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.