Words by Roger Gollicker
Banbury Star Cyclists’ Club was established in 1891, according to the club kit. However, the club possesses a framed montage of photos (below) with the title “Banbury Cyclists’ Club – Established 1875 – The oldest cycling club in the world”, and the Lord Mayor of Banbury is named as club president.
This is some 16 years before the founding of Banbury Star Cyclists’ Club (BSCC), which begs the question: could the two clubs have merged, or was there some form of takeover? Recent research has now uncovered what actually happened around that time, as well as some interesting facts regarding cycling in those early days.
Both Banbury clubs were certainly amongst the earliest cycling clubs in the UK, although the first is generally accepted to be the Pickwick Bicycle Club. This club, which is still going today, was formed in June 1870, when six cycling enthusiasts met at the Downs Hotel, Hackney Downs, East London.
Confirmation of the formation of The Banbury and District Bicycle Club, as it was first known, and the enrolment of 26 members, was printed in the Banbury Advertiser on 11 February 1875. The word District was dropped after a couple of years. Then following the annual meeting in 1883, the club decided to use its final iteration of the Banbury Cyclists’ Club (BCC).
Their first ever club ride took place on 29 March 1875 from Banbury Cross, with seven riders taking their “ordinaries” (Penny Farthing style cycle) on a 61 mile ride up to Coventry and back.
Confirmation of the creation of the new Banbury Star Cyclists’ Club can also be found in the Banbury Advertiser dated Thursday, 12 February 1891. It recorded “Formation of the Banbury Star Cyclists’ Club announced – Mr. J Phillips as secretary, Mr J. Kilsby as treasurer and Mr. E. Allit as captain, along with Mr. E. Barden as bugler”. No mention was made of Banbury Cyclists’ Club in the announcement.
What has now been discovered – as the result of the club commissioning George Hughes, a member of Banbury Historical Society, to conduct some research – is that the two clubs existed quite amicably. For instance, club officers often attended each other’s annual dinners. Amalgamation was often discussed and proposed, but nothing ever happened.
Banbury was clearly very much at the forefront of this bicycle craze, with as we now know, not one, but two, of the oldest cycling clubs in the country. There are a couple of possible reasons for this.
Firstly, a new bicycle in 1890 would have cost you around £12, which for the time was quite expensive. At this time, though, Banbury was a very prosperous town. And this is reflected in the early membership, which comprised many local dignitaries and influential people who were evidently able to afford a new bicycle.
Secondly, as nearby Coventry began establishing itself as a world leader in bicycle manufacturing, bicycle manufacturing started in Banbury. The first evidence of this is in an advert carried by the Banbury Guardian, dated Thursday 22 July 1869, for the Vulcan bicycle manufactured by Charles Lampitt at his Vulcan Foundry in Neithrop. Interestingly the two agents licenced to sell the bicycles were William G. Thomas and R. R. Thomas, who were among the founders of the Banbury Cyclists’ Club.
Records held by the club start with a book of the committee and AGM minutes dated 1903 to 1929. Its history before that is still vague, although there are details of all the club’s main officers, in the year the club was founded, 1891.
As mentioned previously, the first club president was Charles F Edmunds. He was a millionaire partner in his family brewing firm. However, records also show that there were also no fewer than five Vice-Presidents – L M Wynne (who stood for Banbury as an MP in 1892); W H P Jenkins (who lived at Upton House); B Samuelson (an industrialist who was later knighted); Rev C F Porter (who became canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford); and Lord North (who was the last Lord to live at Wroxton Abbey).
It’s not clear how long Mr Edmunds remained president. He died in 1907, but by 1903 that title passed on to the 4th Earl of Effingham (Henry Alexander Gordon Howard). The Earl was president for over 20 years until his death in May 1927. During his stewardship, many club rides rode out to Tusmore, his ancestral home. The longest serving president was John Broughton, who held the position for over 30 years until 1981. He died in 2017, aged 90.
