The Pickwick Bicycle Club
by Roger Warwick
The Pickwick Bicycle Club was formed on the 22nd June 1870, when six cycling enthusiasts met at The Downs Hotel, Hackney Downs, East London, and decided to form themselves into a bicycle club. As the formation coincided with the death of Charles Dickens on the 9th June 1870, the name “Pickwick” was chosen in honour of the great novelist.
From that time onwards, the Pickwick Bicycle Club has an unbroken history as an active cycling organisation and in the worthwhile task of spreading fellowship and conviviality. It is not only the oldest cycling club extant in the world, but it is also the oldest Dickensian Association. It is most probable that our Club, as an organisation is unique in the world. There are many clubs that are supported by the leisure and sporting interests of their members, or by the numerous literary associations, but a combination of both such interests is a different matter. Membership to our Club is considered a privilege which comes with certain obligations, of which high on our requirements are good manners and good fellowship.
At the time of our formation, cycling was still a novelty, when riding a bone-shaker, or a ‘high wheeler’ known also as an Ordinary, was looked upon as an adventure. Following a few excursions together, our six original members decided to form a club, at which meetings could be held for social intercourse, and discussions relating to their chosen pastime, in such a manner which could not be managed during the course of their rides into the country. With this in mind, the first meeting was held on 22nd June, with Messrs. J.A.Johnson, Jno.Bryant, W.E.Maverley, K.M.Yeoman, L.C.B.Yeoman and D.S.Medcalf in attendance….in all, six good men and true.
Our records show that Mr Johnson was voted as Chairman.
“It was then proposed by Mr Maverley, and seconded by Mr LCB Yeoman, ‘that the Club uniform be simply a white straw hat with a black and amber ribbon’”; and as it appears there was no opposition, it must be assumed that the proposal was carried. Mr Kossuth Yeoman was then elected as Captain, and Mr Lamartine Yeoman as Honorary Secretary, and with these actions, their club was formed.
It was at the next meeting on 6th July when it was formally decided to name the club, the Pickwick Bicycle Club. It was also agreed that each member should be known by a soubriquet, selected from the characters within Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, a well-known work in those times, and that members should be addressed by that name at all Club meetings. In that first instance the soubriquets were balloted for, with the following result:
KM Yeoman became Mr Samuel Pickwick; JA Johnson – Mr Alfred Jingle; J Bryant – Tracy Tupman;
WE Maverley – Sam Weller; LCB Yeoman – Serjeant Buzfuz; and DS Medcalf – Mr Wardle.
This practice continues today, although the soubriquets are now allocated by the Club committee and bestowed on new members at the two main Club luncheons.
In the first few years of its existence, the membership didn’t grow that rapidly, and by October 1872 there were still only sixteen members, although they enjoyed many outings together. The Field were quite supportive of cyclists and their endeavours and reported that members of the Pickwick Bicycle Club rode from their Head Quarters at Hackney Downs to Ongar in Essex and back, in approximately three hours, on various ‘tension bicycles’. These were the Ordinarys (Penny Farthings) of varying large wheel sizes, but with adjusted spokes to give the rider better control of his machine. Mr Pickwick and Tracy Tupman were also reported to have ridden to Penzance on similar machines. All quite remarkable exploits on such machines in those times, when the roads were not conducive to bicyclists.
At the Annual General Meeting in February 1875, a ‘compulsory uniform’ rule change was actioned, to the effect that each member should wear a black cap with amber piping when on Club outings, since these were more practical than the straw boaters. A specific event for all cycle clubs to participate – the annual Hampton Court Ride, was initiated. This took place in the vicinity of Bushy Park, the second largest Royal Park in London, and over the next decade saw as many as 2000 plus cyclists participating some years, with the Pickwick Bicycle Club contributing 60-70 riders in the event most years until it stopped in 1883. This event was revived in 2010 and has continued to be held each October (pandemic years excepted) with some 25-30 cyclists participating on an eclectic mix of ancient & modern bicycles, including Ordinaries, and the occasional Velocipede.
On June 30th 1918, one of the early Presidents – Joseph Atto (soubriquet - Nathaniel Pipkin) passed away, and left a bequest of £1000, the interest of which would “defray the expenses of an annual toast to be known as ‘Past President Joseph Atto’s Toast of Prosperity’ to The Pickwick Bicycle Club”. The toast is drunk in punch, prepared from a special recipe held by the Club, from a magnificent silver Punch Bowl. The toast has continued to this day, and the punch bowl is marched to the President’s table by two Chelsea Pensioners, guests at both the May and December luncheons. Another feature of these luncheons until the ban in 2007, was the lighting up of Churchwarden Clay pipes, on the command from the Captain of, “Gentlemen you must smoke”.
Over the intervening years, the membership has fluctuated, but from the mid-1970’s, an interest in the Club with its unique chemistry of good fellowship has blossomed and the last 50 years has seen it resume its popularity with the sport and associated trades. The core of its membership coming from all walks of a cycling related background, including strangely, our most famous member, William Morris/Viscount Nuffield, the motor manufacturer.
2020 marked the 150th Anniversary of the Club, a major landmark in our history. With a membership of some 200, and a currently closed waiting list for potential new members, the Pickwick Bicycle Club is on track to continue for many more years “still maintaining its cycling traditions, to provide the opportunity for setting aside the day-to-day worries, and meeting in an atmosphere of conviviality and good fellowship.
By Roger Warwick / Mr.Winkle Snr, of the Pickwick Bicycle Club (http://www.pickwickbc.org.uk/)
The history of the Club is far from complete, although a book was compiled of the “The History of the Pickwick Bicycle Club” by Walter Blake (soubriquet-The Hon.Mr Crushton) in 1905, which records in great detail, the activities of the Club and its members since its formation in 1870.
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