The Lady Ariel Side-Saddle Ordinary, 1874

www.sheilahanlon.com_Lady Ariel, 1874


The Lady Ariel Side-Saddle Ordinary of 1874, shown above, is one of the most eccentric and innovative designs in the history of the bicycle as a gendered object.

The Ordinary, commonly known as the highwheeler or penny farthing, was first introduced in 1869 by French inventor Eugene Meyer. The design was popularised by James Starley, a leading English cycle manufacturer based in Coventry, in the 1870s. The Ariel was Starley’s signature model. The fact it was adopted as a model for a female rider was highly unusual for the time.

www.sheilahanlon.com_Bicycling, Hy Sandham, 1887Highwheelers, including The Ariel, were produced with male cyclists in mind the 1870s and 80s. This was an age when highwheeling was popular as a sport and recreation among fit, young, men of means. These lofty machines were notoriously difficult to mount, propel, and control especially down hill. They were infamous for causing “headers.” Highwheelers were prohibitively expensive, making them accessible only to men of means who could afford their purchase price, upkeep and storage, and who had the time and space to ride them. A staunchly homosocial and competitive culture developed around highwheeling. The risk and physical demands of highwheeling, coupled with it’s association with masculine leisure pursuits, plus the incompatibility of the machine with long skirts precluded the involvement of women.

Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tessie Reynolds: The Stormy Petrel in the Struggle for Women’s Equality in Cycle Racing and Dress

Tessie Reynolds, 1890

In 1893, a remarkable sixteen year old girl rode from Brighton to London and back in record time, covering the full distance in just over 8.5 hours. Her name was Tessie Reynolds, and though the news of the day had much to say about her ride and the outfit she accomplished it in, she is one of Britain’s unsung sporting heroes.

Tessie was born in Kemp Town, a working class neighbourhood in the seaside town of Brighton, in 1877. She was the oldest of eleven children. Her father RJ Reynolds was a a bicycle dealer with a shop at 25 Brighton Road. He also dabbled in a number of professions, including PE instructor for the Brighton Police, coach to a number of local athletes and a stint in the army. Tessie’s mother managed the family’s boarding house business, which undoubtedly made up a substantial part of the Reynolds’ income and gave them some financial stability.

Tessie and her siblings all learned to cycle, fence, box, and participate in sports of all kinds at the encouragement of their father. Once Tessie set her heart on competitive cycling, she may have trained at the Preston Park Velodrome three miles away from her house, a state of the art racing facility built in 1877, coincidentally the same year as her birth. Tessie’s family connections to the cycling world, her proximity to both a velodrome and a popular route for setting road records, and her determination all culminated in a remarkable accomplishment for this young cycling athlete. Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cycling to Suffrage, Manchester



Cycling to Suffrage Manchester

Cycling to Suffrage has gone on the road to Manchester.

Working in association with Team Glow, the Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women’s Rights, 1890-1914 exhibit opens at the People’s History Museum, Manchester March 7th. The exhibit looks at the role of the bicycle in the organised suffrage campaign of the Edwardian era, as well as its earlier significance to the emancipation of women in the late Victorian era.

Cycling to Suffrage, originally shown in London at The Women’s Library, is being re-mounted as part of Team Glow “Biking Through” program celebrating women’s cycling for International Women’s Day. Read more about it in Glynis Francis’s guest blog on the PHM website. MCR Women Biking Through.

The show opens Saturday 7th March with a Cycling to Suffrage curator’s talk and screening of Half the Road , a documentary film by Kathryn Bertine that looks at women’s struggles in the world of professional cycling. There will also be opportunities to discuss of women’s cycling past, present and future over a few treats and glasses of wine.

You can add your say my contributing to the bicycle portrait project M’crWomenBike, a project collecting photographs of women across Manchester and asking them why they ride their bikes.

To book a place for the talk and film screening visit Eventbrite.

Cycling to Suffrage talk and exhibition, Sat 7 March 2015, 1.00pm – 2.00pm. Tickets are free but booking is required via Eventbrite.

Half the Road film screening, Sat 7 March 2015, 2.30pm – 4.30pm. Tickets £5, book via Eventbrite


Listen Up Cyclists!

These sound clips accompany the Cycling to Suffrage exhibit at the Manchester People’s History Museum.

Please listen to the sound clips below to hear the sounds of cycling past!

Daisy Bell
Daisy Bell, Written by Harry Dacre 1894, performed by Dali Kaur

This comic song about a bicycle built for two is believed to have been inspired by Frances Evelyn “Daisy” Greville, Countess of Warwick, Greville was a celebrated society cyclist, though she is best remembered as a mistress of Edward VII who also coincidentally cycled. Music hall singer Katie Lawrence popularized the song.


