Cycling Crime: Stories from the Archives

As bicycles became more affordable to ordinary people towards the end of the nineteenth century, the number of machines in circulation increased considerably. However, this also meant that there were far more opportunities for cycle-related crime to occur! Heritage Doncaster‘s Assistant Museums Officer Nicola Fox has been looking through the archives and found out that reports of cycle theft were incredibly common in Doncaster at this time.

Ram hotel
The Ram Hotel c. 1900. Image copyright Heritage Doncaster

Quite often, bicycles were loaned from cycle dealers for a small deposit, and then never seen again. For example, in 1905 Joseph Greenfield was remanded in custody charged with stealing two bicycles from Arthur Saynor, a cycle dealer on Prince’s Street, Doncaster. He claimed to want to hire two bicycles for a few weeks and paid £1 deposit, but disappeared with the machine. Similarly, in 1902 William Burton was charged with stealing the bicycle of Joseph Nettleship, a plumber from Cleveland Street. It was claimed that he was apprehended at the Ram Hotel with the bicycle and when the police arrived he claimed that he was drunk and did not know until next morning what he was charged with.

Alcohol also played a part in a bicycle theft that took place in 1911. A wagon builder named Thomas Henehan was charged with stealing a bicycle worth £2 belonging to Arthur Moate, a builder from Balby. When the case came to court however, it seemed that Henehan had been made something of a scapegoat, as his two friends who were with him at the time of the theft claimed that they were all drunk because it was election day, and all had a hand in stealing the bicycle. Sometimes, however, bicycle theft was more serious. In 1915, a man called Tom Wilson of Westwoodside, serving as a private in the 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment, was sentenced to six months in prison for stealing a total of eight bicycles.

Bicycle crime did not only involve theft of the machines. In 1881 seven members of the Doncaster Bicycle Club, named Frost, Brook, Blythe, Ord, Frith, Senior and Kenrick, were each ordered to pay 15s for riding on their bicycles at Bawtry on 14th July without having their lamps lighted. Another individual who fell foul of the law on headlamps was Frank G Earnshaw, a poor rate collector and assistant overseer who was summoned to court for riding a bicycle without a light and was ordered to pay 14s, including costs.

Mexborough c. 1900. Image copyright Heritage Doncaster

Another daring criminal was George Thomas Preston, the Secretary of the Mexborough Cycle Club, who in March 1894 was charged with using a field for the purpose of betting. He had arranged the betting so that the Mexborough Cycle Club should take one third of the gate money for this event. George Preston was ordered to pay 20s and costs. An unusual case occurred in 1902, when seven Italians were charged with trespassing in the station yard of the Great Northern Railway. They claimed they were all learning to ride a bicycle, and refused to leave when challenged by the police. However, they were each only fined 1s, suggesting that the magistrates were not unduly concerned about this particular case!

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