ON May 10, 1893, a group of pioneering cyclists gathered in Watson’s Cocoa Rooms on Prebend Row, Darlington, and decided to form the Darlington Wednesday Cycling Club.

Cycling as a recreational pursuit became popular in the 1880s which coincided with the growth of the Wednesday Half Holiday movement.

As most people worked Saturday mornings, employers were encouraged to give them Wednesday afternoons off, and the Wednesday Half Holiday Association published books showing walks and railway excursions in the Darlington area that workers could enjoy rather wasting their down time in the pub.

Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (formed 1867) also comes out of the Half Holiday movement.

Joseph Wildsmith, the Darlington grocer who featured in Memories 376 and 381, was a member of the Wednesday Cycling Club, and we are grateful to Geoff Carr and Billy Mollon for their research into him.

The Northern Echo:

FEETHAMS NOVICE: Grocer Joseph Wildsmith on the bike on which he travelled 125 miles in 12 hours in about 1900

Joseph was born in Marton, near Middlesbrough, in 1877 and became apprenticed to his uncle George, who had a grocery business in Darlington’s Skinnergate in the building which recently burned down.

On Wednesday, July 12, 1899, Joseph was competing in the Wednesday club’s sixth tournament which was held at Feethams. Cyclists came from across the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire to claim some attractive prizes – Joseph went in the novice one mile handicap where first man home won £4 4s (worth about £500 today, according to the Bank of England Inflation Calculator).

The event had been delayed by a fortnight because of the wet weather and, said the Echo, “the track was heavy and slippery, and spills were more than pleasantly frequent”.

Joseph came second in his heat – “a close finish with half-a-dozen riders coming in in a cluster” – which took him into the final where he finished joint fourth.

Some of the Wednesday cyclists liked testing themselves over longer distances, and Joseph was awarded a medal for completing 125 miles in 12 hours in about 1900.

A picture from about 1901 survives of the Wednesday cyclists who had successfully ridden 100 miles in under six-and-a-half hours – that’s an average speed of 15.3mph which even on a modern carbon fibre framed bike with disc brakes isn’t bad going letalone on a boneshaker fixie on untarmacked roads.

“In the year the picture was taken, the police stopped members of the club from using the road for “furious riding”, and those who were keen on speeding were forced to revert to the track,” said the Darlington & Stockton Times. “On occasions, members of the club were fined en masse for speeding.”