Reminiscences of a Cycling Family.

This story follows on from my earlier one entitled “Homecoming – My Father Returns From The War”. It tells of how I got to know him, when he returned after his war service, partly through the family adventures we had on our bikes.
It is written following a recorded chat with Mike Adams of The Friends of Ossett Library. The recording of this piece is at the end for those who would like to hear it.

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One of the first things father did when he got back from the war was to buy bikes for all four of us and we were off. My mother and father had been keen cyclists for many years before the war. They actually met when they were out on their bikes at Heath Common Easter Fair in 1926. Once they were married they got a tandem and when my brother Douglas came along they bought a sidecar for it. After the war since I was only seven and my brother was nine, rather than going with the Ossett Clarion as my parents once did, we used to find out where they were going and which “cyclist cafés“ they were going to use and try to meet up with them. The cafés were at places like Otley, Knaresborough and Ilkley. Because we were children we could not, of course, do the full journeys that they did. We started riding to places like Honley where there were pleasure gardens, Woolley Dam near Notton (which has since been drained) and since we had relatives in Barnsley, we used to cycle there as well. There were so many places and obviously we started going further and further. We would go to somewhere like York or Knaresborough on most Sundays from Easter till autumn. On occasions all four of us would camp overnight in a tiny tent made for only two. It was a big squeeze lying shoulder to shoulder. When we arrived we pitched the tent and my brother and I were sent to the farm to fill our paillasses with straw. These were simple straw-filled cotton bags that we slept on. After we had dragged them back to the tent we had to take an enamelled can to the farm for milk fresh from milking. It was usually warm and had “bits” in it. These were good days. This changed our lives and we got to know the father that we had missed during his wartime service.

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When I was ten we went on holiday to Scarborough on the bikes. We did the journey in a day. It seems like a long way now but we did not think of it that way. I remember it very clearly because it was Easter Sunday 1949 and I had an Easter egg Mrs Hopper, a lady who lived over the road, had made me in her chocolate mould. I had a basket on the front of my bike but no gears . I had the Easter egg resting on the few bits I was carry in the basket and we set off on our route to Wakefield, Stanley, Woodlesford, Garforth and on to our first stop for a drink at Hook Moor before we crossed to Towton and York. We got to where the Union Garage was down Dewsbury Road, just before Westgate End. The road was empty because it was Sunday morning. That was the joy of cycling in those days. I could not wait to eat my egg but I had been told that I could not have it before we got to Scarborough. My eyes were fixed on it and I failed to see the single, half brick that was lying in the road. I managed to hit the brick full on with my front wheel. All I could think about was my egg as it flew through the air and on to the road. I went over the handlebars and landed in a heap luckily with only a few grazes. We had set off from home after breakfast at about nine in the morning and we had sandwiches in York and more refreshments in Malton. I can remember cycling up towards Whitwell on the Hill near Castle Howard. If he thought I was struggling on hills like this, my father would come up on his bike behind me and with his hand on my back, help me gently up the gradient. The time taken on this journey was equivalent to a full day at school.

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Me, mum, dad and Douglas on the beach at Scarborough after we had just arrived. We are dressed in the clothes we wore on our long bike ride.

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We eventually got to Scarborough and I have some photographs of us that were taken on the beach just after we arrived. They amuse me when I look at my mother on them as she has on her full length, winter coat because it was Easter and still quite cold. Underneath I can see her heavy linen, best two-piece suit because she liked to be smart . We were all wearing our usual full outdoor clothes that we had worn on the journey because we could not take much luggage on our bikes. I had a red and white ,cotton dress on. My brother wore his school trousers, blazer and cap and a white t-shirt , nearly his full grammar school uniform. My dad had grey flannels and a wool sports-coat on because we were hoping to stay a week. The photographs were taken by a professional seaside photographer. On the photographs we do look tired as we had just arrived. It was probably four or five o’clock. By that time I had eaten my precious, cracked egg. My father and mother left my brother and me on the beach whilst they went off to find accommodation . Douglas was very fussy about what he ate at that time so we could not stay in a guest house. At the age of twelve he became a vegetarian for a few years, adopting the principle that it was cruel to eat animals. Our parents went to Trafalgar Square, near Scarborough Cricket Ground to look for an apartment where you could take your own food in. It cost so much a night “including use of cruet”. The landlady, Mrs. Rouse, would cook the food. We went to Mrs Rouse’s for several years until unfortunately she died.
We cycled from the beach to Trafalgar Square later that day but we were so “saddle sore” that I can remember the four of us all having to stand up on the peddles and not being able to sit down. With hindsight it was quite an achievement. They were good times and I was lucky to have a very happy childhood.

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Margaret Wilby reminiscences about family cycling adventures when she was young.

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