Cycling enthusiasts at a rally in London

No bicycles appear in this photograph, but the sign at upper right tells us that the occasion for this gathering was a cycling club rally of some kind.  Unfortunately, some of the names of the clubs are cut off at the edge of the photo.  No one in the group is identified, but a visitor to the blog recognized one of the men.  In April 2022, in a comment under this post, Martin Allen wrote:

The tall man at the back with the tartan flat cap is unmistakably Joseph Jowett Walter Walker, a Victorian music hall star who went by the stage name Walter Munroe.

Please see Martin’s comment for information about the fascinating life of Walter Munroe!

Cycling club rally in London 3

Cycling club rally in London 4


The cabinet card was made by Arthur Simmons (1855-?), whose studio was at 258 Westminster Bridge Road.  Originally from Nottingham, Arthur appears in the 1881 census as a boarder in London, unmarried and working as a photographer, but it isn’t clear where he works.  He appears again as a photographer in the 1885 city directory, now at 258 Westminster Bridge Road.  Perplexingly, in the 1891 census his occupation is listed as Confectioner.  He’s also married with one child, a daughter named Ethel May.

However, Arthur’s career as a photographer didn’t end in a cloud of powdered sugar.  In the 1901 census, he’s back in the studio at 258 Westminster Bridge Road.  He has a second daughter, Beatrice.  His older daughter, Ethel May, now nineteen years old, is working with him as a Photographic Assistant.  Sadly, at this time Arthur is a widower.

Sometime in the next few years Arthur remarries.  He appears in 1910 on a baptismal record for his third daughter, Ivy Doris.  On the baptismal record, Arthur’s profession is Photographer.  However, just a year later, in the 1911 census, Arthur is once again a Confectioner.  His second wife and his middle daughter, Beatrice, who is now twenty-six, are working with him.  Ivy Doris is one year old.

I had planned to research the history of cycling in the UK for this post, but got sidetracked trying to sort out the creative endeavors of Arthur Simmons.  If you’re into cycling, please feel free to comment on the photo!  If you aren’t into cycling, you can always leave a comment about confections.

Cycling club rally in London 2

Cycling club rally in London 5


Post updated April 14, 2022.

34 thoughts on “Cycling enthusiasts at a rally in London

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  1. Arthur Simmons sounds like a very intriguing man. In today’s world he would probably be taking photos of his confections and posting them on social media. 😉 The cycling enthusiasts look like a fun group!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What an intriguing collection of facial expressions and postures! They all seem so comfortable with each other, packed together for the photo. Carefree yet dressed quite formally, most wearing hats. But are they cyclists? Are some of the men wearing what would may have been considered cycling attire hats at that time (ascot, or newsboy style)? It’s hard to imagine any of the women cycling in the clothing they’re wearing, but maybe…?

    For some reason, the woman seated front, second from left, makes me think Margaret Hamilton who played the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I looked up Margaret Hamilton and I see what you mean!

      The three men on the right side of the photo definitely look like cyclists to me. They’re wearing flowers (ribbons?) on their lapels, which must signify something. Actually, all the men are wearing those, as are some of the women. This group may have been affiliated with one of the clubs, which would explain why the women came to watch, rather than ride. We need someone with cycling expertise to chime in!

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Wonderful photo! I absolutely adore the hats! Perhaps Arthur ran a confectionary where he gave away truffles he made as an enticement to pose at his photography studio? But seriously, possibly there were two Arthur Simmonses?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I kept asking that same question, whether there might be two men with the same name, roughly the same age, both from Nottingham, with a child or two with the same names. I finally ruled out that possibility when I found the baptismal record for Ivy Doris. How many children are named Ivy Doris? On a side note, photoLondon (no longer updated) says Arthur died in 1907 in Bristol. I’m sure that’s a mistake.

