In April 1975, shortly before René Herse died, Jean Desbois returned to frame making at the Herse workshop. He had previously worked for Herse in the 1940’s and 50’s before leaving and pursuing other avenues of work. He had made some of the finest frames that the workshop had ever produced, including some of the concours machines, as Herse’s lead craftsman. He probably made the spectacular chrome framed machine on the front cover of The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, by Jan Heine. That machine was built in 1952 for the Salon du Cycle.
Over 20 years later he again produced beautifully crafted machines under the René Herse name, marrying Lyli Herse (RH’s daughter) in 1980. This example, built in the year of their marriage, is a typically understated yet beautiful bicycle. The frame is constructed from Reynolds 531 tubing. The fork crown is Desbois’ characteristic simple and exceptionally elegant spearpoint. The lugs are beautifully filed. It features internal cable runs for rear brake and both gear cables. Even under the bottom bracket, where the gear cables emerge and run through guides, the finishing is perfect.
The rear derailleur cable emerges through a brazed on fluting which also incorporated the mount for the chainstay protector. By this time Herse’s signwriter that painted the names on the frames had died, so Desbois used transfers instead. As usual, wiring to the front lamps runs through the custom made rack.
Desbois’ stem design was quite different from the earlier design. They were cut out of a solid piece of duralumin. Holes were drilled for the cutout and the hand filing took over four hours to complete.Here the stem is contrasted with the much earlier item on my wife’s 1946 Herse:
Other equipment includes Philippe bars, Weinmann levers, Huret titanium rear derailleur and Super Champion 700c rims on Maillard 700 team issue hubs.
As with most of machines under the Herse name, it is the highly understated and subtle detailing combined with the exquisite craftsmanship of a gifted skilled artisan at the top of his game, that makes these wonderful machines so appealing.
Click on photo’s for large scale images
Whilst signs for national cycling clubs are fairly common, for example Cyclists’ Touring Club, Clarion and NCU, those for individual clubs are hardly ever seen. In fact I have never seen one, and neither have collector friends of mine with far more years experience than me. So when I saw this sign in the boot of a trader’s car at the Beaulieu autojumble, I negotiated with the owner to acquire it, despite the fairly poor condition. It is no good waiting for a better one to come along as it is probably a one-off! The added bonus is that it is of a club that was based locally to me, less than five miles away.
Forest Gate is a part of East London, bordering onto a large open area of land called Wanstead Flats. When this suburb was being constructed in the mid to late Victorian period, it was indeed the gateway to Epping Forest. Of course it was a great starting point for escapades into the Essex countryside, when the cycling craze took hold.
It is probable that the club was founded under the name of the Glen Cycling Club, in early 1896, possibly because their headquarters were at the Forest Glen Hotel (above), in Dames Road, Forest Gate. In 1897 it seems that the name was changed to the Forest Gate CC. There is very little information available about the club, but they did take part regularly in the Woodford Meet, a very large local meeting of cycling clubs, at the end of the century, and the early 1900’s, as evidenced by the programmes for those gatherings. By 1905 they were no longer participants, and they may well have folded at that time as so many other clubs did, due to the decline of interest in cycling. Alternatively they might have amalgamated with other local clubs under a different name.
The members of the club provided some amusing sounding entertainments for the revels of the Woodford Meet. For instance, in 1902 they provided a “Ping-Pong” tableau. The mind boggles at what that might have been – probably something horribly politically incorrect by today’s standards! They also appear to have participated in a concert and other entertainments opposite the Royal Forest Hotel in Chingford.
Photo: The Woodford Meet 1903, Harry Gulliver
In 1904 they provided the “Forest Gate Non-Slipping Band” with, as in 1902, some members being mounted on a ‘Quad’ – a four seat bicycle, and others on a ‘Trip’ or triplet, a three seat version, playing such well known instruments as the Cyclophone, Piccalooloo and the Kazoone!
It is likely that this sign was a one-off, made to hang outside the Forest Glen Hotel c.1897 when the club was founded. It is a good size, measuring 32 x 24 inches, and was manufactured by the Patent Enamel Company Ltd, London. It’s a really very rare piece of cycling history.
With thanks to the Vestry House Museum, LB Waltham Forest for the Woodford Meet program information, and to local Forest Gate historians John Walker and Mark Gorman of the E7 Now and Then website, for further information.
