Sunday, 18 May 1924 Meriden part 2

After trying to awaken the folks at the ‘Laurels’, we gave it up and went across to Mrs Woodward’s at Ivy Cottage, where we got a wash and soon breakfast was ready.  It is not necessary to enlarge on the massive meal that we tucked into.  During breakfast, we watched a race, a ‘25’ was in progress.  Then Tom Hughes, the Wigan veteran came downstairs, and we had a good chat with this hardy old-timer.  A walk down the road revealed another pleasant surprise.  Coming from the ‘Laurels’, playing football on the hard road, were half a dozen of the Bolton section, one or two of whom looked a trifle weary.  We had a few moments with them before they went in to breakfast, then we had a walk along a pleasant lane, where we heard no less than seven cuckoos, and saw one.  Another was already beginning to stutter!  So the time passed.

We spoke to lads from Birmingham and Coventry, Lancastrians like ourselves from Liverpool, Manchester and Warrington.  We greeted, and were greeted by cyclists from London, Portsmouth, Southampton, Cardiff, Leicester, Derby and Notts, Sheffield and a hundred other places.  We saw cyclists whose names are household words amongst cyclists, we – well, one must go to Meriden, to realise what Meriden is to cyclists of all classes.  Perhaps the most noticeable fact was the predominance of the lightweight cycle.  It was everywhere – as it deserves to be.  [It should be noted that at this stage in Charlie’s life, his funds did not yet run to a lightweight – another year was yet to pass before his old 28 inch wheeled roadster could be consigned to history- Ed]. 

Again we were joined by the Boltonians, whose numbers were swelled with those who had travelled the day before, and those who had come at the last minute.  We each received a hymn paper, and at 10am the service started.  It was conducted in a simple, effective manner by the Rev. H W Layng, rector of Withyham, Sussex, who, after the first hymn, gave a short address.  Then the Lords Prayer, another hymn, the ‘Last Post’, one minutes silence (during which one could have heard a pin drop), the ‘Reveille’, and the National Anthem.  A Benediction was then pronounced, and he wound up by thanking those who had come long distances, and added that many had travelled through the night to attend.

When the service was over, we made a rush for the bikes, for there was little time to waste.  The main road was entirely stopped up with bicycles of all descriptions and makes.  About six policemen tried to control a hopeless dozen yards of road.  We could not find the Boltonians, so we immediately got on the road, Tom and I.  We took a wrong turning at Stonebridge, but luckily it was soon rectified, and once more we made for Coleshill.  The road was now all but deserted, and we made good use of the fact, for Coleshill was in sight almost before we knew it.  Now we were settling down to it.  Mile after mile was reeled off, those long steady gradients fell away behind us, we took the ups like heroes, made full use of the down, and fairly hummed along the level stretches.

Bassets Pole was passed at evens, almost mechanically Lichfield swung into view, and without pausing we slashed through the city and up the hill beyond.  We took the flat road now – really the Uttoxeter road, and bounded along towards Rugeley.  We had not had a bite since 7am, so you can guess we were feeling a trifle ‘peckish’, but that did not interfere with our pace, though we had doubts about keeping it up all day.  At Armitage, in Staffs, one mile from Rugeley, we spotted a ‘Teas’ board, outside a little cottage, and in a moment had dropped off the bikes, ordered lunch, and were having a cooling wash.

It was now 12.30.  Meriden was 30 miles away.  30 miles in one and three quarters of an hour – 17 miles an hour!  We had just started lunch when a crowd of cyclists descended upon us.  They were the Bolton section! – this was a stroke of luck.  They had noticed the sign on their outward journey, and had decided to call on the return.  There was about 14 of them, including two ladies and two Hindley chaps.  During lunch it started to rain, and a rush was made to get our machines under cover.  It also delayed us, for it fairly smoked down, but at 2pm we started.  I had no cape, but before long it ceased, and five of us ‘got away’ from the rest.  The ‘two miles of villages’ were soon left behind, and for many miles no one spoke, each pedalling hard yet steadily.