Sylvia Pankhurst Sylvia Pankhurst on cycling with her sister Christabel. Excerpt from The Suffragette Movement, 1931, read by Sheila Hanlon

The Pankhursts, especially Christabel, were avid cyclists and active members of the socialist Clarion Cycling Club. This excerpt describes the girls’ first bicycles and early outings in which Christabel emerges as the superior cyclist. The Pankhursts lived in Manchester at the time, and these memories involve the local landscape.


Helena Swanwick
Helena Swanwick recalls cycling in London and Manchester. Excerpt from I Have Been Young, 1935, read by Glynis Francis of Team Glow.

In this set of clips, we hear Helena Swanwick’s reminiscences about riding in London and Manchester. Swanwick was a pacifist who initially joined the WSPU but quickly re-aligned herself with the NUWSS. She and her husband Fred enjoyed cycling around Cheshire and Derby, and took their bicycles on holiday to France.


The Manchester Story: Help us write it

Manchester has a rich cycling history that has only begun to be uncovered. As Cycling to Suffrage documents, prominent local suffragettes, including the Pankhursts who founded the WSPU, jumped on their bicycles for political purposes. Manchester was also home to one of the first branches of the Clarion Cycling Club founded in 1894 and industrial innovators such as Andrew Muir who produced some of the UK’s earliest velocipedes. Did you know that Manchester had one of the first women’s bicycle groups, The Manchester Lady Cyclists’ Club, shown above in a newspaper photo from 1895.

Cycling to Suffrage, in association with Team Glow, is interested in developing the Manchester Cycling Story as part of local heritage and cycling history. This project celebrates the struggles of our cycling sisters of the past as we fight for equality on the road today and secure a better future for tomorrow’s cyclists.

Could you help write the Manchester cycling story? If so, please get in touch. You can contact the Cycling to Suffrage Project by emailing or through the comment box below. To contact Team Glow, email Glynis Francis or Ursula Harries,

Help us write the Manchester Cycling Story!


Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hack Attack

I’ve been hit. As you may note from my header, my site has been fallen prey to a rather unwelcome visitor.

Repair work is underway, and I hope to be rid of that stowaway soon.

Until then, please continue to read the blog and share your cycling stories–just don’t follow that bad link above. (Unless that’s the product you’re after…we don’t judge here at Cycling to Suffrage.)

Posted in Research | Leave a comment

The Battersea Park Cyclists’ Row
The bicycle literally and figuratively transported women beyond the bounds of the home and into public space in late-Victorian London. Not surprisingly, this incursion into open areas, such as city streets and country lanes, caused mild moral panic among a society clinging to increasingly outmoded ideas about the division of space into masculine and feminine spheres. Parks emerged as an in-between space where women’s cycling was accepted as part of a leisure trend popular with the respectable classes, which by Victorian definitions meant middle and upper class riders. Battersea Park in particular became known as the park of the lady cyclist during the craze years. Illustrations such as Samuel Begg’s interpretation of the Battersea Park cyclists’ row shown above depict a robust cycling culture as early as 1895 populated in the majority by women taking their leisure a wheel.

Battersea’s development as a cycle park was in part due to an accident of legislation. When the craze began around 1895, bicycles were banned in open spaces falling under the Parks Regulation Act, which had jurisdiction over royal and municipal parks, including Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, and St. James’s Park. With these central greens off limits, there was a distinct want of a suitable grounds for cycling within city bounds. Battersea Park, however, was exempt from the Parks Regulation Act so lady cyclists soon gravitated there. The park, located south of the Thames in Surrey, was a relatively new park which had been established as part of a government intervention scheme to regenerate what had once been a notorious and impoverished part of town where raucous fairs were held.

Based on Thomas Cubitt’s 1843 recommendations to Queen Victoria’s Commission for Improving the Metropolis, an act was passed in 1846 allowing for the formation of a Royal Park in Battersea Fields. Three hundred and twenty acres were annexed, nearly two hundred of which were enclosed as parkland. In the 1890s, local Labour MP John Burns petitioned to have the park locally administrated, rather than put under royal parks jurisdiction. Burns’s vision was to maintain the park as an open green space for the use and benefit of the working class people who lived in the vicinity as a healthy alternative to other less desirable recreations such as drink and the music hall. For the duration of the cycle craze, the park was managed by the LCC, which proved amenable to cyclists.

Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ladies’ Cycle Races at The Royal Aquarium: A Late Victorian Sporting Spectacle

The-Royal-Aquarium-SBegg-1896-www.sheilahanlon.comS.Begg, Lisette takes the lead at The Royal Aquarium, 1896

On November 18th, 1895 novice racer Monica Harwood, a young woman from Buckinghamshire who had only learned to bicycle six months earlier, took her place on the track at The Royal Aquarium. It was day one of a wildly anticipated twelve days’ of ladies racing, and the race was about to start. Chief among the stars of the track were French and English champions Mdlle Lisette Marton and Miss Grace respectively, fierce rivals accomplished cyclist who promised a close competition.

