Ireland’s first cycling club, the Amateur Velocipede Club, was organised in Dublin by Dr Austin Meldon in 1869. Its first two meeting places were Meldon’s house at 10 Weston Row and the house of a pawnbroker, Edward A. Hayden, at 43 Clarendon Street, before a permanent club premises were found at the Exhibition Palace Annexe at Earlsfort Terrace on 26 November 1869. The club met on Wednesday evenings, when as many as seventy members often assembled for practice and also to learn various cycling tricks. Meldon’s club — one of the first in the world — petered out in 1873, due to the premises having to be given up and the club’s inability to find suitable alternative accommodation, as well as the death of some of the principal members. Another Dublin club, the Earlsfort Terrace Machinery Court Club (which was either the second or third to be established in Ireland) was formed in 1870, possibly connected with Neal’s riding school in the Exhibition Palace building, but it does not appear to have lasted as long as Meldon’s club.
– ‘Cycling in Victorian Ireland’, by Brian Griffin
The new velocipede craze spread from France, America and Britain. Dublin embraced it with typical aplomb, as described above. The ‘Amateur Velocipede Club’ was formed in 1869 and boasted 70 members attending a weekly meeting in order to practice riding.
A club would have needed a supply of velocipedes, so I assume there was a sales enterprise associated with it. There would have been no shortage of velocipedes from England. There’s no mention of how many of the club members owned a velocipede; presumably most were trying out the stock machines. I’ve not yet found any record of local velocipede builders in Dublin apart from Ledwidge. But I assume there to have been more workshops catering to local demand over the few years that the velocipede was in vogue.
As you can see below in this extract from ‘English Mechanic’ of May 28, 1869, P. Ledwidge advertised his services as a velocipede maker at 32 Amiens St, Dublin. The National Museum of Ireland has a Ledwidge velocipede in their collection (photo at the bottom of the page), so it looks like he must have turned out a decent quantity of machines.
BICYCLES: EARLY DAYS IN IRELAND
1836. First use of hobby horse in Dublin, but it didn’t catch on and went out of fashion.
1850s. Quadricycles were quite common in Ireland, manufactured by one company in Dublin.
1852. William Blood of Co Clare made the first tricycle, later inventing the Dublin tricycle.
1864. First Irishman known to ride a bicycle (velocipede) Dr Austin Meldon.
1869. Meldon founded the first cycling club in Ireland, the Amateur Velocipede club. In the same year Richard Brennan of Dungarvan was the first to tour Ireland on a velocipede.
1869. First man from Northern Ireland known to ride a bicycle was Professor Everett of Queen’s University who toured around the north.
1873. First cycling club in Northern Ireland, the Ariel bicycle club (all had to ride Ariel ordinaries). Later renamed the Northern Cycling Club. Many other clubs appeared in Belfast in the early 1880s: Windsor, Richmond, Greenisland, Mossley, Cruisers, and Western bicycle club
Maker: P. Ledwidge, 32 Amiens St, Dublin, Ireland
Front wheel 35″
Rear wheel 30″
This velocipede was purchased from a gentleman in Northern Ireland who inherited from his Uncle George who had died aged 103. George was photographed with this machine in a parade soon after World War 2 – you can see it further down the page.
A surprising quantity of velocipedes have survived over the past 150 years, but few of the survivors have a maker’s plate or ‘cartouche’ (stamping or engraving) to identify them. This Ledwidge is stamped on both sides of the backbone, though the one on the right side is more prominent (below).
The Ledwidge is well-made, and quite lightweight. It seems to be styled after French velocipedes rather than English machines. The wheels on it at the moment are poor replicas, made some decades ago. I’ve enquired at a local wheelwright about building a correct set of wheels. The hubs would be made of elm, the spokes of oak, and the felloes (rims) of ash. They quoted a price of £1600, but have a waiting list of at least 4 months.
GOD SAVE THE KING
Uncle George on parade with this same velocipede, late 1940s
1869 ENGLISH MECHANIC MAGAZINE
In the Veteran Cycle Club magazine of December 1984 / January 1985 (below), there was a report of a trip to Canterbury by some club members, with a stop to explore Rochester Museum. The author mentioned a velocipede stamped ‘Ledgwidge’. I’ve contacted Rochester Museum and I’ll visit when I’m next in the area to photograph these two survivors together. I’ll update this page once I’ve been there.
THE LEDWIDGE at the NATIONAL MUSEUM of IRELAND
Cycling in Victorian Ireland by Brian Griffin 2006 A main source of this book was the Irish Cyclist magazine published by Mecredey in Dublin.
The Art and Pastime of Cycling R J Mecredy 1892 Written in Dublin by Mecredey, the great Irish cycling pioneer. Reprinted this century in America by Michigan Library, though now out of print.
Thom’s Irish Almanac and Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: for the Year 1869 (Dublin: Alexander Thom, 1869), p.1400; Irish Cyclist, 26 March 1890.
Irish Wheelman, 25 September 1894.