Into the Heart of England: an 1898 travel story

When Winfred E. Garrison bicycled across Great Britain and central Europe more than a hundred years ago, what were the roads like? How much did his bicycle weigh? How far could he travel in a typical day? What did he wear? Was it safe to bicycle through those parts of the world? Was he the man who disappeared during a round-the-world trip and was never heard from again? These are some of the questions that people have raised after reading my first post from Garrison’s 1900 book, Wheeling Through Europe.

The last question is easy to answer. No, he was not the man who disappeared. Garrison lived a long and fruitful life as church historian, with most of his career at the University of Chicago. He died in 1969 at age 94. The lost cyclist was Frank Lenz of Pittsburgh, who started his trip in 1892, six years before Garrison’s summer in Great Britain. Lenz’s story has recently been recounted, in full detail and with many pictures, by David V. Herlihy in The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance.

The other questions are more difficult to answer, largely because Garrison gives little information about these matters. He offers hints about his “wheel” (its color, for instance–green–and the fact that he had pneumatic tires), the roads traveled, his clothes, and how far he would go in a day, but the information is sketchy. He is more interested in the character and mood of the journey than in the external details of the journey.

Information about these matters can be gleaned from other sources, such as Archibald Sharp’s 1896 book Bicycles & Tricycles: An Elementary Treatise on Their Design and Construction reprinted in 1977 by MIT Press). In later posts I may add notes derived from this compendium of technical information about the development and functional characteristics of bicycles during the decade that Garrison made his trips.

Garrison and his friend arrived in Liverpool during a prolonged rain storm, but they started out that very day, following their rule that everything was to be enjoyed. Here are the first few lines of  his first chapter, “Into the Heart of England.”

“A rainy Sunday at sea, a rainy Monday off the north coast of Ireland, and then we land at Liverpool on a rainy Tuesday morning. The immediate outlook for cycling is not brilliant, but one of the rules already laid down is that everything is to be enjoyed. Remembering this, we comment upon the beauty of all rain, and the special beauty of this particular shower. Then we go out and get wet in it. It seems rather an ominous indication of a moist climate that nearly every other shop on the first street we ascend displays waterproof goods in the windows.

“It seems as if half the population earned its living by keeping the other half dry. I have since learned that this is a slight overestimate of the importance of the mackintosh industry in England, but my conviction of its magnitude remains. In the course of a nine weeks’ tour in any civilized land one is sure to have a variety of weather, and some of it wet. If we start with the worst, the next change must be for the better. On the basis of such sage considerations as these we determined to make the start at once. Mounting our wheels early in the afternoon we rode out of Liverpool in a torrent of rain, and down the road toward Manchester.”

To read the full story, click here:  Into the Heart of England

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