The Matchless experience: South London cycling in 1884 (Part 2)

This month, we explore the South London Diaries series for the first time since the blog on 29 August 2017.

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 in 1884 and 1885, he was chronicling some of the earliest ‘personal bests’ in London on record.

In the diary pages of his 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. 135 years on that means times to beat!

Here are the full diary entries for May to July 1884 (see here for January to April) Those that have something resembling a target time are highlighted in yellow.

Clapham 1885

Part 2 May-August 1884 (Riding on a 48” Club Bicycle)

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

Saturday 3 May – To Isleworth by Train. Beastly afternoon

Thursday 8 May – Even. Rode round by Cavendish Road, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd, Nightingale Lane, Balham Rd, Manor St, Macaulay Rd &c Mileage 8.9

Friday 9 May – Even. Rode round by Nightingale Lane, Wandsworth Common and back by Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 6.6

Saturday 10 May – Aft. Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Mitcham Common, Merton Lane, Merton Rd, Wimbledon, Burntwood Lane, & round Clapham Park Mileage 17.6 Eve. Rode round by Clarence Rd, Bedford Rd &c Mileage 4.3


Tuesday 13 May – Paid for W/H ?? storage of tricycle 3/6: 2 new ?? to mudguard, 2/ – Total 5/6 Aft. Rode tricycle home from B&T Sale Rooms, Chancery Lane and in evening rode it over to ??’s house at Dulwich and left it there on approval Mileage 5.4 & 5

B&T Sales Room Co Ad from 1884

Wednesday 14 May – Even. Rode round by Nightingale Lane, Allfarthing Lane, Garrett Lane, Burntwood Lane and Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 8

Friday 16 May – Bought new Eclipse Saddle, Lamp? & ?’s at Fisher’s, Devonshire St EC Price 8/6

Saturday 17 – May Aft. Rode round by Nightingale Lane, Burntwood Lane, Merton Rd, Kingston Rd, Wimbledon Common, Woodside, Burntwood Lane, Nightingale Lane &c Strong SW wind Mileage 14.5 Even. Rode round by Cavendish Rd, Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 7.X (56 ½ m)

Used new saddle for first time

Thursday 22 May – Even. Rode to Welford Rd, Dulwich, via Roupell Park, Tulse Hill, Thurlow Park Road & Dulwich Common Mileage 4.98 & back by Dulwich Common, Lancaster Rd, Palace Rd, Roupell Park, Cavendish Road &c Mileage 10.5

Friday 23 May – Even. Road round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Road, Wandsworth Common, Nightingale Lane. Received cheque from LB for tricycle £7.15.0

Saturday 24 May Aft. Rode to Isleworth via Burntwood Lane, Merton Rd, Augustus Rd, Roehampton Lane, Richmond, &c Mileage 14.6 Augustus Road steep hill, unavoidable road Even. Rode home via Richmond and Wandsworth &c one run of 81 mins Mileage 10

Monday 26 May – Even. Rode on Larkhall Rise, Binfield Rd, Stockwell Rd, Bedford Rd, Clarence Rd, & round Clapham Park &c Mileage 8.4

Wednesday 28 May – Even. Rode round Wandsworth Common Mileage 6.8

Friday 30 May – Even. Rode on Acre Lane, Coldharbour Lane & to see fallen bridge in Camberwell Grove, then on to see ?? villa, Dulwich Grove and home by Lordship Lane, Dulwich Common, Lancaster Lane, Palace Road, Streatham Place &c Mileage 11

Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich (1871), painting by Camille Pissarro

Saturday 31 May – Rode round by Tooting Common, Mitcham, Rosehill Farm, Carshalton The Oaks, Caterham Junction, Croydon, Mitcham Common, Wimbledon, Woodside, Burntwood Lane &c Time 3 ¾ hrs Mileage 28

Monday 2 June – Left home 10.24 and rode through Wandsworth, Kingston Vale, Kingston, Surbiton, Esher, Cobham, Ripley and to Guildford Mileage 25.25. Rode to Ripley 20 ¼ without dismount in 2hr 18mins. From Guildford rode to Clandon, West Horsley, Gt Bookham and to Leatherhead, thence home through Cheam (tea there), Ewell, Morden, Wimbledon, Burntwood Lane &c Roads loose & sandy Mileage 57miles

Bought new ‘Cyclist’ Wallet at Goy’s, price 3/3; also skeleton leggings 1/6

Wednesday 4 – Friday 6 June – F Robotham here. Very wet

Saturday 7 June – Even. Rode round by Cavendish Road, Tooting Common, Trinity Td, Wandsworth Common, Manor St, Macaulay Rd &c Mileage 8.8 Roads nicely dried after the rain, and in splendid order

Tuesday 10 June – Even. Rode to Hill Crest, West Hill Rd, Wandsworth via East Hill Mileage 2.8miles back by Merton Rd, Burntwood Lane &c 5.9miles Total Mileage 8.7

Thursday 12 June – Even. Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Church Lane, Tooting, Garrett Lane, Burntwood Lane, Macaulay Rd & home 66mins Mileage 10.3

Bought adjustable wrench 1/6

Saturday 14 June – Aft. Rode on Fernlea Rd, & Tooting Common to Mitcham then by Wimbledon Common & Roehampton Lane to Barnes Common to see tricycle meet: Home direct through Wandsworth Mileage 18.4

