The history of Cycle magazine: 1878-1900

The club journal has come a long way from its first appearance as a one-page circular to its current Cycle magazine format.
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The history of Cycle magazine: 1878-1900

Did you know we've been publishing a version of our popular Cycle magazine since 1878! Cycling UK's Historian Dr Sheila Hanlon takes a look back at the earliest editions of the magazine that was sent to members in the 19th Century.

Cycling UK’s magazines, which have run nearly uninterrupted since 1878, are an unparalleled source of club history and a repository of cycling past. The club journal has come a long way from its first appearance as a one-page circular to its current Cycle magazine format. Its evolution occurred against a dramatic backdrop of changing bicycle technology, turbulent club politics, and world altering events. The legacy of Cycling UK’s magazines is as gripping to read as their pages themselves.

Humble Roots: The Bicycle Touring Club Circular

A club journal was high on the agenda when the Bicycle Touring Club was founded in August 1878. The Bicycle Touring Club: 1st Monthly Circular appeared in October 1878. Honourary Secretary Stanley Cotterell, then a medical student living in Edinburgh, singlehandedly produced the brief and business-like publication. His one page, double-sided circular with simple black and red text focused on organisational details. It announced the BTC’s formation, badge ordering details, revisions to club rules, and that monthly list of tours would soon be published. More detailed club news, it promised, would appear in Bicycling Times and Bicycling magazines. Members were encouraged to recruit others, since, “We must remind you how necessary it is for the Club to have a great number of members.” Later editions extended coverage to hotel recommendations, consul elections, uniforms, dangerous hills, and lists of candidates for membership. The council considered the club magazine important enough to protect its publication and free distribution to members in its constitution.

Something bigger soon grew out of the BTC Circular. Secretary W. D. Welford assumed editorship from 1879-1881, applying his expertise as editor of the popular magazine Cycling. Welford raised the tone and quality of the club journal, moving production into his Newcastle-on-Tyne press office. One distinct addition under Welford was a pink commercial advertising cover-wrapper, which first appeared in February 1879. It featured brands, such as Acme Bicycles, Cycling magazine, Brown accessories, Starley Roadsters, and Goy Athletic Outfitters. By September the advertising pages, now a pale blue colour, attracted even more advertisers. This was a much needed revenue generator for the circular, the cost of which had become a financial concern. To help cover expenses, members who wished to receive the BTC Circular were also asked to provide self-addressed stamped envelopes.

By December 1879, BTC could no longer afford to produce the circular. Luckily, Welford came to its rescue by publishing it as an insert in Cycling magazine, which he did for the next eight months. Not everyone agreed with the move. G Lacy Hillier, elite cycling racer, raised an objection to the arrangement at the BTC’s Annual General Meeting in 1880, commenting that the club journal needed to be independent, rather than reliant on Cycling for circulation. He accused Cycling of monopolising BTC news, and questioned the relationship between the BTC and Cycling. Veteran club member W. B. Tanner dismissed Hillier’s conspiracy theories responding, “Well, I think everyone knows what the ‘connection’ is,” to which a hearty ‘Hear, hear’ rang out from the floor, “Mr Welford is the Secretary of this club, and he is the proprietor of Cycling.” Turner added that using one office for both publications was cost effective, saved postage, and cut labour, making it a worthy compromise. The magazine regained its independence later that year, relaunching in October as The BTC Monthly Circular and Official Gazette. Welford remained under scrutiny and, when his monthly salary was cut from one penny per member to three farthings per member in 1881, he resigned as Secretary and Editor. 

E. R. Shipton and the Victorian Golden Age of the Cycling Press

E. R. Shipton replaced Welford as Editor, later becoming joint Secretary/Editor in 1883, ushering in a new era in the magazine’s history. S. A. Auty, a printer by trade from Bradford, managed production and secured a cheap printing contract. Under Shipton’s editorship, the BTC Gazette took a decidedly journalistic and professional turn. Its publishing headquarters moved to 139-140 Fleet Street in London, the hub of the Victorian press world. Club business remained the focus, with added emphasis on touring and cycling culture. Bustling correspondence pages brought club opinion alive on topics ranging from Sunday riding to the merits of wool cycling fabrics.

