London - Trafalgar Club

Catharine Lodge S Kensington : SW3 6LF London - Trafalgar Club : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Trafalgar Club : Image credit The Hub
The Trafalgar Bicycle Club was a private, exclusive club at Catharine Lodge in Trafalgar Square*. The building was a private house in the 1930s, and rumoured to be used for gambling and frequented by the Prince Regent. It then became Catharine Lodge, a private girl's school which closed in 1895.

The Trafalgar Club at Catharine Lodge was an extensive building with luncheon rooms, tea rooms, changing rooms, drawing room, reading rooms and a bicycle storage room. The four acre grounds had tennis and croquet lawns and a wooden, banked, covered bicycle track measuring eleven laps to the mile. This track was for practicing and social riding. The club made another banked gravel track within Trafalgar Square itself, the track was about a quarter of a mile around, ‘where fast riding may be practised.' There was also an area where members could learn how to ride a bicycle. The club advertised that "Humber machines and a competent staff of their instructors are always in attendance."

The Trafalgar Club was a fashionable and ‘smart' members club** which was set up as The Trafalgar Bicycle Club Limited by Sir William Call who was the managing director. Call also ran the fashionable Niagara ice skating club. New club members were accepted if they were already a member of another ‘acceptable' club, otherwise they were vetted by the Club Committee. The annual subscription was 5 guineas and the club was open from 8 am to 8 pm. The club was frequently referred to as a select club for the Upper Ten+.

The club opened officially on May 23rd 1895 with a series of bicycle races on the open track in Trafalgar Square. The men's bicycle events on the open track were a one mile invitation handicap race, with five heats followed by a five mile invitation scratch race. The day finished with an exhibition of trick riding by the Bale Troupe of bicyclists. There were no women's races.

In the Morning Post of June 22nd 1895, the club offered a Cup (value £20) for the person setting the best mile time between June 25th and July 28th riding a roadster bicycle. A rider paid 2s 6d for each attempt but the offer was only open to members of the top London clubs. This was probably an attempt by the club to increase its membership.

The Morning Post of July 12th 1895 announced that the club would give a ‘Handsome Prize' for the best recorded time for the best 1 lap flying start around the track made between July 4 and July 27 for a lady member or introduced by a member. Attempts cost 2s 6d.

The club organised a race on July 1st 1895 for the Trafalgar Plate, over a distance of twice around the track, about half a mile. Entrance to the race cost 5s and was open to members the Trafalgar, White's, Turf, Marlborough and Batchelors' clubs. There was a second race, over half a mile, for the Catharine Lodge Welter Plate for riders over 12 stone in weight.

On May 16th 1896 the Club held a ladies competition with prizes for appearance, costume and skilful riding. Miss Ethel Duncan was the successful competitor from 43 entrants, interestingly 7 of the women were in rational dress. Miss Duncan was attired in Messrs James Hart and Son's Patent Safety Cycling Costume, made of sapphire-blue cloth with white facings, the first prize being a specially built Beeston Humber bicycle, valued at forty-five guineas. This ladies competition was described in the press as a ‘tame affair'.

The club provided somewhere private for its members to take exercise and socialise away from Battersea Park, Hyde Park and the Serpentine, which had become very busy the middle class bicyclists. Bicycling was in vogue with the upper classes for less than two years, starting with the summer of 1895 and ending in the autumn of 1896. When the upper classes moved on from bicycle riding, the exclusive cycling were in financial trouble.

In 1897 the Club was described as ‘on the shelf' and had new management, who reduced the membership fee to three guineas and allowed members to introduce two friends free daily. By 1897, the club was out of favour with the upper classes and Sir William Call, the managing director of the club was bankrupt in March 1897. The Trafalgar Bicycle Club Company was listed to be struck off in 1900.

Catharine Lodge, the home of the Trafalgar Club, was occupied as a private house in the 1920's. The house and surrounding land in South Kensington was a very valuable site and the house was demolished in 1931 and flats were built there.

* Trafalgar Square had its name changed to Chelsea Square in the 1930's as part of an elimination of duplicate street names.

** The bicycling craze in the upper classes started in 1895 and several exclusive bicycle clubs opened in London, including Sheen House, Trafalgar Bicycling Club and the Wheel Club.

+ Upper Ten originally referred to the wealthiest 10,000 people in New York

London - Trafalgar Club : Image credit National Portrait Gallery London
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Photos : The Hub, National Portrait Gallery London
Maps    : National Library of Scotland