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Museum to celebrate ‘Dorking: Cycling Capital of England’

Exhibition details long tradition of cycling in Mole Valley

A new exhibition will celebrate the history and development of cycling in and around Dorking reports the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser. While a number of locals are dismayed at the increase in cycling events in Mole Valley, Dorking Museum is rather more keen to celebrate the history and development of the sport in the local area.

Prepared by the museum in partnership with Dorking Cycling Club, ‘Dorking: Cycling Capital of England’ opened on January 8 with exhibits ranging from an early penny farthing to a shirt signed by Sir Bradley Wiggins dating from his time in the area prior to the 2012 Olympics.

The exhibition attempts to highlight how Dorking has been at the forefront of leisure and competitive cycling for almost 150 years, right from the day when local ironmonger, Lewis Saubergue, became one of the first in England to buy a foot-propelled velocipede "boneshaker" in 1868.

A harrowing revelation for those who signed the Stop Surrey Being Turned Into a Cycle Track petition will be the fact that Mole Valley’s appeal to cyclists is certainly nothing new. In the 1890s, hundreds of cyclists would regularly descend for a fortnight at a time for a cycling summer camp at Poultry Farm that basically amounted to a huge cycling-themed festival. In 1896, over 6,000 people attended to enjoy singing, dancing and sport, and each year there was a torchlit procession through the town with 200-300 cyclists in fancy dress led by a band. A year later, Dorking Cycling Club began twice weekly club runs with members also taking part in road races.

Perhaps anti-cycling campaigners would prefer a return to the situation in the 1920s when road racing was illegal. The exhibition describes how local competitors would try and avoid both police and congestion by making 5am starts from the bandstand in Dorking. Who knows, perhaps this was also early enough to evade saboteurs armed with boxes of drawing pins.

Nowadays, in the wake of worldwide coverage of the 2012 Olympics, you’d expect cycling interest to be at an all-time high, yet the Mole Valley Local Cycling Plan – an effort to improve cycling facilities and training for everyday cyclists – has met with strong resistance. Whatever Dorking’s historic claims to being ‘cycling capital of England,’ the sport’s universal popularity isn’t what one local councillor was referring to when he described it as being ‘a hot topic’ in the area.

The exhibition will run until May 9. Dorking Museum is open between 10am and 4pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at The Old Foundry, 62 West Street. Admission is £2 for adults and £1 for concessions with under-5s eligible for free entry. A family ticket is also available for £4.50.

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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