      I suspect you’re right about the truffles. Photography was an extremely competitive business in a place like London. Truffles would have given Arthur a significant advantage!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. The expressions and poses are just priceless! The young woman with her hand on her hip and a baleful expression is saying one of two things: “Seriously? You’re going to take a picture of me wearing this hat?” or “If looks could kill, you’d be dead, mister.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was intrigued by this photo and had to do some research. I’m guessing we are looking at a cycling group from the 1880’s. This was around the time of the first ‘safety bicycles’ (chain drive, two equally sized wheels). Before that the ‘penny farthing (high front wheel with pedals affixed) were the common model. I was surprised to learn that the manner of ladies dress in the photo would not have been unusual for ladies cycling, particularly after the introduction of the safety bike. The front wheeler could be dangerous when skirts could become entangled in the front wheel. Plus, the safety bike was the first with pneumatic tires for a more comfortable ride and an improved braking system.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very interesting, Bob! I didn’t know any of that. I see pictures of penny-farthings from time to time. Riders have to sit high up on those. They look neat but I’d probably be afraid of falling from such a height. The name comes from the British penny and farthing coins, the penny being large and the farthing being small.

      I wasn’t sure about the date of this photo. The puffs at the shoulders of the women’s dresses are typical of the early 1890s. The sleeves got bigger as the decade went on. I don’t know if the style had caught on yet at the end of the 1880s. The early 1890s would also make sense as far as cycling is concerned, considering what you found in your research. Thanks for the helpful comments!


    1. Thank you for that great link, Louise! Apparently the races at Herne Hill attracted a large number of spectators. Racers were the fastest men on earth at that time. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? I was surprised to read that racing on roads was outlawed. I suppose attitudes toward sport were different in the late 1800s than they are today.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Just today, I came across someone who’d been north of Houston to visit a business that combines fancy chocolates and barbeque. The owner wanted to have a candy/chocolate shop, but wasn’t sure he could make a profit, so he added barbeque as a sideline. Perhaps some of the same dynamic was at work here.

    I’ve tried and tried to imagine any of that group bicycling in those outfits, and just can’t do it. I suppose it was possible, but a combination of those dresses and spokes seems like a recipe for disaster. I was interested in the penny/farthing connection. I never knew what those odd bicycles were called, and like so many names, that one’s quite reasonable if you know the history.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The combination of confections and studio portraiture makes sense at that time. Both businesses involved selling something which didn’t cost much and which might be purchased on impulse. Each business could also be used to advertise the other.

      Funnily enough, I have two studio portraits of a group of friends eating chocolates! I’d forgotten them until now. The first one is Four friends with chocolates in Bridgton, Maine (1 of 2). The second one is here.


  7. (late to the comment-fest, as always these days…) When cycling first became popular, there was a lot of hoo-hah about the propriety of women cycling with various flavours of misogyny rearing their ugly heads, from worry about bicycles giving women too much freedom to concern about the interaction of saddles, and, ahem, ladyparts. And of course the new bifurcated garments for women cycling (you can’t really call them trousers) – how daring!
    Penny-farthings are pretty precarious, but did you know that people had races on them? I seem to remember from my time at Tyne and Wear Museums that they have some cycling trophies won by a local chap on his penny-farthing bicycle.
    Actually, I just found the chap:
    (Sorry, don’t know how to make the link a link)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The idea of women having greater freedom of movement must have been quite unsettling to the patriarchy. To women of modest means, bicycles must have been liberating. I imagine wealthier women didn’t benefit as much, either because they were more mobile to begin with, or because they were less likely to adopt the bicycle as a means of transportation.

      George Waller looks like a champion! I occasionally see old photos for sale of men wearing medals or standing next to trophies, but most are unidentified.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw this fantastic photograph of cycling enthusiasts as I instantly recognised one of the group as a person whose life and career I have been researching and writing about for years. The tall man at the back with the tartan flat cap is unmistakably Joseph Jowett Walter Walker, a Victorian music hall star who went by the stage name Walter Munroe. I will refer to him as Walter as this was always his preference.

