It’s a wheely exciting time

Visitors to the area can hardly fail to have noticed that the county seems to have gone bicycle-mad recently.  With the Tour De France commencing in Yorkshire for its Grand Depart,  everyone’s been getting ready for the arrival of the world’s largest free sporting event.

Two of our museums –  the Manor House in Ilkley,  and Cliffe Castle in Keighley lie alongside the route that the Grand Depart will take – with bikes whizzing through Ilkley on Saturday the 5th July and through Keighley the following day.

The Manor House in Ilkley has a rather unexpected link to cycling, so we felt that this year would be the perfect time to tell the story as part of the summer exhibition at the Manor House called Change of Gear.  It’s on until the 7th September.

In the 1900s. the Manor House was split into a number of different dwellings, and one of the tenant families, called the Robinsons ran a cyclist’s café that operated out of the building.

Manor House, c.1900 with sign advertising refreshments
Manor House, c.1900 with sign advertising refreshments

The image also indicates that they offered accommodation for visiting cyclists, though we imagine conditions must have been rather snug, as a census in 1901 indicated 29 people lived in the building.

Mr & Mrs Robinson, outside the Manor House. c.1900
Mr & Mrs Robinson, outside the Manor House. c.1900

It was just one of many places in the Ilkley area that catered for cycling’s growing popularity, as accommodation and garaging for cycles was also offered by other local businesses and hostelries throughout the town.  You could also join the Ilkley Cycling club, which first formed in the 1890s.  (It reformed in 2011 and now boast over a thousand members)

If you wanted to purchase a cycle, then you could visit Fred Heap’s Cycle Depot, initially located on The Grove.  He also sold pianos, which does seems like a rather strange combination.

Bradford Museums and Galleries has a number of bicycles in its collections, so the Change of Gear exhibition which explores some of the history of cycling has allowed us to put a number of them on display.

Penny Farthing (c.1880s) and Boneshaker (c.1850s)  on display at the Manor House
Penny Farthing (c.1880) and Boneshaker (c.1850) on display at the Manor House

Alongside the bicycles are examples of the costume that cyclists of the time would wear, including a rather daring Ladies worsted cycling suit from 1910, made with fitted trousers rather than the more conventional long skirt.  It was a style often referred to as ‘Rationals’, such as in HG Well’s novel of a cycling holiday called Wheels of Chance

Typical cycling outfit c. 1890s
Cycling Suit or Rationals, c.1910

The exhibition also explores cycles in popular culture, and visitors can enjoy cycle-related books for all ages,  including Wheels of Chance.

We’ve also put a small number of cycling-related items on display at Cliffe Castle, including a memorial to one of the founding members of the Keighley Cycle Club in 1894, made from the wheel of his own bicycle!

There’s also a permanent display of bicycles that can be found at the Bradford Industrial Museum, so there’s plenty of cycle-related items to be found across our sites.

The National Media Museum also have a exhibition this summer (6th June – 3rd August) called Landscapes of the Grand Depart –displaying photographs from their collection, all of which have been taken along the route of this year’s Grand Départ.   So you could also add that to the itinerary as well!


NMM pic for cycle blog
© Image courtesy of the National Media Museum



A number of organisations have contributed to this project,  such as Ilkley Cycling Club, (who provided volunteers and some of the modern images we’ve included in the exhibition) Ilkley Cycles, who provided a modern example of cyclists outfits costume, and Monkeylectric and Chickencycle kit, who’ve provided us with some up to the minute ideas for lights on bikes.

The exhibition is also part of the Yorkshire Festival ‘fringe’  – a cultural festival lasting 100 days to celebrate the Grand Depart.



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