The North Cotswold Cycling Club
On a fine Spring Sunday morning in April 1938 a dozen lads from the North Cotswold Cycling Club set out on their bicycles from the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire for a seventy-five mile round jaunt to the railway town of Swindon in Wiltshire. After negotiating their first challenge, the steep climb out of Broadway village, they rode to Stow-on-the-Wold and then on to Burford, pausing a third of the way through their journey at the Oxfordshire village of Filkins to take dinner at the curiously named Five Alls public house. There the landlady entertained the group by showing them a pullet’s egg that weighed a remarkable 6½ ounces. After dinner they resumed their journey, though apparently with some difficulty; two of their number having consumed a quart each of Bulmers cider. They headed south to their destination, barely breaking their rhythm when passing through Swindon before turning homewards via the ancient Saxon town of Cricklade, near to which they paused briefly in order to help two lady cyclists with a punctured tyre. A halt for tea at Cirencester provided sufficient fuel for a return to Broadway and the Vale, via Cheltenham and Winchcombe, to end what all agreed had been a delightful run.
On the same day, the Austrian people were voting on the Anschluss: the union of their Country with Hitler’s Germany. The ballot was a portent of events that would soon transform the political map of Europe. Although those young riders enjoying the fresh Cotswold air that day did not realise it, changes were afoot that would shortly put an end to their carefree wanderings.
The story of the North Cotswold Cycling Club (NCCC) is not a complicated one. It was formed in the early 1930’s by a group of friends and acquaintances living in the Vale of Evesham who discovered a shared interest in cycling. Finding there was no existing club locally for them to join, they formed their own. The Club they started survived, officially, for about fourteen years, until just after the end of the Second World War, though in all but name the arrival of war in the autumn of 1939 put an end to its activities, and signalled the Club's demise. The NCCC was therefore active for just seven years (1933-1939), and it is this period covered in this account.
Since the Club was somewhat short-lived, one might ask why it should merit a history, however modest. The NCCC occupies no special place in the annals of cycling. Whilst the performances of its racing members were respectable, none of its riders broke any national records or came to prominence within the wider cycling world. Fierce competition among amateur riders meant that only a select few cyclists won great honours. No. The true significance of the Club is that it was typical of hundreds of similar cycling clubs of the 1930's, few of which have any recorded history. As such its story can stand as representative of many others of that era.
It is fortunate that quite a few records of the NCCC survive, and these have been indispensable in compiling this history. The archive includes newspaper clippings, club cards, badges, medals and run lists; the latter being especially informative in providing details of destinations and tea stops for the regular Sunday rides. Also preserved is a membership book containing a list of members names and addresses, and information indicating who, among the club, were racing members and who purely social riders.
One of the most exciting survivals is a book recording the names of those who attended the Sunday runs during the 1937 and 1938 seasons. For many, if not most, clubs of this era this kind of ephemeral material has been lost. Included are a dozen brief but lively hand-written descriptions of the runs, which shed an interesting light on the nature of these outings. The typical Sunday run, it would appear, was an opportunity to burn off excess energy, to surmount the various challenges presented by the ride – be they steep hills, crashes, punctures or weary legs – and to indulge in some fun and games at the tea stop, and maybe some impromptu competition en route with fellow riders.
Although it is not clear who the author is of these reports, it was probably my father, who was Club Secretary at the time, and who retained the books after the club folded. Written in a light-hearted style, in keeping with his own character, a typical entry reads as follows:
This run was one of the ‘Colonel’s’ Cotswold rambles, and took a course strange even to some of the local lads. We started from Broadway and proceeded to Mickleton through lovely country lanes towards Hidcote Boyce. Leaving this village on the left we went through Ebrington to Paxford. Here the Cycle Agent (no names), who always has an up-to-date model!!? broke his brake-cable, and had to change to fixed. We then started off towards Draycott, leaving one of the ‘upright’ section in the rear causing another delay. The said rider rallied however, sufficiently to ride Draycott Hill, and hurried on to Moreton, which was a slight error, as the rest of the Club went up the hill near Batsford, along the top road to Bourton-on-the-Hill. Here we shed two more riders. Through Sezincote’s leafy lanes to a good tea at Sturdy’s, and darts in the Parlour.
Amongst the surviving records are about seventy photographs, many of which were taken by my father with his second-hand Box camera. These are mostly posed snaps which show members relaxing after races or during a break in proceedings whilst on a club run. There are also a few ‘action’ shots taken at club events, which give a sense of the excitement and drama involved of participating in competition. Whilst the quality of these photographs is unexceptional, they are nevertheless an invaluable record of the club. Nearly all were taken during the latter years (1936-9). Just a handful seem to be from an earlier date, snapped by various unknown hands which I am regrettably unable to acknowledge.
Because the 1930’s is within living memory I have been able to gather a certain amount of first-hand information about the Club, although I am painfully aware that this project would have been better begun ten years ago. In researching the Club’s history I have had the kind assistance of my uncle, Theodore Parsons, who was a member of the North Cotswold almost from the beginning, and whose memory of those days remains exceptionally clear. His contribution has been especially valuable because he has been able to provide the kind of detail that can seldom be gleaned from any source other than personal reminiscence. My very sincere thanks go to him for his help, and for his patience in answering my questions over what transpired to be many hours of ‘interrogation’. My thanks also go to my brother, Brian, who supported me in the preparation of this site.
For general background on the history of club cycling I consulted a number of sources, but would particularly recommend This Island Race by Les Woodland (Mousehold Press 2005), which provides an absorbing though somewhat depressing account of British cycle-racing over the past 135 years. Woodland’s book does much to explain the reasons for the lack of success among British riders in competition at international level over many years.
The North Cotswold Cycling Club may have had only a fleeting existence. But it would be a pity if its story was to be forgotten. This account will, I trust, serve as a permanent reminder of those young men and women of the Club who, winter and summer, rain or shine, considered that there was nothing more splendid than to mount their bicycles and ride off into the Midland countryside.
Finally, I should mention that notwithstanding the generous help I have received in researching and writing this history, any errors and omissions are entirely my responsibility.
Derek Parsons: 20th March 2007
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