David, one of our committee members, has been researching Northampton’s 19th -century cycling clubs. He has unearthed some remarkable photographs.This is the St James Cycling Club pictured at Franklin’s Gardens in 1898. Seated on the wooden chair in the centre is the Club President, Edward Lewis (boot and shoe manufacturer and Mayor of Northampton in 1903). The bicycles have no brakes as these were racing machines. Cycle racing bicycles took place on the County Cricket Ground and on the Racecourse. The position of the bugler was an important and honoured office to hold within the club. During road runs a bugler usually rode either at the side or immediately behind the Captain (it was a strict rule that the latter led the outings and must not be overtaken). By means of bugle calls he relayed the Captain’s instructions to the other members lower down the line.
This is the Northamptonshire Bicycle Club which counted James Manfield, E J Allchin and T P Dorman among its riding members, paying a subscription of 15 shillings a year and wearing – on penalty of relegation to the rear of the column – a uniform of dark green Norfolk serge shooting jackets and breeches, stockings and black polo caps.
And here is the same club – on a Whit Monday in the 1880s – at the Jepson Gardens in Leamington. The run had started at 8.00 a.m. from the George Hotel in Northampton town centre (now the site of Lloyds Bank in George Row). In Leamington, the riders met with other clubs for a parade to Warwick where a silver bugle was presented to the club with the best muster … the Northampton Club!
The participants rode 54″ “ordinary” bicycles, like the two in the photograph. W J Hull, the borough accountant was thrown from his machine just before Southam and suffered a damaged shoulder. This did not prevent him completing the ride!
These are the rules of the Victoria Cycling Club – for “gentlemen amateurs” (Joseph Grose was a member). They sported a navy uniform with a silver shield and the fees were a more modest seven shillings and six pence.
Members of the College Street Cycling Club – whose committee included W T Church the proprietor of the the glass firm – paid only one shilling and dispensed with uniform at the instigation of working men.
The clubs, however, were largely male affairs (except for the Northampton section of the socialist Clarion Club) and when on the road they demanded military-style obedience. The signals of the bugler (working men’s clubs used a whistle) were to be instantly observed; no matter the wealth or status of his fellow, the authority of the Captain reigned supreme!