Osmond Cycling Club
This is perhaps the favourite club badge of my collection. Being that of the Vice-President of the club makes it all the more special. Made by Vaughton and Sons and hallmarked 1896, it is imposingly large at 90mm tall.
The name Osmond is a famous one in the history of cycling. F.J.Osmond was one of the most successful amateur racing cyclists of the Victorian era. He began racing at the age of nineteen, and just a year later started to capture records, riding an Ordinary and tricycle. In 1889 he made the successful transition to riding a safety bicycle, and in 1890 he won the 1, 5, 25 and 50 mile championships, also setting a new mile record at 2 mins 28 4-5 secs, reducing this to 2 mins 16 secs a couple of years later.
Is there a connection with this badge? Whilst he was still racing, Osmond was working for The Whitworth Cycle Company. In 1894 he left them and formed his own company to manufacture bicycles and tricycles. The headquarters of that company was in The Tower, Bagot Street, Birmingham, and it is the tower that is seen in this badge, confirmed by a look at the 1900 catalogue for the company (below). In fact the Osmond Cycle Co. was dissolved in 1897 and taken over by investors, who changed the name to Osmonds Ltd., although F.J. stayed on as Managing Director for a few years. He died in 1919, aged 52.
Clearly a club was formed by the company for employees and/or riders of their machines, something which existed for other makes such as Humber and Centaur. The date of this badge, 1896, is significant as the peak year of the 1890’s cycling boom, and it is not surprising that the company failed in 1897, as bicycle manufacturers over-extended themselves whilst the cycling craze went into decline.
Veteran-Cycle Club online library
Ray Miller: An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers
Perseverance Roadsters Cycling Club
A beautiful badge with intriguing imagery. The handlebars have the shape of typical 1890’s road racing bars, although the grips are more like those of an Ordinary. These are topped by a Castle, and behind the name there is a dog like creature and a star above. What is all that about?
There is a photograph in existence with a group of cyclists (and a dog) captioned with the club name. Judging from the style of the bicycles, this dates from the mid 1890’s.
South Shields Cycling Club
This club from the North-East coast of England, was formed very early in the history of cycling, on March 22nd 1878. In the 1891 ‘Cycling’ Annual, its headquarters were listed as being in the Royal Hotel.
The motto on the badge reads ‘Always Ready’ and depicts a rowing boat packed with men. This is the motto of the town, which relates to the World’s first purpose built lifeboat stationed in South Shields in 1789, and the later formation of the South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in 1866.
Lombard Cycling Club
The reasons behind the name of this club remain obscure, but it was based in Stoke Newington, London, N16. Founded on April 3rd 1889, headquarters were at the Neville Arms public house (below). This pub still exists, but has strangely now lost the ‘e’ at the end of it’s name. Their uniform was listed simply as ‘grey’.
This is a most unusual badge, as the three legged central section rotates on it’s central axis.
The Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club
The first official meeting of the Vegetarian Cycling Club was held in October 1888 in London, at the Central Vegetarian Restaurant in Farringdon. In 1891 it’s headquarters were listed as being at The Vegetarian Hotel, Charing Cross, London. It is a common misconception that vegetarianism is a relatively new movement. In fact it was created before the 1800’s, and was popular particularly in the 1880’s. Vegetarian Restaurants were not uncommon at the time, most commonly in London. So it was an unsurprising consequence of that popularity that the club was formed.
The stated aim of the club was to prove that vegetarians could compete on the same level as meat eaters. This they did admirably with moderate success in competition during the remainder of the decade.
In 1896, Jim Parsley won the Catford Hill Climb, at the time a very prestigious event, in record time. The club was delighted and he was presented, at a celebration dinner staged by the club, with a piano in recognition of his great performance!
In the late 1890’s, the successes continued to accrue, and in the early 1900’s the great George Olley broke long distance records including London-Edinburgh, Land’s End to John O’Groats and the 1000 mile record in 1907, and Land’s End to John O’Groats for a second time in 1908.
Whilst Olley’s star faded, Fred Grubb came to prominence as a prolific record breaker on road and path. Charlie Davey broke seven RRA records between 1914 and 1926.
