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“She bought a bicycle and bloomers instead of the furniture”

Illustrated Police News21November1896

How dare she! The scamp. This graphic is from the Illustrated Police News, as are the other two below. There will be more in the book. All three are from the 1890s.


Battersea park in London was a favourite haunt of the High Society types attracted to cycling in the ‘bicycling boom’ of the mid-1890s. The newspaper gives no details of how this cyclist died. Can’t have been the tight corset as plenty of women cyclists wore them (one still does). However, I do like the level of detail on the illustration, especially the tiny little toe-clips.


Attempted garrotting of cyclists is still something seen today and this illustration shows it’s nothing new. And as it was an “almost fatal outrage” perhaps the chap was saved by his starched collar?

6 thoughts on ““She bought a bicycle and bloomers instead of the furniture”

  1. Matthew Hardy / Reply January 14, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    The ‘Sad Death of’ lady’s bike has 1″ pitch chain, too. Nicely observed!

    Actually the image makes it look as if she died after being dragged off the bike by a cop…

    • carltonreid / Reply January 15, 2014 at 8:56 am

      I thought that too but, of course, that with our cynical 21st century spectacles on.

  2. Matthew Plummer / Reply February 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    I can shed some light on the second illustration. It depicts a Mrs. Hodgkins, who died from heat exhaustion – in fact the clothing that women cyclists (or ‘wheel women’) wore was very much held to blame for her death, with the incident reported by the Wheelwoman and Society Cycling News (1896:6) as a ‘warning at the heads of wheel women, not to cycle during hot days’. The journal advised that ‘Unsuitable clothes, combined with too tight corsets, were more to blame perhaps than the heat. There is nothing more fatal to the health and comfort in cycling than tight lacing, and yet hundreds of women, to whom Nature has been kind in giving them good figures, torture themselves and all lovers of beauty by cramping themselves into clothes that are many inches too small for them.’

    The caption on the Illustrated Police News is also incorrect. The Wheelwoman and Society Cycling News (1896:15) describes how ‘it was not a policeman named Burns, who first went to the assistance of the unfortunate lady, but John Burns, the member [of parliament] for Battersea, who was but a few yards distant, and as might be expected, he at once endeavored to render what help he could, but alas! it was already too late to render any material assistance.’ The Illustrated Police News was a sensationalist penny weekly rag, and accuracy didn’t appear to be its primary concern!

    That John Burns MP was the first on the scene was not unexpected – he himself was a keen cyclist, using his bike to do the constituency rounds. The Guardian has a wonderful piece in its archive about riding around Battersea (which I do on a daily basis!) with Burns, called ‘A bicycle interview with John Burns, Battersea’s man to beat’. You can read at

    • carltonreid / Reply February 9, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      Fantastic. Thanks.

      There’s also a John Burns MP who comes into the motoring story later on. If I remember correctly. Will check out.

    • carltonreid / Reply February 9, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Thought so. I’d seen John Burns in ‘The Motor Car and Politics in Britain’, the 1971 Plowden book. Burns was president of the Local Government Board from 1905. Didn’t know of his cycling background. But, then, at this period you could scratch almost any politician or pioneer motorist and find a cyclist.

      • Matthew Plummer / Reply February 9, 2014 at 9:55 pm

        Yes, he’s one of the interesting characters of late-Victorian and Edwardian politics. He was President of the Board of Trade briefly in 1914 – resigned over the outbreak of WW1 – and now has one of the Woolwich ferries named after him. I love the piece in the Guardian that I linked to in my earlier comment – combines my love for Battersea, politics, history and bicycles!

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