The popular belief is the name, Banbury Star, came about as most of the club’s early rides took place in the evening, often under the stars. However, research has shown that it may have been adopted to clearly distinguish it from Banbury Cyclists’ Club as the word Star and bicycle club was used throughout the UK. Star, it’s believed, originated from the double star arrangement of the spokes on the first safety machines. A quick search of the newspapers of the 1880s and 1890s throw up at least 15 clubs in the UK having ‘Star Bicycle’ or ‘Star Cyclists’ in their name.
The club’s inaugural run was on Friday, 10 April 1891, from Banbury Town Hall to Middleton Cheney, departing at 7.30pm. In its early years, twice-weekly runs were the main activities of the club. On the sporting side, grass track racing was quite strong, and the club joined the Banbury Harriers for many years in their Annual Whit Monday Sports Meeting.
Probably, like other clubs around that era, many other social activities were organised like smoking concerts, dances, swimming days and whist drives. The club was even a member of the local Air Gun League. Early membership numbers were around 70, with a membership fee of 1 shilling in 1903.
During the 1920s, the club produced probably its finest rider, Eddie T Rixon, who set many local records which were not bettered until the arrival of Eric Wooton in the 1940s. The Edmunds Cup, the oldest trophy in the club’s possession, carries the names of both Rixon and Wooton.
Records show that several members did move from BCC to BSCC, and in particular, Banbury Star’s first President, Mr C. F. Edmunds, was one of the first Vice-Presidents of BCC. A report of an after-dinner speech given by Mr Edmunds in 1895 has been uncovered, where he said, “He would not enter into a discussion on amalgamation. When he consented to become president of the Star Cyclists’ Club, he did so on the understanding that there was no rivalry between the two clubs, and that was the only condition on which he would be its president.
There was perfect harmony between the two clubs, and he was very glad to see members of the Star Club present that evening. He was pleased to be the president of one club and a vice-president of the other and would leave the question of amalgamation to the working members.
It does appear though, that BSCC soon became the larger of the two clubs, and at the turn of the century, the BCC membership and club ride numbers gradually declined. The club membership at 7s.6p., later reduced to 5s., was quite expensive for the time, which may have been a contributing reason. Eventually, the decline became too much for the Banbury Bicycle Club, and although its exact demise cannot be fixed, it is thought to have been circa 1908.
If amalgamation had gone ahead, then Banbury Star Cyclists’ Club could justifiably claim to be one of the oldest cycling clubs in the world and would be close to celebrating its 150th anniversary, but the opportunity was lost. However, it is proven that Banbury was at the epicentre of the growth of cycling from its very earliest days.
So, what were bicycles like in the 1800s? The first appeared in Germany in around 1816, but it was pushed along by the feet and had no pedals. In the early 1860s, the first ‘true’ bicycle was created in Paris by attaching rotary cranks and pedals to the front wheel hub. The well known “Penny Farthing” style of bicycle was invented in 1871.
It was in the 1890s that the bicycle craze seriously took off, following the development of the “safety bicycle” with its chain-drive transmission and the subsequent invention of the pneumatic tyre. The first well known chain-drive bicycle was the “Rover” produced in 1886 by John Kemp Starley, which is on display at the nearby British Motor Museum in Gaydon.
It is not exactly known for how long races were held on this course, but a new one was created in 1970. Held close to Banbury centre, on what became known as the Queensway Circuit, this race was an integral part of the annual ‘Banbury Cavalcade of Sport’ weekend. The first race, organised by Mr G Walton, was held on 12 September 1970 over eight laps, totalling 48.8 miles.
Due to its central location and over a sporting weekend, it often drew large crowds and was usually started by the town Mayor or Chairman of Cherwell DC. The event ceased because of increasing traffic volumes, with its last race being won by Simon Lillystone in 1993.
It was not until 2002 that the club found its current 45-mile three-lap course on the outskirts of Banbury, which takes in multiple climbs of Edge Hill. The first race, organised by Keri Williams and sponsored by construction company Bluestone, was held on 09 June and was won by Phil Blacker (Wyre Forest CRC). As well as the men’s Cat 3/4 race, the event now includes a round of the British Women’s National Team Championships, attracting some of the country’s leading up and coming riders.
Whilst the earlier BCC did appear to admit women members, like many other clubs and organisations at the turn of the century, Banbury Star was very much a male-only club, and this lasted right up until 1935. Whilst all women won the right to vote by 1928, the club was slow to react and change.
