I have hesitated for quite a long time before trying to write an account of how the current Brighton and Hove Clarion came into being – although several people have suggested it from time to time. The problem is that if I tell it like it was it starts off in a very autobiographical mode. But I can’t think of a way to avoid that – so here we go!
It was back in the second half of the 1970s that I first became aware of the (national) Clarion Cycling Club – but only as an organisation that had existed long, long ago. My research involved , among much else, reading all issues of the Clarion up to 1914. I wasn’t primarily interested in the cycling activities associated with the paper but since I was a fairly keen cyclist, given mainly to solitary touring apart from occasional Sunday rides with the local CTC, I did take an interest in the early days of the national Club. Among other things I read about how the ‘Boots’ and ‘Spurs’ call and response thing came about – but at this stage I imagined that the cycling club had died out with the paper in the 1930s – or probably even earlier.
Then a few years later, just before Easter, I was in the Members’ Kitchen at Bourne youth hostel – in centre of the Fenland haunts of Hereward the Wake. I’d cycled from Kings Lynn that day and was off the Nottingham on the next one. I can’t remember what sort of simple meal I was preparing myself – might have a been just warming up a tin of baked beans or something similar. But I became aware of two other hostellers busy in the kitchen. They seemed incredibly old to me, bowed down with years – ie they were probably about 20 or 25 years younger than I am now.
Suddenly I noticed that one of them was wearing a large Clarion ‘trumpet’ badge and, amazed to see any sign of an organisation I then believed must have died out decades before, I found myself saying “Boots!” Much consternation from my two ‘elderly’ companions who naturally wanted to know how I knew about this esoteric greeting – which elicited the usual “Spurs!” I explained and discovered that they were on their way to the Easter Meet at – if I remember rightly – Skegness. I was suitably amazed to find that Clarion cycling was still up and running (or rather riding).
This was long before the internet and suchlike but I got from them the address to write to and – since there was no local section in those days – spent a few years as a ‘central section’ member – what’s now going to be called a ‘private member.’ But after a while I sort of half forgot about it and my membership lapsed.
I was so busy with both work and putting two books together in the ’90s that my cycling activities declined appreciably. No longer would I do a 50-70 mile ride or go off on a mini tour for a few days or a week. So when I retired towards the end of 2003 I was keen to get back into cycling – though with much more modest ambitions. I thought it would be good to rejoin the Clarion and now of course with emails and suchlike it was much easier getting back in touch. I discovered that only 3 members were needed to start a local section so I started asking around.
I knew my former work colleague Joyce was keen on a bit of not too energetic cycling and needed just one more person to make up the three necessary. It had been my habit since the mid 1980s to wind down, with a pint our two, from the week labouring down the salt mines with a Friday evening at Brighton Jazz Club and when I mentioned what I had in mind I got a very positive response from another regular, Ed (aka Ted) Furey, who I’d known for many years. So, early in 2004 I became secretary, Ed chair, and Joyce treasurer – although it didn’t involve any of us doing very much. As it turned out Ed – as far as I can remember – only ever came on just one ride – but he made up the necessary trio – so the section was formed. Hot on his heels came Joyce’s Brighton council colleague Sheila Schaffer – a former mayor of the town. Sadly, neither Ed nor Sheila are still with us.
If it was my idea to start – or as it turned out re-start – a Brighton (and Hove!) Clarion it was Joyce who came up with at least two key ideas; that we could start our rides at convenient railway stations and – stroke of genius – that we would take it in turns to write a report of our rides which would then be circulated as part of what we then called a ‘circular’ to members and others who expressed interest. To begin with it fell to me to organise most of the rides – and I also wrote the first report on our first ride which took place in April 2004. Here it is:
Three of us managed the ‘inaugural ride’ in the end – Joyce, our newest member (we’re now up to 7 with about as many more prospective joiners) Sheila Schaffer who some of you at least also know.
The weather was awful – cold, wet and windy and the Golden Martlet pub where we’d reckoned on having a break was covered in scaffolding and closed – but having survived World War II we were not going to let a spot of rain deter us. In spite of the weather we had an enjoyable day – and thanks largely to Joyce thoughtfully bringing a flask of hot soup we survived.
We decided that for the moment – and subject to general agreement – we’d reckon on waiving a ride every other Sunday and have sketched out plans for a couple of nice easy-peasie little ones of no more than 23 miles at the most for the next two.
As I said earlier I had no idea about whether or not there’d ever been a Clarion section in our area. But quite soon after our first ride I was able to report as follows:
As a result of the piece that Adam Trimingham put in the Argus the other week I had a call from Brian Hutton. Brian is the paper’s long time cycling correspondent and may be known to some of you (eg Alun). He was a member of a Brighton section of the Club in the later 1940s. Apparently the leading figure was Wally Newman, a local Labour councillor, who I’ve certainly heard of and I’m sure so have some of you (Andy being my best bet on this one). They apparently went in for racing pretty seriously and included some local champions. Most of the members, though, like Brian himself, tended later to concentrate their efforts with other local clubs like the Brighton Mitre (Bob has sent me an e mail about a jumble sale they’re having in May which I will send on later) and the Clarion, Brian believes, disappeared sometime in the mid-1950s. Certainly, we know from that Handbook for 1962/3 that Ed turned up that it had disappeared by then. Brian has sent me a copy of an article he did some time ago about his early days as a racing cyclist in Brighton of which I’m getting some copies made for you as well as suggesting he sends a version of it for possible publication in Boots and Spurs. [See Autumn 2004 issue]
That was the start of what has become over the years a very welcome feature of this newsletter – further information about the old Brighton section and the memories of people involved – most recently from Ken Wells.
By this time Bob had established contact and he alerted us to a Veteran Cycle Day at the Amberley Working Museum and this became our second ride – from Arundel. In my report I noted that “There were lots of interesting machines from all periods – I did note that ‘the youngest’ entry (in the ‘Sports Machines’ Group) was only two years older than the bike I’d just ridden to Amberley on.” It’s even older now, of course.
Our first “social” or at least non-riding activity that year was to venture one evening into the wilds (by car rather than bike) to the King’s Arms at Fernhurst, near Haslemere for a rare visit that far south of the Mikron Theatre group (who usually toured on the canals). They were presenting Pedal Power, an excellent piece about the early days of the Clarion cycling clubs.
Afterwards, or it may have been during the interval, I recall a very “knowledgeable” woman – not I hasten to say anyone to do with the production – confidently informing me that there was no Clarion cycling club in Brighton. I told her that I was in fact its secretary but, as too often is the case with such folk, she preferred to believe what she “knew” in spite of the evidence talking to her! Trump clearly didn’t invent the ‘Fake News’ concept.
Well, after that we grew steadily. Sikka (then known as ‘Sue Pringle’) first joined us on our second ride in May 2004. We had four participants but there’s been six on the first ride that month. Soon we were joined by Jim, Anne and Mick, Roger and Suzanne and many others.
We’d already established what’s become our distinctive pattern – a not-too-demanding ride every fortnight with a report to follow in 2004.