Eastbourne Bicycle Club: Cyckhanas, Loose Knickerbockers and adventures around Normandy

Katherine Buckland

As we are all encouraged to take to two wheels instead of four and to mark #BikeWeek 2020, this post explores the story of Eastbourne Bicycle Club. To do that properly, we should start with the man who founded it. Luther Adams was born in Worthing and moved with his family to Eastbourne in 1856 when his father Isaac opened a Fishmonger, Poulterer and Ice merchants in Lewes Place, later in Terminus Road.  The family lived at Brooklyn House, Terminus Road (143-145 Terminus Road near Marks and Spencer takes that spot today.) Luther later moved to Enys Road and stayed there until he died, 85 years old in 1932.

Luther Adams started cycling in 1869 and won the first bicycle race ever given in Eastbourne. He founded the Eastbourne Bicycle Club in May 1877 and was the Captain for the club for around 20 years. They first met in the Mutual Improvement Society’s rooms in Susans Road and the club went on weekly runs around Sussex.  They started with 9 members but had grown to 54 by 1884.

Mr A Dumbrell and his Penny Farthing

The Bicycle Club were no strangers to putting on events. Their annual race meetings held at Devonshire Park were a huge success attracting big names in the cycling world including H L Cortis who was the first man to ride 20 miles in an hour.  The prizes for their race meetings were certainly sought after. In 1889 for the One Mile race 1st prize: a clock, 2nd prize: a biscuit box, 3rd prize: jam spoons in case.  For the Local Tricycle race, 1st prize: an aneroid barometer, 2nd an oak salad bowl and 3rd a plated reading lamp.  Many different varieties of bicycle were welcome at the club and at these race meetings. One of their members, Mr A Dumbrell always favoured his penny farthing though it had gone out of fashion with most others locally by the 1890s.

When the Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1883, Luther designed and built the cyclists arch to welcome them to the Town. According to the Eastbourne Gazette, this arch was the first cyclists arch ever built and was copied by the Belfast wheelmen when the Royals visited Belfast.  The club hosted a dinner at the Town Hall on Jubilee day in 1887 for a whopping 200 people and often funded shows at the Pier Pavilion, complete with bags of snacks (a large paper bag containing a meat pie, a mince pie, a tam tart and a big bun) for the children of Eastbourne.

By 1891, their uniform had been relaxed from grey costumes with black caps and helmets that distorted into ridiculous shapes in the rain, straw hats which were troublesome in wet and racing weather and polo caps which left their faces scorched by the sun, to no specific uniform requirements. Each member could wear whatever their wanted though caps, short jackets and loose knickerbockers seemed to be the most in favour. Luther still preferred, according to the Eastbourne Gazette, ‘to encase his nether lambs [we think that’s a typo and should be limbs!] in tight fitting knee breeches.’ The same article questioned the absence of women in the bicycle club. The response from the club was that one of the members ‘The Professor’ opposed the admission of women into the club as he ‘fears that his fatal beauty might expose him to the bitter and remorseless jealousy of his brothren…!

Eastbourne Bicycle Club, c1905

This seems to have changed for the Cyckhana in 1898. Attracting over 2000 visitors, the day of sports included the Tilting at Rings (won by P J Locke) the Egg and Spoon race on bicycles for ladies (won by Miss Ticehurst), The Hoop Race for ladies (won by Miss Kirkman) and the Carnival Race for the men of the Bicycle Club (won by J S Gowland) This race consisted of riding a short distance then running to baskets which contained costumes. ‘Gowland was soon arrayed as a noble policeman, Wood was a Butcher minus a cleaver, and in a flaxen wig and short flounced dress – Barber appeared as a ballet girl.’ The highlight of the day seems to be the Jack and Jill race for both Ladies and Gentlemen, ‘competitors to start in pairs and ride to pail of water, pick up the pail and carry same between them, fastest time and most water wins.’ 1st prize – umbrella and lamp won by W S Squire and Miss Breach, 2nd prize – an album and glove and handkerchief boxes won by J Niedermayer and Miss Townsend, 3rd Prize –cyclometer and clock won by H Booth and Miss Vieler.

Luther chronicled a trip the club took around Normandy in 1894, keen to show off his ‘limited stock of lingo’ (apparently limited to describing coffee!),  described the struggle over the winding roads via Littlington and Seaford to the quay at Newhaven where they met H J Bannister – the Captain of the Newhaven Cycling Club who joined them as their interpreter! After a troubled crossing which ‘upset the digestion of our bountiful supper’, they arrived in Dieppe at 3.30am for a brief conversation with  officials and a café au lait before retiring to their hotel (opposite the port) until breakfast.  They sent their spare luggage on to Paris and, remembering to steer to the right when meeting vehicles coming the other way, their settled into their exploration of ‘splendid countryside’.  They arrived at Gournay (46 miles later) for the night and after dinner came ‘a walk, a smoke and strawberries and then while sipping our café noir’. Luther ends his recollection with the shocking sentence: ‘it was so hot that day; we rode without coat or waistcoat.’

The club changed its name to the Eastbourne Club around 1907 and continued until at least the 1950s although by then they were joined by many other Eastbourne cycling clubs, some of which continue to this day.

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