Saturday, 20 December 2014

Wooden Bicycle from Malawi

Today an amazing bicycle.
This machine was built in about 1920 by an African in Malawi (Nyasaland as it then was). What a brilliant craftsman!

He used natural materials throughout. The solid tyres were of ox-hide. The chain was made from knotted antelope skin. The frame and wheels consisted of wood, reeds and laths.

Probably the pedals were positioned in this unlikely configuration only for the taking of the photograph.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Salvation Army Cycling Corps

I was surprised to learn that such a group as a Salvation Army Cycling Corps existed in the early days of the safety bicycle.

This Corps, photographed in 1890, is believed to have been based in Cambridgeshire.

I wonder for what purpose the bicycles were used? As the cyclists are in uniform, I guess they were possibly about to head off somewhere (maybe in several different directions) to proselytize.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How Leisure Cycling Has Changed!

Here's a cycling group photo taken in 1906.
What! No lycra? No shorts? No helmets? Still, at least it's pleasing to see how several couples went out for rides together.


Now here's a cycling group photo taken a little over a hundred years ago, in 1912 - still before my time.
You will notice they wore everyday clothes, including collars and ties. Cloth caps were common. Norfolk jackets were popular with cyclists in those days. Note too that this cycling club appears to have been exclusively male. This was typical, though to be fair I must acknowledge that many ladies were also cycling regularly by that time.
This group was photographed in 1931.
Now jump to a lovely picture taken in 1939 near where I live in Nottingham.

This was over 75 years ago. We see seven young people climbing a hill during a recreational pleasure ride.

It's interesting to note how different from today things still were then. Nobody wore a crash helmet. Nobody wore special cycling gloves (only one wore any gloves).

There was no lycra. There were no cycling-specific shorts or shirts. Everyday socks, shorts and jerseys were worn. At least two of the men were wearing collars and ties.

Every cycle had mudguards. Most carried lighting, even including bottle-dynamo-powered lights. Saddlebags attached to the saddle were commonplace for carrying the tools, drinks and picnic. (I can detect no water-bottles on the frames, and no panniers.)

There was no quick-release for the wheels. There were no clipless pedals. It even looks as though these machines had only one gear (it is hard to be sure).

Jump forward to 1968 and this is how my pals and I used to go riding then.
The bicycles had evolved but the cycle clothing industry had not: we still rode in our everyday clothes. Helmets were to be a feature of the future.

And yet in the ways that really matter, little has changed in eleven decades. Bicycle technology has evolved and a massive sports clothing industry has developed. But the pleasures, the exercise and the fresh air are the same for those of us who went out in such groups in the last few years.

Some of my pals on the towpath of the Nottingham-to-Grantham Canal.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Cycling Nottingham? Meet Mr. Snotta!


As I do most of my cycling these days in and around Nottingham (a city I have come to love, even though I am a Londoner by birth), it's a good time to tell you something about the origins of this fine City.

I hope I have shown in earlier articles that there is some fine cycling to be enjoyed around here, should you ever have the opportunity.

So how did Nottingham come about?

Fifteen hundred years ago, quite close to where I am typing now, there lived Old Man Snotta.

To make a living, Snotta did a lot of trading. He set up Snotta’s Trading Centre where he bought and sold meat, animal fats, pigs, sheep, pottery, simple farming equipment, and especially garments, many of which had been made by his wife, his daughter and his sisters, who did their own weaving. He also sold a nice line in designer footwear made from cattle skins by his son Wulfran.

And Snotta traded in second-hand Raleigh bicycles [well, perhaps not].

Snotta was the local Mr. Big. So it is not surprising that Snotta’s Trading Centre became known as Snottastun (Snotta’s Town).

Snotta built himself a home nearby (not too close, as he considered the Trading Centre a somewhat downmarket area). He chose a site conveniently near the river. The frame of the house was constructed from wood, cut from more than a dozen tree trunks, criss-crossed, so that the end his home, where a wooden door opened, appeared triangular. The house was basically just one large room. For insulation and weather protection, his brother – who had a diploma in thatching – made him a thatched roof. They filled in the walls with planks and with wattle and daub.

Being relatively prosperous, Snotta opted for a wooden floor, too. And he had a form of interior lighting – lamps burning animal fat. The house had no windows – only some slits at the back to admit light and, ignorant of glass, Snotta made do with vellum as a cover for them.

In the centre of the home was a fire, built on a raised clay hearth. This was somewhat hazardous, but in the winter the Snottas were too cold to worry about the danger of the house burning down.

The house was built facing south, to make the most of the sun’s warmth.

As Mr. Snotta was quite somebody in the small community, the piece of land where he built his house became known as Snottasham (Snotta’s Home).

In those days, just as today, when men such as Mr. Snotta died, the descendants often continued to run the business and live in the home. The descendants were known in Anglo-Saxon as the ‘ing’ and this was added to the names of the places. So his Trading Centre became Snotta-ing-tun; and his home became Snotta-ing-ham.

Another example in England is to be found in Dersingham [the home of the descendants of Deorsige].

A few centuries later, the Normans arrived and they were particularly attracted to Snottaingham, where they built a town and a castle of their own. But they were unfamiliar with words beginning 'Sn – ' and found them difficult to pronounce. So they dropped the 'S'. Thus, the place name eventually became simplified to Nottingham.

I bet Old Man Snotta was rejoicing in his grave in 1980 when the Nottingham Forest Football Team – still bearing his name – won the European Cup.

But what about the trading centre at Snottaingtun? Well, the Normans weren’t so keen on that part of the region and left it to the Anglo-Saxons, with whom they soon integrated well. The Anglo-Saxons had no reason to drop the ‘S’, so it remained as Snottaingtun. And all that happened over the next thousand years was that its pronunciation and spelling were smoothed into the present-day Sneinton.

So we have the glorious City of Nottingham, and – just a mile east of its centre – the suburb of Sneinton.

Well done Mr. Snotta.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Sir Edward Elgar and his Bicycle

Here's a historic photograph that combines two of my greatest interests - Music and Bicycles.

It's the composer Sir Edward Elgar taking pride in his well-maintained Royal Sunbeam bicycle. The year was 1903. He called his bicycle Mr. Phoebus.