Cycling heaven and Hull: can the city recapture its 1950s pedal power heyday?
Poet Philip Larkin described Hull as ‘very nice and flat for cycling’ – and in the 1950s a third of the population rode regularly. It’s still flat, so why is this pioneer cycling city back-pedalling?
Monday 5 December 2016 07.00 GMT
“I wish I could think of one nice thing I could tell you about Hull,” Philip Larkin moaned to his friend DJ Enright not long after moving to the city to become university librarian in 1955. “Oh yes … it’s very nice and flat for cycling.”
It’s a shame the poet’s best known pronouncement about his adopted city was a thinly veiled sneer, not least because at the time Hull was buzzing with bikes. According to Hull’s Streetlife Museum, 100,000 people in the city still rode regularly in the early 1950s – one third of the population. The streets would have clattered and rung with the din of thousands of boneshakers as workers streamed to and from factories, docks and building sites. At weekends, they took to their leisure cycles for family trips to the Yorkshire Wolds or else went to watch Raich Carter’s stylish Hull City at the newly built Boothferry Park, dumping their bikes in great heaps outside the ground. It might have been an age of austerity and rationing, but from a modern-day cyclist’s perspective, it looks like heaven.
Eric Dawson, now 84 and still cycling, moved to Hull for work after the second world war. He rode everywhere.
“Hull was flat and laid out like a spider’s web,” he says. “All the roads came out from the city centre. I went to work for a roofing firm and had to go to jobs that would take me 10 or 12 miles out. I always went on my bike. Very few people had cars. Hull was so convenient for cycling.”