Philobiblon: Those dreadful <strike>bicycle couriers</strike> "girl" cyclists

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Those dreadful bicycle couriers "girl" cyclists

You might have had to wear ballooning bloomers and give a slip to your chaperone (the Chaperon Cyclists' Association was formed in 1896, although it didn't last long), but it sounds like being a female cyclist in Victorian London could be rather fun:

"The sight of a 'young Amazon with the auburn hair and nicely-fitting costume' cycling down Holborn on the wrong side of the road, as recklessly and fearlessly as a newspaper boy, 'dodging in and out of the mass of cabs and carts' and ignoring the policeman's signal, thrilled Duncan Lucas in 1901. 'Just when we think there will be a frightful accident she calmly crosses to the left, shaving the horses' heads. Her sangfroid is astounding."

But then again they did have extra protection: "Thomas Hardy asked a London omnibus conductor if the young women did not meet with accidents. He said: "Oh nao; their sex pertects them. We dares not drive over them, wotever they do; and they do jist whot they likes".

And I couldn't find a single thing about her on the web, but one of the famous cyclists of the era was Tissie Reynolds, 16, who raced from London to Brighton and back. She wore knickerbockers, as did Kitty Buckman cycling in the London suburbs. The latter wrote, however, in 1897 that: "One wants nerves of iron ... The shouts and yells of the children deafen one, the women shriek with laughter or groan & hiss & all sorts of remarks are shouted at one, occasionally some not fit for publication. One needs to be very brave."

Not much has changed, in any respect then, except I wouldn't care to rely on the chivalry of a "omnibus" driver of today.

From Stephen Inwood's City of Cities: The Birth of Modern London, pp. 148-9

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