The club captain in those early years was Bert Bennett, an ex Dorset Regiment sergeant who married one of the lady members, Gwen Hawkins. They decided to take a tandem honeymoon. The ceremony was at St. John’s Church, Ashley Road, the crowd almost closed the road. I remember the Wheelers passing the tandem over the crowd to allow the couple to cycle off, preceded by the Pathe’ News van with the camera man standing on top winding the camera and followed by many of the Wheelers on their bikes. Later we were invited by the manager of the Gaumont Cinema in Bournemouth to view the Pathe News item and remain for the film, which was, by the way, mine and others’ first ‘talkie’.
One of the best things about writing the book has been meeting people and making new friends. Over the past two years I have struck up a friendship with George Bolton and his wife Joyce. They are both longterm cyclists with Bournemouth Arrow cc. This of course, was Marguerite's club. George recalls Marguerite effortlessly sweeping by his group of club mates on the way to Club Tea one Sunday. George is a retired aeronautical engineer and Joyce was Headmistress at their local primary school for many years. They live in what I nick-named 'The Enchanted Cottage' on the edge of the New forest.
George never throws anything away and has archive material from the club going all the way back to the 1930s. George has been so enthusiastic and helpful in providing information for the book. Just as importantly, he was able to give me a real sense of cycling culture and club life in the early days.
One day the topic of conversation turned to sprints. Sprints were light-weight, wood rimmed wheels used by Marguerite for her record breaking rides. And, as if by magic, George conjured up a sprint wheel (see below). He also showed me a pair of wheel carriers - off-set brackets which allow the precious sprints to be transported to a race attached to the front hub beside the forks, (there is an illustration of this in the book).
The wood rimmed sprint is certainly a thing of great beauty, and something that I was unaware of before meeting Gorge and writing the book. They are still manufactured in Italy by Ghisallo, (see the links below to view two fantastic films documenting their manufacture).
Through my work as a Doctor and through writing, I am inspired by people, and learn some of life's lessons from them. Not least from George, who is the full-time carer for Joyce who has dementia. I am inspired by his kindness and complete devotion to her, and this reminds me that my interest in cycling is as much about people and friendships as it is about bikes and riding.
A day to remember
In July 2015 I had the great privilege of spending a day with Mrs Eileen Sheridan. In case you don't know, Eileen is one of our greatest living cyclists. In the 1950's she re-wrote the record books, taking one by one, all of the records that had been recorded by Marguerite Wilson between 1938 and 1941. Just as importantly, she is the most delightful person you could ever hope to meet. Eileen wrote the foreword to my book, and of course, she writes brilliantly, with the authority of someone who knows what it takes to be a champion and to break the toughest of records.
I wrote a letter of introduction and before long I had a phone call. I'd just got back from a long ride when Christine, my wife, said 'your girlfriend rang!' It was none other than Mrs Eileen Sheridan, famous cyclist, in fact the most famous person I have ever spoken to. We had a lovely chat on the phone and by the end Eileen had to insist that I stop calling her Mrs Sheridan preferring just Eileen. Marguerite was a great hero in Eileen's eyes and she had no hesitation is agreeing to help me with the book.
One year later and the book was completed. I have presented a copy to all who helped in its production and first recipient of course had to be Eileen. I spent a lovely day with Eileen at her home beside the river Thames. Still sprightly and energetic despite being in her tenth decade, we spent the day talking about all sorts of things as well as cycling. She is so interesting and accomplished. Not only is she a record breaking sportswoman but she managed to bring up her children at the same time. After she retired from cycling she wrote her engaging autobiography Wonder Wheels. He second career was as a crystal glass engraver. Eileen showed me her workshop and examples of her engravings which are truly stunning in their artistry and craftsmanship- world class.
Eileen was delighted with the book and in return presented me with a copy of Eileen Sheridan - A cycling Life and signed it with her elegant signature. We enjoyed a pub lunch together beside the river, then went back for a cup of tea.
I spotted the WRRA London-Bath-London Trophy and saw that Eileen's and Marguerite's names were engraved side by side on shields at its base. I thought this would make a good photo. So ensued much hilarity as we tried to take a picture without my reflection in it. It ended up with me lying on the floor hiding from my own reflection whilst Eileen held the Trophy against variety of black velvet coats. Here is our best effort (left).
What comes across after speaking with Eileen was that Marguerite was greatly loved and admired by all who knew her. Marguerite and Eileen not only have their record breaking achievements in common, more importantly they combined it with great character.