THE 15th annual tournament of the Bishop Auckland Star Cycling and Touring Club appeared to pass off satisfactorily on June 24, 1908, after it had been postponed from the previous week due to wet weather.

“There was a large attendance of the public, and quite an array of talent, including some of the Northern cracks, gave them an entertaining exhibition of smart racing,” said The Northern Echo the following day. “There was a bad spill in the fifth heat of the half-mile cycle handicap, four of the riders coming down at a corner. HH Bainbridge, of West Hartlepool, had the misfortune to have his collar bone broken.”

The spill happened on the corner outside the grammar school when W Everett, of the Darlington Wednesday Cycling Club, wobbled and fell off. Bainbridge ploughed into him, followed by Thomas Mesean Ipsen, a Danish member of the Darlington club, who was catapulted over the ropes and into the crowd where he may have smacked his head on a stake.

Thomas had come from Copenhagen, where his widowed mother still lived in “necessitous circumstances”, six years earlier to work in Thomas Summerson’s foundry on Albert Hill, in Darlington. He regularly sent home contributions from his wages.

He had been a member of the Wednesday club for three years and was said to be “one of the finest racing cyclists that ever donned the colours of the club”.

As Memories 387 told, the Wednesday club was formed in 1893, to combine the new fashion for cycling with the shops’ half-day closing, and it continued until the Second World War.

Thomas, 25, really suffered for his sport: two years earlier he’d suffered a bad shin injury when coming off at Grangetown, and there was a suggestion that he’d fallen once before on the corner in front of Bishop grammar school.

But 110 years ago this summer, he was picked up and taken to the first aid tent where “he was fomented with cold water”. As this did not clear his head, Dr Bone examined him. He could find no fracture and prescribed hot water bandages so Thomas was taken to the Three Blue Bells where hot flannels were applied and he was “fomented” once more.

This obviously did the trick, as his friends took him home by train to Hargreave Terrace in Darlington where, happy with his progress, they said goodnight.

But at three o’clock in the morning, his landlord was awoken by his groans and called a doctor. He found him unconscious in bed with a large bruise on his temple. Poor Thomas never regained consciousness and died of “concussion of the brain” at about 8am.

An inquest held the following day, at the Park Temperance Hotel in Darlington, questioned whether the track was safe. One local cyclist said that at five laps to the mile, it was too tight, but the jury returned a verdict of accidental death.

Thomas’ funeral was held on Sunday, June 29, 1908. A lengthy procession of cyclists followed his coffin from Hargreave Terrace. “Tom Childs wheeled 40 miles to be present; the veterans W Davies and Snailham were also among the mourners,” said the Echo.

The Danish consul in Middlesbrough had informed Thomas’ mother in Copenhagen, and after the funeral, the Wednesday club secretary, RB Franklin launched an appeal through The Northern Echo to pay for a headstone.

“It is suggested that any surplus, after payment of the memorial, should be forwarded to his mother as a slight token of the very high regard which Englishmen had for her late son, a Dane, who was in every respect a perfect gentleman, and an honour to his country,” said Mr Franklin.

The appeal was obviously a success as the headstone still stands in West Cemetery, where reader Keith Chapman kindly photographed it. It stands as a memorial to both Thomas Mesean Ipsen and to the Darlington Wednesday Cycling Club.

CYCLING in 1908 was every bit as dangerous as it is in 2018. The edition of the Darlington & Stockton Times which contained news of Thomas’ death also told of the inquest into the death of musician Leonard Withall, 46, of Cockerton.

He had been cycling to Stokesley when “a very big motor car came round a corner without sounding its horn, and only gave him about five or six inches to pass between it and the hedge. To avoid being run down, he threw himself into the hedge, rendering himself unconscious, injuring his head and breaking the little finger on his left hand”.

As the driver did not stop, a farmer fished Leonard out, revived him and sent him back to Darlington. At Greenbank Hospital the broken finger was X-rayed. Doctors said there “was a great deal of displacement of the bones”, and the musician said that “as he played the piano and organ, he was very anxious to save his finger”.

An operation was the only way to do that, and Leonard needed an anaesthetic…

“After he had had a few whiffs of the chloroform, he seemed to go into a fit,” said the D&S Times. “He expired very violently, and turned blue in the face.”

Doctors said he had most likely suffered a brain haemorrhage and the jury returned a verdict of “death from misadventure while under an anaesthetic, which was properly administered”.