The earliest report of an organised cycling group in the township of Oulton and Woodlesford was printed in the Rothwell Times newspaper on Friday 14 April 1892. It referred to a “good attendance” at the annual general meeting of the Oulton Cycling Club which had taken place the previous Monday at St. John’s school.
From the names of those in the article it looks as though it was only the more well-heeled middle class members of the community who were in the club. No women were identified either so at that time it looks as though it was a male only activity. The membership was continuing to increase and there was “every prospect of a successful season.”
The tone of the report suggests the club had been in existence for a number of years, probably since the early 1880s. This would be consistent with references to individuals in the West Riding taking up cycling in the late 1870s. They were probably riding the “ordinary” or “high wheeler” hard tyred bicycle, later nicknamed the “penny farthing.” A cycling club was also established in Rothwell in the same period. Dubbed the “Aurora Bicycle Club” about a dozen riders first met at the Bowling Green Hotel in June 1881 with mining student Walter Hargreaves in the chair.
At the 1892 meeting in Oulton it was announced that 41 year old Charles Frederick Hoyle, the general manager at Bentley’s brewery, was retiring from the role of club captain. A possible reason for him standing down was that he had just been offered a senior job at John Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster, although after only a few months he was to return to Woodlesford as managing director of an enlarged Bentley’s company.
Another prominent local personality and sportsman was the cycling club’s chairman. Ernest Boothroyd had been the energetic headmaster of Oulton school since 1877. Quite how he found the time to go cycling is a bit of a mystery as he was a keen footballer and cricketer so his weekends must have been very busy.
Re-elected as the club’s honorary secretary and treasurer was William Henry Flockton, a 29 year old insurance clerk who lived with his parents at Hopewell House on Calverley Road. His annual report showed the club to be “in a flourishing condition” with the largest number of attendances at club runs made by George Barnes who had taken part on 22 occasions out of a possible 25. He was closely followed by Charles Henry Sedgwick who’d been on 21 runs.
Barnes was 24, an audit clerk, the son of cabinet maker Issac Barnes who had migrated from Dorset to live on Applegarth in Woodlesford. Sedgwick was 22 and lived in Oulton with his widowed mother. He worked at the brewery as a clerk and later moved to Leeds where he became a hospital secretary.
Another brewery man was elected to replace C.F. Hoyle as captain. Brighouse born John William Hampshire was the company’s 35 year old accountant in 1892. He lived on Aire Vale Terrace on Alma Street but later moved with his growing family to Holmsleigh on Holmsley Lane, then to a substantial house in Hyde Park near the centre of Leeds as he was promoted to the role of company secretary.
Taking up the role of sub-captain was Edward A. Wilson, 28, a lodger at the Chapel Yard home of Sarah Cockerham, the widow of a stone mason. Edward had been born in Bermondsey in London where his father was a shipping agent. The family though must have had Yorkshire roots as after his father’s death Edward moved with his mother to Leeds where, in the 1881 census, she was described as “a carrier by water” and Edward as “a clerk to water carriers”. By the time of his cycling activities he had become the private secretary to a mining engineer, possibly Issac W.H. White who lived in Woodlesford.
Two others were named as committee members. George Edward Whittaker, 33, was a cashier at the brewery. He lived on what is now Claremont Street and later moved to Scarborough when he was appointed manager of Bentley’s wines and spirits shop. Lastly came joiner Walter Lockwood, 37, whose workshop was on the corner of Quarry Hill and Aberford Road.
As well as Ernest Boothroyd several of the cyclists also played cricket for the Oulton team and many of the same names feature in reports of a local chess club throughout the 1890s.
During this period there was a cycling “boom” as the “penny farthing” gave way to the chain driven “safety bicycle” with pneumatic rubber tyres. Its invention encouraged more and more people to take up cycling for pleasure and as a racing sport.
The activities of clubs and riders in the West Riding were regularly reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post in a “Cycling Notes” column. In 1894, for instance, the Keighley club were planning to travel as far afield as Belgium and Switzerland; a working men’s club had been formed in Holbeck; and the Leeds and District Amateur Cyclists’ Association held its committee meetings at the Grand Restaurant in the city centre. The column noted the recent publication, by Delittle & Sons of York, of Thomas Key’s “Yorkshire Road Book” for the use of cyclists and tourists. “This little volume is of the greatest possible value to road riders,” it said.
Meanwhile the Oulton club continued much as it had done earlier in the decade with the addition of Arthur Jackson to the committee. Born in 1865 he had taken over from his father, John, the management of the corn mill at Fleet Mills in Oulton.
No other newspaper reports or documentary evidence of the club in Victorian days has so far come to light so it’s not known if it continued in its original form into the new century. Perhaps as bicycles became more commonplace there wasn’t a need for organised outings into the countryside. Also, as the Edwardian years progressed, the wealthier members of the community, who had provided the club’s original leadership, may have transferred their allegiance to the newly invented motor car for their weekend jaunts.
Evidence that bicycles were beginning to be used more regularly by ordinary working people comes in a Yorkshire Evening Post story from 3 October 1893. Under the headline “A Postmaster’s Cycling Adventure” it reported the appearance before the Leeds magistrates of miner Arthur Porter who was charged with assaulting the Woodlesford postmaster Alfred Langstaff.
According to Langstaff he had left home on Station Lane on his bicycle to go to empty two letter boxes. On his way he had met Porter who asked him for a match. When he said he didn’t have one Porter had grabbed his arm and coat and pulled him into a hedge bottom where he sprained his neck. As he lay semi-unconscious Porter hit him on the side of the head.
