The North Cotswold Cycling Club

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REFRESHMENTS AND DIVERSIONS

On the North Cotswold runs the pause for ‘Tea’ to fill what the Secretary described as the riders’ ‘almost always empty stomachs’ was an essential part of the proceedings. Unsurprisingly, it therefore features prominently in the club reports. Any rider who had suffered the knock or bonk, as the gnawing hunger that can hit cyclists was described, was well aware of the necessity of stopping to take on fuel. The break for Tea was an opportunity to rest awhile, and to replenish energy reserves; the chief requirement being for simple nourishing fare, and plenty of it.

With the NCCC the venue for tea was normally specified well in advance, and the visit usually confirmed by post with the proprietor of the establishment a week or two ahead. Postcards survive confirming various arrangements. It did not pay to leave matters to chance, as the members discovered to their cost early in the Club’s history. Returning home from an extended run to Lechlade on a moonlit and frosty evening, the riders called at the Swan Hotel at Bibury with the intention of obtaining refreshments. But all that the hotel could rustle up for the hungry youngsters was a pot of tea and a few fancy biscuits. Still famished after their modest snack they set out on the final leg home, and on the outskirts of Bibury happened to pass an unfenced field full of cabbages. Without a word being spoken they quickly dismounted, threw down their bikes, rushed into the field and filled their rumbling stomachs with raw cabbage.

The North Cotswold riders seemed to favour a combination of public house and tea-room for their weekly stop, reflecting perhaps the different eating and drinking preferences of the members. Club cyclists could be high-spirited and boisterous. But the nature of their pastime meant that they were generally well disciplined. Many pubs and cafés therefore courted their patronage, and several thousand establishments nationally were Touring Club approved, and displayed the CTC Wings and Wheel symbol.

Providence Lodge - Burford

As the Club matured, a pattern of regular dinner and tea stops became established, although not all of these stopping places were necessarily CTC approved. The Old New Inn was invariably the place to take tea when at Bourton-on-the-Water, whereas at Burford it was either the Swan Inn or Mrs Smith’s café, otherwise known as Providence Lodge. At Upton-upon-Severn it was normally Mrs Payton’s, and at Northleach the Red Lion Inn.

The break for tea was also an opportunity to indulge in a quick game or two of cards or darts, or maybe an informal kick-about with a ball, as noted in one report:

We played football on Painswick’s pitch and our side won, 3-2. Cries of “Hock him”, “Leg ‘im down” etc were heard, but no bones were broken. 

But in those rather more devout times, because Sunday was the Lord’s Day a certain amount of decorum and observance was expected, as the lads were sharply reminded whilst biding time awaiting the arrival of their meal at the Reservoir Hotel, at the Earlswood Lakes, south of Birmingham.
 
...At a loss to know what to do we started a game of football. But we were soon reminded that it was Sunday, and that was the end of our football.

The refreshments were doubly welcome when the outward journey had been a tough one, as we learn from a report of a winter outing to Warwick. On this occasion two brave members from the six that eventually ventured out chose to make it a full day’s ride.

The Parsons' tea room at SherbourneThis run to Mrs Parsons’ proved to be the usual ‘weather breeder’. As our hostess said, ‘We always bring rain’. But rain or no rain we had the usual excellent tea Mrs Parsons provides. Two of the lads went out all day, did a strenuous ride in the morning, arriving spent and ready to drop at the Red Lion, Blockley, for lunch. After persuading each other that they might reach the tea-place with a struggle, they reluctantly left the barmaids and dartboard, and arrived at Warwick where they were found by the remainder of the Club, sat in front of a big fire doing their best to dry out their saturated raiments. The Club had rather a wet and uneventful ride out. Owing to the weather they kept to the main-road through Mickleton and Stratford-on-Avon, arriving at Warwick in much the same state as the two wet and bedraggled day-men. After the aforementioned excellent tea, frayed spirits and bodies revived we headed for home retracing the outward route.

Other than on the Sunday runs, there was not a great deal of socialising among club members. At one time there was some thought that the Broadway Scout Hut might serve as a regular club house. But this idea seems to have been quickly discarded. What members really enjoyed was mounting their bicycles and heading out into the fresh air and English countryside.

Norman Parsons and (jockey) Reg Steptoe at LechladeClimbing the Malvern Hills - Dennis Shergold leading, Phil Evans following.

Playing Bowls at The New Inn Bourton (photo courtesy C Bennett)

For the NCCC the main events in the annual social calendar were the end-of-season club dinners and teas, at which the cups and medals won during the year were presented. The Cheltenham & County held its Annual Dinner each year on the last Wednesday evening in November, in the Cadena Café in Cheltenham High Street. This now defunct though still well-loved teashop had a large function room at the rear which was able accommodate the hundred or so people who attended this popular event. A large contingent from the North Cotswold was usually present, most of whom would have cycled to the venue. The dinner also drew members from the Gloucester and Leamington clubs.

