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September 2023 Meeting Report

AGM; and The History of Cycling in Cambridge, by Mary Burgess

The meeting began with the Annual General Meeting. The minutes of the last AGM, the accounts for 2022-2023 and the Chairman’s report for 2023 were all accepted with all voting in favour and the officials and committee were all reappointed. Annual subscriptions, being due, the treasurer collected £10 each from members who were rewarded with a free raffle ticket.

The speaker at the meeting was Mary Burgess from the Cambridgeshire Collection, who spoke about the History of Cycling in Cambridge, illustrating her talk with examples from the Collection. She explained how bicycles evolved and that penny farthing bicycles and other early examples had to be made to fit the rider as so much depended on the length of leg. This made them relatively expensive.

Early cycling clubs were set up by the university with a small cycling track where Robinson College now is and regular races against Oxford. Town Clubs followed and some cyclists went on long distance rides all over the country. Women were keen to take up cycling as so few sports were open to them. Cycles were also used in the city for workers who emptied and read gas meters, although the weight of the coins they carried meant the cycles often needed repair. Chimney Sweeps used bicycles as well with all their brushes being carried alongside.

From an early period the parking of cycles in Cambridge became a problem with them being piled up on Parker's Piece at times. Mary showed slides of early cycle shops, including Townsends on Chesterton Road, still going strong; and various types of bicycle, nearly all displayed for advertising purposes against King's College Chapel.

Cycling was a popular leisure pursuit with races and shows with displays of decorated cycles. Finally we saw some slides of Le Grand Départ in Cambridge from the Tour de France in 2014, which brought back memories of waiting patiently by Sawston Bypass to see the riders flash by in seconds.

Mary Dicken

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