Liverpool’s Cycling Heritage

posted in: Cycling History

Liverpool: The rich cycling history of the European Capital of Culture

Liverpool, appointed European Capital of Culture 2008, has a rich cycling history. It was here that in 1869 one of the earliest velocipede clubs in Britain was formed, only 2 years after a Paris blacksmith had manufactured and sold the first bicycle (often called a velocipede).  The historian David V. Herlihy writes:

In March (1869) an agency in Liverpool began to import Pickering and Davis bicycles from New York, and a local velocipede club sprang into existence. Two members promptly strapped “carpetbags” to their machines, and rode over two hundred miles to London in just four days, astonishing townsmen along the way and underscoring the bicycle’s practical possibilities. In April, the fever hit in earnest. An inaugural road race between Chester and Rock Ferry, over a macadamised road, drew “thousands of people, rich and poor,” eager to see the novelty. They mobbed the exhausted winner, a member of the Liverpool club named Henry Eaton, who had to be carried into a nearby garden and resuscitated with the help of “a little brandy”. (Bicycle – the History pub. by Yale University Press)

In the same year the Liverpool Velocipede Club held a tournament in which a large crowd watched participants, dressed in medieval garb, engage in a kind of joust known as ’tilting at the ring’.

In 1879 the Anfield bicycle club was founded and soon established a reputation as the greatest long distance riding club of its day.

Drawing of cyclists with long lances tilting at a hanging target before a large crowd

Established in 1869, the Liverpool Velocipede Club was the first cycling club to be formed in Britain. Here we see a tournament in 1869, possibly at what was known as ‘Exhibition Road’ near the former Dunlop factory.

Photo of long line of Penny-farthing owners in central Liverpool before the cycle to the North of England Monster Meet of Bicyclists in 1878

1st June 1878:  Proud owners of Penny-farthings gather in the centre of Liverpool before cycling in a parade to the North of England Monster Meet of Bicyclists at Sefton Park. Thirty-three clubs from the north of England and north Wales were represented at the Monster Meet as well as unattached cyclists. Some of the clubs wore distinctive uniform. Later that evening there was a dinner for a charge of 4 shillings. It is striking how quickly cycling had caught on and the number of clubs that had been formed within 11 years almost to the day of the invention and sale of the first bicycle.

Anfield Bicycle Club. Glan Aber Hotel, Betws y Coed 1896. (Note the club sign). Founded 1879, this club remains active, and was prominent in supporting Rhyl CC in the immediate aftermath of the Abergele road tragedy


For an account of the early days click here


Liverpool Pier Head early 20th century (picture: Liverpool Daily Post & Echo)

Liverpool Pier Head 1950s (picture: Liverpool Post & Echo)

Cyclists were requested to stand back when pedestrians were disembarking. Often cyclists eager to get moving hustled pedestrians standing in front.

A correspondent recalls an occasion when a pedestrian lost patience, grabbed a bike, and went to throw it overboard. He had second thoughts when he heard a rising roar from other indignant club mates. Presumably knowing scousers he concluded that where the bike went, so would he.

Liverpool CTC members played a leading role in securing cycle access between Liverpool and the Wirral. Here’s a report from the August 1937 CTC Gazette. With the Rock Ferry boat unable to cope with the volume of cyclists on Sundays, cyclists were advised to use the alternative ferry to Woodside – or the Mersey Queensway Tunnel to Birkenhead. The Rock Ferry service was discontinued on the 30th June 1939.Dare we hope to see cyclists packing the ferry boats again – and being advised to use the tunnel? Of such dreams are realities made.
Front cover of Cyclists' Touring Club, Liverpool district Association 1935 handbook. It shows a drawing of cyclists entering the Mersey tunnel
In 1934 CTC successfully campaigned for the right to cycle through the new Queensway Tunnel under the River Mersey between Liverpool and Birkenhead.At 2pm on Saturday 21st July 1934, amazing scenes were witnessed at the Liverpool entrance when cyclists were allowed to pass through for the first time. It is reported there was a stampede to secure first place. This went to Joseph Grice, a member of Liverpool CTC DA. A local newspaper reported, ‘It was noticeable that each cyclist was shining with perspiration upon emerging at the Birkenhead end, but perhaps the warm weather and the speed the cyclists were travelling accounted for that…’

An official in Liverpool described the cycling traffic as ‘particularly good’, and without exception the cyclists obeyed the traffic regulations. When Mr F Chandler, CTC Chief Consul for Cheshire, and a member of Anfield Bicycle Club, presented himself on a tricycle, he was informed that he was the first three wheeler to cycle through.

Photo of about 70 or more cyclists, many wearing tin hats and with bikes, being addressed by P Brazendale

Percy Brazendale, Chairman of the CTC National Council for many years, addressing members of the ARP Corps of Cyclists, set up to assist communication during the blitz.

Photo of 3 cyclists riding their bikes and wearing tin hats during World War 2

With the return to peacetime cycling flourished during the 1950/60’s: here we have a shot of the Liverpool Century Club, featuring the legendary Ossie Dover. Ossie was renown throughout the UK as ‘The Cyclists’ Tailor’. That’s him fourth from the right. We leave it to others to judge who were his customers

Liverpool CTC DA’s 1926 annual dance. Miss Murphy presents her interpretation of  ‘Seen on the Road’

J Grice, first cyclist through the Queensway tunnel. Liverpool 1934: in the first year 3 million vehicles passed the through the tunnel, of which 330,681 were cycles – an average of 905 per day

See what cycling thro’ the later constructed Mersey Tunnel is like today – The annual Chester – Liverpool Fun Ride.

Thanks To Alan Parker of CycleSmiles for this sensitive ‘fly on the wall’ evocation of the friendliness of scousers on two wheels.