Cycle Babble: Places


That Mrs. Elworthy and her son are wearing these types of clothing in public at Beacon Hill Park, and displaying them for the family's camera, indicates that fashion had changed in Victoria in much the same way as Norcliffe indicated they did in other parts of Canada in response to the bike. Not only were new fashions related to the bike, but the places to be seen wearing such fashions had expanded as well.

Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park dates from the early colonial years of Victoria, having been used as a public commons since just after the founding of the Fort in 1842 and formally set aside as a "Park Reserve" in 1859.(1) It was a popular place for pleasure rides by non-competitive riders. Contemporary pictures and newspaper reports bear this out. This supports Norcliffe's theory that bicycles allowed owners to become "temporary player[s] in the drama of modernity, strongly attracted to visible places where [they] could join and interact with the crowd."(2)

Three photos and an illustrated newspaper advertisement provide evidence that people used bicycles in Beacon Hill Park to show off and to participate in modernity.

The second and third photos depict Clara Elworthy alone on a bench with her bike nearby and Mrs. Elworthy with one of her sons (Fred, Jr. or Robert), both standing beside their bikes. Both photos were taken by Frederick B. Elworthy, her husband.

The first shows an "Unidentified cyclist in Beacon Hill Park." Circa 1900, it shows him standing on a foot bridge, cap in hand, with his modern safety bike leaning against him. The bike is at the centre of the photo; the owner seems proud of it, and is showing it off in an artistically constructed photo for posterity. His clothing is relaxed and leisurely, indicating that he is neither a club member nor a racer. He is making a point of showing off his bicycle in a public space, by taking the time to have the photograph taken in a spot "visible" to the "crowd" (and posterity).

In the 1902 Victoria City Directoy, Mr. Elworthy's occupation is listed as secretary to the B.C. Board of Trade and Royal Jubilee Hospital.(3) The 1901 Census lists his income as $2400.(4) Compared with other secretaries listed in the 1902 directory, this is a high income, since those who have incomes listed usually earned between $900 and $1350.(5) Mr. Elworthy and his family were obviously rich enough to engage in both cycling and photography, expensive hobbies even at the end of the cycling craze in the early 20th century. The family also used the park to combine both hobbies in an expanded geography, that allowed them to publicly present the wealth and prestige associated with using modern technologies and tie those hobbies with their public image as a modern family.

These two photos also chart changes in fashion, and how it was presented in the public sphere. Mrs. Elworthy's clothing choices, along with her son's, show the liberating effects that cycling had on fashion. Norcliffe notes that fashions for women changed in the late Victorian period, and relates this to bicycles as well as other social forces.(6)  New clothes that allowed women to ride comfortably became more common during the 1890s. For instance, an illustrated advertisement for a cycling store in the British Colonist in 1895 shows a woman wearing clothes meant to make riding easier than earlier Victorian clothing would have. The woman is wearing early cycling pants for a woman; although they are still loose, and are designed to appear skirt like, they do have separate legs for ease of straddling bikes and come up well above her ankles to keep the pants from catching in the wheels, chain or pedals. The shirt she is wearing is tightly fitted around the waist, collar and wrists to avoid catching in the bike.

“Unidentified man in Beacon Hill Park.” City of Victoria Archives 98603- 07-1431 M08533.

Mrs. Clara Elworthy, Beacon Hill Park. City of Victoria Archives 97801-01-29  M07873.

Mrs. Elworthy  and one of her sons, Lover’s Lane, Beacon Hill Park. City of Victoria Archives 97801-01-97  M08534.

Mrs. Elworthy is shown wearing clothing similar to those in the advertisement to make riding her bicycle comfortable. Her skirt comes above the ankles, and provides enough material to easily straddle a bike while not catching in the tires. Her shirts and jackets are also fitted to be comfortable to move around in, while not catching in the bike's mechanisms. The child with Mrs. Elworthy (Fred, Jr. or Robert) also displays "a degree of informality" that Norcliffe notes was not "permitted" for children before the 1890s.(7)

“Just Received,” The Daily Colonist, April 30, 1895, page 5, <>

Copyright 2009. Vincent Gornall