Cycling Sources #9, Should Women Cycle?

As has been touched upon many times, the subject of women on bicycles was one which caused continued controversy and debate during the 1890s. Their riding styles, the clothes they wore, and indeed whether they should cycle at all, filled up column inches in both the cycling, and the national press.

To resolve this final question once and for all, in 1896 the women’s periodical, Hearth and Home, decided to write to a wide range of prominent individuals, asking for their opinions on the question ‘should women cycle?’

1890s cycling

Drawings of female cyclists (and selfie posers?) from the 1890s. Source: http://www.oldbike.eu/museum/bikes-1800s/1896-1899-diamond-frames/1896-butts-ordway-standish-ladys-bicycle/

These ‘prominent individuals’ were listed as including, ‘leading members of the Church, the Medical Profession, the Services, and the House of Commons’. Other than perhaps doctors, at first glance it is somewhat unclear as to how much insight Archbishops, Military Officers and M.P.s could provide into this question.

However, by seeking the opinions of these individuals, what Hearth and Home was really asking was something along the lines of, ‘is cycling a socially acceptable pastime for women to participate in?’ By having the Archbishop of wherever answer in the affirmative, Hearth and Home’s female readership could take to their wheels safe in the knowledge that cycling was a respectable, suitable activity for them to engage in.

Whilst it can be celebrated that most of these answers were of a positive nature, the fact that they were all coming from men, and the emphasis they gave to women cycling in a ‘fashionable’, ‘moderate’ and ‘graceful’ manner, highlights how both the position of women in society, and understandings of appropriately ‘feminine’ behaviours more generally, were very much removed from our own during this period. As the not-so discretely titled ‘Major-General Harcourt Bengough’ put it, ‘by all means ride, but if you cycle, cycle well.’

Finally, if anyone knows of any current school of medical thought which states that, ‘the physical perfection and nervous dexterity of our limbs react favourably on our intellect and moral character’ then I’d love to find out more!

The beginning of the article, and a selection of the responses, are listed below.

Thinking that our readers would like to know the views of people of authority on the all-important question, ‘Should women cycle?’, we sent letters to leading members of the Church, the Medical Profession, the Services, and the House of Commons, asking their opinions. The number of replies we received was very gratifying, while on the whole the verdict was decidedly in favour of the popular pastime.

Mr George Wyndham, M.P., is distinctly an advocate of cycling, when done in moderation, and we commend the sound common sense of his views,

‘You ask my opinion on ‘cycling for women’. I think it is a healthy exercise, and, when mastered, a graceful accomplishment. It is certainly exhilarating, and useful for developing self-reliance and dexterity. If, as some schools of medicine hold, the physical perfection and nervous dexterity of our limbs react favourably on our intellect and moral character, then cycling must have a high educational value.’

George Wyndham

Colonel A.C. Welby, M.P., evidently believes in cycling as a healthy pastime, but is in favour of moderate dress,

‘I am afraid, as a bachelor, I cannot claim views which are likely to be of any interest to others. It seems to me that in country districts, and where women have a long way to their work, cycling is an exercise, or a means of locomotion, both cheap and invigorating. Whether the riding is physically advantageous I must leave to doctors to decide.

When ladies in London parade up and down to look smart and attractive, I often think that if mirrors were arranged alongside, so that they could see the very ungraceful and inelegant position which, especially in wind, cycle-riding entails, they would go straightaway home, and never ride a cycle again for show.’

The Bishop of Bath and Wells is very decidedly in favour of the pursuit with certain restrictions, and,

‘Thinks cycling good for the health, good for the temper, and a good kind of amusement for men, women and children; but its practice by women should not be with a view to racing, nor in unfeminine dress, and never with disregard to the rules of the road.’

George Kennion, Archbishop of Bath and Wells in 1896

Among the opponents of rational dress for cycling is the Dean of Salisbury, who writes:-

‘My views on the subject of ‘cycling for women’ are hardly worth your notice. I cannot say I entirely disapprove of what may be a necessity almost for some who cannot drive or walk, but I think caution as to the effect on health is highly desirable. That ‘cycling’ should be common in large towns I think would be, as indeed has been seen, hardly possible from the fear of accidents. But wherever and whenever practiced I deprecate the possibility of the adaptation of any dress not entirely feminine. It seems to me that we are in danger of a fashion for male attire on the part of ladies, which may injure the true position of women in the world.’

