Cycling and the YHA

cyclist_woman 1939Before Britain had motorways, traffic congestion or road rage, the humble bicycle must have been a much more enjoyable form of private transport than it is today. These cigarette cards issued by John Player in 1939 recommend combining the healthy, freewheeling lifestyle with membership of the Youth Hostel Association for an idylic, affordable holiday.

This modern girl cyclist is a picture of health and fitness and contrasts favourably with the narrow-waisted, over-clothed female riders of 40 years ago. The cycling girl has been one of the greatest influences in gaining freedom for women to act and travel independently, a right that was denied her grandmother. In the background is Ferniehirst Castle Youth Hostel, near Jedburgh, in Scotland. It is a fine relic of a Border stronghold and a “show” Hostel of Scotland. Ferniehirst Castle is one of the chain of Youth Hostels linking Edinburgh to Newcastle.
Ferniehirst was a Youth Hostel for fifty years but has been privately owned since 1984.

cycling_groupCyclists and walkers of both sexes may join the Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales) for 2/6d [2 shillings and 6 pence] a year under the age of 25, or 5/- for those 25 and over. The same subscriptions apply to the Scottish Y.H.A., but the age limit for 2/6d. is 20. There are nearly 300 hostels in England and Wales and over 50 in Scotland where members can stay for 1/- a night, cooking facilities being provided for those carrying their own food. The wardens of many hostels also supply cooked meals, average prices being 1/- per meal. We show Hartington Hall Hostel, Dovedale, in the Peak District.

cycling_family tandemThousands of cycling mothers and fathers became acquainted and enjoyed their courtship on “a bicycle made for two.” And they do not forego the pleasures of cycling after marriage. When the little one comes along, the happy couple wait only the passing of the baby-in-arms period before the addition of a side-car to the tandem makes possible healthy and enjoyable week-ending and holiday touring for the family trio. Many tandem side-car clubs have been formed and family rallies are held. Houghton Mill Youth Hostel in Huntingdonshire forms the background to this cycling scene (now in the care of the National Trust).

cycling_borderMore and more cyclists are touring abroad each year. A cycling holiday in a foreign land amidst strange scenes, peoples and customs, is a fascinating experience and costs little more than a tour at home; in some countries, indeed, the rate of exchange is favourable. In 1938 the Cyclists’ Touring Club supplied 1,139,000 miles of routes to members touring abroad and issued 5,686 Triptyques, or customs tickets, to facilitate the passage of bicycles from one country to another without customs deposit. The picture shows a frontier post between Yugoslavia and Germany.
Later in the same year these cards were published, the world went to war. Invading German troops crossed this border in April 1941.

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Kaiser Bill

This cartoon from 1902 shows that German Emperor Wilhelm II was seen as a subject for ridicule in Britain well before the Great War, when ridicule turned to hatred.

Kaiser cartoon

With his love of military uniforms – he was rumoured to own 600, some of which he designed himself – his arrogant attitude, and that absurd upturned moustache which he sometimes waxed into spikes, perhaps he was an easy target. The image comes from a little-known collection of twenty satirical cartoons called ‘The Coronation Nonsense Book’ by “Caroline Lewis” and illustrated by “S. R.” 1902 was the coronation year of Edward VII who was Kaiser Wilhelm’s uncle. The two detested each other.

The top caption alleges the Kaiser “has never been crowned” and suggests “For months past the fullest details as to arrangements and procedure have been telegraphed to his Majesty.” The main caption (for those with small screens) says – There was a Teutonic Tom-Tit, who said “I must certainly fit To myself all this Pomp.” But they cried “It will swamp Your Exchequer!” He said “Not a bit!”

If your wildlife knowledge is a little rusty, a Tom-tit is an old 17th century name for the Bluetit, a small but colourful bird found all over Europe. In a few lines the writer has skewered the man’s vanity and suggested that, although the British Empire can afford a lavish ceremony, Germany could not.

“Caroline Lewis” was Harold Begbie (1871-1929) and “S.R.” was fellow journalist J. Stafford Ransome (1860-1931). They are better remembered for their satirical novel ‘Clara in Blunderland’ published earlier in the same year.

If you believe that history repeats, you might be interested in this comparison of Kaiser Bill with a modern head of state.

Everybody needs a hobby

hobby-horse

A Lady’s Pedestrian Hobby-horse

In 1818, Denis Johnson, Coachmaker, of Long Acre, London, introduced the Hobby-horse into England. A year later a modified version of this contrivance for the use of ladies was introduced, probably by Johnson, who exhibited it at his riding school. The machine, which weighed about 66 lb., had a wooden dropped frame somewhat resembling that of the lady’s bicycle of to-day. The saddle was supported on an iron pillar fixed to the lower part of the frame. There is very little evidence that the ladies of the early 19th century indulged in the pastime, although Johnson’s advertisements assured them that it could be enjoyed without loss of decorum.

Well Denis would say that, wouldn’t he? He was trying to sell them! It could be argued that a lady’s decorum might be slightly damaged just by getting on to the thing and completely destroyed when seen pushing a 66 lb. wooden contraption up a hill on a hot day.

The image and text come from a “Cycling” collection of cigarette cards produced by John Player and Son in 1939. It could be the start of an occasional series.

Ancestral Bones

The town of Esher, in the English county of Sussex, is known today as a commuter town on the outer reaches of London’s suburban sprawl but in 1902 it was described by Charles Harper as “a pretty village” and a “charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way.”

640px-Esher02

The old church of St. George in Esher, parts of which date to the 16th century.

“The old church of Esher”, he writes, “long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road. …..

