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Jim2000

The First Sheffield Bicycle

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Jim2000

First mention of a Sheffield-made bicycle (using that term) seems to be an advertisement by Benjamin Gorrill in the 'Independent' 20 May 1869 – has anyone found an earlier reference?

Here is a potted history of early bicycling in Sheffield (sourced mainly from pieces in the Sheffield Independent):

 

In June 1869 local papers had a new epidemic to report, one that probably originated from Paris:

In Sheffield and vicinity, the symptoms of that alarming malady, the bicycle fever, are becoming daily more strongly marked and developed...

...which might require ‘additional accommodation at the medical institutions of the town’ such as ‘extra facilities for the treatment of casualties’. Undeterred, the fabulous Browne Brothers appeared at the Alexandra Theatre in a display of bicycling dexterity, and in the same week the fever spread:

A Bicycle Club is being formed at the Shakespeare Inn, Gibraltar Street, and there is every prospect of its being a complete success.

(Independent, 2 June 1869)

Tracing the beginnings of the ‘fever’ leads us back a month earlier, when a Bicycle Club was hastily founded at Sharrow (near Wilson's Snuff factory), launched at a crowded Pomona Hotel, with hundreds gathered outside to see a velocipede contest, when the bicycle made by local firm Beck and Candlish of Brown Street was generally agreed superior to one imported from Pickering's of New York.

Going further back to April 20th, however, the ingenious Benjamin Gorrill had been first to announce his own make of ‘bicycle and tricycle velocipedes, of the best materials and workmanship’. He was the son of a scissor-maker of Eyre Street and named after his uncle Benjamin Gorrill the tailor (all of them are living together on Gibraltar Street in 1841). Young Benjamin started as a scissorsmith, branched out into Orrery-making (those rotating mechanical models of the sun, planets and moons) and announced his new-fangled velocipedes from Cadman Lane, Sheffield. His brother John Gorrill was an early rider in the Sheffield contests. Old photos of Cadman Lane show it to be narrow and fully cobbled (ouch).

The Brown brothers from Liverpool (H and C Brown, before they added an ‘e’ to their name on the Alexandra stage) must have infected many with bicycle fever on the streets on 18th May, although the town’s geography was a challenge:

Since the brothers have been in Sheffield they have tried to mount some of our hills, and have succeeded in getting up Snighill, Pond Hill, and have gone from Norfolk Street to Broomhill. In the afternoon of today they intend to try Paradise Square.

Crowds of locals held their collective breath as the brothers ‘made an attempt to rise Paradise Street’, noting that ‘from Westbar, all the way up, it is very uneven, being paved with very rugged boulders’ (no doubt they were grateful for horsehair-filled saddles), but they ultimately failed to conquer the final dozen yards near the top.

Henry Swan, curator of Ruskin’s Museum which opened a few years later on Bell Hagg Road, Walkley was one of the early pioneers of cycling, and must have faced the same problem addressing Walkley’s uncompromising gradients - an exercise only for the truly dedicated (Mr F Smith of the ‘Hawthorns’ and a certain one-legged Chinaman on bamboo bicycles notwithstanding – see elsewhere on this Forum)! Ruskin himself was not keen on the new contraptions:

I not only object, but am quite prepared to spend all my ‘bad language’ in reprobation of the bi-, tri-, and 4-,5-, 6 or 7 cycles, and every other contrivance and invention for superseding human feet...

(Ruskin;1888)

 

 

post-14568-0-75973100-1342638000_thumb.jpg

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SteveHB

Quote:

"Tracing the beginnings of the ‘fever’ leads us back a month earlier, when a Bicycle Club was hastily founded at Sharrow (near Wilson's Snuff factory), launched at a crowded Pomona Hotel, with hundreds gathered outside to see a velocipede contest, when the bicycle made by local firm Beck and Candlish of Brown Street was generally agreed superior to one imported from Pickering's of New York."

 

Sharrow Cycling Club Football Team

https://www.picturesheffield.com/s00129

s00129.jpg

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