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Jul 03 2012

Recording our cycling heritage

Simon InglisI went to the Building Centre in London yesterday to hear a London Festival of Architecture talk by noted sports-ground expert Simon Inglis, who described his ongoing book project Played in London, the latest in the English Heritage Played in Britain series. As I’m a London dweller who likes sport, history and architecture, it was a perfect subject, and Simon presented a fascinating mix of memories, facts and anecdotes.

Having learned of EH books written about sporting heritage in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Tyne & Wear, and Glasgow, about EH works devoted to football grounds, swimming pools, and pub games, and about a forthcoming EH book about bowls, I asked Simon if there was scope for a book on British cycling heritage. He was apologetic, suggesting that with extremely limited resources it was not on the list of priorities.

I know Simon has occasionally covered cycling – it features in some of the EH city books (Fallowfield stadium is described in the Manchester book, for example), and he mentioned London’s Herne Hill Velodrome during his talk too – but I was a little surprised he didn’t think it would figure higher. However, it got my mind whirring away as I travelled home.

I found myself thinking about the numerous Wikipedia articles I’ve contributed to (including Herne Hill) covering the history of cycling, and not just racing-related, but also people, places, events, organisations and manufacturers involved across all areas of the pastime. OK, they may not always have left an architectural heritage, but they have left their mark on Britain (not least for being the main lobbying force behind improving road surfaces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – years before motorists starting agitating, as BikeBiz‘s Carlton Reid has described).

I’m now thinking about expanding my Wikipedia activities and starting to build an online UK Cycling History Map to record, among other things:

  • places (did you know that Brighton’s Preston Park velodrome, built in 1877, has four straights…?)
  • past events (… or that London’s Earls Court, Olympia, Islington Agricultural Hall and Wembley Arena all hosted six-day indoor cycle races…?)
  • cycling organisations (… or that the Cyclists Tourist Club is the world’s oldest national tourism organisation…?)
  • people (… or that 1950s world champion Reg Harris won the British sprint championship aged 54…?)
  • bicycle manufacturers, etc (… or that Raleigh also manufactured three-wheel cars? … or that the world’s oldest bike shop is Pearson’s in Sutton – today part of south London)

I haven’t quite worked out how I’m going to do it yet (thinking some kind of Wikipedia Open Street Map mash-up), but if anyone wants to join me on the project, please let me know.

2 comments

  1. James Morley

    Hi Paul

    I know that this is a little while back, but did it go anywhere? I’ve just set up a ‘Cycling heritage’ group on Flickr aimed principally at capturing people’s personal photos of their cycling heritage (see http://www.flickr.com/groups/cycling-heritage/) which I’m sure will attract images of the kinds of things you mention – I certainly have a good few taken at the Welwyn track and every club cyclist probably has a shoe box full. It would be so great to see these shared and given new life.

    Cheers, James

  2. Paul Wilkinson

    No, James, it didn’t (work and other things got in the way), but that’s not to say that my interest in doing something has waned. Your Flickr group (which I’ve just joined, by the way) sounds like an excellent start, and I have posted some items I have (I even found a couple of old photos of me racing in the late 1970s!).

    Best wishes – Paul

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