Only me and DUNLOPS left, 1914 © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13686)

Outdoor leisure time cycling & walking

by Margaret Knowles

Aspects of leisure in Nottingham during the First World War

Escaping from town to countryside and seaside was a favourite leisure pursuit of many. I set out to look at how this changed during wartime. I wanted to look at cycling and walking for leisure and outings and excursions – activities which often go unrecorded. For this short talk I’ll concentrate on aspects of cycling and how people spent their Easter holiday. I’ve used various sources, from the Archives and Local Studies library, and old newspapers – but these are topics which often go unreported.

As soon as war was declared, resorts like Mablethorpe advertised they were still open for business but the Evening Post reported on Easter Monday, 1915 that ‘the altered circumstances of the times’ impacted on people’s activity. The railway companies stopped issuing excursion tickets, saying the trains were needed by the military and rolling stock was limited. The popular, and affordable for many day trip to Skegness disappeared. The Post said ‘instead of the early morning crowds flocking to the station, there were but occasional driblets’. A fair number paid ordinary fares to get to the Lincolnshire coast, ’but the chief run was on East Leake, Burton Joyce, Lowdham and Hoveringham, Quorn and other spots easy and inexpensive of access. The country may be said to have taken the place of the seaside and every main road out of Nottingham was dotted with motors and cycles. The riverside walk to Clifton also found many frequenters

Fairham Brook
This is Fairham Brook, on the way to Clifton from 1912.

There were alfresco concerts at Colwick, with dancing and illuminated grounds and for the juveniles’ the customary Easter Fair in the Market Place’.

So more local visits were popular. But some did not find it so easy to walk in the countryside. This painting also of Clifton, was sold at a Nottingham Society of Artists’ exhibition in. But outdoor sketching and photography were amongst the activities affected by DORA.

The fear of spies was such that people were highly suspicious of strangers, particularly those carrying cameras or painting equipment. A police pass was needed. A history of the Nottingham Society of Artists relates that two members were walking along a country lane with their sketching material when they were overtaken by a policeman on his bike, ‘Gentlemen’ he said, ’your appearance has aroused suspicion’. When told they were artists from Nottingham, he demanded to see their passes. One of them confessed he had not got his, but added ‘I have my gas bill from Nottingham Corporation’.’ This was produced, solemnly inspected and they were allowed on their way, the officer assuring them he was convinced they were not spies but he had his duty to perform’.

Cycling in the countryside had been very popular and gave some women a new freedom

Nottingham Bicycle Club and the Nottingham Castle Club were two of the earliest cycling clubs. Such clubs probably reached their peak in the 1890s. With a membership of 400-500, turnouts for the weekly spins of the Castle club were large enough to cause a mild sensation wherever they went.

Nottingham Bicycle Club circa 1914
Nottingham Bicycle Club.

By 1914 there were still 13 different clubs offering local runs, as listed in the evening post. In contrast, by 1915 only six clubs were listed. Even so, there were 67 local runs over the spring and summer months. Places visited included Aslockton, Caunton, Farnsfield, Hazleford Ferry, Melbourne, Southwell and Woodborough. The Spinner Cycle Club, more intrepid than most, went to both Skegness and Matlock. Maybe they were using the pre-war cycle maps – and staying overnight.

Bacon County Guide
Bacon County Guide Derbyshire.

The Cyclists’ Touring Club had produced annual handbooks listing popular routes and, more importantly, where to get refreshments and accommodation. The local CTC report that the War was a severe shock to the club with declining membership. After 1915, as recruiting was increasing and conscription introduced most clubs would have struggled.

Indeed, cyclists were being actively recruited – even those with bad teeth! Early in the war a cyclist company was added to each British Division and later a specialist army cyclist’s corps was formed. I cannot find any advertised club runs in the local paper until 1919. Some clubs, like the Castle, did not accept women as members until the 1920s. And there is no evidence that that the limited number of women members of other clubs had the time or inclination to keep more formal club runs going. However, the image of a young women on a bicycle was often used in advertising and many appear to have been cycling in the countryside for pleasure.

