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.
My last post on bicycle posters created such interest that I decided to continue the theme with some further examples. The Rouxel and Dubois poster above is something of a classic, much reproduced. Although the drawing is a little crude, the concept is wonderful with the tandem flying at speed into outer space, over 60 years before space flight actually took place for the first time, in 1961!
Other images such as the Griffon poster below, from 1910, emphasize the idyllic nature of cycling with a hearty picnic in the great outdoors, beautifully imagined.
In the Terrot poster above, from the late 1890’s, their new chain design is featured. Unlike a conventional roller chain, the Lavigne patent chain features teeth which engage with rollers on the chainring and rear sprocket. It can be seen in more detail on my Terrot here.
De Dion Bouton were one of the leading manufacturers of quality cars, but also made very fine bicycles, beautifully advertised in the classically elegant 1925 poster above, drawn by Félix Fournery.
In 1901, the 1200 Km Paris-Brest-Paris race caused a sensation greater than any race that preceded it. This was largely due to the fact that it was sponsored by two leading newspapers, including Henry Desgrange’s L’Auto-Vélo. For the first time there was a professional rider category in the race, which was won by Maurice Garin, in a time of just over 52 hours. As a result of the success of this race, Desgrange went on to initiate the Tour de France in 1903, the first edition also being won by Garin. Meanwhile, La Francaise Diamant, Garin’s bicycle manufacturer sponsors, took the opportunity to celebrate his success in the race in the patriotic poster featured below.
This Tuesday in Paris, there was an auction of a single collection of over 350 posters dating from the late 19th to the mid 20th century, all of which were on the theme of the bicycle, and mostly of French origin. The anonymous seller ‘Monsieur X’ had been collecting these over a period of about 35 years, amassing an extraordinary range of images, largely in very good condition.
Grouped in themes, they included images of cycles being chased by ‘red indians’, oriental themes, night time images and manufacturers racing exploits. They reflected the various art styles of the times, the Art Nouveau posters being particularly attractive.
Many of the posters were large scale, averaging about 100 x 150 cm, since they were designed to be read from a distance and have ‘impact’. Most were lithographs drawn on to and printed from lithographic stones, and it is only in full scale that you can appreciate the beauty, colour and textures of these pieces. Printed on thin paper, since they were not really designed to last, they are commonly preserved by mounting the fragile sheets on linen.
There was a lot of interest in the sale, and internet bidders competed with those in the swanky sale rooms of auction house Artcurial. Top price was €8,450 for the great ‘Nunc est Bibendum’ advertising poster for Michelin, this one dating from 1898, showing the Bibendum character eating nails and other sharp objects. Toulouse-Lautrec’s 1896 image from the Simpson Chain matches at the Catford Velodrome in London sold for €5,980. The artist travelled to London for three days to make images for the company, featuring the famous Simpson Lever Chain. Lautrec was undoubtedly a great artist, but was not so good at drawing bicycles! The company rejected this image for use as a poster, due to inaccuracies in the drawing of the bicycle, hence the lack of text. Lautrec then had the image printed privately in a signed edition of 200 plus some unsigned versions. A fire destroyed most of these works, so they are rare. Despite the inaccuracies it’s a sparse and strangely captivating image.
Many of the lots sold for modest amounts in the early hundreds of Euro’s, very cheap for what were really quite rare and wonderful images. I missed a number of bargains as I was saving up for an expensive lot towards the end of the sale, on which I was frustratingly outbid! Nevertheless I came away with a few beautiful ones.
Here are some of my other favourites:
Yesterday was a particularly nice one…. sunshine, a fresh wind and unseasonably mild temperatures. So, we loaded the René Herse tandem in the car and headed for deepest Essex. Unfortunately, since our neighborhood is teeming with Range Rovers and heavy traffic, we have to drive away from the outskirts of the metropolis to get to somewhere more civilized for riding. It’s such a shame that we are forced to do this.