An excellent history bringing the story up to the present day can be found here.
In 1909 the club changed it’s name to the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club, so the badge seen here dates from the period after that. The green triangular motif is still used today on the club’s kit.
The Willesden Socialist Cycling Club
The Willesden Cycling Club was founded in 1884, but in 1914, along with with many other clubs, it was disbanded at the outbreak of the First World War.
In 1926, a group of socialist activists led by Eric Macdonald, formed a new club, the Willesden Socialist Cycling Club, with the aim of spreading the Labour Party word to a greater audience. Club runs consisted of a ride out to a town or village outside London, where they would hold a political meeting. A platform for the speaker was devised, which could be broken down to component parts carried by the various members on their bikes!
The club rapidly grew, and in 1931 it was decided to change the name to the Willesden Cycling Club, since cycling had overtaken politics as the main aim of the club.
This very rare badge thus dates specifically from between 1926 and 1931. It is one of my favourites, and suggests with it’s motif of hammer, sickle and quill, that the politics of the founders were firmly to the left of the socialist movement.
St. Peter’s Cycling Club
The St. Peter’s Cycling Club was formed in 1888. It’s headquarters were at the St Peter’s Institute and Gymnasium in Buckingham Palace Road, London.
In that period ‘gymnasium’s’ were often used to teach people how to ride a bicycle, and there is reference to this in a journal from 1896 ‘The Wheelwoman and Society Cycling News’ – ‘ST. PETER’S INSTITUTE GYMNASIUM, BUCKINGHAM PALACE ROAD, 3.W. The Most Select School in London. Inclusive fee for Tuition until perfect. The Auto Instructor is used for first lessons. Specialities :—Correct Ankle Pedaling and Graceful Carriage. The Proprietors are the Makers of the Celebrated ” KINGSTON CYCLES”.’ The ‘Auto Instructor’ was presumably a static bicycle trainer.
Their uniform was dark grey with black cap and stockings. It is much larger than most badges, at 40mm diameter, and is backed by purple velvet. It was probably originally silver plated, and was made by the ubiquitous Vaughton and Sons.
Cycling clubs have been around since the earliest days of cycling. In the days of the Ordinary, or penny-farthing bicycle, it was common for clubs to wear a uniform. For instance, the Anfield Bicycle Club rules of 1882 stated that ‘the uniform be Black Patrol Jacket, Breeches, and Hose, Black Huntsman’s Cap, with Silver Monogram…’ The silver monogram was usually attached to the front of the cap. Each of the clubs had their own cap or lapel badge to identify their members, and the Captain, Sub-Captain, Secretary and other officials commonly had their attachments to distinguish them.
By the peak of the cycling boom in 1896/7 there were many hundreds of clubs, ranging from City, town and village clubs, to those of companies, schools and universities. Religious and other specialist groups such as the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club, and political leaning groups such as the Clarion C.C. are other examples. To give an idea of the numbers, there were 30 cycling clubs in Newcastle alone, and 38 in Birmingham, whilst several hundred were listed for the London metropolitan area, in ‘The Cyclist’ 1890 Xmas number.
After it’s peak, cycling lost a huge proportion of these clubs. Some amalgamated to survive the decline in interest in the past time, whilst many others were lost entirely to history. In many cases little remains of that history except for the cap badges they used to wear, and these are by no means common. With their significance obscure, I am sure that the majority were melted down to recycle the silver.
Most of the badges above date from the 1890’s and early 1900’s, and the majority are of solid silver, often with coloured enamel inlay. Judging from the markings on them, it seems that the insignia makers Vaughton and Sons of Birmingham almost had a monopoly on the production of these items. Pleasingly, the company, formed in 1819, is still in existence, and continues to make badges, Regrettably though, they have no archive of the designs from that period.
Identifying cap badges is a bit of a minefield. Whilst the winged wheel is a common motif, and easily identifies the ‘CC’ as a Cycling Club, others are more difficult to prove. Of course ‘CC’ can also mean ‘Cricket Club’! In the early days, cap badges were often a simple intertwined monogram which today is difficult to decipher, and could mean all manner of things. In the 1880’s many clubs were ‘BC’, standing for Bicycle Club. Sometimes they are ‘RC’ for Road Club, or ‘AC’ for Athletic and Cycling.
