Classic Cycle Group (Bexhill-on-Sea)

The following study was compiled in 2008 and is included on this page with kind permission of the Author, Julian Porter, Curator of The Bexhill Museum and is copyright to The Bexhill Museum.

2. A Proud Tradition: Bexhill is justly famous as the birthplace of British Motorsport but what many people don’t realise is this was due to the Town’s pioneering role in cycling.
The invention of the safety bicycle led to a cycling craze at the start of the 20th century, suddenly everyone, or at least everyone with money, wanted to try this new method of transport. As with any new technology there were those who were cynical and sceptical and those who saw the possibilities and wanted to invest in it.

3. Bexhill & Dunlop:
The 8th Earl De La Warr. This illustration by the artist ‘Spy’ of 1898 is simply entitled “Bexhill and Dunlop” which succinctly captures the twin business concerns of the newly ennobled Earl. At the same time Earl De La Warr was developing his De La Warr Estate at Bexhill he was also a director of Dunlop.

These business concerns came together in 1898 with the opening of the Earl’s Bicycle Boulevard

4. The Peer’s Pier: The Kursaal was intended as a pier but never completed as such. It was opened in 1898 by the Duchess of Teck. It was built near the entrance to De La Warr Parade and the Sailing Club now stands on this site. The De La Warr Gates indicated the start of the Earl’s private road, where his interest in cycling and later motoring was expressed.


5. Bexhill’s Cycling Tournaments:   The 8thEarl held events in the grounds of his Bexhill Manor House.These were held in 1896, 1897 and 1898 

6. Bicycle Boulevard:
Also in 1896 Bexhill’s Bicycle Boulevard opened on De La Warr Parade.
Here you could buy a ticket to use the cycle track, hire a bicycle and have riding lessons

7. The Cycle Chalet:
The Chalet was situated opposite the Sackville Hotel and included a viewing platform on the roof so spectators could enjoy the novelty of cycling. It incorporated a decorative clock tower so cyclists could time their rides

8. The Track & Tourism: This newspaper advert of 1896 shows how the Cycling Boulevard was used to attract visitors to Bexhill. The track ran to the foot of Galley hill and was  built to a high specification by Mr Walter Pellant of the Humber  Cycle Company. The track was run by Percy Young who was also vice-president of the Bexhill Cycling Club, founded 1889

9.   1902 Plan of The Track:
This plan was made in January 1902 to show how the Cycle Track could be modified to become Britain’s first ever motorcar race track.

10. Views of The Boulevard:
The Chalet and Sackville in about 1898       The site in 2008   

11.  Then & Now

        The track in about 1898            The site in 2008

12. Cycling Safety:

Railings separated the track from the road and the promenade. Watching the cyclists would have been an attraction in itself!

13. The Layout of The Track: Looking at the old photographs and maps shows that the track was not part of the road or the promenade. The promenade was narrower then but most of the track is where the green is now.

14.  At Galley Hill: The track turned around where the Sea Angling Club now stands

15. Some Early Ads:

16. The Bexhill Cycling Club was founded in 1889.Cycling was also keenly embraced by women and became associated with the emancipation movement.Many local people enthusiastically took up cycling as a recreational and social activity. Lady De La Warr had her own bike with her initials and coat of arms on it and a gold watch attached to the handle bars!

17. The Bexhill Wheelers: After the Second World War the Bexhill Wheelers club was formed.

18.  From Pedals to Motors

19.  From Two Wheels to Four: In 1902 Bexhill hosted Britain’s first motor car race, the cycle track became the race course and the chalet a timing shed

20. The Track and Chalet in 1904: Although after 1902 the track became better known for racing cars than bicycles it should not be forgotten that it continued to be used by cyclists and there were only two or three motoring events held there each year. As yet we don’t know the exact date that the track was abandoned.  1913 would be a likely date as this was when the Bexhill Corporation acquired the land and the De La Warr Gates removed.

