IN our pandemic, all the country lanes are thronged with cyclists out on their allowed exercise. In 1870, 150 years ago this week, cyclists were obviously a very uncommon sight, as a report in the Darlington & Stockton Times suggests.

“On Monday, a party of seven, each on his own velocipede, took a trip from the town of Crook to St John’s Chapel,” it said. A velocipede was a boneshaker, with the pedals probably fixed to the front wheel.

“The roads being remarkably dusty, on their first entering the town, it was thought they were part of Wombwell’s Menagerie, which is expected in a day or two,” said the report.

Wombwell’s Menagerie was a popular travelling animal show, but the same day’s paper told how they had been detained in Durham when “two monkeys and an animal known as the Tasmanian Devil escaped”.

The escapees “caused considerable alarm among a portion of the inhabitants”, but were recaptured.

Anyway, back to the cyclists. “It ultimately turned out to be seven young men who were taking an airing out,” said the D&S Times. “At St John’s Chapel, one of the party came to grief. While at full speed, a spoke of the driving wheel broke, and locked the velocipede, consequently the rider was pitched “belly flowght”, as the saying is, on to the road, and the whirligig, after performing a few indescribable antics in mid-air, fell upon its master as if it had a desire that they should ride “bit about”.”

This would appear to be referring to that well-known phrase: “He fell belly-flowght on t’grund like a spanghew’d frosk.”

“Spanghew” is a Durham word meaning to fling something in to the air and a “frosk” is a frog.

Therefore our cyclist was floundering on his tummy on the ground in St John’s Chapel like a tossed frog.

The D&S report concludes: “The party left in the afternoon, and undoubtedly would arrive home in safety, and be heartily tired of their day’s tour.”

Undoubtedly.