Focus on collections: Bikes & Cycling

Our Social Media and Collections intern, Lisa, has been researching bike-related materials in our collection to coincide with Bike Week…

This week it’s Bike Week which aims to promote cycling, encouraging people to make it part of their everyday lives. Not only it is it great fun and a healthier way to travel to work, it’s also an excellent way to explore the countryside. A large number of events are happening across the country this week to promote cycling, in particular cycling to work as let’s face it, cycling in the sunny rays alongside a colleague to work seems far more appealing than being in a stuffy car stuck in traffic.

As a result, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore the collections here at MERL to see what interesting objects relating to bikes the museum has to offer. Scrolling through the online catalogue, it was clear that MERL holds a huge collection relating to bikes, from bicycle lamps to cycling maps, as well as a boneshaker bicycle; I was certainly not disappointed!

MERL 2010/159

One interesting item that caught my eye was the Bacon’s Country Map of Kent which was number two in the series and sold for seven pence. Having been produced between 1906 and 1910 by G. W. Bacon & Co, this map highlights that people were beginning to view the countryside in a different light at this time. There was an increasing interest to explore the countryside and see what it had to offer, from its rolling hills to flowering meadows. The idea of escaping the busy city and enjoying the fresh country air with its beautiful views was popular, therefore maps such as this one would have come in handy to find picturesque cycle roots through the countryside.

MERL 75/30

With MERL being home to one of the biggest basket collections in the country, from delivery baskets to fruit baskets, I was on the lookout to find a bicycle basket. Like so many people today, I can’t cycle anywhere without my trusty bicycle basket. This basket that I came across was actually made in Reading by George Frost of Spencers Wood in 1975. Made from willow that came from Taunton in Somerset, along with its leather straps and buckles that allows it to attach to the bicycle, it looks like the perfect accessory to any bicycle and a great way of carrying a picnic.

Finally, my favourite object that I came across was the corn dolly penny farthing bicycle leaning beside a lamp post. Originally made by Alec Coker for a competition at the Lambeth Corn Dolly Gathering in Cambridgeshire, it is clear that a lot of work went into making it. Corn dollies were once used for ritual purposes, but from the 1950’s great efforts were made to preserve the craft after the ritual associations with corn dolly’s faded away.

MERL 86/145/1-2
From looking into the collections here at MERL, the museum has some very interesting ojects relating to the topic of bikes which Bike Week has highlighted. Cycling is a great way to explore the countryside and keep fit, therefore I will certainly be taking full adavantage of my bike this summer!

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