Innovation, excitement, freedom
Victorian Bournemouth (153) explores the early history of bicycles in the resort. It considers the development of the category, manufacturers and agents, and usage. The innovative technology secured a new place within the culture.
Victorian Bournemouth (153): category development
During the 1870s references to bicycling flooded into the press. The machine and its usage captured public attention. This technological advance cut across social behaviour, commerce, and the law. It offered speed at minimum cost. The user needed no interim factors – horses, coachman, footmen – to obtain transport. Authorities found it necessary to regulate its usage in towns. Petty sessions fined several people for riding bicycles on Bournemouth’s footpaths and pavements. Thieves used it as a new source of revenue: test riding or even renting, but not returning. They would fence the item as soon as possible. People now had the ability to travel further, faster, at minimal cost. Bicycle clubs formed. Races and trials took place. A new commercial sector opened. Dealerships appeared in Bournemouth, Poole, and Christchurch. They provided outlets for a range of manufacturers emerging in the Midlands. Soon, however, dealers began to manufacture as well.
Machines and manufacturers
Advertisements placed by bicycle dealers in the Christchurch Times and the Poole & Dorset Herald showed machines then known as the ‘ordinary’. Later, people called them ‘penny farthings’. In addition to balance, the skill set required included mounting and dismounting as well as avoiding crashes, in some cases fatal. Continuous development amongst manufacturers during the 1880s resulted in a safer configuration having two wheels equal in size. During the 1870s, bicycle engineers based in Coventry drove the technology’s development through several innovations. They formed varying combinations with each other, companies coming and going. Names listed by the Bournemouth dealer (and Poole and Christchurch counterparts) show that these leading Coventry manufacturers had obtained sales access to the south coast. These included Coventry Machinists (Challenge, Ariel, Tangent), Bayliss & Thomas (Excelsior), Haynes & Jefferis (Swiftsure). Some of the agents and distributors located in Bournemouth and neighbouring towns also dabbled in manufacturing bicycles.
Victorian Bournemouth (153): sports bicycling
Bicycle riding on footpaths or at a fast pace attracted the ire of some Bournemouth residents. Admiral Grey’s son would have come up before the bench for ‘furious riding’ had his father not prevented it. At £16 for an Excelsior, perhaps only those having Admiral Grey’s background could afford to buy new bicycles. Customers could buy second-hand machines, however, priced by one dealer from £3. Dealers also offered to rent bicycles. Thus, these different pricing models would enable the technology to cascade down the social structure. They appeared, for example, within the agenda of Bournemouth athletic meets. Different types of competitive bicycling formed part of a day’s activities. The technology’s universality appears in the range of competitions: races over different distances, handicaps, mounting and dismounting. The use of bicycles at Bournemouth reflected that reported elsewhere in the country: short, long, even endurance races and trials.
In common with other activities at Bournemouth, for example dramatics or music, a bicycling club soon emerged, although it followed one at Poole and Christchurch. The club’s structure consisted of patrons and a committee. The former included a selection of Bournemouth’s privileged elder residents: an admiral, a general, the local M.P., a clergyman and other noteworthy gentlemen. Committee members, all young men however, belonged to a different social group, local merchants and builders. As often happened in Bournemouth, they shared kinship, friendship, or working connections. Henry New, an estate agent’s clerk, perhaps worked in the same firm as the two Rebbeck brothers. Although now a widower, John Nethercote, a builder, had married the sister of James Hayter, a corn and coal merchant, both committee members. Hayter and Orby Mootham, an umbrella maker, both edged into gentry, the former marrying a gentleman’s daughter, the latter having one as a father.
Victorian Bournemouth (153): business
The census for 1881 recorded a single bicycle dealer for Bournemouth: Frank Morgan. Advertisements for his company at a Wimborne address preceded his opening a Bournemouth shop, around 1879. Charles Mate, part of the Poole printing family, then in his twenties, advertised a bicycle business in Bournemouth, but he seems to have returned to his father’s line later. Richard Hardiman, a coach-builder, may have shown an interest in extending into bicycles when he fenced a stolen vehicle. At that time, the town had around six men operating such firms, but they seemed to remain in their core business. More men entered the bicycle business during the 1880s. A directory for 1889 listed six dealers and one manufacturer. The 1891 census reflected the category’s development, reporting agents and makers, but also men working as mechanics, painters, fitters, shop assistants and apprentices. From somewhat slow beginnings, therefore, Bournemouth’s bicycle sector experienced growth.
A native of Wimborne, Morgan’s father ran a drapery business in that town. For a while, he worked as a grocer’s assistant, but by the mid 1870s he had opened a bicycle shop in his hometown. Very soon after, he opened a similar shop located in the Triangle, Bournemouth. He tried to give this shop a high profile by constant press advertising. His marketing included involvement in the bicycle club. Morgan sold both new and second-hand machines. The main manufacturers based in Coventry sold bicycles through him. His visits there perhaps persuaded him to manufacture for which he brought a craftsman from Coventry. Morgan married a successful millwright’s daughter and had four children. Catastrophe struck the family, however, for Frank died in early 1886, not yet thirty years old. He appeared to have enjoyed success, for he left his wife, Bessie, over £3,000. Other traders would advance his initiative.
Victorian Bournemouth (153) has surveyed the beginnings of bicycling and its associated retail trade. Although maybe a little behind their neighbours, Bournemouth’s bicycle enthusiasts formed a club, perhaps riding on machines bought from Frank Morgan, then the only local dealer. During the 1880s, however, the business category found traction, providing employment not just for makers and retailers but also those having associated skills of painters and mechanics. Frank Morgan did not see this, as an early death took him in 1886.