At an Extraordinary General Meeting, held on 09 April, a motion was proposed by Mr A W Cotterell and then passed to admit women members. The annual subscription was then set at 2s.6d for men and 2s.0d for women. The first woman member was Mrs Vi Thomas, who became a Vice-President, with Miss E Dale and Miss Baker becoming committee members.
Time trials have always been the bedrock of the club’s sporting activities, and on 20 June 1937, the club held its first Open TT. The 25-mile course was from Banbury to Sturdy’s Castle, Kidlington and back, and there were 27 entries. The club now runs two very successful Open TTs every year. The first is the Hardriders 23 Mile TT, which was first held on 26 February 1989.
A very tough season opener, it always attracts a strong entry for the Broughton Cup. Held on the A422 Stratford Road, starting and finishing at Wroxton, the course runs out to Ettington, returning with a climb of Sunrising Hill. In September 2019, a second Open TT was organised on a new 10-mile course on the B410 between Warmington and Gaydon.
The club’s real success story, however, is its popular summer series of weekly TTs. They are held every Wednesday evening between March and September on a range of around 9 different courses, with distances from 5 to 30 miles in length. These popular events continue to grow and always attract members from visiting clubs, often including some professional riders. Former British National U23 Champion and now World Tour rider Charlie Quarterman holds several of the club’s outright course records. Much of this success has been down to the organisation and enthusiasm of long-time member and timekeeper Keri Williams.
It was not until 1954 that the club held its first Open Road Race, despite club minutes showing numerous attempts to organise one. The first race took place on Sunday 11 July and comprised four laps, totalling 75 miles, on a circuit south of Banbury, around Deddington, Enstone and Hopcrofts Holt.
In April of 1991, the club’s centenary year, there was a repeat of the inaugural run to Middleton Cheney in April. The club also promoted the National Junior 25 miles Championship Time Trial in August, which was won by Christopher Saunders (Port Sunlight Wheelers) in 53 minutes 21 seconds. On 30 November, representatives of many national cycling organisations and dignitaries together, with members and ex-members, attended the dinner and prize presentation.
Then in 2016, to celebrate its 125th anniversary, the club released a limited-edition jersey and shorts, in time for a commemorative ride on the 10 April from Banbury’s Town Hall to Middleton Cheney, again recreating the very first ride. The town’s Deputy Mayor, Cllr Gordon Ross, started the 65 cyclists on a circular route that took in Little Bourton, Cropredy, Aston le Walls, Culworth and Marston St Lawrence.
Then, bringing us almost up to date, we have the infamous year of 2020 – the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in the cancellation of the annual road race and most of the Wednesday evening time trials. But on those that could run, Luke Norris set five new club records. All five of the weekend rides were cancelled from mid-March until early July, so the club turned its attention to helping the community of Banbury. It immersed itself in delivering medical prescriptions by bicycle during the lockdown when the vulnerable were shielded at home.
The club delivered over 3,500 items and rode over 3,000 miles in the process – achieving national publicity for their efforts. In addition to this, they helped service and safety check 120 bikes which were then given to essential workers or members of the public who wanted to be part of the increase in the interest in cycling. As a result of this, club president Paul Dean was presented with an award certificate by Amanda Ponsonby, the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire, in recognition of the club’s services to the community.
One further interesting fact discovered researching the club’s history was the role of the club bugler. The earliest club photo, taken around 1900 and shown above, clearly shows a man with a bugle (second left, front row) – probably Mr E. Barden. The club bugler was an important person in cycling club life in the early 1890s.
On club rides, he rode next to the club captain and used his bugle to call out signals to other riders – to speed up, slow down, dismount, or ride single or double file. The club minutes also reveal there was always a sub-bugler, and both posts changed on a fairly regular basis. It would seem that the role of the club bugler ended sometime in the 1930s.
An anniversary ride starting from Banbury Town Hall and ending at Hook Norton Brewery will take place on Saturday, 17 July.
Compiled by Roger Gollicker, with help from club president Paul Dean and research provided by George Hughes, a member of Banbury Historical Society.