Modern day Cricklewood is part of the suburban sprawl of London but back in 1897 it was still very much a satellite village set in the countryside, though being rapidly encroached on by development. It was here in the leafy lanes that an event happened that the Illustrated Police News referred to as the ‘Laughable Adventure of Lady Cyclists’.
It’s fair to say that the police, whichever country they’re from, aren’t exactly a hotbed of radicalism, progressive thinking, and liberal attitudes. Nor, it would seem, was the article writer for the Illustrated Police News. In a nutshell the ‘Laughable Adventure’ described how Police-constable Gill had his tranquillity disturbed by “wild shrieks” and the sudden appearance of “two young men” in obvious distress who “clasping his manly arm besought him to save them”. PC Gill (clearly detective material) quickly discovered that:
“A closer observation showed him that though wearing the – – or, in fact clad in rational costume, the terrified couple were not young men, but ladies.”
What’s interesting is that the writer didn’t use the word ‘bloomers’, instead opting to use a double hyphen and leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps. What’s important is that the writer had established to his readers the ‘type’ of women they were reading about: modern, forward thinking women with a disregard for the conventions of society, the type, the writer made clear, who “despised … the opposite sex.”
What were they fleeing from? The answer, tumbled out in “great excitement” in “disconnected narratives” was quickly pieced together by the hero of the hour, our perspicacious bobby. The ladies, it seemed, had been cycling down the lane when “a herd of wild and ferocious bulls … menaced them with death and instant destruction”, upon which they’d abandoned their bicycles and fled.
PC Gill, “a man of valour and gallantry”, calmed the distressed “fair ones” before heading back down the lane to investigate, only to discover not a rampaging herd of bulls but “four cows and twenty calves contentedly cropping the chance herbage of the lane.” The owner of the wayward cattle, one Thomas Bowyer of Oxgate Farm, had let the cows into the lane because they would spoil his hay fields if he let them graze there, adding that “as he paid rates for the maintenance of the roads he didn’t see why he shouldn’t make use of them.” The magistrate at the Harlesden Police Court saw otherwise, fining Bowyer 20 shillings. The “heavenly twins”, the writer concluded, could now “drive their Humbers in absolute safety through the lanes of Cricklewood.”
It’s a fascinating news story that speaks volumes about contemporary attitudes to women, both as members of their sex, and also as cyclists. Patronising throughout, it treats the unnamed ladies fairly and squarely as members of the weaker sex, unable to deal with livestock and dependent on a man to resolve what turned out to be a harmless situation. Though perhaps not as harmless as we might think. As recently as 2014 it was revealed that cows are one of the biggest animal killers in the UK, accounting for 12 human deaths in the last 6 years. I for one have always given them a wide berth whenever I’ve come across them being herded down a country road while I’ve been out cycling.
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