Even in 1905, Hagley Road was a busy thoroughfare, and this view, with the Plough and Harrow Hotel on the left hand side, shows us people getting about in a variety of ways. Pedestrians and cyclists share the road with horse-drawn vehicles, including a packed double-decker carriage. Almost central to the image is a woman, cycling her way into town.
The cyclist is wearing a fashionably wide hat, and her long skirts are billowing around the wheels as she cycles. As far as we can tell from this tiny image, she is wearing a long coat that is quite simply tailored in design – perhaps an example of the practical tailor-made clothing becoming popular for women at this time.
Cycling had been popular since the late nineteenth century, and by 1905 when this postcard was published it was an established leisure activity as well as a means of getting from A to B. The Edgbastonia magazine for 1905 published cycling notes each month, with guides to buying a good bicycle and recommended cycle routes around Birmingham. Bicycle companies quickly began marketing bicycles to women. The Quadrant Tricycle Company of Sheepcote Street featured a Lady’s Tricycle by 1890, while Arthur Sayer Crescent Cycles of Sherlock Street featured a lady cyclist on the cover of their catalogue for 1900, and offered a ladies’ safety bicycle. This model was equipped with a ‘dress guard’, and the saddle and handle positions were ‘arranged to allow a skirt to drape freely and gracefully’. At £19 19s 0d (£19.95 – around £1500 in today’s money, according to one calculation), it would have been a luxury affordable only to wealthier women.
In 1904, cyclists were already complaining about the behaviour of motorists: ‘Motor cars are a positive menace to cyclists, owing to the cloud of dust raised by their rapid passage over the loose surface of the main roads’.1 Cars were not the only danger to cyclists: ‘It is quite time our police authorities turned their attention to the careless driving of the heavy vehicles in the busy streets of the city. Great lumbering wagons are allowed to proceed at a walking pace […] reducing the available width of the street’.2 Even on the comfortably wide Hagley Road, we can imagine the complications for a cyclist trying to negotiate a path through a wide range of vehicles, some travelling at walking pace, on an unmade surface. Road accidents were becoming a common problem, and Edgbastonia records one woman’s lucky escape: ‘A motor cyclist came out of a side lane at the foot of a hill and collided with a lady cyclist […] fortunately the lady escaped with a severe shaking’. 3
The postcard carries a handwritten message from Lill to Bessie Jones of Newtown, and is postmarked Birmingham, 11.30pm, 1 November 1905.
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