The Anfield Bicycle Club and D.R. Fell

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I recently purchased a silver button badge with the name ANFIELD on it, between stripes of blue and black enamel, with a knurled bezel. It is hallmarked 1909 and on the reverse is engraved D.R.Fell Anfield BC Liverpool. I recognized the badge as being that of one of the earliest and most famous of all the bicycle clubs, and the name D.R.Fell rang a bell with me. I reached for my copy of The Black Anfielders published in 1956, being the history of the club from 1879, when it was founded. This quickly established that Fell was President from 1913 to 1920. Clearly he was an influential member of the club, but more important to me was his earlier history.

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The Anfield Bicycle Club (ABC) was quickly established as having a reputation for hard riding and record breaking, particularly over long distances. They were known as ‘The Black Anfielders’ because in the early days they adopted an all black uniform even down to the braid on their hats. My all time cycling hero G.P.Mills was one of its members and as a youth of 17 in 1884, began establishing his reputation in the club and beyond, culminating in his many Land’s End to John o’Groats records over the period 1886 -1893, and his win in the Bordeaux-Paris road race of 1891. In 1884 a 24 hour ride was established as a club event, and later came regular 12 hour rides as well as 50 and 100 mile events.

At twelve minutes past midnight on Good Friday the 12th April 1885, D.R.Fell set off from Edge Lane, Liverpool in the company of G.B.Mercer, Lawrence Fletcher and a number of other notable riders, with the intention of achieving the gold star standard of the club, set at 200 miles in 24 hours. Fell was riding a Hillman, Herbert and Cooper Ordinary with solid tyres and ball bearing hubs. Most of the group decided on a different route for their attempts and headed toward Bettws-y-coed. Fell and Mercer headed towards Coventry, where they parted company, leaving Fell to press on towards London. The book provides Fell’s diary of the ride and details his progress and various stops for refreshments and rest. At 03.45 he got off to ‘trim lamp and eat some sandwiches (15 mins)’. Arriving at Stone at 06.40 he went in search of breakfast: ‘Tried to get something to eat at hotel, but servants not up so would not wait. (10 mins.) Three miles past Stone had some fresh eggs and milk at a farm (20 mins.)’ By 12.55 he had covered 114 1/4 miles and arrived at Coventry, where he had a dinner of soup and a chop and a short rest totalling 60 minutes. Tea and four raw eggs were consumed near Towcester, and at Stoney Stratford he stopped to light his oil lamp just before seven in the evening. At Dunstable he had covered 172 miles and had ‘Supper (three raw eggs, coffee and a little bread) (25 mins.)’ Passing through St.Albans and Barnet he arrived at Highgate Archway at 12.10.

He had covered 210 miles in 24 hours, whilst the actual riding time was 20 hours 10 minutes. The weather was recorded as being into a strong headwind, and we should remember the fact that he was on solid tyres, riding on primitive roads, and unable to escape the headwind being perched high up on an Ordinary. The ride could not be considered an official record because Liverpool to London had not yet been recognized by the Road Records Association, but it was always considered as such and of being one of the classic rides of the period, and indeed it helped establish the route as a record in 1890. In 1913, when Fell was elected President of the ABC, Cycling magazine published an article about this historic ride, with a wonderful drawing by George Moore, of Fell arriving at Archway. The text emphasized his ‘indomitable pluck’.

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In the ABC archive is a photograph of an Ordinary which purports to be that ridden by Fell on the Liverpool-London ride. I’m a little doubtful that this was the bike used since it appears to a machine already a few years old at the time of the ride, with straight handlebars, and solid forks front and rear. It is more likely that the machine was similar to the one being ridden by him in the photograph from 1927 captioned ‘D.R.Fell in old age’, and also seen in the George Moore drawing above.

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Prior to 1891 club members wore an Anfield cap badge (visible in the club photo above) which had the letters ABC intertwined in a monogram. The club has a gold example, which some modern copies were made from, but does anyone out there have an original silver one?

In 1891 the ABC adopted the small button badge seen above. It was very understated, and the subtle knurled edge signifies the wearer as a record holder. Apparently Fell didn’t think he should wear one as the record had not been endorsed by the R.R.A., but the club insisted he should do so. The 1909 hallmark on the badge suggests that it is a replacement, or duplicate. Perhaps Fell lost the original one, or had a spare. In any event, in later photographs of the man such as this one taken in 1913, we can see him wearing this badge in his lapel buttonhole.

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It is very rare to find an object such as this badge, whose history can be traced with some certainty, and which can recount such an extraordinary story.

The Anfield Bicycle Club is quite unique in having a most extensive archive dating back to the very early days. This consists of numerous photographs, circulars and other ephemera. Following the award of Lottery funding, the club is in the process of scanning the archive to make it available online. Already there are some wonderful archive images available, a number of which are reproduced here. The project is titled ‘Amazing Anfielders’ and the story of just one of these remarkable club members above serves to emphasize the importance and significant place in history of this great club, which is still very active today, 135 years after being founded.

Vintage Bicycle Blog gratefully acknowledges the help of David Birchall and the archive of the Anfield Bicycle Club in the preparation of this article. Photographic images of Fell and the club are copyright of the Anfield Bicycle Club and reproduced with permission. Further ABC archive images can be found here.

Click on photo’s for large scale images

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