1427 miles would seem, to many sailors, a relatively meagre distance. However, to make this immense journey on nothing more than a tricycle over dirt roads more than 100 years ago, is undeniably an astounding feat. Charles Edward Reade, a naval officer on leave in the 19th century, travelled across England on an old Victorian tricycle, and he recorded his adventures in his book of 1880, Nauticus on his Hobby Horse or the Adventures of a Sailor During a Tricycle Cruise of 1427 Miles. Written anonymously, Nauticus’ noble story has been almost completely forgotten, despite its witty depictions of Victorian England and the astonishing nature of his journey.
The book is an account of his journey through a number of the country’s most notable cities and towns, including Leeds, Portsmouth and Southampton. He also tells of his adventures in small market towns, including Oundle, which he passed through in order to visit his brother, The Revd Henry St John Reade, Headmaster of Oundle School.
The bicycle was first invented by a German engineer in 1817, and it was originally known as the ‘Dandy Horse’. It was not until 1885 that the first Chain Driven model was invented, and since then the bicycle has evolved very little.
The tricycle, however, was invented long before its two-wheeled descendent; another German engineer, Stephan Farffler, built the first trike in the mid-17th century to help disabled people like himself to move about with ease. It was certainly not created with the intention of long distance travel, although it seems to have been able to serve that purpose!
According to bikeradar.com, Reade rode a Coventry Machinists Cheylesmore Tricycle (as supplied to HRH The Prince of Wales), getting it repaired by local blacksmiths along the way.
Reade dedicates a chapter of his short book to his journey around Oundle, describing it as a “charming little town of nice old-fashioned houses and well-kept streets.” He also writes: “The church has a beautiful tower and spire in perfect harmony with one another” and he mentions there is a school which is “just getting its ‘name up’ ”.
Along the way he recounts a close encounter with a dog-cart, which he says was no more than a “postage stamp’s distance” away from his tricycle, nicknamed “Chummy”. He is indignant that the dog-cart, “driving rapidly”, is going at ten miles an hour.
While in the area he visits the ruins of Lord Winchelsea’s mansion at Kirby, which he describes as positively gone to ruin and overrun with all sorts of animals. He depicts the residents of Oundle picnicking at Kirby Hall, scribbling their names on the ruins, and even throwing rocks at the windows so that “there is scarcely a whole pane of glass left”. After this brief excursion, he tells of an unfriendly welcome at an unnamed local manor house. Visiting country houses to admire the art and architecture was common enough for local tourists in his time, and so Reade is outraged by the fact that he is not at first let in by a snooty footman.
Ioan Thomas told the Oundle Chronicle about the book, which he had noticed in a footnote in William Walker’s famous book on Oundle School’s history. Thomas was delighted to be able to consult a copy in the British Library, and described it as an “amazing, very humorous account”.
Reade’s cycling adventures did not end in England though. In 1883 he published Nauticus in Scotland – A tricycle Tour of 2,462 Miles, Including Skye and the West Coast, which was initially published in the Boys Own Paper.
Little is know about Reade. Born in Reading in 1842, he does not appear in any public record after that. His books remain the only record of his adventurous life.
The books can now be read online at archive.org, and are also available to buy print-on-demand.
With the Women’s Tour having passed through Oundle in May, it is interesting to know that cycling, or indeed tricycling, is by no means a recent news story in Oundle.
By Thomas Bailey