The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. “Drop it!” said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog “dropped it” accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. “They’re nearly all gone now,” said he. “They used to break the windows with ’em.” And then we changed the subject for a better.
Charles G. Harper. ‘Cycle Rides Around London’, 1902.

photo from wikimedia

Note: Follow the Royal Pew link to see the present condition of the old church.

Marble Arch and the Tyburn Tree

If you buy a picture postcard with a printed caption on the back, you expect it to be short, factual, upbeat and positive. No room for personal opinion. Maybe this caption writer didn’t get the memo.

Vintage postcard by J. Valentine of Marble Arch, London.

Marble Arch, London, – This fine if rather useless ornament of Hyde Park is reminiscent of the triumphal arches beloved of the Romans. The view serves to suggest the superb vistas available in the Park dear to fashion, which covers some four hundred acres, and is encompassed by a carriage drive two and a half miles long.

Arthur Mee, in his book ‘London’ (1937), gives us more detail about the Arch and the gruesome past of the place where it stands. This is the short, less harrowing, version.

At the top of [Park Lane], the meeting place of four great roads, stands the Marble Arch, which changed its address in the year of the Great Exhibition [1851]. Till then it stood at the entrance to Buckingham Palace; now it stands at the head of Oxford Street a few yards away from a little brass plate* which tells us that this was Tyburn Hill. Here were hanged men and women and children, heroes and malefactors, patriots and traitors.

The site took its name from the little river Tyburn, one of whose arms crossed Oxford Street here. Tyburn then lay among the fields, with only a few houses, from one of which the sheriffs watched the executions. Round the gallows were stands with seats, let to spectators at half a crown. Until 1783, when Newgate took its place, Tyburn was the busiest scene in the world of agony and sorrow. It became the frightful clearing-house for criminals of both sexes and of all ages. Upwards of 200 petty offences were punishable with death, and offenders were sent in horrifying numbers to die here in batches, a dozen or more at a time.

Vintage postcard of Marble Arch, London.

The arch was set up by John Nash ten years after Waterloo at a cost of £80,000. Chantrey’s statue of George the Fourth in Trafalgar Square was made for it, but never fixed. The arch was designed after [one] in the Roman Forum, and made of marble from Michael Angelo’s quarries at Carrara. It was orininally intended to symbolise the victories of Trafalgar and Waterloo in its picture panels, but the arch was made an arch of peace instead.

Map
*The little brass plate was replaced by a bigger concrete marker in 1964.

The need for speed

Excerpts from an essay, ‘The Countryside’, by Lord Ernle (1851-1937)

My own recollections date back to 1855 – a Golden Age of agriculture for squires and farmers, when the land not only supplied bread to 17,000,000, and meat to the whole, of the existing population, but employed nearly 1,100,000 rural workers. Men ploughed, sowed, reaped, and threshed almost as they had done in Biblical days….

Vintage postcard of haymaking in the English countryside.

Preparations for the coming annihilation of time and distance had hardly begun. Few railways had been built; the mercantile fleet mainly consisted of sailing ships, small in number and carrying capacity; except for short distances no submarine cables had been laid; roads were still barred by turnpike gates, and, off the railways, horses or “hiking” were the only means of land locomotion or conveyance….

Life travels faster than it did. Its pace is no longer set by ploughmen behind their horses in the furrows. But rich in advantages though the change is, those who live by the land – tenant-farmers, landlords, workers, parsons, or tradesmen who depend on their custom – have not found speed an unmixed blessing. With one hand it brings the farmer help, with the other disaster. Speed saves his time, cheapens his production, checks the caprice of climate; but it is also speed that ruins his market by bringing perishable products from the ends of the earth. By innumerable means it has made life easier in the countryside; for all who live by the land it has made it harder to live. But speed clashes with the dominant force of the countryside. Nature refuses to be hustled by mechanics.

However much the handling of her products may be accelerated, her own processes of production remain unhurried. It is from her deliberate methods that rural life derives the air of repose, or, if you will, stagnation, which gives it dignity and independence. If its special needs are wholly sacrificed to urban interests, the country becomes only a poor relation of the town. Road authorities might save expenditure if they more often remembered that cattle can shift their quarters without a Rolls-Royce, and that horses cannot keep their feet on skating rinks.
‘Fifty Years, Memories and Contrasts’. Thornton Butterworth Limited, London. 1932.

Keep Calm and Carry On

National Relief Fund postcard of Admiral John jellicoe.This postcard featuring Admiral Sir John Jellicoe is one of many fund-raising cards published in Britain at the outbreak of World War One. You can read all about them, and more, at Tony Allen’s absorbing and informative site. You might think that two months after the outbreak of hostilities, when this card was used, the message on the back would be full of doom and gloom. Not so. The conflict is alluded to in passing before the writer gets on with the important stuff of family news and gossip.

21 October 1914
Dear Albert

These troublous times we like to have more letters than usual. I believe your last was dated 17th August, so I hope there will soon be another. Do you get Lloyd’s regularly.
Today is Trafalgar Day, Uncle Arthur’s birthday, and Paula’s wedding day.
They seem to be having a lively time with French people at The Arcade.
I took Hilde and Peggy O—- (?) to Bognor for a week-end. When she got back Hilde had a lot to say of the “Gardener” – Father of course! He was sawing trees.
Aunt’s new lodger owes her three out of five weeks rent, so is not an acquisition. His mother and brother live near. I advise her to give him notice.
Love from ——-[?]

This underlines the difference between how we feel about the outbreak of WWI, with the benefit of hindsight, and what it was like for people at the time. The general public, at this early stage, thought it would be a short war – “all over by Christmas”. They couldn’t see what lay ahead, as we can, and the generals, admirals and politicians who knew better were not about to demoralize them with facts.

The line about “French people at the Arcade” is a mystery. If you can shed light on it, please leave a comment.