The Origins of the Clarion Cycling Club and cycling in the 1890s

130: Cycling in the Clarion in context and a New Year toast.

Now we’ve reached 130 in our series of extracts from the Clarion and nearly reached the beginning of 1896 in the paper, it seems like a good time to remind everyone a little about the paper as a whole to give a better idea of how cycling and Swiftsure’s cycle notes in particular fitted in with the paper as a whole.

The Clarion, frequently described as the most successful socialist paper in Britain, had been started at the end of 1891 by Robert Blatchford – already a well-known journalist – and a group of friends and colleagues. It came out weekly and was pretty closely packed with a wide variety of material of many kinds – probably enough to last many readers for the whole week. The basic stance of the paper was that while we should be campaigning as hard as possible for radical change, it was equally important in the meantime to involve ourselves in mutually supportive activities that helped to make life now more pleasant – or at least more bearable. Hence the cycling clubs and many other activities centred on the theatre, choirs, field clubs (don’t know exactly what they got up to) glee clubs – and basically anything that enough readers enjoyed and lent itself to promoting the fellowship which William Morris had insisted was “life” – a slogan the Clarion CCC were to adopt. Hence also the stress on helping with good causes and promoting “Cinderalla Clubs” that went in for taking deprived children on trips to the seaside and similar treats.

There were always lots of one-off articles on current issues, of course, but also a number of regular – though not always weekly – features. If we take the edition of 21 December 1895 as our example we find among the “regulars” NOTES FROM THE FRONT which comprised local political reports that had been sent in. This particular issue included news of a Brighton branch of the ILP chaired by Councillor Will Evans – a well-known figure on the left in Brighton for many years. I have a poster from May 1917 advertising a meeting celebrating the Russian Revolution (the February/March one) at which he is one of the supporting speakers. The main ones were Robert Williams and Sylvia Pankhurst.

Then there’s OUR WOMAN’S LETTER, THE BOUNDER HOMEWARD HUMPS HIS WAY, CHILDREN’S LETTER, CLARION BALLADS, THE CLARION POSTBAG, STAGELAND, a version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL by “Citizen” NOTES ABOUT BOOKS, and GLEANINGS. among others.

I hope that helps to contextualise these cycling related extracts a bit. Anyone with access to Sussex University library can read the Clarion (1891-1914) on microfilm for themselves.

At the end of 1895, in the 28 December issue, appeared, in the “Cycling Notes” something I wish I’d come across in time to put it in one of our own Christmas or New Year issues

Let this be our Christmas and New Year toast and greeting “May the coming season bring us greater joy than the past, and may all those who know not the pleasure of cycling live to acquire, like us, the means to do so. Health and luck to all.”

Next time More ideas for a 2nd Easter Meet

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