Lady Harberton and Women Cyclists

Riding bicycles allowed women to travel as freely as men. There were mixed feelings about this and about the clothes they wore.

Image courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society

Image courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society

A tourist riding from Horsham to Dorking in 1879 reported he had met a young lady working a tricycle with exquisite grace and ease.

While an 1890 catalogue stated Skirts cut like riding habits do not look nice, as the movements of the limbs are too plainly visible.

But riding in a long skirt was difficult and so The Rational Dress Society promoted knickerbockers suits. In 1895 the journal Cycling reported that Rational dress is winning the battle between convention and comfort on the Surrey roads.

However in 1898 Richard Cook of the White Horse in Dorking wrote in the Daily Mail that he would not admit women to his coffee room in that disgusting dress called rationals. In 1899 Viscountess Harberton, an elderly lady in exceedingly baggy knickerbockers reaching below the knee was refused luncheon in the coffee-room at the Hautboy Hotel in Ockham. Cycling had a long journey to make before the days of Lycra.

The image on the right shows Lady Harberton in Rational Dress. It first appeared in the weekly magazine, Cycling, for 10th May 1911 with her obituary.

In Wisley Woods, women's cycle rallies were held for a number of years,  starting in 1916. Courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society.

In Wisley Woods, women’s cycle rallies
were held for a number of years, starting in 1916.
Courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society.

Useful Links

♦ Cycling – a social movement ♦ Competitive Cycling – from secret races to the Olympics
♦ Cycling for all ♦ Early Cycling in Dorking
♦ Dorking Museum ♦ Send and Ripley History Society
♦ Dorking ♦ Ockham
♦ 19th Century Surrey ♦ Surrey’s Sporting Life at the Woking Bikeathon

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