Arab Springs and Rational Jackets: South London cycling in 1884 (Part 1)

This month, we explore the South London Diaries series for the first time since the blog on June 2016.

What are they all about? Well, 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 diaries for 1884 and 1885, he was chronicling some of the earliest ‘personal bests’ in London on record.

In the pages of two Cyclist and Wheel World Annuals is an extraordinary account of over 3,000 miles spent on a bike. Among some of the entries are the route, mileage and date. 130 years on that means times to beat!

Front Cover of the 1884 Annual

Here are the full diary entries for January to April 1884. May-August and September-December of the diary to follow in future blogs.

Those that have something resembling a target time are highlighted in yellow. Pick a ride and tell us how you got on!

Clapham 1885
1885 Map of Clapham

Part 1 January-April 1884

Key: Aft=Afternoon Mor=Morning &c=historical way of writing ‘etc’

Tuesday, 1st January – Rode to Isleworth & back via Richmond Roads. Capital to Richmond, bad rest of way. Slight snow on the way. Slight snow on the way home making roads dirty and slippery Mileage 20

Saturday, 12st January – Rode on Cavendish Rd, Balham Road, Bedford Hill Road, Tooting Common, Streatham Rd, Streatham Place, Atkins Road, Clarence Road & Clapham Park Rd, Common &c Mileage 6

Tuesday, 15th January – Rode round Common & on Clapham Rd to Swan, back by Stockwell Rd, Brixton, Acre Lane, Clapham Park Rd, Lillieshall Rd, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 6.1

Friday 18th January – Evening Rode on High Street, Landor Rd, Stockwell Rd, Clapham Rd to Kennington, Brixton Rd, back by Stockwell Rd, Landor Rd, High St &c Mileage 6.8

Saturday, 19th January – Aft. Rode to Norwood via Balham Rd, Christchurch Rd, & Central Hill Mileage 5 miles back by Central Hill, Tulse Hill and the Cedars Mileage 5.5

Monday, 21st January – Evening Rode round Clapham Park Rd, Cavendish Rd, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 3.6

Saturday 26th January – Rode bicycle to Porter’s, to have fresh spoke fitted

Sunday 28th January – Rode tricycle home from Porters: fresh spoke 1/- Mileage 4

Saturday 2 February – Aft. Rode on Cavendish Rd, Fernlea Road, Balham Hill, Macaulay Rd, Rectory Grove, Grove Manor St &c. Used Arab cradle spring for the first time Mileage 6.8

Arab Cradle Spring Advert. Item used by our diarist for the first time on February 2

Monday 4 February – Evening. Rode round by Battersea Rise, Bolingbroke Rd, Nightingale Lane, Cavendish Road, Clarence Rd, C Park Rd, High St, Victoria Rd, Cedars Rd &c Mileage 6.1

Wednesday 13 February – Evening Rode down Victoria Rd & back then round by Cedars, Clarence Rd, Clapham Park Road, High Street &c. Bought paraffin oil (2d) & ?? (unreadable) oil 8d Mileage 4.5

Cedars, Clapham in 1866

Friday 15 February – Evening Rode on Balham Rd, Clapham Rd, Stockwell Rd & back by Acre Lane &c Mileage 7.1

Saturday 16 February – Aft Rode to Norwood via Cedars, Tulse Hill & Central Hill Mileage 5.5; and back by Church Road, Beulah Hill, Streatham Common, Streatham Rd, Tooting Common, Fernlea Rd, Cedars &c Mileage 7.2

Monday 25 February – Called at CTC office 139, Fleet Street & paid 3/6 for subscription and entrance fee. Got this annual at Clark’s paid 10d

Tuesday 26 February – Rode on Clapham Road, Kennington Rd, & Boro’ Rd to Davis & Sons ?? Period (unclear) House, & left bicycle to have spoon break substituted for old club roller break Mileage 3.9

Wednesday 27 February – Called at Davis’s for bicycle, & paid 7/6 for new spoon break. Mileage 3.9 Rode home by Lambeth Rd, Kennington Rd, Stockwell Rd, Landor Rd & High St Mileage 4.2

Friday 29 February – Evening Rode on Clapham Park Rd, Clarence Rd, Cavendish Rd, High St, Manor St, Macauley Rd &c. Roads in good condition Mileage 4.4

Saturday 1 March – Rode round by Cavendish Rd, Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Merton Lane, Haydon’s Lane, Nightingale Lane &c. Roads very good condition Time 84mins Mileage 12.4

Saturday 8 March – Started to ride to Isleworth but turned back near Richmond on account of rain. Road round by Wandsworth Common, Clarence Rd & Park Hill on way home Mileage 15.0