WW1 Recruitment Poster
WW1 Recruitment Poster.

By Easter 1916 Skegness Council’s publicity committee were promoting the merits of their seaside with - ‘everything as usual – ready for you. Rudge-Whitworth asked ‘Have you secured your Easter mount’ advertising their high grade cycles

Although cycling clubs had declined, it appears that more people were turning to the cycle to get around. C W Brown, the Jeremy Clarkson of his day, writing a regular column called the ‘Hum of the Wheel’ reports that many motorists appear to be returning to the cycle because of increases in taxation on motors, and that there was an increased demand for ladies cycles, largely due for the need for women to get to war work. However, he feels as a pastime and as a means of touring ‘the days of its glory have passed never to return’. (He said nothing about this family cycle, by Campion, powered by coal gas).

C W Brown coal gas powered motorcycle
C W Brown with his Campion coal gas powered motorcycle.

There were adverts for regular ’River Pleasure Trips to Trent Lock’ – 1/3d return. These appeared alongside the reports of the Irish Rising’.By 1917, Raleigh were advertising their bicycles as ’The sign of Easter’ – apparent by the number of cycles seen on the road during the holidays. This year the Board of Trade proposed that holidays not exceeding two days should be taken by miners, although the Nottinghamshire Miners Association was asking for three. There were shortages of coal as well as rolling stock and the rail service had been curtailed in January. A deputation from Health resorts had unsuccessfully appealed to the National Railway Executive for more services to them at Easter and in the summer. There were no cheap rail fares and ticket agents were debarred from selling rail tickets over the Easter period . Queuing at the station was the only prospect of getting a ticket for the limited number of trains.

Well, there had been blizzards in March and It turned out to be a quiet Easter, with ‘winter’s grip still unrelaxed’ - a chilly wind and occasional snowfall and no temptation to seek ‘pleasure or amusement out of doors’. How well attended a band concert in the Arboretum was, is unknown, but a matinee of ‘When Knights were Bold’ attracted a large audience to the Theatre Royal.

In 1918 Winston Churchill, Minister of Munitions asked ‘workpeople in all branches of manufacturing who were affected by the movement of war events’ to give up their Easter holiday. There were no special trains for Easter again. The Ministry of Food instructed anyone visiting holiday resorts to purchase rationed food before they left home or, if impractical, to take their food card with them. People were cautioned to have their Zam-buk (a herbal remedy) ready for Holiday mishaps. Not only was it good for cycling injuries, but ‘try it on your hands and feet after a day’s hard digging on the allotment’. Advert to come. But the Evening Post looked on the bright side. ‘Happily, so far as the Nottingham district is concerned there is no lack of delightful country villages to which holiday makers can easily go and enjoy a cheap and ...pleasant day.’ And I speculate, many of them went by bike.

Nottingham Cyclists
Nottingham Cyclists.

Getting out and about for pleasure during wartime was restricted – particularly by shortages - Shortages of fuel, rolling stock and food, and limited bank holidays. In many industries wages did not keep pace with price increases. Many – maybe most – could not afford to go very far. But enjoying the countryside closer to home on foot, and maybe by bike seemed to be popular.

In 1919 it was reported that large numbers of Nottingham folk were going away for the Easter holiday. There were record bookings on the railways for the east coast resorts, with the south coast, Blackpool and various parts of Derbyshire being popular.

Cycle clubs started to rebuild as soldiers returned from the war. Seeking fresh air and sunshine in the countryside and at the seaside gathered pace in the 1920s reaching a golden age in the 1930s. This image of an independent woman cyclist appeared in 1922 on the cover of an advertising catalogue.

© Margaret Knowles 2017


  1. Main Image: Only me and DUNLOPS left, 1914 © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13686)
  2. Nottingham Evening Post
  3. Marjorie MacMillan, For the Very Joy of Art, Nottingham, 1980. NA, DD1561/145/1
  4. Nottingham Castle Bicycle Club, The First One Hundred Years, 1880-1980, DD2383/4/1 (NAO)
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