Cycling down memory lane

Recent Yesteryear articles have mentioned the old Charlie Cole cycle shop which was a feature of High Street North, Dunstable, for many years.

It is seen here, next to the White Hart Inn, in a photo taken in 1983 by Bertha Eyre, a few years before the shop became a branch of the Nationwide Building Society. The smaller picture, inset, shows the scene today.

Readers have asked: What happened to Charlie and that “penny-farthing” bicycle which was fastened above his shop front for so many years?

Well…Charlie died in 1991 just before his 91st birthday. He passed away while on holiday in Majorca.

Charlie had been a famous racing cyclist, winning many trophies on grass tracks and in time trials in the 1930s and ‘40s, and then continuing to dominate veteran races.

His first cycle shop in Dunstable was in West Street, in 1924. He moved to High Street North in about 1933, taking over what had been a hat shop.

The shop was much older than it looked. It was a Tudor building, dating to the early 17th century, hidden behind a more-modern façade.

Charlie’s son, John, now living in Scawsby Close, Dunstable, remembers the “penny farthing” very well. He once rode it down the high street as part of a Dunstable Carnival procession in the early 1960s.

But John points out that it should not really be called a “penny farthing”. It was a French-made “ordinary”, manufactured by Peugeot in about 1886.

It was given to John’s dad by Harold Knowles, who was a market gardener in the area.

John, who was a successful racing cyclist in his own right, says it was sold to some collectors from Birmingham when the shop moved to new premises in High Street South in 1985. The collectors had it restored but he does not know its present whereabouts.

John was short-listed for Great Britain’s 1952 Olympics team, but injured his foot in a training accident on the Isle of Man, and had to drop out.

More information has been sent to us about the cycle shop in Church Street, whose workshop was featured on a recent Yesteryear page.

Historian Peter Mayne says the photo must date back to the 1890s, judging by the gas lighting in the workshop, the size of the cogs on the bicycles and the fact that the workers were hand-making the bicycle frames.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of Dunstable and District Local History Society