The race had a surprise ending in store. The favourites to win had their chances dashed by accidents on the track and an unbeatable performance from young upstart Harwood who was about to make a name for herself as a champion racer. The spectators who turned out in droves to see the lady cyclists at The Royal Aquarium witnessed the emergence of a new, though only briefly popular and profitable, form of women’s cycling that blurred the lines between sport and and entertainment.

On one hand, the ladies cycling races held at The Royal Aquarium in 1895 and after were a form of entertainment not dissimilar to the gymnastic and theatrical shows performed by women at pleasure gardens and cheap theatrical venues of the time, but on the other they marked a milestone in the recognition of women’s cycling as a professional sport, international contest and profitable commercial venture.

This post explores the context, press reaction, and gender politics of the ladies’ cycle races held at The Royal Aquarium, a short-lived enterprise that was part sport and part spectacle within the spectrum of late Victorian culture.

Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Christmas Cycling Wish, c. 1898

Happy holidays to all of you out there on two wheels!

A Christmas Wish

May you steer a steady course and everything go well,

No obstacles your pathway cross, when you ring the belle!


Image source: Christmas Card, c. 1898 from The Lady Cyclist: A Gender History of Women’s History in 1890s London, PhD Dissertation, York University, 2009

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Over the Alps on a Bicycle by Elizabeth Robins Pennell Available for Kindle

Over the Alps on a Bicycle,

Elizabeth Robins Pennell’s 1898 book Over the Alps on a Bicycle, illustrated by her husband Joseph Pennell, is now available on Kindle. This edition was “re-mastered” so to speak as an e-book by Cathy Ryan for Eltanin Publishing from the original print copy.

My introduction to the new edition, now available on Kindle, explains the significance of the book and provides a biographical sketch of the author, with details of her opinions about cycling and how her rides fit into the politics of the late nineteenth century world. There is a bonus article at the end of the book, Pennell’s 1894 essay “Cycling” from Lady Greville’s Ladies in the Field: Sketches of Sport.

Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Imperial Bicyclists: Women travel writers on wheels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century world

Pennell and Workman Portraits

Early one morning at the end of August 1884, Elizabeth Robins Pennell and her husband Joseph Pennell strapped their luggage to their tricycle and wheeled out of Russell Square before anyone else was stirring. They headed south toward London Bridge, cutting through thick fog and passing a policeman carefully testing every door on his last rounds as they made their way through the quiet streets.

Just beyond Borough, they stopped briefly at the corner where the Tabard Inn had once stood, which was made famous by Chaucer five hundred years earlier as the assembly place for his nine and twenty pilgrims travelling to Thomas Becket’s shrine. This auspicious spot was the starting point of the Pennells’ own Canterbury tale, the first of many adventures a-wheel and the start of a series of popular travel books recounting their cycling excursions throughout England and Europe.

A decade later, another couple, Fanny Bullock Workman and William Hunter Workman made a name for themselves as travel writers documenting similar but more ambitious bicycle trips to remote destinations in Europe, the Sahara and India. Who were the pioneering women cyclists and writers that made up one half of each of these couples, what motivated them to embark on these journeys, and how did their experiences differ over the decade that divided them?

Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Woman power” bicycle kanga from The British Museum


Powerful women on bicycles are everywhere these days–even in the stairwells of The British Museum!

The “Woman power” bicycle kanga shown above hangs in The British Museum’s North Stairs near the Africa galleries. It was printed for the Kali Mata Ki Jai (KMKJ) women’s centre in Gezaulole, Tanzania in 2005. The “woman power” kanga shows a woman on her bicycle with a cargo basket full to the brim. She smiles as she pumps the peddles, riding towards her destination with confidence and determination. Text along the lower side of the print reads “Mwanamke ni Chachu ya Maendeleo,” which translates to “woman is the yeast for development.”

The Kali Mata Ki Jai women’s centre of Gezaulole was established in 1990 by three local women who’s objective was to contribute to development and improve conditions for women in their community, a village of about 5000 people located 10 mile south of Dar es Salaam on the east coast of Tanzania. The centre’s name translates to “long live the black mother.” Before long, a group of ten women were working on projects through the collective. Kali Mata Ki Jai supports women through micro credit training, marketable crafts such as printed cotton and basketry, henna production, small scale farming of crops such as mushrooms, and cycling lessons for girls and women. A charitable foundation based in the Netherlands, KMKJ-ND, which sees cooperation among women in rural communities as a starting point for development, has worked with the centre since 2000.

Continue reading

Posted in Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment