Before the Wheelers came the Wanderers!

Doncaster Wheelers are of course a very well-known and successful cycling club based in the town, but did you know that there was once a forerunner to the Wheelers known as the Doncaster Wanderers? Heritage Doncaster‘s Assistant Museums Officer Nicola has been digging into the archives to find out more.

Doncaster Wanderers were certainly in existence by 1882. Founder members included local men Tom Frost and William Ord, who had previously been members of a club called the Doncaster Bicycle Club. We know this because the Sheffield Independent reported that on 14th August 1881 seven members of this club, including Frost and Ord, were fined 15 shillings each for riding their bicycles at Bawtry without having their lamps lit! Tom Frost became a very well-known local racing cyclist, while William Ord went on to become Alderman and Mayor of Preston.

It seems that the original members of the Doncaster Wanderers Cycling Club enjoyed many cycling meetings across Yorkshire. In August 1882, the club joined in with the sixth annual meet of the North of England Bicycle Clubs held at Harrogate. In total, 802 Yorkshire cyclists attended. Perhaps inspired by the level of interest in their sport, Doncaster Wanderers decided to hold a meeting of cyclists in Doncaster the following year. By 1884, the second annual meet in Doncaster attracted 200 cyclists from Rotherham, Leeds, Wakefield and Barnsley amongst other places. The cyclists met at Christ Church on Saturday 21st June and formed a procession which travelled to the race course and back again. This was followed by a “meat tea” at the Reindeer Hotel.

In 1884, Doncaster Wanderers decided to join the National Cyclists Union and in 1885 the club held their first annual race meeting on Saturday 11th July at Doncaster Racecourse. Prizes to the value of £30 were offered as well as one and two miles open bicycle handicaps, with the entrance fee being two shillings for each event. At the end of the day’s racing, a procession was formed at South Parade, which included at least 250 members of cycling clubs from all over Yorkshire. The event went from strength to strength the following year, with representatives from 38 Yorkshire cycling clubs.

For most cycling club devotees, the social interaction offered by such an organisation was a welcome part of membership. In 1887, Doncaster Wanderers organised a “smoking concert” (which sounds awful!) which raised 23 shillings in aid of the Lifeboat Fund. Cyclists across the country contributed to the RNLI Cyclists’ Jubilee Fund, which resulted in the purchase of a new lifeboat at Hartlepool. Furthermore, an annual dinner was held every year at the Reindeer Hotel for members of Doncaster Wanderers. In 1889, the club took part in a procession alongside the Volunteer Band and the Buglers Band to raise money for Doncaster Infirmary.

The club seemed to be in a very strong position by 1890. A journalist from the Athletic News visited their clubhouse in 1893 and found it to be very well appointed. He commented that “The fine billiard table, speed trainer, etc, are the actual property of the members. This speaks well for those who have had the guiding of the club’s destiny in the past”. However, this year saw the retirement of Doncaster Wanderers’ most popular and successful member, Tom Frost. It seems that his departure contributed towards a decline in the activity of the club in the town, as several members moved towards social rather than cycle gatherings.

The Club enjoyed a brief resurgence in 1899, with the opening of a new club house on the High Street in Doncaster. The Athletic News reported that it was to be hoped that the Wanderers would make their presence felt again and take a more active part in cycling in the town. In 1900 they once again held an annual sports meeting along Bennetthorpe, but in 1902 the club removed its affiliation with the South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire Centre N.C.U. and nothing seems to have been heard of Doncaster Wanderers from that point onwards.

Doncaster Wanderers were not the only cycling club enjoying success in the town at the end of the nineteenth century. Other clubs included the Doncaster Cycling Club and Doncaster Excelsior Athletic Club. However, it seems that cycling clubs fell out of fashion in Doncaster by the time of the First World War, and the town lacked a real cycling club by the time the Doncaster Wheelers were formed in 1926.

Today Doncaster Wanderers are just a record in an old newspaper, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if a photograph of these pioneers of local cycling could be unearthed?! Are you able to help? Please contact us if you have any more information to share.

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