Wednesday 12 March – Rode in evening round by Cedars, Balham Rd, Clapham Rd to Kennington, Brixton Rd, Stockwell Rd, Landor Rd, High St &c Mileage 8.2

Saturday 15 March – Aft. Rode through Wandsworth, Kingston Vale, Kingston to Hampton Court: then through Bushey Park, Teddington, Twickenham, Richmond, Putney & home. Splendid day. Time 3hrs stoppages included Mileage 21.75

Monday 17 March – Even. Rode tricycle round by Queens Rd, Chelsea Bridge, Victoria St, Westminster Bridge (see photo below), Kennington Rd, Larkhall Rise, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 7.8

Westminster Bridge photographed in 1887

Wednesday 19 March Even. Rode round by Cavendish Rd, Clarence Rd, Park Hill, Manor St, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 4.1

Recd CTC Ticket, also called at 139 Fleet St and bought badge 2/6 & ordered handbook for 1884 1/-

Friday 21 March – Ordered CTC costume at Pile’s, Fenchurch St

WJ Pile’s ad from 1884. Jackets for the rational cyclist available

Saturday 22 March – Aft. Rode on Cavendish Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham Common to junction of roads at Croydon, thence back by main road through Streatham, Tooting Common, Fernlea Rd, Clarence Rd, Park Hill &c Mileage 16

Thursday 27 March – Even. Rode round by ? Road, Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 7.6

Friday 28 March – Called at NCU offices, 17 Ironmonger Lane & paid subscription 2s/6d

Saturday 29 March – Aft. Rode round by Cedars, Cavendish Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Rosehill Farm, St Lawrence’s, Merton, Haydons Lane, Burntwood Lane, Nightingale Lane and Cedars. All in one run Time 100.5mins Mileage 15.5

Thursday 3 April – Rode tricycle via Wandsworth Rd, Waterloo Bridge & Strand to B&T Sale Rooms, Chancery Lane & left it there for sale Even. Rode round Cavendish Rd, Fernlea Rd, Bedford Hill Rd, Ramsden Rd, Nightingale Lane, Windmill &c Mileage 4.6

B&T Sales Room Co Ad from 1884

Saturday 5 April – Got new CTC uniform from Pile’s 171 Fenchurch St, viz, jacket, breeches, stockings & hat £2 16 6

Aft. Rode round by Tooting Common, Mitcham, Mitcham Common, 5 roads in Croydon, Merton Lane, Wimbledon, Woodside, Burntwood Lane &c. All in one run without dismount Time 2hrs 7mins Mileage 19.2

Even. Round by Cavendish Rd, Clarence Rd, Park Hill, Manor St, Macauley Rd &c Mileage 4.3

Wednesday 9 April – Even. Rode round by Cavendish Rd, Fernlea Rd, Ramsden Rd, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 4.6

Thursday 10 April – Went to Rochdale

Monday 14 April – Went to Manchester

Tuesday 15 April – Came home from Manchester

Wednesday 16 April – Aft. Rode to Newington Causeway & had photo taken of self & machine. Afternoon rode round to Nightingale Lane, Woodside, Wimbledon, Copse Hill, New Malden, ? (unreadable) Common, St Lawrence, Mitcham, Tooting Common, Balham Rd. Roads splendid Mileage 26.6

Thursday 17 April – Aft. Rode round by Cavendish Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd & Nightingale Lane. Time 47.5mins Strong NE wind Mileage 7.3

Friday 18 April Morn. Rode to Isleworth via Richmond. One dismount for stones at Richmond Bridge. Time 64.5mins East wind behind Mileage 10

Saturday 19 April – Aft. Rode home from Isleworth via Osterley Park, Hanwell, Ealing, Acton, Uxbridge Rd, Park Lane, Buckingham Palace Rd and Chelsea Bridge Mileage 15.3; also round by Macauley Rd &c Mileage 1.1

Saturday 26 April – Aft. Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham, Carshalton, Croydon, Mitcham Common, Mitcham, Merton Lane, Merton, Wimbledon, Woodside, Bunrtwood Lane, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 23.7

Tuesday 29 April – Even. Rode to ?P.O. then round by Balham Rd, Cavendish Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Road, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 7.7

Full entry of the year’s rides

Further Information

Did you take on any of the rides – how did you get on? Got the name of a road I’ve got wrong?  Email me at, drop me a line in the box below or add a comment on the BBC Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.


Diary entries, Arab Strap, Pile’s, B&T Sales Room ads are taken from the 1884 Cyclist Wheel World Annual which can be found on the Veteran’s Cycle Club Online website

Westminster Bridge photograph from Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide website

Cedars photo from Lambeth Archives

Clapham Map from the London Ancestor website. Original Source 1885 Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England and Wales




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