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Charlie Payne falls in and out of love with the bicycle (1903-1904)

The joys of cycling captured in song (Wikipedia)
The joys of cycling captured in song (Wikipedia). Click on this photo (and other photos in this blog ) to enlarge.

Continuing with my historical blog posts, today's offering covers a short-lived enthusiasm for cycling by an Edwardian ancestor.

With the development of pneumatic tyres and increasingly mass-produced bicycles, cycling became an important mode of transport and a popular outdoor pastime in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. In 1903-4, if you could afford the £3-£5 necessary to purchase a new single-geared bicycle with at least one brake, new areas became readily-available for exploration.

As the geneticist Steve Jones reminds us, in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, the bicycle was probably the single most important factor in encouraging outbreeding between populations!  Whether it was this thought (consciously or unconsciously) that enouraged my grandfather Charlie Payne to develop a temporary interest in the bicycle is lost in the mists of time; however, his diaries for 1903 and 1904 provide a succinct record of his developing interest and ultimate loss of enthusiasm for cycling.  During this period, Charlie was 20-21 years old, living in East Dulwich, and working as a clerk (earning £1 per week) for a small firm in the City of London.

Charlie Payne c. 1903
Charlie Payne c. 1903. Grandson of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard (the subject of my recent book 'The Chieftain')

Charlie's first mention of a bicycle in the family was  in a diary entry written on 7 July 1903, closely followed by other references:

"7 July 1903: From 7-45 till 9 o.c. had the bike out in Townley Road. Gave Norman and  Beaty lessons. [Norman and Beaty were Charlie's younger brother and sister]

11 July 1903: Bike in Garden. Then from about 9 o.c. till 10-30 George and I had it out in the Townley Road.  We both learned to go alone. [George was one of Charlie's older brothers]

13 July 1903: Out with the bike.  George and I can go well by ourselves.

8 August 1903: Cleaned bike, and had it out for a bit, but it went so badly that I decided not to start with George to-morrow.

9 August 1903: George started on his bike for Brighton.

15 August 1903: Indoors all the evening until 10 o.c., when I met George on his bike in Townley Rd.on his return from Brighton.  He looked well.

18 August 1903: Hired bike, learnt to ride and rode to Brixton with George.  Got wet.

22 August 1903:  From 6-30 to 8-15 George and I hired bikes from Reids.  All went well till we got to the Village, when I had a bad puncture.  Had a racing machine then, but I wasn’t very comfortable on it, however considering all things, we did very well.

29 August 1903: Went down to Reid’s re bikes.  Met George and  Reid in Cherry Tree [an East Dulwich pub] .  We arranged about our bikes for to-morrow, and wheeled them home by 10.30 p.m.

"Cyclists Rest", a tea-shop and guest house for cyclists, in Capel, Surrey, run by my great-great grandmother Esther Lidbetter c. 1900
"Cyclists Rest", a tea-shop and guest house for cyclists, in Capel, Surrey, run by my maternal great-great grandmother Esther Lidbetter c. 1900. Such establishments have always been part of the essential support network for enthusiastic cyclists!

30 August 1903: 1st Ride.  George, Norman and I up at 5 a.m. Fine morning.  Breakfast.  We left home 5-50. on bikes.  Norman came as far as Half Moon [a pub in Herne Hill].  Through Brixton, Streatham, Croydon, Purley, Coulsdon, Merstham, Redhill to Reigate; 21 miles by 8-45.  Breakfast at Alexandra Tea Rooms at Redhill, rest and a smoke. Took matters very easily coming back and arrived at Reids at 1-50.  I had 2 light falls.  Roads in fine condition. (44 miles covered)

6 September 1903: 2nd Ride. Rose at 5.  Left on our bikes 6 a.m. (George and I). Up Dog Kennel Hill. Through London to Highgate, Barnet,  Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn (rain, put up ½ hour)  Codicote, Hitchin.  Arrived at [Purwell] Mill 12.10 oc.  Saw Mr and Mrs. Flitton [the miller and his wife Jenny, a cousin of Charlie's mother] and Jack Hall.  Had a good dinner, rest and a smoke.  Left there 3 o.c.  Tea at Barnet 5 o.c. Highgate 7.30.  Cherry Tree 10-5 o. c.  Home, supper etc. Very tired.  88 miles. Weather very fine as were the roads.

