapid growth in the presence of female cyclists, both from middle and working-class backgrounds. Whilst the beginning of the 1890s saw attitudes towards women who cycled slowly begin to shift, it was the ‘cycling craze’ of 1895, in which members of the aristocracy and ‘society’ took to cycling in great number, which appears to have done the most towards changing attitudes towards female cyclists. One female cyclist, charting the progress of women’s cycling in Dublin, explained how,

‘By 1890, one could ride a bicycle around Dublin without being actually mobbed, by 1891, curses and strong epithets were only heard occasionally in the streets, although Society still totally ignored the existence of the pastime, and society with a small ‘s’ thought it very fast and vulgar. 1892 and 1893 saw an increase, although not a very big one, in the number of ladies safeties; in 1894 Society began to cast sheep’s eyes at the pastime which it had so long stigmatised as ‘impossible’, and a few grandes dames mounted the wheel in strict privacy. In 1895 came the cycling boom, ‘Society’ at last took the plunge on the verge of which it had so long been hesitating, and bicycling all at once became, ‘the thing’. (Quoted from Cycling and Gender in Victorian Ireland, Brian Griffin).

However, whilst cycling was no longer seen as an activity too ‘fast and vulgar’ for women to enjoy, notions of femininity and ‘what was proper’ for women placed heavy restrictions on those women who took to cycling. Although this period saw a slight widening in qualities and behaviours that could be seen as ‘womanly’, middle-class notions of femininity still remained heavily focussed on women appearing graceful, refined and unflustered. There was, therefore, a great pressure on female cyclists to conform to these qualities when awheel. As one female writer put it,

‘It has been said, and said rightly, that the woman who allows herself to be seen hot and red with exertion, and panting from want of breath, loses much of her feminine dignity’.

To cycle in a ‘womanly’ fashion then was to appear calm, unflustered, elegant and poised. As the write above went on to comment,

‘The ideal rider more resembles a hawk on the wing than anything else, the perfect poise and effortless movement, graduating almost at the will of the rider, with no violent external effort shown.’

Perfect poise mastered, now time to practice effortless movement. Source:

Advice on how women could achieve, ‘perfect poise and effortless movement’, appeared in a number of women’s publications during in this period. These advice pieces gave particular focus to hill climbing, for the obvious risk that women might show, ‘violent external effort’ whilst travelling up steep ascents. One female writer in Hearth and Home explained how,

‘The best way to take a long hill is to go slowly, not to rush up to full speed until it is impossible to go on any further, but to ease up at the bottom and deliberately begin the ascent sitting quite upright with a slight pull of the handles now and then, but no crouching or straining.’

To achieve this upright position with no ‘crouching or straining’ it was advised that,

‘The ankle muscles must do the work; they must keep both pedals working one with the other. The toes must do their part in forcing one set of pedal bars forward whilst the other hooks them backwards.’

It was not only woman who gave advice on ‘feminine’ cycling. A male member of the Hull St. Andrews C.C. told the club’s female members to,

‘Cultivate a good style of riding, sit upright and don’t stick your elbows out, nothing looks so objectionable as the latter.’

Cultivating a ‘good style of riding’. Source:

The risk of appearing ‘unwomanly’ was not the only reason why women were advised to cycle in a slow and steady manner. Doctor’s frequently advised against woman over-exerting themselves whilst cycling, drawing on medical thinking which stated that women possessed weaker constitutions to men. As such those women who, ‘over-did’ it were thought to be seriously endangering their health. One doctor from the period advised female cyclists that,

‘It is never worth-while to go beyond your strength, either by attempting long distances or with the wish to show your power of endurance.’

The doctor went onto to warn female cyclists that they should, ‘avoid pounding up hills. If breath begins to fail dismount at once.’

Even sitting in an upright position was seen as a necessary precaution against ill health. Another doctor commented that,

‘One of the most important points in riding is position. The upright position is the only one that will not entail injury to internal organs. If this is maintained it will benefit all of these, removing the congestion from which so many distressing symptoms arise.’

However, perhaps the most archaic piece of feminine cycling medical advice came from Fanny Erskine, publisher of books on cycling for women during the 1890s. She advised her readers that if a female cyclist found herself panting then,

‘Something is radically wrong, and a doctor should be consulted.’

Advice which will hopefully forever remain in the 1890s.