‘Injuring the true position of women in the world’. Source: http://www.fashion-era.com/rational_dress.htm

Major-General Harcourt Bengough, C.B., gives very sound advice,

‘In the early days of cycling I confess I sided with the large majority of men and women who refused to believe that cycling would ever become a popular recreation with English ladies. In its early days it had many difficulties- prejudices if you will- to be overcome. There were difficulties as to becomingness of costume, fears as to the possibility of a graceful deportment on wheels, doubts as to the propriety of riding about unattended, and there were questions as to the effect of cycling on the health.

The pioneers of the movement, too, were not generally those recognised by society as empowered to introduce new fads. A bulging skirt, a crouching and too solid figure, a florid headdress surmounting a spectacled and somewhat over-earnest countenance, these were not traits to attract a huge number of votaries.

‘A spectacled and somewhat over-earnest countenance’. Source: http://wehuntedthemammoth.com/2012/01/04/bicycle-riding-ladies-and-other-threats-to-manly-order/

But all this has happily changed- youth, beauty and fashion have taken cycling by the hand, science and skill have been called in as allies, and the result is a fascinating and health-giving pastime. It is surely a pretty sight, that of a young girl confident in her skill, confident in her costume, floating along with a movement which partakes something of flying, something of skating, erect in her seat as a dragoon, supple as a willow branch. To those who hesitate to follow the fashion, I would say, ‘by all means ride’, but I would add this caution, ‘if you cycle, cycle well’.

Another distinguished military officer considers-

‘That cycling is a very desirable accomplishment for women, so long as not carried to extreme limits. Women often appear to advantage on bicycles, and can sit up gracefully on the saddle; while men on the other hand, most frequently appear at a disadvantage, on account of their stooping too much.

By bicycling, women who have for years been restricted to a neighbourhood of a radius from two to three miles can now extend this area to a radius of eight to ten miles, and have an opportunity of seeing the country when living in town. Bicycling has thus placed poor women on an equal footing with rich ones in a most important particular- getting fresh air and exercise and seeing new scenery. Bicycling will add to a new interest to life, and bring God’s lovely earth to the doors of thousands of women in poor circumstances who would otherwise see nothing but streets and squalor each day.’

To end up with, we give the opinions of that charming writer, Eden Phillpotts, containing as they do sterling common-sense with a sly dash of humour,

‘I approve most heartily of bicycling for anything with a liver, and to deny that the sex shares with us the responsibility and anxieties of that weird organ would be false modesty. Let our maidens ride by all means, and our wives and mothers and grandmothers if they care to risk it. Any women corporeally fitted for the pastime has a right to appear on a bicycle. Those who ought not to ride and do, truly make a judicious spectator sad; but even in the most grotesque cases I blame the relations of the performer rather than the lady herself.

Bicycling has a tendency to keep women out of the shops, which is another subtle advantage. Again, a bicycle is at once far cheaper and healthier than a sealskin jacket. Let man once grasp this great fact, and any remaining paltry prejudices will vanish into limbo.’

Eden Phillpotts, a man who could combine ‘sterling common-sense with a sly dash of humour’. Source: http://www.ebooks-library.com/author.cfm/AuthorID/775

Cycling Sources #8 ‘Women on Wheels’

Why exactly did women take to cycling in the 1890s? Was it just for the pleasures and liberation which accompanied riding a bicycle, or were there other factors which pushed them to take up the pastime? In 1899 a Berlin writer with the most fantastically German name, in Herr Paul Von Schnonthan, looked to explore this question by going round Berlin asking women why they had taken to cycling. The following article, which appeared in an Irish newspaper, offered a commentary on his findings.

Von Schnonthan’s research suggested that pleasure and emancipation were not the main reasons why women took to cycling. Those he interviewed gave a wide range of reason why they cycled- from the demands of fashion to a desire to please their prospective husbands, but few mentioned the enjoyment which cycling brought them.

