Cycling, or rather as the Victorians referred to it, bicycling, became a popular up and coming sport in the late Victorian era, and a few of the Weymouth residents were quick off the mark to take up this physical past time.
As usual, there were those who took it very seriously, and had formed a Bicycle Club in the town, but as these new fangled machines were extremely expensive, only those with the necessary funds could indulge in this past time.
As my grandparents had owned and run a bicycle shop in town, the Darch’s near the town bridge, I thought it very apt to write a little about the antics of the Weymouth Bicycle Club.
The club operated during the 1880’s, the era of the birth of the bike as a means of transport.
These speed men of the Victorian era would often be found racing along the main fairway of the Seafront, a historic version of the Tour de France. these events were often linked to other Weymouth celebrations such as the arrival in town in the May of the Dorset Yeomanry, when the whole town would come alive with visitors and grand entertainments.
The earlier bikes were the ubiquitous Penny farthings…as the ones in the picture above, with the daring riders posing besides their machines in front of the Kings Statue before some event.
Oh Boy…did you have to be daring to ride one of these, they were unstable, difficult to mount and dismount safely, even stay on during the ride…many a man (and woman) came a cropper!
In August of 1890, the Weymouth Bicycle Club were invited to join the Dorchester Rovers Bicycle Club in their grand illuminated procession. Taking it all in good spirits, the riders were kitted out in fancy dress costumes and their bikes adorned with Chinese lanterns, the whole procession through the streets of Dorchester drew large crowds to admire these men of the wheel.
At the annual general meeting of 1891 held at the Guildhall under the leadership of the town Mayor, the Honourable Secretary of the club, who at the time was Mr E Y Wood, a report given at that meeting proudly announced that their membership had increased 100% that year. In 1890 they had a total of 35 members. By October 1891 that had increased to a whopping 73.
During the season they had completed a total of 19 runs, 25 had originally been planned for, but bad weather had prevented some from taking place. The average distance of each run had been 16.2 miles, the total distance covered over the 19 runs was 308 miles.
A careful log was kept of those who had attended each meet, the number of meets each man had attended, the distance in miles that they had covered over the years membership.
Leading the proverbial pack was Mr William Burcham Custance who had made himself top dog by attending every single one of the runs and completed the 308 miles. William also earned himself the much coveted Attendance Medal.The Custance dynasty were owners of a large grocery store in St Thomas Street.
So it went on down through the list in the order of total mileage that each man had ridden.
Mr Ernest Yates Wood, son of a local business man, David Woods, a tailor. Ernest was 29, single, living at home with his widowed father, and working as a clerk to the local Gas Company.
Mr Samuel Board, aged 43 and a builder by trade with his own business, who lived in Ellendale House in Ranelagh Road.
Master Alfred George Board aged 16, Samuels son, and apprentice in the family firm. Alfred was awarded the bronze medal for his punctuality and frequent attendances at the meets.
Mr William Bowles Barrett was a local solicitor, and a wealthy man, who lived at no 2, Belfield Terrace.
Mr Isaac John Brown,(another single man living at home with his parents) at their family business in St Thomas Street. Thirty one year old Issac was a jeweller and watch maker. Isaac also held the lofty position of captain of the Weymouth Bicycle team.
Mr Henry John Butcher,the 26-year-old unmarried son of Moses Butcher. The Butcher family owned and lived in St Thomas Street over their stationary and printing shop. Henry also held the responsible position of the honorary treasurer for the Bicycling club.
Mr Webb and Mr Churchil,
Mr Christopher Joseph Russell, an Irish born gentleman, (not exactly in the first flush of his youth,) and a Colonel in the Royal Engineers. He and his family lived in Teramina house which was near Argyle Terrace.
Mr George Apsey was a gunner with the Royal Artillery Volunteers that trained at the Nothe fort, he was listed as an army pensioner in the 1891 census. His home was also where Harper Hubbard lived, another member of the Bicycling Club, both men were single and in their late 20’s. (There seems to be a theme appearing here!)
Mr Harper Isaac Hubbard, a single lad (again!) a brewers clerk aged 30. he lived in lodgings with the widow Frances Apsey, and her son, George, his fellow rider.
Mr Robert Archibald G Reid, a New Zealander by birth, travelled into Weymouth town from Fordington in Dorchester, where his wealthy family lived. Robert was in his early 20’s and was employed as a bank clerk..
Mr Reginald Robert Case, a 27-year-old (yes you’ve guessed it) sigle man. He held a very responsible position of trust, Reginald resided at and was a clerk in charge at a bank at no 84/85 St Mary Street.
