Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On Yer Bike!

Carlton Reid is a historian and bike enthusiast [altho I think with a splendid name like that, he sounds like he should have been directing black and white 1950s films starring Valerie Hobson and Richard Todd] Last week he wrote a superb piece in the Guardian about English cycle paths. Not the 21st century blue ones, gradually appearing in London and other places - but historic ones, surfaced with red concrete, dating back to the 1930s.
Between 1934 and 1940, the Government planned 500 miles of dedicated cycle routes around the country  - and 280 miles of paths were actually constructed. And they were popular too.
But WW2, and the subsequent decline in cycling and rise of the motorcar, caused these paths to be forgotten about, overgrown, or incorporated into the adjacent roads to make dual carriageways.
There is a map online , where you can check these out - it is fascinating!
I have discovered that one of these routes was beside the Eastern Avenue/Gallow's Corner/Southend Arterial Road, which went through Ilford and Romford, to Southend.
Those fanatical cycling clubs of the 1930s just loved to have a day out, riding out from the eastern side of London down to the Essex coast, for a cup of cockles at Leigh on Sea, or Chips by Southend Pier!
For years I have travelled along the Eastern Avenue, en route to visit my relations in Romford- and always wondered why the pavement was so wide. As a child, the very name "Gallow's Corner" conjured up sinister events happening at this busy road junction. My parents cycled everywhere back in the 30s, but I don't recall them mentioning the Romford cycle paths.
Another of the routes was along the A47 between Dereham and Swaffham. Because of the Dereham bypass, part of the A47 has been diverted now, and the old part through Scarning is 'off the beaten track' now. But I found this old aerial photo of the New Inn/ Corner House pub - look how wide the grass verge is, and there is a wide pavement too.
In the late 1960s I remember cycling to Scarning to collect tadpoles with my brother. I recall we were able to ride along the very wide grassy verges, safely out of the way of lorries thundering past - but didn't imagine there had once been a red cycle path under our wheels.
The Ministry of Transport planners, 85 years ago, were working with the Rijkswaterstraat - the equivalent government department in the Netherlands. The Dutch have got it sorted - ask Liz and Jon, or anyone else who has been there for cycling holidays. 
It would be brilliant if we could revive these lost routes - many are 'hidden in plain sight. This road in Urmston, Manchester, very close to Steph's place, still clearly has the cycle path between the pavement and the road - but now it is used for car parking.
Carlton Reid discovered all this not whilst out on his bike, but whilst researching in dusty archives for his latest book about the history of cycling in Britain. Surely it must be worth rediscovering these old routes and getting them back into service? He's set up a Kickstarter Campaign with the aim of reviving these forgotten cycleways . All power to his elbow pedals, I say! Watch this brief video - with the cool 1930s music!
NB - Kickstarter Campaigns are short and sharp - this one finishes in a week's time, so act fast if you want to get involved


  1. As a child my mother and I cycled everywhere in the years after the war. We took a picnic, went over the little ferry and cycled to St Mawes for the day. I'm not sure if one could do that now with the huge increase of traffic.

  2. Originating from Collier Row, I know Gallows Corner very well. I would not risk my life cycling along the Eastern Avenue these days although I did as a youngster. On the odd ocassion we went for an excursion to Southend End we caught a Green Line bus.

  3. I was talking to an elderly lady recently who told me that she and her father used to cycle from Purley to his office in Fleet Street on a Sunday when he was the fire warden during the war. She said she only had a child's "fairy cycle" but thought it was perfectly normal to go that sort of distance. I used to think nothing of a 15 mile round trip in my teens, on quiet country roads. These days the mile into town is fraught with dangers, some from the actual broken up surface of the red cycle path! We have a busway along our old railway track that is also open to cyclists, and it's a pleasure to go the 5 miles into Fareham on it, but no joined up thinking at the ends at all. I hope they get some of these paths back, but they will need some thought about how they join to the rest of the network.

  4. How fascinating!! To think people cycled along Eastern Avenue-scaaaary!!!


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