As such, the writer of the article was somewhat cynical about Von Schnonthan’s findings, querying the fact that, ‘almost all the women interviewed allege that necessity, not pleasure, has set them on wheels.’

Instead, they offered a much simpler why cycling was so popular amongst women. They extolled the ‘new life’ it had given them, which was, ‘wider, freer, and more delightful than was dreamt of before its coming.’

In an article of fantastic images (the ‘match-making mamma’ tortuously accompanying her daughters on their cycling excursions being particularly enjoyable) my favourite is probably the one of ‘a younger and unmarried lady’ carrying a pair of tongs and a spirit lamp on her excursions so to curl her fringe (more on the oft neglected history of fringe fashioning can be found here).

“A married lady alleges she was reluctantly compelled to cycle by the increasing expansion of her waist. ‘My sister-in-law’, she writes, ‘lost six pounds through bicycling, so I thought I would try my luck too. That is the only reason, for I derive no pleasure from it, and am afraid of my bones every time I mount my bike. In the spring I ride twenty kilometres every day. I am a little thinner than I was, but nothing to what I should like to be.’

Fashion is the power which has converted a younger and unmarried lady into a reluctant cyclist. She wails as follows over the sacrifices it entails: – ‘One is obliged to do so whether one likes it or not. As you ask for the truth, I will tell you that I do not think it nice for girls to ride on a bicycle. One perspires so horribly, and after half an hour’s ride one gets into a dreadful state. I always take a little powder-box and a pair of tongs and a spirit lamp to curl my fringe, but it is very difficult to use them when there are gentleman present, for that makes such a fuss, and they might laugh at one. I am always getting bruises too, and hurting myself. I hope the fashion will soon die out.’

One young lady, however, recently engaged, is an honest enthusiast. She has learnt to cycle at the request of her prospective bridegroom, and is determined to ride tandem with him after her marriage. She does not mention which is to take the front seat.

A young woman’s righter is a cyclist because she thinks the greatest movement runs fastest and smoothest on wheels. She contrasts her own condition before and after the emancipation of the bicycle. There are two very different girls that she describes:- ‘The one that walks along the Ringstrasse by mama’s side, clad in a long gown, terribly hampering to the legs, that can scarcely dare to look to the right or the left, and must certainly not look behind; the other, in a smart and coquettish attire, decent and sportsmanlike – a cap and a man’s scarf, and a divided skirt- rides along the street. One feels then, as free as a bird in the air, and a little like a man! And really, the best of all is to be a man! Of course, a good many ride who ought not to do so. They have not the necessary figure. One must be nineteen and have a good figure if one wants to ride a bicycle.

Cycling in ‘smart and coquettish’ attire. Source: http://www.victoriana.com/Fashion/cycling-clothing.html

An appeal is made to our sympathy on behalf of the match-making mamma, whom duty, not pleasure, has planted solidly on the bicycle saddle. ‘Just because I am married and have grown-up daughters, I am obliged to take up cycling. All their girl friends bike, and it is now a part of a girl’s education to do so. I resisted as long as I could, because my husband does not approve of it, and four bicycles make a big hole in one’s annual income; but is was of no use, when we saw that 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, though an unpleasant one. Young men nowadays are quite made about bicycling. Formerly they used to come to one’s house; now their bicycling excursions always prevent them from doing so, and one is always hearing 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, though 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?’

The good lady can dismount as she pleases. The chief merit of the bicycle in the eyes of the young is that it dispenses of the chaperon. The bicycle is in truth the women’s emancipator. It imparts an open aired freedom and freshness to a life heretofore cribbed, cabined and confined by convention. The cyclists have collided with the unamiable Mrs Grundy, and driven triumphantly over her prostrate body. Delightful excursions, fresh air, and lovely scenery are the boons which the cycle has offered to the girl, and of which the girl has testified her enthusiastic appreciation.

