Victorian cyclists loved to dance too

FESTIVE ... Christmas ball programmes for South Shields Cycling Club. (Photo: Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums)
FESTIVE ... Christmas ball programmes for South Shields Cycling Club. (Photo: Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums)

OH my, can’t you just imagine donning your glad rags and sallying out for something like this.

The dancing, my dear, and the dresses!

These lovely images from the social life of Shields in late Victorian times come as a result of my piece the other day on the old South Shields Victoria Cycling Club.

Former members, you may recall, are seeking to find out what happened to the club, and to a stalwart of it, Bill Coxon.

I’ve still to hear about that. But in the meantime, Adam Bell, assistant keeper of social history at South Shields Museum, very kindly sought out these and other items from the museum’s collection.

Some of them recall the enthusiasm that there was for cycling during that era for, as well as the Victoria, there was also South Shields Ramblers’ Cycling Club and the Tyne Dock Belle Vue cyclers.

One item lists some of the rules of one of the clubs. There are practical pointers on how to approach horses, for example.

But I especially liked the hint of ‘know your place’ in the rule: “No member on any account may pass the captain without his consent, or he shall be fined 6d.”

But the loveliest items are these programmes for South Shields Cycling Club’s Christmas balls, held in the early 1890s in the Royal Assembly Hall in Mile End Road (later the Gaumont cinema).

The club seems to have had an active social side because, during the same era, I can find it also meeting at St Paul’s ‘assembly hall’ in Westoe Road in the town and also at the old Congregational Church Hall in Ocean Road.

The latter event was just before Christmas 1890 and took the form of A Night With Dickens (seasonal readings of A Christmas Carol, perhaps?).

Returning to these ball programmes, one other item gives a wonderful insight into how lively these evenings were.

It’s a ladies’ dance card - fully filled in too, how popular was she! - which shows that guests stepped out in the waltz, the polka, the Lancers, the Scottische (sic) and the mazurka.

Strictly ... eat your heart out.