"Sixty Years On" - 1921

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Genesis

In the beginning, Gar. Gribble created the seed bed from which the West Surrey District Association of the Cyclists' Touring Club finally bloomed.  Gar. (Gardiner, would you believe) with Jack Eldridge and Bill Inder played soccer for Woodham Athletic but after Saturday's matches, felt at a loose end on Sundays.  So Gar. suggested that, as all three had bikes - of a sort -, excess energies be worked off with the Sunday rides.  It was the Spring of 1921 and early April saw the three climbing up to Newlands Corner for their first outing of 18 miles.  The following week Hindhead was the destination with an increased mileage of 36 and a pot of tea at the top cost 1/6d (7½p) for three!  More joined from the football team - Jack Harrison and the Beattie brothers - and objectives widened to Alton, Dorking, Beaconsfield and Cranleigh, mileages averaging about 50 for afternoon and evening.  Soon there were all-day rides on Sundays and the first Easter tour was in the Salisbury and Stonehenge area.  By mid-May there were rides to the south coast and at Whitsun, Woking was left at 8 pm on the Friday loaded with primitive camping gear.  Tents were pitched at 12.30 am near Fittleworth and by 10.30 am on Saturday the party was by the sea at Clymping.  After a leisurely two days the return journey was started at 4.30 pm on the Sunday and Woking was reached by 8.30 pm - not bad with heavy bikes, camping gear and bulky blankets.  Incidentally, a pot of tea for three at Fittleworth cost 9d (4p) and the round trip totalled 90 miles.

Three week-end camps on an Ockham farm followed with another on Sunbury Island then others started to join as the bikes were lightened and the field of activities was extended.

Records show that 9th July 1921, on a trip over Hindhead, was the hottest day for 50 years.  In late July, Gar. Gribble, Jack Eldridge, Jack Harrison and Bill Inder embarked on a camping tour in East Anglia, the tents, blankets etc. being shared among them.

The first night was spent on a farm near Knebworth and then Cambridge was explored.  The next camp was at Waterbeach and so, via Swaffham to Norwich and across the Broads to pitch tents on the coast at Caister.  In those days, trams ran out to this point from Great Yarmouth.  An afternoon river trip to St. Olaves preceded the camp on the coast at Hopton.  The Friday was disasterous.  Rain during breakfast developed into a downpour as the party struggled into a south-west wind to Lowestoft and, by 9 pm, had reached Saxmundham wet through.

Camping gear and blankets were too wet to use and the four sat in a pub discussing their plight.  A sympathetic local man overheard their dilemma and offered the floor of his service garage for the night.  This was gratefully accepted - but the concrete was very hard and cold!  They were on the road again by 8 am on Saturday but by 10 am Jack Harrison had forged ahead.  It transpired that he took a wrong turning so the other three never made contact again and this spelled real trouble because the camping gear was shared among the four so further camps were impossible.  That night, digs were found in Felixstowe and the following night, for 7/0d (35p) each, the three put up in The George in Colchester but, with insufficient cash left for another night's accommodation, they were faced with a long ride home.  To avoid London, the route chosen embraced Braintree, Dunmow, Hertford, St. Albans and Harrow and the long trek ended at 1.15 am after their first ever 100 miles in a day.  Jack Harrison had arrived home one day ahead.

There was August Bank holiday camping in the New Forest, other friends began to join in and the Sunday rides continued throughout that long, hot summer without a break.

A very popular writer in "Cycling" at that time was W. M. Robinson and his weekly articles under the pen-name of "Wayfarer" were an inspiration.  He preached "as little bicycle as possible" and, describing his preparations for one of his frequent visits to Wales from his home in the Midlands, he wrote - "I packed my toothbrush and half comb and took to the road".

Most of the local group had the "dreadnought" type of bicycle - 24" frame, 28 x 1½" wheels, upturned bars, springy saddles and some three-speed hubs and oil-bath gearcases.  So efforts were made to cut down the weight with as little expense as possible.  It must be remembered that, though prices for meals, accommodation etc., now seem ludicrously low, the riders' earnings were only in the neighbourhood of the equivalent of £1.50 per week.  So, gradually, lightweight mudguards replaced metal ones, dropped handlebars were substituted, gearcases discarded and saddles became harder and narrower.  But the frame and wheel sizes were insurmountable obstacles and smaller, lighter frames, usually second hand, began to predominate.  Jack Eldridge recalls that on a run through some remote part of Hampshire, a village kid shouted to his mates "Cor, look at all them ricin' boikes, ivery one aloike - all the 'andles turned down".

Notes taken at that time record a number of mishaps as well as innumerable punctures.  Such as: "Two ball bearings for front wheel at Henley (10p)."  "8.45 pm, Jack Eldridge's chain snapped in Guildford."  "Lost cyclometer striker."  "Gar. Gribble's cotter pin broke on Ranmore Common;  new cotter in Reigate."  (Fortunately there were plenty of cycle shops in those days and many stayed open on Sundays.)  "New front Triumph spindle (15p)".  Through the autumn fogs the rides continued throughout the winter and a favourite tea place was The Wheatsheaf at Petworth (now a private house).  That was the only place where the riders joined the landlady and her family for meals.  The daughter played the piano at the local (silent) cinema, matching the tunes to the action on the screen and her anecdotes plus all the local news and gossip from the family added to the enjoyment.  At this time one rider who kept a record recalls that, from 3rd April 1921 to 31st December 1921, his mileage was 3,740, averaging 96 miles per week.


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Web page by Chris Jeggo.  Last revised:  30 December 2004.