Penny Farthing Thoughts

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George Toyn COLLEY is a first cousin once removed to Anne Elizabeth GRAINGER (Wednesday’s post), and the only one of George Colley and Sarah TOYN’s children to live longer than five weeks.

The photograph, kindly supplied by Alan Hardcastle, (George Toyn’s great-grandson), is undated but was probably taken in Wandsworth or Lambeth in the mid to late 1880s. Reaching the age of 21 in 1883, George had received a bequest from his father and used the money to start a bicycle business in London. High wheelers were all the rage in that decade but, as you can easily imagine, were somewhat dangerous to ride in competitive races. The introduction of “safety bicycles” in the 90s saw the penny-farthing go out of fashion.

George apprenticed in Beverley as a bricklayer. The 1881 census caught him there aged 19, living with cousin Robert PAPE. Ten years later he is a married man in Wandsworth with two infant children – and working as a bricklayer. His bicycle business had failed.

Considering his reasons for leaving a steady trade to speculate in a new-fangled and fast-moving business (sorry, couldn’t resist), I thought of Filey’s World Champion racing cyclist, Herbert Liddell CORTIS. He was “at his zenith” in the years 1878 to 1880, riding in 128 races, winning over half, and amassing trophies valued at £1500 (about £140,000 today). On the 2nd of August 1882, aged 25, he had his last race, breaking several distance records on the way to becoming the first man to ride twenty miles in an hour.

Did Herbert’s renown encourage the Filey born bricklayer to sell bicycles? For a short time, the Colley and Cortis families had been near neighbours in Filey, the one at Cliff Terrace and later 6 North Street, the other on the corner of North and John Streets. George was only three when his father died, and four when he was orphaned. Soon after, the Papes in Beverley took him in as one of their own. Herbert was five years older and the two may never have met but news of the champ would surely have reached George by the early 80s, and perhaps influenced his move to London and the career change.

George reached his majority on 17 August 1883. Two weeks earlier, and the day after his Final Race, Herbert had married Mary BRUCE. Four days after George’s 21st, Herbert and Mary set sail for Australia on the Carlisle Castle. Herbert died just over three years later in Carcoar, New South Wales.

George Toyn married on 26 December 1885 and had four children with Charlotte WARLEY. The “Spanish ‘flu” took Charlotte in 1918 and George died in Croydon in July 1940.

You can find George and Herbert on the Shared Tree. Herbert has a blue plaque on the Evron Centre wall in Filey.

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