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Vegetarian Cyclists - a History (part 1) Vegan Views 61 (Summer 1993)


The Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club can trace its origins back to 1887, the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.

In September of that year, Leslie Large of Lewisham, an enthusiastic worker in the Vegetarian movement and a keen cyclist, placed notices in a number of periodicals inviting other vegetarian cyclists to contact him with a view to forming a Vegetarian Cyclists Club (VCC).

Their objective was to provide a means of contact between vegetarian cycling enthusiasts and to seek to prove, by the yardstick of athletic competition that vegetarians could easily hold their own against their meat eating counterparts.

Through the Spring and Summer of 1888 a series of club runs and social events were held and the membership built up steadily until over 100 names were on the roll.

The first formal meeting was held on October 9th 1888 at the Central Vegetarian Restaurant, St. Bride Street, London and this was followed by a meeting on February 9th 1888 at the Appletree Vegetarian Restaurant, 34, London Wall, when Leslie Large was elected as the first Secretary and Arnold F. Hills, a wealthy industrialist became the first President. The name of the club was confirmed as the Vegetarian Cycling Club. Reports from those early days are few but it is evident that VCC racing cyclists performed competently if not outstandingly.

Henry Light, a founder member who was elected captain in 1890, soon became the driving force behind the club and under his direction standards of performance of the VCC men improved steadily.

Making a Mark

1896 saw the VCC achieve its first outstanding success when Jim Parsley of Peckham won the prestigious Catford Hill Climb, the country's top event, in record time. The VCC were cock-a-hoop at this major breakthrough and held a dinner in Parsley's honour. Lion of the evening though, was Henry Light who was presented with "an iron-framed pianoforte" in recognition of his work for the club.

In 1896 the green and gold triangular badge was introduced. Sadly, the same year, Leslie Large, while on a visit to Edinburgh, died of diphtheria just as his dreams were becoming a reality.

In the mid-to-late 1890s the VCC cyclists really began to make their mark on both road and path. Riders such as the Nickel brothers, Wherlow, Sharp, Bryning, Wyatt, Parker, Walker, Newman and the Pfeiderer family achieved performances well beyond previous club standards.

The Stars

John Berclay, the first Secretary of the Scottish Vegetarian Society won many prizes in the running events in the West of Scotland.

George Antony Olley, the VCC's first superstar, started his brilliant career by setting up figures for the London-Portsmouth and back record in 1809 and went on to break many records on road and path including the London-Edinburgh and the Land's End to John o' Groats twice in 1907 and 1908 and the 1,000 mile record in 1907.

In the early years of this century the club went from strength to strength and was well organised socially. The club won several best attendance awards at Cyclists' rallies; a flourishing ladies branch started its own active programme. Cyclists such as Ragan, Ratcliffe, Agnew, Paul, Newall, Pulman, Beurle, Pearce, Gibben, Heath, Carpender, Jarratt and Briault ensured that the club's name figured prominently in the result list, whilst, up in Scotland, the redoubtable Jock Miller rallied his vegetarian cronies to form an active Scottish Branch.

As Olley's career came to a close, Fred Grubb, haled as "the fastest cyclist in the world" emerged onto the Club scene and proved to be a prolific winner and record breaker on the track and the road creating National records in both spheres.

In 1910 Charlie Davey joined the club and rapidly rose to prominence both in his own right and as a team backer for Grubb. Davey broke seven RRA records between 1914 and 1926. He held the 24-hour tandem paced track record and won open events from 50 miles to 24 hours.

Also Athletics

During that period cycling was not VCC's only forte; athletes were becoming prominent. The Bacon brothers, six of them, all good alround athletes of splendid physique gained many boxing and wrestling successes. Eustace Miles was ten times English Tennis Champion. Emil and Withers figured prominently and George Alan, the little Leicester shoemaker, walked from Land's End to John o' Groats in 1904 and 1900. The club even had a Ladies' Swimming Section Secretary - Miss L. Seal!

As a result of the increase in athletic activities, the club's name was changed in 1909 to the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club. In 1910, our cyclists adopted the white sleeve stripe to facilitate identification for feeding purposes. The 1912 Olympic Road Race held at Stockholm saw six Club members selected as representatives; three in the English team, two in the Scottish and one in the Irish.

With the outbreak of war in 1914 virtually every able bodied man was either coerced or conscripted "to serve King and Country". The Club was kept going on a social basis throughout the war years but no athletic activities were carried out.

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Cross-reference: Endurance of the Veggie/Vegan Diet