A borrowed bobby’s bicycle: Ann’s cycling story

Doncaster resident Ann Archer remembers the night her Dad took a ride on a policeman’s bicycle and left him holding the babies:

“When my sister and I were growing up, both of our parents worked so childcare was often an issue. My mother was more ambitious and driven than my father – definitely a woman ahead of her time – so it was never a case of the mum always staying at home to care for the children while the dad worked.

On one occasion in the late 1950s, when we were still very young, Dad was at home looking after us whilst Mum worked the twilight shift. Dad used to write little plays and skits for us to perform, so we were busy doing that when there was a knock at the door.

Dad went to answer it and found a policeman standing on the doorstep. The policeman told him that he needed to come along to the station to vouch for somebody who was being held in custody for getting involved in an altercation. It was my uncle (my mum’s brother) – he had asked the police to fetch his brother-in-law to vouch for him because he was too nervous to tell his own mum or dad that he was being cautioned by the police!

Dad wanted to go and help, but he had a problem – namely, the two little girls behind him in the living room. He told the policeman that he was looking after his children so he couldn’t go. Also, he had no way of getting to the station other than walking, which would take too long.

The policeman promptly replied that he would stay behind and look after us, and he had the answer to Dad’s transport issue too – the shiny police bicycle he’d ridden to our house, which was leaning against our gate. My sister and I were very impressed by it and the policeman was good-natured; he let us each take a turn sitting on it, before Dad set off down the road.

So that was how my dad ended up feeling quite important, riding to Edlington police station on a borrowed policeman’s bike. I can’t imagine he shared the ride when he finally collected my uncle – I reckon my uncle probably had to walk home! Shows how things have changed – somehow I can’t imagine a policeman letting a member of the public nip off in his car these days, or offering to babysit a stranger’s kids!”

Ann also remembers her grandfather Frank’s epic cycling journeys to visit his family:

“My grandfather Frank had a large family with a wife and six children to support. He worked two jobs – he was a miner and a cobbler.

Frank had moved to Edlington in Doncaster for the mines, but his mother and other relatives lived in Moss Side, in Greater Manchester. Frank used to cycle over to visit his mother on a regular basis, at least once a month. Edlington to Moss Side is a 61 mile journey – and that’s only one way. The bike was a basic model and didn’t have any gears. It had brakes but they weren’t always that reliable. Putting his feet to the ground and digging his heels in was often the best way of stopping the bike.

Frank used to make this journey partly to visit his mum, but also to bring supplies over from the rest of the family to his own wife and kids. His mum would send him back laden with large rolls of fabric, which he used to hang off his handlebars, and barrels of oil which he would balance in his basket. The fabric was used to make clothes for the family; his wife Elsie, my grandmother, would cut it up and sew it into clothes for all the children. (They may have had somewhat shapeless clothes, but their shoes were always good quality given Frank’s cobbler job!) The oil was for using in oil lamps. Necessary, but doubtless heavy to lug back on his bike – and obviously spilling it would be a disaster.

If Frank visited his mother on average once a month, that means he rode 1464 miles a year back and forth between Edlington and Moss Side alone, not counting all the other trips he’ll have made elsewhere. That’s a lot of cycling!”

Have Ann’s cycling stories sparked a similar childhood memory for you? We would love to hear from you! Check the ‘Get involved’ page for more information.

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