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150th Anniversary of the First London to Brighton Bike Ride

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London to Brighton races of all kinds have been contested over the years including those by air, foot and ball! Perhaps the most famous of all after the Veteran Car Run is the London to Brighton Bike Ride.

Sunday 17th February 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the very first London to Brighton ride.

Mrs Mimi Reynolds recently contacted the Royal Pavilion & Museums about the anniversary. Her relative, John Mayall Jnr, was the first person to reach Brighton from London by velocipede.

Mayall was the third son of the famed photographer and former Mayor of Brighton John Jabez Edwin Mayall. His father was responsible for making the first carte-de-visite photographs of Queen Victoria.

Cycling magazines in Mrs Reynold’s possession mention that John Mayall Jnr became interested in the cycling after witnessing newly acquired velocipedes being unveiled at a gymnasium owned by Charles Spencer in Old Street, London. They had been purchased by Rowley B Turner who had seen them in action in France.

Early trials of his velocipede were undertaken in Trafalgar Square, Portland Place, Regents Park and Islington. An attempt on Brighton was made soon after which is described in The Brighton Road (1892) by Charles Harper. After a ride of 17½ miles to Redhill, Mayall gave up, exhausted, but not before “he rode about the platform, dodging the pillars, and narrowly escaping a fall on to the rails, until the London train came in”.

On Wednesday 17th February 1869, Mayall, Spencer and Turner set off from Trafalgar Square for Brighton. Undertaking such a journey in winter and on dreadful roads must have seemed mad, as Mrs Reynold’s comments in her correspondence, but to be the first to accomplish the feat must have been highly motivating.

The 53 miles were completed by Mayall in a speedy 12 hours, managing speeds of up to 8 miles per hour! He arrived “in time and in good condition for dinner and the second half of Kuhe’s concert in the Grand Hall”.

Today, the London to Brighton Bike Ride is arguably the British Heart Foundation’s most notable fundraising event. Established in 1976, it takes place each summer and in recent years has attracted an estimated 30,000 cyclists.

Several copies of The Brighton Road (1892) by Charles Hooper are available to view at The Keep.

Dan Robertson, Curator of Local History & Archaeology