Starting from Leaden Roding, we took the small lanes through High Easter and High Roding, past the medieval remains of Pleshey castle, to Great Waltham. From there a very narrow sweeping lane runs us through to Littley Green where is situated the wonderful Compasses public house. Run by a member of the Ridley’s brewing family, the pub is dedicated to real ale, with a regularly changing list of finely conditioned beers. Ridley’s beer is no more – the brewery being bought out by the Greene King organization and swiftly closed down – typical of the aggressive attitude of this large brewery whose own beers are decidedly mediocre. Food at the Compasses is good too, and the staff first class. The pub is teeming with cyclist’s in the summer months and they even have their own cycling jersey.
We chatted in the warm sunshine with our elderly friend Phil, an expert on Deer, and hearing the arrival of a ‘proper’ sounding motorcycle, found that a beautiful Vincent was lodged in the car park. Suitably sustained by food, beer and chat, we headed back, through the puddles of the previous night’s downfall of rain.
Tomoko, who was sporting pigtails today, is great on the tandem – nice and steady, and she even pedals occasionally. The Herse rides smoothly and everything works beautifully, even the brakes. The front and rear brakes operate from the twinned right lever whilst a Maxi drag brake is operated with the left.
We were contented after such a lovely ride, but driving back one of the above mentioned Range Rover’s coming towards us suddenly veered over onto our side of the road on a dead straight section, prompting a blast on our horn and locked brakes. It was a very near miss. Thus we were jolted back into reality by one of those sad people who have nothing better to do than drive around in ‘status’ cars playing with their mobile phones. If only they knew the joys of cycling…..but of course simple pleasures wouldn’t appeal to them.
The Crypto Bantam is a curious machine. It looks like it should belong to the age of Ordinaries and early attempts at safety bicycles, but was actually introduced in 1893, after the demise of the Ordinary, and other front driven safeties.
Based in Clerkenwell Road in central London, the Crypto Cycle Works Co.Ltd. patented an epicyclic gear for the front hub of their bicycles with the purpose of gearing it up. They had some success in racing and records in the early 90’s particularly when piloted by the great Frank Shorland, but the bicycles used for these records had much bigger front wheels, around 36 inches in diameter (see below), fitted with pneumatic tyres. My machine has a 24 inch front wheel geared to 66 inches.
The marketing of these unique bicycles was aimed at older riders, some of whom still enjoyed the characteristics of a front-driver. It is also believed that they enjoyed some popularity with women riders. Crypto advertisements even featured an elderly gentleman riding one of their machines, as a selling point. The qualities of the bicycle were said to be safety, ease of mounting, speed and lightness, and no chain.
It’s true that these bicycles are very light, and are easy to mount. However, they are not easy to ride! The front forks are vertical, which leads to the front end feeling unstable, particularly going down hill on bumpy surfaces. There is also a feeling of lightness of the back end, and it is not unusual for the rear wheel to lift under braking…very disconcerting! I find it considerably more difficult to ride than an Ordinary, and even taking one hand off the handlebars is difficult at first. The side to side motion of a front driver seems to me more apparent with the Crypto, and leads to greater torque on the handlebars. However, on a smooth, level road you can make fast progress, with the high gearing coupled to the lightness of the machine.
When I bought this bicycle many years ago, it had been ‘restored’ some years previously, but had almost all it’s original parts, including the rarely surviving patent Boothroyd wheel rims. On most Bantams these have been changed for modern rims. The mudguards and stays are also original, as are the pedals.
The whole machine had been over-painted in matt black. To bring it ‘back to life’ a bit I decided to strip the parts originally nickelled. I used an environmentally friendly citrus based paint stripper gel (good stuff!) so that the metal beneath was unaffected. The handlebars, headset, gear, pedals and some other items were stripped and then polished a little with very fine steel wool. This adds ‘highlights’ to the machine, making it more appealing than a drab uniform matt black, and giving it a more original look. The reproduction transfers were distressed a little by rubbing with very fine steel wool. The heavy sprung saddle was replaced with a more suitable lightweight saddle, for which I made a new leather cover in period pattern. Tyres and inner tubes were replaced, not so much of a problem on Crypto’s with 24/20 inch wheel sizes, since they are a common size. As there is no original finish on the machine, it got the ‘oily rag’ treatment. I hope you agree with me that the result is a significant improvement.
Frank Shorland with Crypto front driver and the 1892 Cuca Cup