Cycling for all

A cycle party outside the Queens Head, Dorking, courtesy of Dorking Museum

A cycle party outside the Queens Head, Dorking,
courtesy of Dorking Museum

By the 1890s the price of a safety cycle, with tyres and a chain, had come within reach of ordinary people and cycling grew hugely popular. Dorking Cycling Club was formed in 1887 and by 1892 it had 100 members. So appreciative were they of the councils road maintenance men that in 1896 they entertained 30 of them to supper, presenting an ounce of tobacco to each. The Wheatsheaf in Dorking was the Clubs headquarters. Not all landlords were welcoming to the machines, however: in 1899 the Burford Bridge attempted to charge Capel Cycling Club 3d for each cycle left outside.

Dick Brooks father, 1890 Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Dick Brooks father, 1890
Courtesy of Dorking Museum

A trip to the countryside was now affordable for many Londoners who would pedal down through Morden and Merton, and out via Box Hill to Dorking. The Cyclists Touring Club published contour maps recommending hotels and refreshment houses along the way.

For those less energetic Archibald Carter of Capel ran a bicycle taxi from Ockley station to Capel. He also ran sightseeing tours of the countryside with clients seated in a trailer attached to his bicycle.

The great Dorking cycle camps  of the 1890s saw several hundred cyclists from clubs from all over the south-east camped for 2 weeks at Poultry Farm, south of St Pauls school The Daily Telegraph commented that Dorking could not be surpassed as a centre for excursions, for its beautiful setting and excellent roads. The Dorking Club generally had the largest tent in the camp – and the prettiest. Decorated in pink and pale blue, it contained portraits of club officials, views of the neighbourhood, painted scenery and flowers. Local tradesmen like SW Fuller provided repairs, refreshments were available in other tents and the town band played daily.

Fuller's cycle workshop opened in 1892. It sold and rented bicycles and gave cycling lessons. Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Fuller’s cycle workshop opened in 1892.
It sold and rented bicycles
and gave cycling lessons.
Courtesy of Dorking Museum

The camps were open to the public and in August 1896 over 6000 entrance fees were taken. Entertainments included dancing, singing and sports, including a burlesque sports day with 3-legged races and a tug-of-war. The annual highlight was a torchlight procession through the town with 200-300 cyclists in fancy dress lead by a band.

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