Engaging in ‘Delightful Exursions’. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/aminatyg/cycle-chic/

Yet it cannot be said that cycling makes women ‘fast’ except as pace is measured by the cyclometer. We are not surprised that in matrimonial advertisements in Germany it has come to be regarded as an essential condition. To men the bicycle has been as unquestionable boon. But after all, men had their fair share of fresh air and country pleasures before the advent of the wheel. To women, it has brought a new life, wider, freer, and more delightful than was dreamt of before its coming.”

An example of a marriage advertisement from the 19th Century. Many more equally amusing examples can he found at http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2014/03/10/vegetarian_personal_ads_19th_c_matrimonial_advertisements.html

Cycling Sources #7- ‘New Rules for Cyclists’

Many previous blogs (‘A Tyranny of the Road‘, ‘Bicycles Against the Traffic‘ ) have explored the un-easy relationships which existed between cyclists and other road users in the early years of cycling. In 1896 Punch, in typical satirical vein, used these contrasting views of cyclists to outline the ‘new rules for cyclists’ that both the riding and non-riding public would like to see introduced. The question is, are the suggestions under ‘What All Cyclists Would Like’ all so ridiculous?

And, perhaps, would it be so difficult to produce a similar article today?

Punch cycling cartoon from 1882. Source: http://www.oldbike.eu/museum/magazines/humour/cycling-humour/

‘New Rules for Cyclists’.

I- What some other people would like.

Every cycle-rider to pay a tax of fifty percent of the total income that he would have if every mile ridden brought him in a sovereign, and every tinkle of his bell a ten pound note.

Nobody to cycle without a license, issued by the Governor of Newgate, after a fortnight’s strict examination (on bread and water) in elementary mechanics, advanced hydrostatics and riding on the head down an inclined plane.

Any person found riding without such a license to receive a minimum penalty of ten years’ penal servitude, followed by police supervision for the rest of his natural life.

If caught on, with, or under a cycle within fifty miles of any town of five thousand inhabitants, the culprit to be fined a hundred guineas and bound over his own recognisances to abandon cycling and take up golf instead

When a cyclist on any road sees, or has reason to believe that he might see if he chose to look, any horse, cart, carriage, gig or other vehicle, or any pedestrian approaching, he (or she) to instantly dismount, run the machine into the nearest ditch, and kneel in a humble and supplicating attitude till said horse, cart &C., has got at least a mile away.

Every cyclist to be presumed, in all legal proceedings, to be a reckless idiot and on the wrong side of the road, unless he can bring conclusive evidence to the contrary.

All tourists on wheels to report themselves at every police station they pass. If un-vaccinated, they may be taken to the nearest doctor and compulsory inoculated with any old lymph or ‘anti-cyclin serum’ he may have handy.

II- What all Cyclists would like

Cyclists to be given a special track on all roads, quite half the width of the thoroughfare, and well asphalted.

In case of any accident, coachmen and car-drivers to be bound over to keep the pieces, and supply a brand-new machine.

All vehicles of every description to at once skedaddle up side streets when a lady cyclist is descried in the offing on a main road.

No bells, horns, or lamps in future to be required. Pedestrians to keep to the sidewalks or take the consequences. Cyclists to have the right to use the sidewalks as much as they like, and at any pace.

The City streets to be cleared of traffic and left as practising grounds for new wheelmen and wheelwomen.

Rate-supported stations (with free meals) for blowing up burst tyres to be provided on all roads.

Cycles (and cyclists) to travel free by rail.

And, finally, any person reasonably suspected of not owning a cycle or being about to get one to pay a fine of five thousand pounds to the Exchequer, be handed over to the Lunacy Commissioners, and detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Punch’s warning to all cyclists who hunched over their handlebars. Source: http://www.bicycle-and-bikes.com/bicycle-news.html

Cycling Sources #6, ‘Spoiling for Spring’

Back in the 1890s, the average cyclist had even more reasons to look forward to spring than his or her modern counterpart. In the winter most of Britain’s un-tarmacked roads turned into muddy quagmires, which at best made cycling more difficult, and at worse nigh on impossible. The coming of spring (in theory) signalled a period when dry, easterly winds and warmer weather again made British roads hospitable for cycling. With the clocks going forward today, there seems no better time to publish this article from Cycling, which first appeared in 1894.