We entered the Trent valley at Weston, and with the wind behind, the long level stretches were dead easy.  Yet we did find the time to look about us, and note the fine old houses and wonderful valley scenery.  Near Stone, we eased off a little – that is all except Tom and the Hindley chap, both of whom, one behind the other, flew out of sight riding like the dickens.  Before long the main body came up, and so we tucked behind, only slacking in the awkward streets of Stone, where Tom and his erstwhile partner had stopped for a drink.  At the sight of us, they gulped down their ‘Vimto’s’ or whatever it was, and hurried after us.  Now the only sound was the humming of tyres on the hard road.

Near Newcastle, a misfortune happened.  A cyclist was riding easily before us, and we swung out to pass him, but the lady rider behind me did not see him, and was unprepared when I swerved.  The result was that her front wheel collided with my rear one, and she was thrown heavily.  She was not hurt, however, though a pedal was damaged and her rear wheel buckled.  The pedal was easily put right, and by disconnecting the back calliper brake, we got the wheel to rotate without catching.  We now retired across the road for a milk and soda.  Again, the five of us got together, crashing through the rough streets of Newcastle and on the poor squalid road beyond.  We were bumped and jolted unmercifully, and the long, gradual inclines proved somewhat trying.  We walked two of them, the one to Talke being especially hard.  Now there were only four of us, one having eased off, but on the aforementioned incline, three passed us and two joined us.  Then we flew down to Red Bull, where the two Hindley chaps broke away for Holmes Chapel.

One of our party started to lag, so I kept with him, and Tom went on with another.  In Congleton we found them having hot drinks, so I joined them.  Whilst we were here, the rest of the club passed.  The drinks were hot.  We could not get them down, and had to hold the tumbler with a handkerchief.  We made a start by walking up that dangerous hill on the Alderley road, and then – we let it go.  By mutual consent, it became each man for himself.  I got in front, and felt in glorious form all at once, the devil seeming to take possession of the three of us.  We hurtled downhill, uphill, on the level, overtaking every cyclist we saw, even motorcars were left behind – and the road was crowded.  I got in Alderley just behind the first party, half an hour after leaving Congleton, over 9 miles away, at 6pm.  Came a wash, then much needed tea, for we had covered 45 miles since lunch.  One of our party was dozing, and became the subject of much fun.  The ‘pottering’ section – that is the day club run, had all but one gone, and that one was a girl, who attended to our wants like a little brick.

During tea it started to rain, and soon settled down to persistent, heavy drizzle.  In a spirit of optimism, I had discarded my cape before starting, and now I felt the loss of it.  Moreover, I had no extension on my front mudguard, and the slush from the road came all over me.  I was one of the last to leave, and pushed on hard to catch another, reaching him in Wilmslow, and the two of us made an effort to catch the main party, which we did at Handforth.  I do not know what became of Tom, he seemed to disappear at Alderley Cross.  At Didsbury, I got in front with the girl cyclist, and both of us drew away from the rest.  The going was exceptionally easy, although by now, I was in a thoroughly soaked condition, but I did not mind so long as my cigarettes were dry!  The interesting company (my companion was bubbling over with good humour and energy) seemed to shorten the road amazingly, and Chorlton and Stretford were soon set behind.  From Barton, it was all climbing to Walkden, then we took Salford road to Four Lane ends.  We parted company at Daubhill station, and in two or three minutes I reached home.

Home at 9pm.  Ten hours since, we were 103 miles away, in a crowded village between Birmingham and Coventry, among cyclists from all parts of Britain.  The thought itself is an inspiration, an idea of what mileage the little bicycle can do, the limitless possibilities of a cyclist who is fit enough for it.  Yes, during the past 27 hours, whilst the folks at home were asleep, or doing nothing, penned up between bricks and mortar, my bicycle and I had covered 206 miles of road, seen the wonderful little villages, those old-world towns, a great medieval cathedral, a beautiful vale, and had ridden right across two counties, having been in four.  It speaks for itself.

I learned later that 7,000 cyclists had gathered for the service at Meriden.  And cycling is old-fashioned! – is going out of date !                  206 miles Combined.

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