Sport & Leisure History Seminar Autumn 2018 #5

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Monday 26th November 2018

‘A festival of self-punishment’: Englishness, British cycling and the Tour de France, 1918-39 with Dr Neil Carter

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And this term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

Our fifth seminar of the term will be given by Dr Neil Carter from De Montfort University who will talking to us about a rather neglected era of British cycling history, the 1930s, when Charles Holland and Bill Burl became the first British men to take part in the Tour de France. To find out more read Neil’s abstract below.

In 1937 Charles Holland and Bill Burl became the first British cyclists to ride in the Tour de France. Their presence represented a brief if symbolic moment of modernity for British cycling. This paper examines the socio-economic and cultural roots of this particular episode and how it tapped into changing ideas of Englishness.

The Tour de France, with its modernising tendencies, commercialism and especially its type of racing – massed start racing – offered a stark contrast with British cycling’s overwhelmingly amateur culture, both in terms of ideology and as a voluntary activity. In particular, the time-trial was the main form of road racing in Britain. It embodied an idealised and pastoral vision of England that many of cycling’s administrators and supporters promoted through their writing and images.

During the 1930s, however, British cycling underwent a transformation. Not only was there a boom in the number of cyclists more generally, but a shift in its image reflected the new consumerism of the decade. Moreover, a fashion for massed-start racing, copied from the continent, began with races taking place on motor-racing circuits. As a consequence, there was a backlash amongst cycling’s traditional supporters. Underpinning this resistance was a defence of the time-trial, which reflected wider cultural anxieties within society over the impact of modernity.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series, scroll down for the details of future seminars or go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the Past and Present Room on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.

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