Murch's penny farthing is recycled to help tell town's history
Honiton museum curator Margaret Lewis
- Credit: Honiton museum
John Murch was a founder member of Allhallows Museum, Honiton. His knowledge of the history of Honiton was immense and the first gallery is named after him.
Among the many artefacts that he donated to the museum collection is this penny farthing bicycle.
The penny farthing or ordinary bicycle became a popular mode of transport until the safety bicycle came into production in the 1880s. They were expensive to make and usually purchased by wealthy young men. The pedals were attached directly to the wheel hub and they had solid rubber tyres.
Cycling clubs became popular throughout the country. They provided safety for the riders, because sometimes stagecoach owners would attack riders because they did not like sharing the roads with the cyclists. Riders would go out in all weathers, travelling up to 24 miles per hour to race each other to clock up fast times and long distances. Many riders found it difficult to get on and off the penny farthing.
There were many fatalities and injuries, and some occurred in Honiton. A group of young men had cycled from Exeter to The Dolphin. Two of them started racing on the pavements in the High Street annoying all the tradesmen and pedestrians. A little boy ran out of a baker’s shop doorway and he was knocked down with great force and he died shortly afterwards from severe concussion.
Sixteen year old Ethel lost control of her bicycle on Stoney Bridge and she crashed into a horse which was being ridden in the opposite direction. The horse trampled her, and she later died of internal injuries.
The public often complained about cyclists riding on pavements and cyclist ‘flitting about in the dark causing terror’, so in 1878 new bye laws were introduced in Devon. A cyclist could only ride on the left side of the road and had to fix both a bell and a lamp (of not less than two inches in diameter) to the bicycle. No bicycle could be ridden on a footpath or pavement or be ridden faster than 10 miles an hour. The penalty for offenders would not exceed forty shillings.