21.  Some History:

Key dates in cycling:

1817 Baron Karl von Drais invents the running-machine, predecessor of the modern bike.
1818 Denis Johnson of London produces his hobby-horse based on Drais’ design.
1819 Hobby-horse craze in England.
1839 Kirkpatric Macmillian of Scotland invents and rides a pedal-powered velocipede.
1842 Alexandre Lef ébvre of France invents and rides a pedal-powered velocipede.
1867 World Exhibition at Paris popularises the velocipede
1868-69 Two wheeled, front wheel pedal-powered ‘boneshakers’ become the craze in Paris.
c.1870 The boneshaker began to evolve into the high bicycle or penny-farthing.
c.1876 Tricycles and tandem tricycles developed based on the high wheel design.
1885-1891 The rear wheel powered safety bicycle developed – the modern bike was born.

Local dates:

1889 Bexhill Cycling Club founded.
1896 Cycling Boulevard (cycle track) and cycle chalet opened on De La Warr Parade.
First Cycling Tournament held on the Manor House cricket ground.
1897 Second Cycling Tournament held on the Manor House cricket ground. Prizes presented by Grand Duke Michael of Russia and his wife Countess de Torby.
1898 Bexhill Cycling Club and Hare and Hounds Athletic Club organise a Cycling Tournament in Egerton Park.
1902 Cycle track and chalet used to hold Britain’s first motor car race.

22.  Restoring the Seafront’s Lost Heritage:

The Chalet:

The Cycle Chalet would be an attractive addition to the seafront but it would require maintenance and lacks a clear function. For these reasons it is not suggested that it is re-instated at this time.

The Track:

It recommended that a functional cycle track be reinstated along its original course but of only half its width. This would not interfere with the road, parking or the pedestrian promenade.


23.  What could we do for 2012?

  • Reinstate the historic cycle track.
  • Encourage exercise and health
  • Challenge anti-social behaviour
  • Promote sustainable transport
  • Make the seafront safe, useful and accessible for all sections of our community

The Bicycle Boulevard is central to the planning of De La Warr Parade at the start of the 20th century. At the beginning of the 21st it is without focus and its heritage largely forgotten.

It is time to re-think what the promenade is for and who it is for.

Copyright Julian Porter, Curator, Bexhill Museum

Social impact of the bicycle :

Affordable travel for all

For most people, travel by means other than public transit was unusual, if indeed one traveled at all. But the advent of the bicycle at affordable prices in the mid and late 19th century made personal transportation practical for the general population - or, at least, that fraction that had access to usable roads.

The safety bicycle made the two-wheeler a practical commuting vehicle and also a weekend recreational vehicle. It also offered an unprecedented degree of independence to women and fed the fires of the growing feminist and suffragette movements.

The rapidly growing numbers of bicyclists soon became a potent political force for the creation and improvement of roads for rubber-tired vehicles. Bicycle clubs foreshadowed the role of automobile clubs in both social and political functions. And the availability of an inexpensive commute vehicle began the growth of suburbs and the liberation of the working population from the health and social problems of the urban slums.

The changes begun by bicyclists were further reinforced as motorcycles, then automobiles, became major factors as individual transportation.

Women - Bicycling to Freedom

The bicycle craze, which dominated sporting activities of America and Europe in the 1890s, started a revolution of independence and emancipation for women.

For one thing, it changed the feminine wardrobe. Women no longer had to be hampered by tight corsets and long skirts, but could enjoy the freedom of comfortable and practical bloomers and divided skirts. The short lived bloomer fashion was a good solution for women riding bicycles, but many women rode bicycles in long skirts. Much later shorts and pedal pushers pants made bicycling easy. Now women and men alike often choose tight spandex clothing for biking comfort.

Moreover, the beginning of bicycling was the end of the chaperone. Ladies, and even young girls, began riding alone or accompanied only by friends.

Bicycling became important for women in all walks of life. Office workers and shop assistants rode bicycles to work. Women from the upper social classes used bicycles for leisurely rides or to call on friends.

In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said, "the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world."











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