In the early days of cycling a bell was the most common means to warn pedestrians, horse riders and carriages of the approach of a cyclist. The earliest forms were simply globe-shaped rumble bells attached to the handlebars by a leather strap. They rang continuously as the machine rattled over the roadway. Later came a bell with a sprung lever to sound it only when required. If you were riding an Ordinary (penny farthing or high bicycle) this was very necessary to ensure that the horses were prepared for this strange beast passing by, often taller than the horse. As we know, horses are highly strung, and their reaction to bicycles, particularly high ones, can be unpredictable. There were many disasters in the early days with carriages running out of control, the horses having been spooked by cyclists, and there were many serious injuries to bike riders. As reports in cycling journals and many court cases evidence, there was quite a bit of animosity between horse and carriage owners and cyclists in the early days.
There were other means of making noise for cyclists. A small bugle, often made by Henry Keat and Sons of Stoke Newington, London, was used by Clubs as a rallying call. A number of the Clubs even had their own specific bugle calls. There were various other types of pocket horns and sirens.
Then there were whistles. These were commonly kept in the top pocket of one’s jacket, attached by a chain with a T-bar through the lapel buttonhole, or sometimes with a lanyard around the neck, so they could quickly be whipped out for use. Whistles specific to cycling are now very rare. The earliest and rarest whistle here is marked ‘The Kings Own’ and T.B.L.W. The latter stood for Thomas Bowling Lamp Works, after the Joseph Lucas works in Little King Street, Birmingham. ‘The Kings Own’ was used as a trade name for Lucas TBLW lamps as well. It dates from the early to mid 1880’s. It has two holes and consequently two tones. You can hear it being blown here!.
The second is an ACME whistle with a rider on an Ordinary on each side. I’ve never been able to establish if this whistle is from the time of the high bicycle, or made later as a decorative item. Still, its a rare and lovely beast. You can hear it being blown here!
The next whistle is marked ‘The Cyclist’s Road Clearer H.A.K. & Co.’ It was made by J.Stevens and Son of London and Glasgow, and probably dates from the 1890’s. You can hear it being blown here!
The other whistles pictured here are not necessarily related to cycling but I like to imagine they were the sort of items used by early pioneers of the road. I particularly like the Acme Siren, which you can hear in operation here.
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