Part 1 January-April 1885
A 19th century South London cyclist has set a 21st century Strava challenge. He didn’t know it at the time, but when our Victorian trailblazer was writing about rides and times in his diary, he was chronicling some of the earliest ‘personal bests’ in London on record.
In the pages of his copy of the 1885 Cyclist and Wheel World Annual is an extraordinary account of over 1,600 miles spent on a bike. Among some of the entries are the route, mileage and date. 131 years on that means times to beat!
For example, here’s an entry from Saturday 28 March:
Aft. Round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Morden, Ewell, Worcester Park, Malden, Coombe Lane, Wimbledon, Woodside, Garrett Green, Nightingale Lane, to Bromell’s Road 26.2 miles without dismount in 2h 45.5mins, 1st 16 miles @ 10miles per hour.
The first 3 months of diary entries are listed below. Those that have something resembling a target time are highlighted in yellow. Pick a ride and tell me how you got on!
Our matter-of-fact diarist gives little else away. We do know he is riding a 50” wheeled bike (presumably a penny farthing) though not the make and that one-day he crashes it into two trams. On another day he has wick trouble (examples of the type of lamps from the age are pictured) and on another he gives the bike a good enamelling with a bottle of Ardill’s. A splendidly wordy advert from the day is pictured. He makes no mention of being in a club, of fellow cyclists, ride meet ups or socials. He doesn’t even put his name in the diary.
We are not explicitly told where he lives but Fernlea Road, Balham is starting point for most of the rides. You can see on the map that while the area is much more built up than it was in the 1850s, it is still quite rural south of Clapham Common. Roads mentioned in the diary that can be found on this map include Nightingale Lane, Cavendish road, Poynders Road, Brommel’s Road, and (Clapham) Manor St.
The photograph below gives us a sense of time, place and road conditions. It shows an unknown cycling club in the Upper Richmond Road, Putney in about 1885. Note the tricycles at the back which are becoming increasingly popular.
Key: Aft=Afternoon Mor=Morning &c=dated way of writing ‘etc’
Saturday 3 January – Aft. Road round by Fernlea Road, Tooting Common, Trinity Road, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 7.6
Tuesday 6 January – Paid CTC subscription 2s/6
Wednesday 7 January – Paid NCU subscription 2s/6
Monday 12 January – Took bicycle to Porter’s to have 1¼ inch cut out of backbone, to increase the rake
Tuesday 13 January – Got bicycle back with increased rake, cost 5s/6. Receipt for NCU subscription arrived
Wednesday 14 January – Recd CTC member’s ticket
Friday 16 January – Covered spokes and rims of bicycle with Ardill’s Enamel. About 3.5hrs work; did not quite finish a 1/- bottle
Tuesday 20 January – Morn. Round by Fernlea Road, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd &c Mileage 7.9 Aft. Round by Clapham Park, Stockwell Road, Larkhall Lane, Macauley Road, Manor St &c Roads heavy: found hills difficult Mileage 9.3
Saturday 24 January – Aft. Round by Fernlea Road, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Wimbledon, Burntwood Lane, Clapham Park, Macaulay Road &c Mileage 15.1
Tuesday 10 February – Aft. Round by Tooting Common, Balham High Road, Tooting, Burntwood Lane, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 9.6
Friday 13 February – Aft. Rode by Battersea Park &c to Hyde Park Gate. Smash on way home at Battersea Park Road, jammed in between 2 trams. Left machine at Porter’s for repairs. Backbone bent so that wheels overlapped about 6in Mileage 7.6
Saturday 14 February – Got bicycle back repaired, cost 4/- backbone badly bent in 2 places Aft. Round by Tooting Common, Mitcham, Wimbledon, Burntwood Lane, Nightingale Lane, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 14.4
Saturday 21 February – Aft. To Isleworth by Putney Bridge Rd & Richmond, time 66.5mins. Mileage 10 Home by Kew Bridge, Mortlake & Putney Bridge Rd, time 87mins. Roads splendid except where being mended Mileage 10
Monday 2 March – Aft. To Hyde Park Gate, by Exhibition Road, back by Cromwell Road, Sloane St &c. Got 2 fresh screws for step at Porter’s, price 6. Then rode round by Cavendish Road, Park Rd &c Mileage 13
Tuesday 5 March – Aft. Round by Tooting Common, Mitcham, Croydon, Streatham, Tooting Common, Balham Rd, Trinity Road, Nightingale Lane, Clapham Park &c Mileage 20
Wednesday 11 March – Rode to Streatham, Croydon, Caterham Junction, Merstham, to Reigate, bottom of hill, without dismount: home by Banstead Downs, Sutton, Mitcham, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd, Macauley Rd &c. Roads dry & clean. Very good road beyond Croydon Mileage 40
