The menace of cyclists in Victorian London

If you have had occasion to try to cross the road in central London recently then I suspect you might reflect that this story is all too familiar. In July 1898 several persons were summoned before the sitting magistrate at Bow Street to answer a variety of charges relating to the dangerous use of bicycles in the capital.

Herbert J. Jevons (of Hampstead) was riding around Trafalgar Square when he colided with a pedestrian, knocking him to the ground.  Jevons was not riding fast, the arresting PC admitted, but he was on the wrong side of ‘a refuge’ (the pedestrian space or ‘island’ within roads) and his excuse that his view was obscured by ‘some horses’ didn’t go down well with the JP. Jevons was fined 5s and costs.

Next up were two youngsters, Percy Turner (aged 14) and Margaret Harris. They had been ‘racing around Torrington Square at the rate of about 14 miles an hour’ the court was told. When a policeman held up his hand for them to stop Percy managed to but Margaret went around for another circuit. Sir James Vaughan presiding fined the boy 2s plus costs and the young lady 9s plus costs (hers being the greater ‘crime’ in his eyes).

William Sharp, another young man, allegedly sailed past the Horse Guards at 12 miles an hour and crashed into a refuge after failing to stop when a PC requested him to. Sharp denied he could possibly have been traveling at such a speed on his 53lb ‘bone-shaker’. He was fined 5s and costs.


A ‘boneshaker’ bike from c.1868

Finally, Edward Moore (of Barnsbury Grove, Barnsbury in North London) was similarly convicted for riding too fast and losing control of his vehicle. He was riding along Whitehall when the traffic suddenly came to a halt. Edward was unable to stop and smashed into a central refuge, damaging himself and his cycle. The magistrate fined him , 5s also, with costs.

Having dispensed ‘justice’ as he saw fit Sir James now offered some sage words on the subject of cycling. He said that ‘in threading through traffic in the streets of London bicyclists ran a great deal of risk to themselves, and certainly made it dangerous for people crossing the road’. He went on to add that ‘cyclists ought to exercise a great deal more care and discretion’.

                   [from The Standard, Monday, July 11, 1898]

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