‘It is just about this time of year that a great craving for spring comes over the cycling world. With all the seasons except spring the change is so gentle and imperceptible that it causes no great commotion; we even glide into winter with comparative equanimity, and write the worn and subverted quotation, ‘now is the winter of our discontent’, rather from time honoured custom than any real feeling.’

About to enjoy some (not too muddy) roads. Source: http://www.oldbike.eu/museum/1900s/fashion-costumes/1890s-bicycles/

‘There is no such Platonic sentiment about a cyclist’s craving for spring; weary with winter, and particularly with such a soft road winter as the one we are at present suffering from, his craving is that of real hunger, that haunting visions fan into mad desire for the day of dry roads and sunshine. We all, even the least imaginative of us, have more or less clear glimpses of these visions,- dry, brisk winds that come charging along over the fields and the commons, licking up every drop of moisture from the sodden roads, turning the heavy surface into dust as fine as flour, lifting it, and throwing it about in its mad glee.’

‘Budding trees, that strew the land with a fairy tracery of delicate green, and border the roads with one long repeated promise of summer glory. Frisking lambs, crying on the hills; birds announcing tunefully with from every wood and hedge, that winter is going, so that even the blind may know; and over all, the brilliant sun, growing in strength and majesty every day.’

Henry Ward Ranger, ‘Spring Woods’ circa 1895-1900

‘It is then that the most played-out rider feels something of his early zeal, that the club-run is best attended, that riding is most consciously the best,  the most delightful pleasure in the world. May these days quickly come; may the sharp east wind blow its fiercest and do its noble work, may the sun shine long and brightly, and tempt with its blandishments the lady primroses forth, for even the mud plugging there cometh satiety at the last, and we are all spoiling for spring.’

Cyclist from 1897 (perhaps spoiling for spring). Source: http://wheelbike.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/different-views-of-women-cycling-1890s.html

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: http://www.sheilahanlon.com/?p=270

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.

Source: alpenatweed.blogspot.com

‘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: http://1890swriters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/1890s-womens-fashion.html

‘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: http://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2012/06/25/a-comic-look-at-the-1890s-bicycle-boom/

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 http://www.babelstone.co.uk/BBTC/souvenir.html, 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: http://www.oldbike.eu/museum/bikes-1800s/1869-1885/1880s-tiller-treadle-velocipede-tricycle/1880s-cycling-scene/

‘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

Cycling Sources #3- Looking Right Ahead

There may well be something universal in dreaming of sunshine, warmth and spring during these dark and dreary months at the beginning of the year. The article below appeared in Cycling in January 1893, and a hundred and twenty-two years later it has certainly struck a chord with me. With January on its very last legs it perhaps now is indeed the right time to, ‘look right ahead for the sunny months of the near future.’

‘It is indeed relieving to know we are on the high road to the next merry cycling season. The shortest day is behind us, Christmas ’92 has tumbled way back into the past, and has joined all those other Christmases that we can remember, from the days of childhood when they used to seem ages instead of months apart, upwards to the present time when they seem to come round all too quickly. True, the New Year is very young yet, but the whirling of time does spin us around so quickly nowadays, that one may be excused for glancing at the coming seasons prospects so early. I like looking ahead in these dark days of winter. The future may appear dark and mystical, still while we have life it is very nice and very natural to contemplate its future in cheerful fashion.’

‘The end of winter within reasonable distance, the darker months of winter past, the cycler will now watch eagerly for the first dawn of spring, and will equally eager expectancy will he look forward to his first holiday awheel. It is pleasant thus to anticipate happy times in store. I can already clearly imagine those jolly weekend spins; those early rides with the cooling breeze fanning the cheek, before the sun has attained its fiercest heat, and the pleasing smell of the country wood fire, reminding one of, and sharpening the appetite for, breakfast’.

‘It is all before us, and every day that passes hastens the approach of the wheel season. ‘Past and to come seem best, things present worst’, wrote poet William, of Stratford-on-Avon, many years ago, and today with London enveloped in solid fog, I feel inclined to endorse his opinion, and to look right ahead for the sunny months of the near future.’