The title changed again in 1882 to BTC Gazette and Official Record. The blue and white cover was revamped with an image of a man on a penny farthing and a woman on a tricycle, plus Goy’s calendar of sporting events. The new title clarified its dual purpose as an outlet for both official records such as AGM minutes and cycling stories such as scenic country rides. In 1884, the journal was rebranded the CTC Monthly Gazette and Official Record. This reflected the 1883 decision rename the organisation the Cyclists’ Touring Club to acknowledge not just high wheelers, but all cyclists including tricyclists many of whom were women. In 1886, a competition was held to design a new masthead. The winning entry showed the club badge and a collage of cycling images, books, and maps. 

Shipton’s improved CTC Gazette had a dark side - it was injected with his own personal politics. As a result, a libel action was brought against The CTC Gazette in 1889 over comments Shipton made about Edward Clarke’s unsuitability as President of the Harrogate Meet. The CTC lost the case, costing them £659 and revealing weaknesses in their administration, constitution, and deference to rule by Secretary. The libel case cast a long shadow, and was even hinted at in Shipton’s CTC Gazette obituary published March 1923, which noted that he was, “best remembered in his capacity as Editor of the CTC Gazette [and] though rather too much inclined to regard the Gazette as the vehicle of his personal views, there is no doubt that he made it a periodical of great influence and interest." 

Despite the legal fiasco, Shipton remained sole Editor of the CTC Gazette until 1891, when H. T. Round was appointed Joint Editor. Round died a few months later leaving Shipton on his own once again. In 1896 C. L. Freeston, a seasoned travel writer and Alpine tourist, became Assistant Editor. Freeston bolstered the touring content of The Gazette and saw the journal through a difficult patch in 1897 when Shipton was absent for several months due to a breakdown. His personal and health failings aside, Shipton was a competent editor and club numbers and finances were healthy, so there was no impetus to replace him.

Shipton’s CTC Gazette blossomed in the craze years of the mid-1890s, a golden age for cycling, the CTC and cycling journals. Regular features in the index for January-December 1896 included annual elections and reports, candidate and life member lists, district committee news, mechanics, meets, official notices, reviews and tailors. 'The Wheel Wanderings' column covered tours of the Pyrenes, Channel Islands and British Easter destinations. 'Multum in Parvo' offered musings from the world of cycling, and editorials covered American machines, cycle tax, riding in France, motor cars, The Wheel Club and more. Members desirous of companions for journeys were invited to submit their details to the 'Prospective Tours' section. 'The Ladies Page' introduced in 1890, written first by Lillias Campbell Davidson and later Fanny J. Erskine, covered buying a cycle, touring and cycling costumes. Contributors included famed sportsmen and tourists such as A. W. Rumney and F. T. Bidlake. The first illustrated article appeared in 1891 and the quality and quantity of art increased during the craze, as did the advertisements. The CTC Gazette of the 1890s equalled, or bettered, commercial cycling magazines and was recognised as an authority on all things cycling related. 

The largest item by far in the 1896 index was 'Correspondence', with over 200 letters listed by subject. The CTC Gazette provided a forum for members to communicate with each other and share opinions about cycling matters. This was especially evident in 1898, when the correspondence pages buzzed in reaction to the CTC’s offer of legal support to club member Lady Harberton who had been refused service at the Hautboy Inn, Ockham for wearing a knickerbocker cycling costume. The CTC Gazette published dozens of letters on dress reform and the CTC’s role in the losing case, with opinion split on both. The CTC Gazette’s correspondence pages may not have led to a consensus on issues such as rational dress, but they were a lively space for cycling debates.

Turn of the Century Successes and Stormy Times Ahead

As the cycle craze waned and the turn of the century approached, change was once again afoot at the CTC Gazette. At the 1898 AGM, several members complained about the cost of producing the magazine and paying contributors, while others called for its “tone” to be raised. George Bernard Shaw, playwright and CTC member, replied with a cutting retort ridiculing the “grumblers” in attendance. J. T. Lightwood notes in his history of the CTC that in 1899 the magazine paid £500 for literary and other contributions, suggesting a healthy budget. The CTC Gazette’s first article on automobilism appeared in 1899, a topic Shipton, a motorist himself, felt could no longer be ignored. The name of the publication was abbreviated to Cyclists’ Touring Club Gazette in 1899, coinciding with the club’s 21st anniversary and peak membership at 60,449. 

From its origins as a humble circular, the CTC Gazette had matured into a well-respected cycling title, running nearly 600 well-illustrated pages annually. The next century would see further change at the magazine, as we will see in the next instalment of Cycling UK’s history. For now, however, the CTC could be content that it had led its club journal to success by tenaciously adapting to the changing landscape of cycling culture.

History     Feature


E.R Shipton 

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