Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A jolly double tricycle ride

Due to be published today, perhaps, by Liverpool University Press is The Diary of Elizabeth Lee - ‘a rare firsthand account of adolescent life in Victorian Britain’. There is not much advanced information about the book from the publishers, however the diary has already been used as source material by one of its editors for an academic paper on the history of transport technologies - not least the double tricycle.

Elizabeth Lee was born into a large middle class family in Birkenhead in 1867. Her father was a draper and gentleman’s outfitter. For about 10 years - from 1884, when she was 16, to 1892 - Elizabeth kept a diary. This has been edited by Colin G. Pooley and Richard Lawton (geography professors at Lancaster and Liverpool universities respectively) with Si├ón Pooley a research student, and is being published by Liverpool University Press as Growing up on Merseyside in the Late Nineteenth Century - The Diary of Elizabeth Lee.

According to the Liverpool University Press website, the book is due to be published in April 2009 (priced at £50). But according to, it should have been released in December 2008 (yet it’s still not available). However, has the publishing date set for today, 15 April 2009. None of those three websites has much information about the diary. The blurb on Amazon says: ‘There have been a number of diaries published relating to ‘ordinary’ people, but most accounts were written as life histories, late in life, by people who eventually gained some degree of fame or prominence in society. This very rare firsthand account provides a unique insight into adolescent life in Victorian Britain.’

There is, however, more information about Lee’s diary available on the internet in a paper, written by Pooley and two colleagues, presented to the Alternative Mobility Futures conference at Lancaster University in January 2004 - The impact of new transport technologies on intra-urban mobility: a view from the past. In this paper, the authors draw on three main sources: individual diaries, oral history interviews and archival evidence. The first of these is, essentially, Elizabeth Lee’s diary which, the authors say, seems ‘to be a remarkably frank and artless account of the everyday life of a middle class adolescent girl in late-Victorian England’.

The focus of the paper is entirely on transport. Here’s an excerpt: ‘Bicycles (and tricycles thought to be more appropriate for women) were a relatively new transport innovation in the 1880s. They gained rapid popularity for leisure amongst those that could afford a bicycle, but did not achieve widespread use as an everyday means of transport until the 1920s. Elizabeth did not own a bicycle, though her brothers did and they undertook long rides (for instance from Birkenhead to Manchester). The novelty of the bicycle and tricycle is noted in her diary, with bikes mostly used for leisure activities. Although she knew both men and women from her circle of friends who rode bicycles, Elizabeth never learned to ride during the period of her diary, and she notes only one occasion when she is given a ride on a double tricycle. Like driving, it was a form of individualized transport from which she was excluded, probably by her gender and class.’

And here are a few transport-related extracts from Lee’s diary (the Mersey Railway Tunnel was officially opened on 20 January 1886):

1 February 1886
‘Fine day. The railway under the Tunnel was opened for traffic today and I went to L’pool by it. I went up in the ‘lift’ when I got to L’pool and there was such a frightful crush to get it. Had a good look round L’pool and came back by train. Such a lot of gentleman in the station. It was so jolly but I got nearly squashed to death.’

3 August 1886
‘Baked today. Mr. Rimmington and J. Carless came up tonight on a double tricycle and they gave me such a jolly ride on it up and down the road.’

27 April 1888
‘Tonight Mr. Bragg took me to a ball at the City Hall, Liverpool. Mr. Rimmington took Miss Homes. Of course we all went together. Enjoyed myself immensely. We caught the 4.a.m. boat and came home (all the lot of us) in a hansom (which is only made for two).’

10 July 1892
‘Lovely day. Mr. Young called and had a row with him. Went to Kirk Braddam with Tom F. It is quite a sight to see, they have an open-air service. Drove in gig with Tom thro’ Peel to Glen Maye. Loveliest place I ever saw. I drove home all the way and round the Prom. the Scotchman saw me etc. people did look, as it is quite an uncommon thing to see a lady driving. Percy, C. Needham and I went down to see Tom off by boat. So sorry he’s gone (to Glasgow).’

Postscript: Some pages of Elizabeth Lee’s diary can be previewed at Googlebooks.

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