Mr Watkinson, Mr Drew, Mr F B Woollard, Mr Bartlett, Mr Kerridge, Mr S R Miller,
Mr George Dominay, a butcher with his own business at Belgrave Terrace.
Mr Ayles, Mr J A Samways, Mr Turner, Mr Bateson.
At the bottom of the proverbial bicycling heap was Mr Fowler, out of the whole year, he only managed 1 ride!
During the 1890/91 season the club had organised numerous events, including their own rather novel illuminated procession of bicycles which was held during the busy and popular Dorset Yeomanry Week. This had taken the form of a night time display of bicycle adornment at its Victorian best…nearly 70 riders had entered the festive event, they and their gaily lit bicycles proudly paraded before the crowds on the Esplanade .
The club members even ventured into a bit of off road cycling in the form of an over hill and dale, mounted paper chase…not too sure that the Victorian bikes were built for such things, but it seems to have gone down well with its members, if not the bicycle spokes!
August of 1891 saw a race from the Kings Statue to the Crown Hotel, nothing special you might think, but this wasn’t the Weymouth Crown, it was the one in Southampton…122 1/2 miles.
There was the reward of a gold medal for the first man home. Despite the design of bicycles coming on during this period, and the softer, safer, pneumatic tyres having been introduced, for some unknown reason they were banned from using them for the race!
In the October the young (and not quite so young,) dandies of the club gathered together for a slap up meal at the Golden Lion,(this time the Weymouth one,) which was also where they held their meetings…hhmmm, sounds about right for a blokes club!
During the evenings festivities, they were bemoaning the lack of the facilities of a Recreation ground in the town, but that was soon to be on the cards.
Move on a couple of years and in the June of 1893 were reports of a days races which took place along the seafront, from the Kings statue to the end of Victoria Terrace. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon the men and their machines gathered, the road was sectioned off, and the local bobbies patrolled the scene, making sure that no unauthorised persons made their way onto the course. After all, these were the speed merchants of the day…danger lurked.
For the 3 1/2 mile handicap race, the competitors had to ride over the course four times.
A pletherea of novelty prizes awaited the lucky winners for the days racing, from a silver-plated tea service to a carraige clock, an aneroid barometer to a silver plated egg stand…one suspects that the men weren’t racing for the prizes.
The day ended with a Half mile Novelty Race, where the competitors had to make their way over an obstacle course, including lighting a lamp during the proceedings, they certainly knew how to live it up in those days.
Their meeting in August that year was held again along the seafront, which drew forth more complaints about a lack of a designated sports grounds that they could race on, but they drew the crowds in to admire men and machine. To finish the days events a display of trick riding was given by two of the younger members of the club, Carter and Dovey.
September saw the club members racing over 121 miles course. A certain Mr Holmes of London had donated a gold medal for the winner and local businessman, Mr Hodges gave a silver medal for second place.
Above is a photo of William James Hodges and his son George Hodges stood in the doorway of their bicycle shop, reputedly the first place in Weymouth to ever stock bicycles.
Thanks goes to George’s great grand daughter, Laura Hardy for permission to use this incredible family photograph.
John Brown Gray finished the course in 5 hours 5 1/2 minutes. Forty-year-old John Gray was another wealthy local businessman, he ran a tarpaulin and grocery business down in Lennox Street.
Webb finished 11 minutes after him, and earned himself the silver medal.
The third entrant had earnt himself a few bumps, bruises and scratches as he came a cropper…..
By 1894 the New Recreation Ground had been opened up for the use of the local residents, to the relief of the bicyclists it contained a grass track that they could use, no more racing along the main sea front road, and suffering gravel burn from their tumbles.
As cycling became more and more popular, and the machines more affordable, so a succession of cycling clubs came into being. There was even a Breweries Novice Handicap race which was open to members of the local Breweries Cycling Club.
But not all was sweetness and light in the biking brigade…competition often brought conflict.
In September of 1899, there was mutiny in the bicycling ranks. At a committee meeting held at their headquaters, the Golden Lion, a protest was lodged by E Perkins against the awarding of the prizes in the Chave challenge cup the previous week.
He claimed that he had been seriously fouled during the race, and that the results should be null and void.
After deliberations, the committee announced that the results stood.
The cup was finally awarded to D H Guy, what made it worse was that he kept it because he had already won it three times.
F Hillear won second prize, W Cockerham won third prize.
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