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

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