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This post began with a particularly evocative (Late Victorian?) image of the Hampstead Viaduct in grand isolation in the landscape with be-suited and be- hatted walkers and cyclists in plus fours…

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It got me thinking about the current existing cycle route over the Heath, and wondering why it was allowed in the first place, and when it had perhaps become a bike route. It got me thinking about the liberation afforded by the bike, and the part-emancipation of worker’s and women at the end of the 19thC. who (thanks to the diamond frame, the rear wheel chain drive and the pneumatic tyres that came to exemplify the birth of the modern ‘safety’ bike) could afford independent transport for the first time.

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A new sport has lately been devised by the drivers of hansom cabs. It consists of chasing the lady who rides her bicycle in the streets of the metropolis. If not so athletic a pastime as polo, the pursuit on wheels of alien wheels surmounted by a petticoat which ‘half conceals, yet half reveals’ the motive power within, appears to afford these ingeuous persons exactly that exhilirating and entrancing sensation without which no Englishman finds life worth living, and which apparently is to the heart of the cabby what salmon-fishing, golf, shooting, the rocketting pheasant, hunting the fox, or, in fine, what war, that highest expression of sport, can be to those who are usually called ‘the leisured classes.’ Susan, Countess of Malmsbury writing in The Badminton Magazine, 1896

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The ‘Golden Age of Cycling’ in the last decades of the 19th and first decades of the 20thC. saw bicycling clubs for men and women spring up. The Clarence Cycling Club was established in Hampstead in 1890, also the Pegasus.

Wheelmen (and a woman?) 1895
An image capturing the moment of transition, from ‘Penny-farthings’ to ‘safety bicycles’ (bottom right-hand corner of the photos)… ps. is that a lady wearing a false moustache fourth from the left???

The Clarence and the Pegasus had their headquarters at the Railway Hotel in West End Lane, and the Red Lion, Kilburn High Road respectively. In addition there was Hampstead Freemasons’ Social and Cycling club. Surely these clubs would have fostered local rivalries, and perhaps they rose en masse to the challenge of surmounting the Northern Heights to explore the delights of the Heath? Sir Thomas Maryon-Wilson’s expensively engineered but by then utterly redundant private road must have proved a tantalising route to cross the uplands, from Spaniards Lane descending to the mixed bathing pond and down to shops, cafes and Hampstead Station in South End Green and the station.

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Hampstead and Environs, 1888. Maryon-Wilsons’ once private road snakes diagonally across the map grid at  Ref. 4,4.

North London Bicycle Club

 

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