Even. Round by Larkhall Rise, Stockwell Rd, Bedford Rd, Clarence Rd, Windmill Rd &c Mileage 6

Monday 16 June – Rode round by Clapham Park Rd, Clarence Rd, Manor St &c Mileage 5.7

Wednesday 18 June – Even. Rode round Wandsworth Common via Nightingale Lane Mileage 6.7

Saturday 21 June – Rode to Brighton via Mitcham, Sutton, Banstead Downs, Reigate, Crawley, Handcross, Piecombe &c Left home 10.07 arrived at Aquarium 5.36 Time 7 ½ hrs including all stops. Put up in Gloucester Hotel CTC House. 50.7m to Aquarium abt 6m ridden after

Sunday 22 June – Rode home from Brighton via Piecombe, Handcross, Crawley, Redhill, Merstham, Croydon & Streatham, left 11.34 arrived home 7.12 = 7h 38m stops included Distance about 50.1/4m rode on beach in morning Mileage 50 & 4.8

Wednesday 25 June – Took a short ride in evening round by Nightingale Lane, Bedford Hill Rd & left machine at Porter’s for fresh oil-hole cover &c

Thursday 26 June – Got bicycle back from Porter’s. Fresh oil-hole cover to back wheel & back wheel bearings cleaned out 2/-

Even. Rode round by Larkhall Lane, Stockwell Rd, London Rd, Clarence Rd &c

Friday 27 June – Road machine to Porter’s and had front wheel bearings eased a little. Back by bathing pond. Bought Multum? bag at Goy’s 5s/6d

GOYS advert
Goy’s advert

Saturday 28 June – Aft. Rode by Tooting Common, Mitcham, Merton to corner of 4 roads, keeping with the others in carriage. Thence to Kingston, and through Surbiton, Hampton, Bushy Park, Teddington (calling on Mr Feast), Twickenham & to Isleworth & stayed there till Monday. Used new Multum? bag for 1st time Mileage 22 (Total 709.4)

Monday 30 June – Morn. Rode home from Isleworth by Kew Bridge, Hammersmith, Barnes Common, Wandsworth, Garrett Lane, Burntwood Lane &c Time 96mins Mileage 14.1 Aft. Rode around by Clapham Park Rd, Clarence Rd, Macaulay Rd &c Mileage 3.9

Tuesday 1 July – Even. Rode on Balham High Road to Tooting Broadway, then round by Garrett Lane, Burntwood Lane, Trinity Road, Bolingbroke Rd, Nightingale Lane &c Mileage 9

Thursday 3 July – Morn. Rode round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd, Nightingale Lane &c Time 46min 30sec Mileage 7.6

Saturday 5 July – Wet afternoon. To Isleworth by train

Tuesday 8 July – Even. Rode around by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Church Lane, Garrett Lane, Burntwood Lane, Cavendish Rd, Park Hill &c Mileage 10

Thursday 10 – Saturday 12 At Scarborough

Wednesday 16 July – Even. Rode around by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Church Lane, Tooting, Burntwood Lane, Nightingale Lane, Old town, Macaulay Rd &c Time 66mins Mileage 10

Saturday 19 July – Aft. Rode to Isleworth via Wandsworth & Richmond Time 71min Mileage 10 Rode home via Brentford, Kew Bridge, Kew Lane, Mortlake, Wandsworth &c. Roads very bad & rough. Kew Lane &c good Mileage 10 Eve. Road round by Cavendish Rd, Fernlea Road Ramsden Rd & Nightingale Lane Mileage 4

Tuesday 22 July – Even. Rode to Belverdere Rd, Norwood via Palace Rd & came back same way & round by bathing pond &c Time there about 43 mins back 46mins Mileage 5 and 5.3

Friday 25 July – Even. Rode on Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Road, Nightingale Lane &c Time 52mins Mileage 7.6

Saturday 26 July – Short ride round by Nightingale Lane, Ramsden Rd, Fernlea Rd, Cavendish Rd &c Weather unsettled and showery. Found that nut to head was gone Mileage 4.9

Monday 28 July – Bought new 50inch Matchless bicycle 1883 pattern for £13 (less 8/6 for no saddle) = £12 11 6, and walked home with it

Tuesday 29 July – Tried new machine before breakfast in Victoria Road & vicinity. Found it very satisfactory and easy enough to mount Mileage 1

Wednesday 30 July – Even. Rode new machine round by Fernlea Rd, Tooting Common, Trinity Rd, Nightingale Lane &c Time 51mins Mileage 7.7

ADDITIONAL INFO: The Matchless bicycle

A number of companies manufactured a Matchless bicycle but evidence suggests that our diarist purchased a Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Association (BTSA) model.

B&T Supply Association Matchless Ordinary bicycle and rubber cushioned trademark 1881

Established late in 1880, BTSA sold Matchless high wheelers out of 27-30 Holborn Viaduct from 1881-1886. In the last few years, Singer & Co of sewing machine fame made the machines for them. The Matchless was noted for the use of rubber to reduce vibration. Rubber supported both wheels, handlebar and saddle as well as the usual rubber blocks on the pedals.

Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Association trademark in B&T ad from 1884


Diary entries can be found on the Veteran’s Cycle Club Online website

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

Information on the Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Association from An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers compiled by Ray Millar of the Veteran-Cycle Club

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 or details missed? Can you add to the Matchless and/or Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Association story? Email me at, drop me a line in the box below or add a comment on the BCC Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s