    Walter was born on 4th December 1855 in Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland. He was the son of Brearcliffe Walker (1828-1877), a Professor of Music and pianist, and Anne Jowett (1828-1861). In 1880, in Portsmouth, he married Elizabeth Emma Burrows (1863-1902) who was the step daughter of my 2x great grandfather George Allen, a retired army veteran. In other words, George was Walter’s father-in-law. Eventually, Walter and Emma shared their home in Camberwell, London, with George and his wife.

    Walter had a reputation as being a most generous and affable man, the life and soul of the party. From an early age he was apparently a junior boot dancing champion in Ireland, he had a very good singing voice, acted in many plays and could tell a yarn or story at the drop of a hat. He was a good songwriter and very adept at putting music to the poetry and words of others. However, he certainly had a lot of the ‘blarney’ and some of the stories he told about himself were probably a ‘little’ exaggerated to say the least. He describes that by the age of 10 he was walking from town to town in England singing and telling his tales in public houses and small theatres. At one stage he performed in a circus. He certainly learned his trade well because by the time he was 25 he was appearing at theatres all around the country and, when in his 30s, was headlining at most of them. In 1912, Walter appeared on the bill of the Royal Command Performance, Palace Theatre, in London. Elizabeth, also known as Minnie, always accompanied Walter on his travels and was constantly by his side, except on the stage of course.

    George’s only income was a meagre army pension and so he and his wife almost certainly earned their keep by looking after Walter’s house in his absence, cooking and acting as theatrical costume “dressers” when required. Although Walter was a keen cyclist and often cycled to London venues, during the 1890s he obtained a pony and trap which he used to get about town. I know for certain that George, who grew up on a farm, looked after and groomed the horse, and drove Walter around the city.

    In 1889, just as Walter Munroe was about to go on stage at Collins’ Music Hall, Islington, he was handed a letter which explained that his brother John, a musician, had just died in North London. The curtain had gone up, so Walter went on and entertained the audience.

    Walter was a very caring and charitable person and in 1890 became founder member of the Association of Terriers, later re-named the Beneficent Order of Terriers. This was a charitable association aiming to assist theatrical performers and their dependants when welfare support was required. To this end, they organised dinners, excursions and sporting competitions in order to raise funds. Walter often entered multiple running and cycling events and on at least one occasion his wife Elizabeth ran in the ladies’ 60 yard dash. (The cycle event was very popular amongst the male performers as many used cycles to get to theatres). The pair often presented the prizes. Incidentally, during this period, clog or boot dancing was very popular in London and Walter often appeared as a judge during dance competitions.

    The photographer of the cycle group portrait, Arthur Simmons, was a friend of Walter’s and they, together with other entertainers, used to socialise together at the Bricklayers’ Arms in Camberwell. Arthur was also a member of the Terriers and I have learned that he photographed all 70 members. (I have not found one of them and so am very grateful for Brad finding and posting this particular photo). In 1902, Elizabeth died of consumption and was buried at Nunhead Cemetery; over 500 people, many from the theatrical profession, were in attendance. A photo of Elizabeth printed in the Era journal at that time was taken by Arthur Simmons. The couple had no children. In 1903, Walter married Lucy Charnley, a popular singer, dancer and stage actress. They also had no children. Walter died in 1914 and is buried in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool.

    Google is not very helpful in researching Walter. There are bits and pieces, but unfortunately there was a stage agent of the same name who married a male impersonator which complicates things. My research was mostly via theatres and the Era stage magazine, and through family sources. I have read thousands of reviews about Walter in the British Newspaper Archive – but never a bad one!

    The following 3 links are of a photo of:

    Walter with George Robey and Dan Leno, all leading music hall stars of their time. Taken in 1901, they are wearing fancy dress at a Charity Sports Event.

    Close up head photos of Walter from Brad’s photo and the Charity Sports Event. Walter clearly has an eye injury at the sports, probably from a box of matches igniting in his face the year before.

    A poster of one of Walter’s shows.

    Liked by 1 person

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