In his defence Porter suggested Langstaff could ride ten or a dozen miles in an hour. With “pride” and to laughter in court he replied: “I can ride a mile in ten minutes.”
To more laughter Porter suggested: “How do you think I could catch you, then? Shouldn’t I be an extraordinary good runner if I could go a mile in ten minutes. There is not a man living as could do it.”
Despite his spirited defence the magistrates were unconvinced and sent him to prison for six weeks. It has to be said though that shortly after this incident Langstaff was forced to resign from his postmaster’s position for “misappropriation of allowances.”
Organised cycling in groups appears to have been resurrected locally at some point after the First World War. By the 1930s members of the Oulton Road Club were taking part in long excursions to destinations across Yorkshire and beyond. As bicycles were then more affordable this newly constituted club had a much more working class membership and attracted many young women as well as men. Several marriages are known to have taken place as a result.
From its headquarters in a wooden hut just behind Paley’s bakery in Woodlesford, each year the club held hill climb competitions and “time trial” road races over distances from 10 to 50 miles. One of the short circular courses started at the top of Swillington Hill and went to Five Lane Ends at Whitwood. The winners were awarded cups at an annual prize day at the Miners’ Welfare in Oulton.
One of the regular participants on long distance runs was Bill Jeffrey, the driver of one of the surface shunting locomotives at Water Haigh colliery. The son of Joseph Jeffrey, an Oulton quarryman, Bill had served in the Royal Engineers in the First World War, marrying Mary Emma Weatherill from Norton near Malton in 1918 whilst he was still a soldier. One photograph shows Bill with two old “penny farthing” bikes which may have belonged to the Victorian Oulton cyclists.
Another member from the 1930s was Tommy Daniels. In 1939 he was employed at one of the local collieries moving conveyor belts underground. Later he worked for the Girlingstone company on Rothwell Haigh. He was born in 1903 and brought up by an aunt and uncle at Claremont Street in Oulton not far from the cycling club’s hut. Family photographs from about 1936 picture him on a cycling trip to the Snake Pass and Glossop in the Peak District. Another photograph from about the same time shows him and Bill Jeffrey with a group of younger men from the club at Britain’s highest pub, the Tan Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales, about an 80 mile ride from Oulton.
After his marriage to Mary Peel, the daughter of a Rothwell miner, they acquired a tandem bicycle and sidecar with which to take their young sons on runs into the countryside.
Tommy kept a detailed diary of his cycling trips which has been handed down to his son Eric and published on the internet.
Others known to have been members include Saville and Edith Watson. He was part of the team which maintained the surface wagons at Water Haigh and they had married at Lofthouse in 1932. Brothers Ronnie and Charlie Binks, sons of Jesse Binks, the electrical and mechanical engineer in charge of the Fleet Lane sewage works, were also amongst a mixed group from the club pictured at the Bay Horse at Mickley near Ripon enjoying a well earned pint after a 45 mile Sunday jaunt before the war.
Reports in the Wakefield Express indicate that runs took place in the winter as well as summer months. For instance on Sunday 9 February 1936 the club set off from the Midland Hotel to make their way to Ripon via Hook Moor, Wetherby, and Boroughbridge in conditions which were “suitable but cold.” After passing Kirby Hill, with its old windmill, they reached Ripon for lunch. The return journey was made via Bishop Monckton and Copgrove Park. A ford there was crossed by tandem riders whilst others used a footbridge. After stopping at Knaresborough for tea the final section took them through Little Ribston, Deighton, and Wetherby. The following week an “impromptu” run was planned, presumably adaptable depending on the weather conditions.
Another pre-war run was on Sunday 12 June 1939 when “a good number of members” turned out for a ride of more than 50 miles to the picturesque village of Downham near Clitheroe in Lancashire. The scenic route took them via Otley, Ilkley, and Skipton to Gisburn. They then went via East Morton, where a short break was taken to look at the famous double arched bridge over the Leeds and Liverpool canal, before passing through Rimington to reach Downham for lunch.
After taking in the local sights of the old stocks and church, with a view of Pendle Hill, they made their way back into Yorkshire via Blacko and Elsack before stopping at Cross Hills south of Skipton for tea. According to the Wakefield Express, the “thoroughly enjoyable” run home via Keighley, Bingley, and Bradford was “without incident” and they were back in Oulton about 9.30 p.m. The less exhausted and keener members could then look forward to getting up the following morning for an 8 a.m. start to take them on another 100 mile round trip, this time to Thixendale between York and Driffield. As they say: “Those were the days!”
One of the younger, and it appears faster, Oulton club cyclists in the 1930s was Jack Fox. Born in 1920 he came from a Rothwell farming family which had diversified into the taxi business. Romance blossomed for him too over the handlebars and he married fellow club member Dorothy Butterfield in 1942. They are both pictured on the run to Mickley. Jack joined the Royal Navy and served on ships protecting convoys to and from Russia during the war before returning run the farm and taxi company.
According to Tommy Daniels the Oulton Cycling Club kept going during the war years with some runs attracting up to a hundred participants. Often there were too many for the authorities to cope with so they had to be split into two groups.
After the war the runs and the races continued as before. A report in the Wakefield Express on Saturday 6 July 1946 gave the results for a 25 mile time trial held on the Selby course the previous Sunday morning. The winner was A. Booth at 1 hour, 10 minutes and 9 seconds, followed by H. Hitchin a couple of minutes later, then Donald Fothergill less than a minute after him. After their exertions the club attended the Cycling Touring Club’s rally at the Knavesmire at York where Oulton member Lily Arundel, from Carr Gate in Wakefield, won a cup presented by the “Sporting Record” for the “best cycling girl.”