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Historic photographs show birth of cycling life in 19th century

Riders no longer had to rely on horsepower but could travel further distances under their own feet.

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Portrait of a man and a woman sitting side by side on a double tricycle. (Historic England Archive via SWNS)

By Lauren Beavis via SWNS

Fascinating historic photographs showing the birth of cycling life in the 19th century have been discovered.

The black and white images show people enjoying all types of early bikes from penny-farthings to tricycles - as the hobby boomed in Britain.

The 500-strong collection was recently found in the Historic England Archive during a project to clean photographic grass plates.

They feature many taken of Putney Cycling Club - a group formed in 1888.

They reveal how the birth of bicycles marked a new wave of freedom for those living in the Victorian era.

Riders no longer had to rely on horsepower but could travel further distances under their own feet.

As the images highlight - cycling as a pastime rapidly accelerated during the 1870s and by 1878 there were over 60 cycling clubs in London.

From 1891 to 1905 Putney had its own velodrome, an arena for track cycling, which attracted crowds of as many as 8,000 spectators.

A group of cyclists with various tricycles stand with local politician, Sir Henry Kimber, in the Putney area, around 1890.(Historic England Archive via SWNS)
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In one of the images, a group of cyclists can be seen stood in Richmond Upon Thames - with penny farthings and tricycles - possibly at the start of a race in 1890.

Another photograph shows a posed man and a woman seated on a tricycle, with two large wheels at the back and a small one up front.

Penny-farthings were invented by British engineer James Starley in 1871.

Tricycles, including the sociable tricycle also made cycling more practical for women of the time, who were able to ride whilst wearing their full skirts.

The sociable tricycle, invented in 1877, even allowed two riders to sit side by side, giving women the chance to ride with their husbands whilst wearing their full skirts.

A spokesperson for Historic England Archive said: ''Some extraordinary photos of 19th-century cyclists and their ‘freedom machines’ have come to light at the Historic England Archive.

''Conservators discovered them during a project to clean and stabilize more than 500 photographic glass plates.

''There is a particular focus on Putney Cycling Club, which was formed in 1888.''

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