The weekly Clarion newspaper had been going since December 1891. On 28 April 1894 the letter below appeared. I should explain that most of the regular Clarion journalists and contributors had strange nicknames. This had started before the Clarion was launched with Blatchford when he worked on Bell’s Life and then the Sunday Chronicle in the 1880s writing under the pen-name Nunquam Dormio (I never sleep) soon shortened to Nunquam. The Bounder, who features much in the report, was the tall, 18 stone, Irish, humorous writer, Edward Fay. There’s a splendid picture of him, on his bike, on the 1895 Birmingham Clarion CC greeting card featured in Denis Pye’s book Fellowship is Life. The Story of the Clarion Cycling Club. (1996, 2004) The Clarion co-editor A M Thompson rejoiced (?) in the name Dangle, and Blatchford’s brother Montague was Mont Blong. But enough of this erudition – on with the show!
BEING AN ACCOUNT OF THE CLARION CYCLING CLUB’S EASTER TOUR
‘We shall arrive!’ And in order that our coming may be speedy, we have started the Clarion Cycling Club, and at Easter we want to tour. We were seven; And we started from Birmingham to Wolverhampton by train on a dirty, dark, damp, dismal, dreary morning at 7.15.
We were only half awake and we were cold and hungry and the journey between Birmingham and Wolverhampton is one of the most mournful in England.
But – aha – we got to Wolverhampton, and had a little refreshment, and we got on our jiggers, and we woke up, and the sun came out, and the ‘little squeakers’ began to warble fit to crack their little throats, and we got hopeful, and cheerful, and oh! we were gay!
Then came we unto Bridgenorth and did there Bounderise. Bounderise – verb irregular (very) meaning to imbibe liquors of various degrees of strength – to assimilate resuscitating comestibles – to walk on one’s heels – and to generally spread oneself out. Afterwards we sampled Bridgenorth on the banks of the silvery Severn, and departing thence came to Arley and Bewdley both on the banks of the aforesaid silvery Severn.
On our way hitherwards we were led by ‘The Fiend’ into a veritable slough of despond, from which we emerged covered with much variety of landed estate causing a delay of many golden moments whilst we scraped ourselves.
Bewdley is a fine place, but – they haven’t been used to catering for cyclists there. We assisted in their education, however, and the next time they hear of our coming they will prepare themselves. For we shall arrive.
Next day we pushed on to Evesham, via Stourport, Ombersley, Worcester and Pershore. At Worcester we indulged in periphery swelling, consuming spring chickens (year doubtful), sampled the cathedral, and then in single file proceeded through the town. Suddenly the first man rang his bell and dismounted, the others following suit. The first man spoke not but pointed with trembling delight to where they sold the Clarion. There is hope for Worcester – they sell the Clarion there. We marched in, in order, and purchased our Clarions, and then as solemnly walked out, once more mounted our machines and proceeded on our way, as men who had glimpses of higher things.
In this mood we came to Evesham, as quaint and pretty a little town as existeth, and there once more we Bounderised. Good Lord! How we did eat! Before we commenced operations, our fair hostess besought us to stay for dinner the next day, telling us of the gracious things provided for the meal. She plied us with legends of cyclists who had fared at her hands, and had afterwards wandered to other taverns, but had come back to her hostelry once more as a haven of rest and home of plenty. Then provender appeared. For half an hour we raised not our eyes and spoke not a word, but steadily thought on the Bounder. The landlady became silent, the moody, then morbid, flinched, trembled, quivered, quavered, quock, broke line and finally succumbed. It was a glorious victory. ‘Are you,’ she asked with quivering lips, ‘are you gentlemen going to stay dinner tomorrow?’ We said we were not and once more she breathed freely.
We went to bed late that night – very late – but we arose early next morn, for the Army of Salvation paraded the town at 6 a m with a band, the big drum being in charge of the local blacksmith. May he be eternally spiflicated.
We were due at the Labour Church that night, so we started Brumwards, having spent as good a holiday as possible. Ah-h-h-h!!!! It was glorious!! Say no man lives till he has been on tour with the Clarion CC. Till then he but exists. After – !!!
We are going on another tour at Whitsun of which more anon.
By the way, we want a President. Bounder, what sayest thou? Wilt thou preside o’re us? The duties are light. Thy might name to grace our fixture list, and a visit of yourself to Brum to preside over a periphery –swelling function. Wilst thou come? Look you, Bounder, we are no mean admirers of yours. See here, what you have moved one of us to: –
When the bounding Bounder boundeth
Lightly o’er the Clarion page
Then the reader’s heart rejoineth
Filled with wisdom from the Sage
Fig for Nunquam and for Dangle
Fraud Mcginnis and Mont Blong
Thou alone, mighty Bounder
Art fit subject for our song
There are 98 more verses to this, which, if the Bounder will become our President we solemnly promise to destroy, If not – !!!
THE O’GROOMIE O
[We print the above with some misgiving. After recent allegations we are not wholly untroubled with a horrific suspicion that it may be an invention of this unconventional person. Our fears in him stick deep – especially since he has gone, or has not gone – on Tour. If our suspicions should prove correct – but enough – Ed. Clarion]
I’m convinced that the editorial comment was just one of Blatchford’s jokes – but perhaps not everyone was at the time. Or perhaps they saw in it the opportunity for another ‘go’ because the following week , 5 May 1894, there appeared in the Clarion as one of the contributions to ‘Local Notes a report on Birmingham, signed ‘Arturo’ which, after reporting the recent foundation of the Birmingham Democratic Club went on:-
The Clarion Cycling Club has come to stay and the article in last week’s Issue in reference thereto was written by a prominent member. So the editorial misgiving that the Bounder may have done this thing my now give way to editorial calm, and the Great and Only one stands once more vindicated before men.
Well, any member who has been puzzled by references in Boots and Spurs to the Tom Groom Trophy may be getting an inkling of what that’s all about. What strikes me is how similar some of the events and sentiments are to those on some of our rides – though I wouldn’t dare to risk a nomination for a contemporary version of ‘The Fiend’ At this stage, they’re all blokes, of course, but Denis Pye tells us this was quickly rectified just a few weeks later in July 1894 when they recruited their first woman member.
At the time Tom Groom was Secretary of the Bond Street Labour Church in Birmingham. This was a recently-formed organisation – another part of the ‘socialist revival’ of the 1890s that helped float the Clarion. Its founder was an ex Unitarian (as in New Road, Brighton) minister – John Trevor. Not to be confused with the various brands of Christian Socialism. Basically the difference was that whereas Christian Socialists believed that Christianity was essentially socialist, the Labour Church started as it were from the other end seeing the Labour Movement itself as essentially religious.