This post is the first in a series of articles about cycling club cap badges. In the next post I will discuss some of my favourite badges.
Some time ago I wrote a post about my cycling hero G.P.Mills. I called him the ‘ultimate cycling hero’. Recent events lead me to think about another extraordinary cycling hero – Tommy Godwin, who even surpasses the great achievements of Mills. Let’s not get confused here… There is another famous cycling hero called Tommy Godwin, who won two bronze medals at the 1948 Olympics. Here I am talking about the ‘other’ Tommy Godwin…
Born in Fenton, Stoke on Trent in 1912 to a working class family, Tommy was working as a delivery boy by the age of twelve, and took part in his first time trial at the age of fourteen. He soon showed great talent as a time trialist, and won many events at all distances. Before the outbreak of War and now in his mid twenties, he set out to tackle the toughest challenge in cycling history… the year record. This consists of quite simply riding as far as possible over the course of 365 days. 1911 saw the French rider Marcel Planes set the first record of 34,666 miles. Various future attempts raised the bar, including 45,383 miles by Englishman Walter Greaves in 1936. This record was notable as Greaves had one arm! Despite this disability he set a seemingly huge total, yet within a year Ossie Nicholson of Australia raised the bar to 65,657 miles. It was this record that Godwin resolved to beat.
Setting out on New Year’s day 1939, he knew he had to average at least 200 miles a day, come rain or shine, headwinds or snow. That’s more than the average Tour de France stage…EVERY DAY for a year! Incredibly there was another challenger for the record, Bernard Bennett, who set out at the same time and whose progress helped to push him even harder. He used various routes, but a quite regular one was between his bases in Hemel Hempstead and Stoke on Trent. On 21st June he recorded his highest mileage in one day, a staggering 361 miles in 18 hours! On Christmas day he did an easy 59 miles, his lowest mileage.
Tommy rode a Ley TG Special bicycle made by his employers at the time, for the first 27,000 miles, before switching to a new sponsor. Raleigh bicycles furnished him with a Record Ace, a popular high end bicycle of the period. The bike had a Reynolds 531 frame, Sturmey Archer 4 speed gear and a Brooks B17 leather saddle, and it would have weighed about 30 lbs.
Being a vegetarian, common to a number of famous cycling record breakers, his diet was a little limited, particularly as rationing was introduced due to the outbreak of War. He was largely sustained by bread, eggs, cheese and milk.
By October 26th the existing record was beaten with 66 days in hand, and his challenger was lagging well behind. He went on to smash the record by over 12,000 miles. Astoundingly, not being content with this record alone, Godwin continued to ride on until May 1940, when he broke the record for 100,000 miles, completing this in 500 days!!!
It’s difficult to imagine the physical and mental effort required in achieving such a record. Physically he was in great shape before he started, and riding every day, he clearly became super-fit. But the mental effort involved in riding high mileages every day, in every condition imaginable, is simply staggering. Perhaps this is why the record has never been beaten? There is no doubt in my mind that this was the greatest single achievement in cycling history, yet despite this he seems to be little known. This very great man died in 1975, on the way back from a bike ride… of course!
This article came to mind because I heard that on 1st January 2015, British cyclist Steve Abraham, of North Bucks RC, will set out to attempt the record. The Guinness Book of Records will no longer sanction attempts as they decided it is too dangerous, so it will be validated by the Ultra Marathon Record Association, who organizes the Race Across America. Despite riding a state of the art bicycle almost half the weight of Godwin’s, coupled with modern nutrition and psychological coaching, I somehow doubt whether the record will be broken. Nonetheless, I wish Abraham the best of luck and safe rides on this Herculean task!
Update: Abraham was well on schedule to beat the record when he was hit by a moped, breaking his leg. As of March 4th 2017, he is again attempting the record which is now held by American Amanda Coker at 86,573 miles!
Vintage Bicycle Blog gratefully acknowledges the permission of Phil Hambley and Barbara Ford (Tommy’s daughter) for the reproduction of photographic images. Phil’s website about Godwin is undoubtedly one of the best websites I have ever seen on a cycling subject. It is packed with information about the man and his machine, and detailed information about the record, and is also beautifully designed. I strongly recommend investigating it and learning more about this extraordinary man.