20 September 1903: Up at 5-45. Fine.  George and I started on our bikes at 6-30 for Horley.  Reached there 9-30.  Breakfast at Tea House, Charlwood and back to dinner at 1 o. c. Left Horley at 2-40.  Home to tea at 5-30.  Rest etc. Bike back to Reid."

So far, so good .  In fact the distances covered in a day's ride in 1903 are pretty impressive, bearing in mind that the bike would only have had a single gear, and that many of the roads used would not have been smoothly surfaced.  No doubt encouraged by his prowess, in early 1904 Charlie decided to invest in a second-hand bike of his own. One of his former school-friends, from his days at Emanuel School, Wandsworth, Tancred Macleod, had one to sell and was prepared to phase the payments. Charlie's account from his 1904 diary continues:

The development of mass-produced affordable bicycles
The development of mass-produced affordable bicycles

"31 January 1904: Long talk with Sissy and Tancred [Macleod].  Bought his machine for £1.

12 February 1904: Paid Mac[Tancred Macleod]  8/-[shillings] off bike.

16 March 1904: Norman home with my bike from Macleods at 10-50.  All in good order, I think.

4 April 1904: Stroll on the [Peckham] Rye, and a little spin on my bike, went well.

12 April 1904: George and I examined my bike, hurt my tongue.[?!}

18 April 1904:  Macleod called at 3 o.c.  Paid him 2/-; 3/- left.

23 April 1904: Wrote Sis Macleod, sent 3/- to Tancred, bike now
paid for.

24 April 1904: Cleaned my bike etc.   Norman and I had a ride to the HM [Half Moon] and back by 10 o.c.

26 April 1904: Again tried my bike, position must be altered.

14 May 1904: Fish etc. for dinner.  Afterwards oiled my bike and  thoroughly cleaned it"

By now, Charlie's new bike should have been immaculately prepared for the next day's ride into Kent, which he had planned with his brother George. Events, however, were to intervene.

Charlie's diary for the week beginning 15 May 1904; the week when his enthusiasm for cycling diappeared
Charlie's diary for the week beginning 15 May 1904; the week when his enthusiasm for cycling disappeared

"15 May 1904: George couldn’t start on account of puncture.  I went for a ride Village, Park etc.  Martin arrived  9-30. We all three started about 10 o.c. George punctured on Bromley Hill. Down [village in the North Downs near the former home of Charles Darwin] 2 o.c.  I had a nasty spill in Cudham Lane about 3-30. Arms etc. scratched and bruised and bike badly  strained (thankful it wasn’t worse).  Tea at Lewis’.  Walked to Bromley.  8-30 train. Home 10 o.c.

16 May 1904: Indoors all day. Felt a bit shaken.  Wired Mr. D. [Drysdale; Charlie's boss].  Ma out all day.  Aunt Loo came in the evening.  Flo dressed my arms etc.  Very good of her.

17 May 1904: Fetched bike home 4d [4 pennies] ."

Enthusiasm for cycling was not restricted to adults. My maternal Grandmother (with bike), at Capel, Surrey c. 1905
Enthusiasm for cycling was not restricted to adults. My maternal Grandmother (with her mother and bike), at Capel, Surrey c. 1905


This was the last time that Charlie was to mention bikes in his surviving diaries and letters.  It seems that a nasty case of damaged bike and Edwardian 'gravel rash' had seriously  limited his enthusiasm for cycling.  Although his brother George continued to be a cyclist throughout his life, Charlie returned to walking long distances as his principal form of exercise, something that was to stand him in good stead when he found himself conscripted into the British infantry 12 years later. However, as a non-cyclist, when it came to finding a wife, his geographic range was limited by where his feet could take him, or where his purse could afford!  He married his second-cousin and reaped the genetic consequences. But that is another story for another day!