The menu cards for the Dinners indicate that the food served was plain English fare. A starter of thick oxtail soup, sometimes with the option of fish in prawn sauce, was followed by a main course of roast Leg of Mutton, Stuffed Leg of Pork, or Sirloin of Beef, served with potatoes, sprouts, cauliflower, beans and accompanying sauces. These, of course, were perfect victuals for cyclists, full of protein and carbohydrates. Pudding was a choice of jelly or trifle, or perhaps a tart with custard, followed by cheese, biscuits and coffee.

After the meal came the prize-giving and entertainment. First, however, there was ‘lighting-up time’; a chance to fog the room with pipe, cigar and cigarette smoke. In those days smoking and cycling were not considered incompatible activities. Indeed, dinners were frequently promoted as ‘smokers’, or ‘smoking concerts’.

After toasting ‘The King’, the evening would continue with songs, speeches, further toasts and the presentation of cups and medals. The entertainment provided was strictly home-grown, although no less enjoyable for being so. The ‘musical melange and/or pot-pourri’ element of the evening, as it was described on one occasion, consisted of ‘Crooners, raconteurs…and other Operatic Stars of the Kindred Clubs, assisted by the massed Choirs’. The musical accompaniment was provided by the ‘Two Sids’, Messrs Turner and Tibbles, respectively on the banjo and piano.

Menu Card for 1937 Cheltenham & County DinnerThe C&C had some talented performers among its members, although it was generally a case of each one delivering his party-piece. When a man rose to his feet, the audience usually knew what was coming, and could greet the anticipated performance with a cheer or a groan, as appropriate. Mr Browning, accompanied by Sid Tibbles on the piano, would normally sing a military song, such as ‘The Guards are on Parade’, while Sid Keveren’s offering was generally the old Music-Hall standard, ‘Sons of the Sea’. Among the Club’s star turns were the baritone R Garfield, and bass singer Mr F Otterburn. However, not every performance aspired to their polish. Less elevated, though apparently no less entertaining, was young Charlie Tilling’s rendition of the Gooseberry Tart Song.

 

The menu for the 1937 Annual Dinner contained a helpful poem which gave the order of songs and speeches for the evening. All that was therefore required of Vice President Bick, who was deputising for the absent Mr Chesterman, was to read each verse aloud when a speaker or entertainer’s turn arrived. The couplet introducing the dulcet tones of Mr Garfield was as follows:
                                   
The next splendid item this programme will yield
Will be a fine song from our friend R. Garfield.                    

The rhyme for Charlie Tilling’s offering was less generous, but said with affection:

Though to suffer this yokel you may not be willing,
You’ve just got to sit and give ear to young Tilling.

To round off the evening George Pouncett would lead the entire assembly in a rousing chorus of, ‘Let’s all be happy together’.

The North Cotswold did not have quite so many natural performers among its number as the Cheltenham & County, though this may have been due to diffidence rather than an absence of talent. Someone, however, was required to represent the Club at the C&C dinner, and that honour usually fell to founder members Bill Tustin and Norman Parsons, alias Shunner and Par. Bill would often sing a hillbilly song, in exaggerated style, with one or other of the Sids providing the musical accompaniment. Norman’s offering was invariably a recitation of a Stanley Holloway monologue, such as ‘The Lion and Albert’, or one of the many comic discourses concerning the trials and tribulations of the old soldier, Sam Small. Some notion of the reception given to their contributions can be gleaned from their couplets from the 1937 Dinner:

With the accent and drawl of a north country star
We laugh till we cry at that young rustic “Par.”

To hand out some raspberries we know you are busting
So now is your chance when we call on Bill Tustin.

The main event in the North Cotswold’s social calendar was the annual Christmas Tea, which was always held on a Sunday afternoon in December at the Old New Inn at Bourton-on-the-Water. This was not quite such an elaborate affair as the Cheltenham & County Dinner, but was nevertheless attended by around fifty or sixty people, about half of which were members of the neighbouring Gloucester and Cheltenham clubs. It seems to have been mainly the younger and more active cycling element from these sister clubs who were in attendance; in other words those members who the North Cotswold riders came into regular contact with, either during the Sunday runs or when assisting with marshalling at C&C events.

The North Cotswold's performers. Bill Tustin (left) and Norman Parsons

The entertainment section of the afternoon was also on a less grand scale to that of the Cheltenham & County Dinner. Various brave souls from the club would rise to their feet to amuse the assembly with a song or a reading, whilst others (so it is rumoured) would attempt to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible, in the hope of not being called upon to perform. As at the Cheltenham function the performances varied in quality and entertainment value. One member recalled enduring a somewhat indigestible recitation by a visitor of Kipling’s mock-heroic eighteen-verse poem, ‘The Ballad of the Clampherdown’, which related an epic tale of a Royal Navy Battleship’s ill-fated engagement with a French cruiser. During the tea, the small engraved silver medals that had been won by members at Club time-trials would be presented, thus marking an end to that season’s racing.

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