If i wasn’t a member of the Bristol South (God Save the Bristol South!) then i’d probably be a member of the Clarion. In fact, if i’d known about the Clarion back in the day there’s every chance i would have joined them. It’s a national organisation with regional sections, all affiliated to the bigger club. You can join the ‘central section’, or you can set up your own regional section of one person.
The club was formed in 1895 (2 years after the Bristol South) and got its name from the socialist newspaper of the same title. It was a part of a broader socialist movement, with lots of different leisure clubs being formed, including Rambling, Choirs (Vocal unions), Handicraft, Field, Drama, and Cinderella clubs. The cycling clubs were forged in the crucible of industrial Britain: Stoke, Bradford, Liverpool, Birmingham and Barnsley. There are similarities between the Clarion and the Bristol South – and most other clubs formed at the turn of the 20th century; they offered something beyond the factory wall and the increased personal mobility and awareness of leisure time coincided with the affordability and rise of the bicycle as a means of mass transport.
it’s the era of humphrey jennings and mass observation, socialist movements and consensus politics. the bike gave freedom and camaraderie and the opportunity to get out and about. Humphrey Jennings was making documentary films in the 30s and 40s emerging from the GPO film unit. He was attuned to the rhythms and sounds of contemporary life. it’s easy to say he was ‘ahead of his time’; in truth the cadence and calm observation (with an occasional somnolent voiceover) is vital and fascinating. I saw Spare Time at the BFI some years ago, and would recommend that if there’s a Mass Observation repertory screening near you that you head along. The clip below is from ‘Spare Time’; I like the strange kazoos and the film-woven fabric of sound and images.
looking back through the BSCC archive it’s hard not to impose a similar reading onto the photos – images of people out and about in the countryside, smiling or reposed, miles away from work and the city. i wonder if people will look back at photos i’ve taken in 80 years time and see a similar desire to escape, this time from the constraints of the modern world, of technological chaos, the voracious and insular tyranny of the motorcar and the tensions of the age, and in the faces of the cyclists see a calm and peace that comes from the physicality and realness of being out on the bike. if so, they’ll see a genuine timelessness from within the passage of time, linked by the shared happiness and fellowship (for lack of fellowship is death) of cycling and the cycling club, be it the Clarion or the South.