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The Surrey club run in 1897

Only reckless riders venture to breast the traffic of the London streets

From The Cycle in Society in The Complete Cyclist

Mrs. F. Harcourt Williamson, 1897

As a cyclist commuter in around London and Surrey, I was amused to find how little had changed since 1897, when Mrs. F Harcourt Williamson wrote her description of The Cycle In Society, which was chapter two of The Complete Cyclist – itself volume two of The Isthmian Library of Sports and Pastimes – one of the first encyclopedias of sport. Some excerpts that London/Surrey riders might recognise.

 Cycling to Ranelagh was one of the fashions of last season; and on the hottest days smart ladies might be seen riding through the crowded Kensington High Street and Hammersmith Road on their way to lunch or tea at the club

The Ranelagh Club , situated on Barn Elms – the open space just south of the Wildlife Wetlands Trust in Barnes, was the biggest polo club in the world at the time and the place to be seen in society. Today the Kensington High Street is still crowded and we desperately need CS9 on it!

Only reckless riders venture to breast the traffic of the London streets, and one of the best ways of getting out of London is by railing to Kingston (unless you care to go by road, when the distance is nearly twelve miles), and from there riding along the river by Portsmouth Road, straight on past the waterworks and Thames Ditton, to Esher (which is fourteen miles from London), or four miles farther on to Cobham by a straight but undulating road.

This route is a still a standard way out of London for those doing club runs to the Surrey Hills – Kingston to Cobham on the Portsmouth Road (A307). But

Three more miles, and you reach Ripley by a short steep ascent and steep fall over Pain’s Hill and Wisley Common. From there to Guildford is a famous level road, with a beautiful surface and very gentle rise. This, the famous Ripley road, is one of the simplest, best, and most favourite routes out of London;

Sadly this part of the “Portsmouth Road” is now the A3 which, while technically legal for cycling, would require nerves of steel to actually venture on – it has been steadily upgraded over many decades and by the 1960s was essentially the motorway-like road we see today.

while another vid Kingston is by the Portsmouth Road, turning to the left at the waterworks through Long Ditton by a straight road, but with a general rise, to Leatherhead, and perhaps straight on through Mickleham to Dorking, a distance of twenty-four miles if you go all the way by road.

This route along the Leatherhead Road (A243) is again hugely popular with cyclists as it the direct route to Box Hill.

A very favourite route is by the Hounslow road to Staines, and then on through Virginia Water to Ascot : by railing to Hounslow Barracks you miss the London traffic and the tram-lines in Hounslow itself.

With the exception of Hounslow Barracks being renamed Hounslow West in 1925, this is literally my commute today!

The full text of The Complete Cyclist is available in the public domain and online here.

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