Bedford Park Bicycle Club Successfully Relaunched after 140 Years
Guest blog by Dr Edward Seaton
The inaugural meeting to resurrect one of the oldest clubs in Chiswick happened at St Michael and All Angels Church last Sunday. The Bedford Park Bicycle Club, which was active in the 1880s, held its first meeting for over a century, and organisers were delighted to see over a hundred people turn up, more than double the number they expected.
The idea for the relaunch was the brainchild of renowned local architect and Bedford Park resident Peter Murray, who has studied photographs of local Victorian cyclists and documents from the late 19th Century when Bedford Park was established as the world’s first garden suburb. At the time there was a huge explosion in the popularity of bicycling with over 350 bicycle manufacturers in London by the end of the century. Bicycling was especially emancipating for Victorian and Edwardian women and was one of the early drivers of more practical clothing for ladies, such as knickerbockers instead of skirts, which then led to the acceptance of trousers.
Photographs above: Victorian cyclists; Peter Murray with his bike
The organisers hope to recapture the spirit of the idealistic founders of Bedford Park, who believed it was ‘the healthiest place in the world’ by stimulating and encouraging anyone who wants to use a bicycle as a non-polluting, healthy and enjoyable way to get about in the 21st Century. There is a feeling that our urban space has become too car-dominated.
Attendees were from Chiswick and beyond, including the head of a local primary school, representatives of cycling organisations in Hounslow and Ealing, local GPs, politicians, Chiswick celebrities Jeremy Vine (who arrived on a pennyfarthing) and Torin Douglas and well as numerous mums, dads and grandparents.
The meeting was introduced by Nigel Woolner MBE (President of the Bedford Park Society) who warmly welcomed the independent initiative to restart the old club and quoted HG Wells “when I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race”. Peter Murray then spoke and asked that the previous controversy of cycleway 9 is put behind us, explaining that the club would act as a force for non-sporty cycling. Karen Liebreich MBE of Abundance London fame emphasised the vital contribution that encouraging cycling could make to positively improving the local environment.
The bicycle is one of the most important and emancipating inventions of the last 200 years; it has had huge benefits for society. In the Netherlands, 90% kids cycle to school and that there is no reason for west London not to aspire to this.
Simon Hillyard, resident of Bedford Park for over 30 years described his and his wife’s joy in cycling, but their concern at the current safety risks. A very positive open discussion then took place to establish the priorities for the club. There was strong support for organising group rides to help increase confidence for nervous cyclists. The myriad expertise in the group means that some of these could be themed with trips to film studios, markets, gardens and architectural visits. Trips to local cafes, and eating places would also be incorporated. Children’s rides will also feature, perhaps across Thames bridges.
Photographs above: Peter Murray posing with other members of the re-launched Bedford Park Bicycle Club, with suitably Victorian prop
Professor Tom Pike, Bedford Park resident, academic and engineer at Imperial College, talked about the design of the logo, (pictured above), which incorporates the Arts-and-Crafts designs of William Morris with a spoked bicycle wheel, itself a beautiful design invention.
Councillor Gerald MacGregor suggested that the club could help campaign to improve infrastructure, such as pothole repair and smoother bike paths, along the lines of Germany, and volunteered to join the committee. Sally Daniel, headteacher of Chiswick and Bedford Park School, who cycles to work from Shepherd’s Bush, suggested pushing for more street bike parking facilities, and felt the club could provide guided rides to increase the confidence of children who had just completed Bikeability training. The importance of appropriately-designed residential bike hangers, which are the size of a car, but can take up to 12 bikes was also discussed. These have been opposed by residents in the past.
There was more dissent on the issue of clothing (as there was in the 19th century), with the L-word (‘Lycra’) proving polarising. Chiswick already has a great and active sports cycling group, the Chiswick Cycling Club, and the Bedford Park version would be complementary, but more leisurely-paced and different. The conclusion was that people could wear whatever they wanted as long as they felt comfortable. ‘It’s the mentality not the clothing’. There was enthusiasm at the prospect of a club T shirt being printed.
The issue of membership and subscriptions were discussed. A nominal annual fee of probably about £10-15 is likely to cover most club expenses and was unanimously acceptable to those present.
The committee was then chosen and agreed, including enthusiastic volunteers from the floor who joined the panel. The committee will now get peddling along with the organisation of the first Bedford Park Bicycle Club events which will happen soon.
Further information and registration of interest can be made at www.bedfordparkbicycleclub.org.uk
or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
The club also has a twitter page (which it did not in 1880): @BedPkBicyclists
Dr Edward Seaton is a doctor who lives in Bedford Park with his wife (also a doctor) and children