Friday 13 March – Aft Round by Burntwood Lane, Haydon’s Lane, Coombe Lane, Kingston, Ham Common, Petersham, Richmond, Upper Mortlake Rd, Barnes Common, Putney, Garrett Lane, Burntwood Lane, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 25.3
Saturday 14 March – Morn. To Isleworth by Putney Bridge Rd, Barnes Common & Richmond Mileage 10.4 Aft. Home by Richmond, Roehampton, Wimbledon, Woodside, Garrett Green, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 14.2
Tuesday 17 March – Aft. Round by Tooting Common, Mitcham, Wimbledon, Garrett Lane, Manor St, Macauley Road &c Mileage 15.3
Thursday 19th March – Aft. To Isleworth via Putney Bridge Rd, Barnes Common & Richmond. Mileage 10.5 Home by Kew Bridge, Mortlake, Barnes Comn, Wandsworth, Merton Road, Burntwood Lane &c Mileage 14.4
Saturday 21 March – Aft. Round by Tulse Hill, Dulwich Common, Melford Road, Crystal Palace, Norwood, Thornton Heath, Croydon, Mitcham, Upper Tooting, Wandsworth Common, Nightingale Lane Mileage 21.5
Wednesday 25 March – Aft. Round by Tulse Hill, Dulwich Common, Crystal Palace Road, Bellenden Road, Peckham Road, Camberwell, Vassall Rd, Larkhall Lane, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 13.8
Thursday 26 March – Round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Sutton Rd, Carshalton, Beddington Corner, Mitcham, Upper Tooting, Nightingale Lane, Manor St &c Mileage 20.6
Saturday 28 March – Aft. Round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Morden, Ewell, Worcester Park, Malden, Coombe Lane, Wimbledon, Woodside, Garrett Green, Nightingale Lane, to Bromell’s Road 26.2 miles without dismount in 2h 451/2mins, 1st 16 miles @ 10miles per hour. Received CTC Handbook for 1885 Mileage 26.8
Monday 30 March – Morn. Rode Isleworth via Barnes Common & Richmond, 68mins Mileage 10 Aft. Home via Richmond & Barnes Common Mileage 10.4 Even. To Bromells Rd, & round Clapham Park. Got this annual from Clarke’s, Bromell’s Road Mileage 3
Wednesday 1 April – Fixed 2 more pieces of india rubber to spring, one at each end
Good Friday 3 April – Aft. Rode to Ripley, Anchor via Haydon’s Lane, Coombe Lane, Esher &c; all in one run, time 2h 61/2m. Strong East wind Mileage 21.9 Rode home via Esher, Coombe Lane & Wimbledon. Dismounts at Esher, Fountain & Coombe Hill only. Time 3h 2m including stops Mileage 21.9
Saturday 4 April – Aft. Rode round by Tooting Common, Thornton Heath, Croydon, Caterham Junction, Wallington, Carshalton, Waddon, Mitcham Common, Mitcham, Tooting Common, Upper Tooting, Nightingale Lane, Clarence Rd, Lark Hill &c. East Wind. Time 3h 33m Mileage 27.5
Easter Monday 6 April – Rode to Isleworth via all-farthing lane, Putney Bridge Road, Mortlake & Richmond. Time 82.5mins Mileage 11.7 Rode home in evening via Richmond & Putney Bridge Road. Lamp nearly out short of wick. Time 115min Mileage 10.9
Tuesday 7 April – Bought a 9 bottle of Gordon’s Elastica Paste & repaired tyre of back wheel in 2 places
Tuesday 14 April – Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham Common, 5 Roads, Sutton Road, Epsom Road, Wimbledon, W Park, Burntwood Lane &c Mileage 20
Saturday 18 April – Aft. Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Rose Hill Farm, Carshalton, Croydon, Mitcham, Wimbledon, Summerstown, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 24
Monday 20 April – Aft. Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Church Lane, Tooting, Defoe Rd, Burntwood Lane, Cavendish Rd, Park Hill &c Mileage 10.5
Tuesday 21 April – Aft. Rode round by Macauley Rd, Park Hill, Nightingale Lane, Wandsworth Common, Trinity Rd, Upper Tooting, Tooting Common, Bedford Hill, Fernlea Road, Cavendish Rd &c Mileage 11.3
Thursday 23 April – Got reservoir of lamp soldered at Porter’s
Saturday 25 April – Short run round by Fernlea Rd, Ramsden Rd, Nightingale Lane, Manor St, Macauley Rd. Strong S.W. wind Mileage 6.3 Even. Round by C Park Rd, Poynders Rd, Cl Common &c Mileage 4.5
Wednesday 29 April Full Moon – Aft. Round by Tooting Common, Mitcham Common, 5 Roads, Mitcham, Wimbledon, Burntwood Lane, Manor St, Macauley Rd &c. Roads grand Mileage 20.2 Even. Round by Bromell’s Rd, Park Hill, Cavendish Rd Mileage 4.1
Thursday 30 April – Bought new 50″ Odometer at Fisher’s 18s/- less 6s/- allowed for old Johnson’s odometer =12s/
Did you take on the 1885 Balham CC Strava challenge? How did you get on? Email me at email@example.com, drop me a line in the box below or add a comment on the BBC Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.
Clapham Map from the London Ancestor website. Original Source 1885 Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales
Photograph on Upper Richmond Road from the Olney collection
The Cycling Yearbooks can be found on the Veteran Cycling Club library website