Cycling days in the 1930s
My first bicycle was handed down to me after my three elder brothers had had enough. I was unable to reach the pedals, so they took off the saddle, tied on a cushion and then I could just reach.
They would sit me on the bicycle, push me until I felt the balance, and then it was a case of holding on until I fell off. It didn’t matter if I was hurt so long as I didn’t damage the bicycle.
Years later, having managed to save £6, I saw an advertisement in the weekly paper Cycling for a Selbach cycle for sale, a sports model with a fixed wheel and 24-inch frame.
The next Sunday it was off to Bedfordshire with Fred, my cycling companion. We did the 40-mile trip to Barton in the Clay and saw the bicycle. A boy of IV had refused to ride it, so his father was selling it cheap. Its full cost would have been around £24, and my weekly wage was £1 4s. To me, even £6 was a lot of money, but that bicycle was to prove the best bargain I ever had.
The next question was how to get it home, but by riding my own banger with one hand, taking the sports model’s steering column in the other and walking most of the hills I eventually arrived home at Wood Green, North London. My brothers passed the machine OK.
With my own decent transport at last, all roads were mine to explore. I joined the CTC, and five friends and I became the Beach Wheelers, naming ourselves after High Beach, Epping Forest, to which we rode every Wednesday evening. We also met at Palmers Green at 9.30am every Sunday morning, setting off to tour the local counties and returning home around 10pm after 60 to 100 miles.
That bicycle became a part of me. It felt strange to walk, moving my legs in sort of circles. My chest expanded by three inches and I tried to make it three-and-a-half.
I still have the mileage check sheet completed when I was 22 in 1933. It shows 6,858 miles for the year, which included a holiday tour to Land’s End via the coast roads of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, weekends to Stratford-upon-Avon and visits to my relatives at Norfolk.
My longest mileage was during the King George V Jubilee year when we had the Monday off. My friend Topper (called that because of his black curly hair) met me at Chingford and we cycled through Epping Forest, where we used to say the forest air cleaned out our lung cylinders, then on through Bishops Stortford, Audley End (with its ancient manor), Cambridge Colleges and Ely (with its grand cathedral) where we put up for the night. Bed and breakfast cost 5/- each.
We slept like logs and next morning after a good breakfast we were off to King’s Lynn and Spalding. The Lincolnshire bulb fields were an unforgettable sight – mile after mile of rainbow-coloured fields. It was very flat country and we were saddle-sore. There were no hills to climb and our weight was always on the saddle so we stood up while having our tea at Spalding. We decided to push on to Lincoln, where we arrived around 7pm and put up at a bed and breakfast place where we met other cyclists from Sheffield, Leeds and South Yorkshire.
Next morning we had a good breakfast, and I’ll never forget those people who put us up,
treating us as their own sons. We now had the 144 miles to do to London, and at 10am we were fit and fed, ready for the road. We had a fine day, first the 25 miles to Grantham, passing the ancient pub called The Angel, and we now had a few hills to climb, so there was no saddle-soreness down to Stamford, where we stopped at a pub and had a pint of ale with bread and cheese for a refresher. Then it was on to the A14 to Royston where we stopped for tea on the lawn – two boiled eggs, bread and butter, plenty of home-made cake with lots of tea. The local villagers were celebrating the King’s Jubilee. On again to Ware, then the A10 to Hoddesdon and Cheshunt and home to Wood Green. It was 10pm so the 144 miles had taken us 12 hours, and strangely I did not feel exhausted. “Back to work tomorrow!” we said as we sweated up the hills.