1910 Velo Garcon Houssouliez ‘La Calaisienne’

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1477 calais


Due to its position, Calais since the Middle Ages was a major port and a very important centre for transport and trading with England. The English needed a foothold on the continent to serve as a trading centre, mainly for exports of English wool to further European destinations and to compete with the marts of the low-countries, through which much of this trade had formerly been conducted. The town was most conveniently situated as the closest landing point from England, and adjacent to the low-country trading markets.

Following theBattle of Crecy, in 1346, the ‘Pale of Calais was controlled by Edward III of England, and the area grew into a thriving centre for wool production. By 1453, at the end of the Hundred Years’ War, it was the only part of mainland France to remain in English hands. During the English occupation, the people of the Pale of Calais retained their identity as Dutch and Picard speakers.

The town came to be called the ‘brightest jewel in the English crown’ owing to its great importance as the gateway for the tin, lead, cloth and wool trades (collectively known as ‘staples’). Its customs revenues amounted at times to a third of the English government’s revenue, with wool being the most important element by far. Of its population of about 12,000 people, as many as 5,400 were recorded as having been connected with the wool trade. The governorship was a lucrative and highly prized public office: for example, Dick Whittington was simultaneously Lord Mayor of London and Mayor of the Staple in 1407.

While it was possible to resupply and defend Calais easily by sea, in the absence of any natural defence it depended on fortifications maintained and built up at some expense. However, its main defence had been that both the French and the Burgundians each coveted the city. However, each faction preferred to see it under the English rather than ruled by their rival. Changing political circumstances between France and Spain meant that, in 1550 when England surrendered the area around Boulogne (taken by Henry VIII in 1544) meant that the approaches to Calais were opened.

The Pale of Calais remained controlled by England until finally lost by the English Queen Mary I in 1558. 30,000 French troops, led by Francis, Duke of Guise, retook the town, and its loss was recognised under the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559).


Until the nineteenth century, with the introduction of the railway, travel was slow, expensive and often dangerous: on an 18th century horse-drawn stagecoach, you could travel from Paris to Calais or Dover to London within a long, dusty day – highwaymen and the state of the roads permitting.

Crossing the channel by sailing ship was at the mercy of tides and weather, and landing was a problem – harbours on both sides were rather shallow and not well protected against storms. Local boatmen at both Dover and Calais charged more to row passengers ashore with their luggage than it cost to cross the Channel.

Early nineteenth century paddle-steamers were a big advance on previous ferry services, In 1820 the French government bought a pioneer Glasgow-built paddle-steamer, the Rob Roy, to carry the mails from Calais to Dover. It proved fast and reliable in the open sea and, in 1822, a Dover company used two paddle steamers to carry the English Post Office’s mail and passengers across the channel. All were tiny boats by the standard of today’s ferries – with wooden hulls, 30-odd hp engines, about 100tons, 15ft wide, 80+ft long. Being small, the ships tossed about in waves; seasick passengers travelled on deck with little shelter.

The London-Dover railway opened in 1844, and a smart hotel was built in Dover to accommodate rich travellers waiting for the next paddle steamer. Long distance railway routes brought more passengers to the channel ports. Boulogne now began a long rivalry with Calais to develop the ferry trade: the South Eastern Railway company were able to buy and improve the neighbouring port of Folkestone, from where they operated a fleet of steamships with connecting train-ship-train services between London and Paris, aimed at wealthy travellers.

During the second half of the 19th century, better deep-water harbours began to be built on both sides of the channel. The Admiralty Pier was Dover’s first deep-water berth and, from 1850, ferries could land their passengers at any state of the tide, without having to pass the shallow inner harbour entrance. Finally, in 1895, after decades of deliberation, the Admiralty decided to build a large deep-water anchorage and naval base at Dover, to help defence of the South east coast.

Novel ‘water-cycles’ were constructed in the early twentieth century. Below you can see H. A. Rigby cycling towards the shore after his 12 hour journey from Folkestone to Calais on his water-cycle in 1921.


1910 Houssouliez la Calaisienne 04

1910 Velo Garcon Houssouliez ‘La Calaisienne’

18″ Frame

20″ Wheels

Tens of thousands of local shops badged bicycles for sale throughout France and, unfortunately, despite much research, nothing has been discovered about the company in Calais that manufactured or sold this French boys’ bicycle. Its transfers (decals) have faded, but its badge reveals its identity as ‘La Calaisienne.’

1910 Houssouliez la Calaisienne 04

calais bicycles

1910 Houssouliez la Calaisienne 04















1910 Houssouliez la Calaisienne 04