Early Cycling in Dorking

Lewis Saubergue (right) and companions in 1870. Saubergue's ironmongery workshop was situated on the site of Sainsbury's. Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Lewis Saubergue (right) and companions in 1870. Saubergue’s
ironmongery workshop was situated on the site of Sainsbury’s.
Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Cycling got off to an early start in Dorking. In 1875, when visiting London draper Stanley Boorer cycled his clanking velocipede or ‘bone shaker’ from Denbies to Dorking in the dark, glow worms attached to his hat, he frightened the returning housemaids out of their wits. But soon the sight was a common one. Dorking Ironmonger Lewis Saubergue was one of the first locals to buy a velocipede in 1868. In 1870 he and 3 companions went on a 5 week cycling tour of Germany on the newly invented penny-farthings.

Dorking Cycling Club c.1885 at Mr Attlee's on Rose Hill. Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Dorking Cycling Club c.1885 at Mr Attlee’s on Rose Hill.
Courtesy of Dorking Museum

The Penny farthing was more comfortable than the bone-shaker – though still without pneumatic tyres. But they were expensive and therefore the preserve of the town’s wealthier inhabitants: nurseryman Arthur Chalcraft had to have wooden blocks attached to the pedals of his as his legs were too short whilst Sir Arthur ‘Irrigation’ Cotton (1803-1899), the canal builder who had spent most of his life in India, rode the tricycle version on his temperance and evangelical missions around town. When cycling became socially acceptable – rather than eccentric – in the 1890s Lily, Duchess of Marlborough and her husband, Sir William Beresford, often cycled in the grounds of the Deepdene.

Mrs WJ Rose cycling in 1897. She worked for the tea magnate Arthur Brooke (of Brooke Bond) at Leylands near Abinger. Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Mrs WJ Rose cycling in 1897. She worked for the
tea magnate Arthur Brooke (of Brooke Bond) at
Leylands near Abinger. Courtesy of Dorking Museum

Cycling gave women independence. Margaret Pennington, the suffrage campaigner (and wife of Frederick Pennington MP) who lived at Broome Hall near Coldharbour, claimed that the bicycle had been a great emancipation for women ‘It is nothing short of a social revolution,’ she wrote.

It also had a long term influence on women’s dress. Unable to cycle in heavy skirts women resorted to knickerbockers or the newly styled ‘rational’ dress. Not all were happy to welcome women’s increasing emancipation, however and several local inns refused admittance to women wearing the ‘rational’ dress on the grounds of immodesty. Read more about Lady Harberton and the Rational Dress Society.

But women found solutions: the Mowbray House women’s cycling club established a gypsy caravan on Leith Hill to provide washing, cooking and rest facilities to its female members.

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Useful Links

Dorking Dorking Museum
Cycling as a social movement Lady Harberton and Women Cyclists
Competitive Cycling – from secret races to the Olympics 19th Century Surrey
Cycling for all Cycle Speedway

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