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My Nan Was Tougher Than Me

My Nan and mum in about 1933

Cycling has always been in our family. As kids we were dragged out every Sunday for bicycle rides. Family holidays always involved yet more cycling. The bikes would be loaded up and we’d be off for a week or two of camping – and what seemed like cycling every day.

Wonderful? Sometimes. The cycling wasn’t optional and during my early teens I did develop a bit of a love-hate relationship with my bike.

Luckily, I got over that. Cycling is my favourite escape and my wife and I have done a couple of pretty major tours on tandems, as well as developing Pedal Portugal.

But back when I was growing up, my parents came pretty close to putting me off cycling for life. Visiting my Nan and Grandad was always a bit of a relief as they were much more chilled out. I was aware they’d been cyclists in the past but by the 1970s their riding days were behind them and what ‘old’ people had done in their younger days never featured on my radar.

My Nan & Grandad, probably in around 1930
W. F. Wiggs in action – early 1920s

But as I’ve got older I’ve begun to appreciate more of what they did and just what a big role cycling played in my Nan and Grandad’s lives.

And to realise they were both much more hardcore riders than I’ll ever be.

My Grandad, Will ‘W. F.’ Wiggs was a keen cyclist from a young age, along with several other members of his family. Born in Peckham in 1900, he was competing in various club events in the 1920s, winning medals from the Southern Roads Club, South-Eastern Road Club, and Bath Road Club.

During a Southern Roads Club team event in August 1926, he chalked up 185 miles and 732 yards in 12 hours. A staunch vegetarian from an early age, he beat that distance the following year, managing just over 190 miles in 12 hours during an event run by the Vegetarian Cycling & Athletics Club.

In 1928 W. F. Wiggs won four Vegetarian club events, picking up medals for the 50 miles tandem, 50 miles bicycle and 100 miles bicycle challenge, clocking up times of 2hrs 29mins, 2hrs 8mins and 5hrs 23mins respectively.

Not bad considering he was probably riding a single gear, steel bike while wearing a tweed jacket and plus-fours!

But it wasn’t just my Grandad who was the keen cyclist…

“Roslyn Ladies ’12’ 1929” – note the left-hand rider’s stylish basket

I’ve recently inherited a couple of old photo albums that once belonged to my Nan and Grandad. The pictures are tiny – most are barely two inches by three inches and the details are sometimes hard to make out.

Many have no captions and one above just had “Roslyn Ladies ’12’ 1929” written underneath. To begin with, this meant nothing to me and I didn’t recognise anyone in the shot.

Then I started sorting through some old family papers and found the document on the right, which certifies that “Miss M Glover rode 177 miles 6 furlongs on August 25th 1929” in a 12-hour time trial run by the Rosslyn Ladies Cycling Club*.

Which is when the penny dropped. May Glover was my Nan’s maiden name. And looking closer, I’m now fairly confident that the woman rider pictured on the right is my Nan – then 21.

Whether it was a common interest in cycling that attracted my Nan and Grandad to each other, I’ve no idea. (Although it might also have helped that they lived next door to each other.)

Whatever drew them together, they were soon tandem riding partners and married in October 1930. As can be seen from the picture at the very top of this post, it’s also clear that the arrival of small children didn’t stop their cycling.

My mum was the eldest of their three daughters and, as they grew up, the Wiggs girls continued the cycling – joining my Nan and Grandad on local rides around Kent and Sussex and on longer camping-cycling tours all over the UK.

Nan and her three daughters at the top of Hard Knott pass in 1948

So, thinking about it, my Nan and Grandad probably bear at least some of the responsibility for the fact I was dragged out cycling as a kid whether I liked it or not. But, more importantly, digging through these old pictures and other memorabilia has given me a new respect for my grandparents.

I’m not sure I would have managed 177 miles in 12 hours even when I was 21. My Nan was clearly a tougher cyclist than me. Probably much tougher!

*Note: Since publishing this post, I’ve done a little more research and it turns out the Rosslyn Ladies Cycling Club were quite groundbreaking. Set up in 1922, it was one of the UK’s first female only clubs – back in an era when women cyclists sometimes had more than just abuse thrown at them. This Cycling News article tells much more of the story. The open road event in which my Nan is pictured was only the second of its kind ever held.

August 1950: My Nan (left) and her three daughters at Three Bridges, Crawley, Sussex.


22 thoughts on “My Nan Was Tougher Than Me”

  1. This is a wonderful story Huw. The cyclists of the early days were tougher without a doubt none of all the fancy gearing etc we have today. I know on tours we have been on with Pedal Portugal you have spoken about your parents and how much they cycled all through their lives, but to know your Grandparents were gun cyclists is great, especially your Nan. Thanks for sharing this, made me smile on a gloomy wet day in “Sunny Qld” 🙂

  2. Thanks mate
    You’ve just boosted my moral and attitude towards the future .
    Due to illness. I have not been able to get out on my bike for the last year , a lot of my cycling days where spent in the Algarve ,I really miss it , your post re your cycling family is a breath of fresh air . Thank you so much for sharing .

    1. Hi Stephen. My pleasure. I’ve been able to cycle a bit myself but I definitely prefer the Portuguese sunshine to muddy lanes in Devon. Really hope to be allowed out of the country sometime this year… even if I won’t be cycling as far as my Nan! Hope you can recover and get back out there too.

  3. Huw, great story. Our ancestors were all tougher then we. Hope all goes well for you. We are all keeping well and wishing we were back on the road in far off places. Cheers, Toby

    1. Hi Toby. Home isn’t a bad place to be but we’re missing the chance to pedal elsewhere!
      Current circumstances just make me more determined to enjoy freedom when it returns. Stay safe and sane. Cheers, Huw

  4. Fantastic! Thank you for sharing. I too remember being dragged out, usually unwillingly for those Sunday cycle rides. As I got older I swapped my wheels for four hooves. I had never seen photos of the young Wiggs – our grandparents, and similarly never gave a thought to what they may have done in the past. I was aware though that they had been keen cyclists, and that they toured Europe in their retirement, because my mum spoke of it. I now realise that my parents’ love of Kent and Sussex wasn’t just from their own cycle trips there as adults, but because it was mum’s ‘patch’ as a child too. Of course my dad was evacuated there in the war, so had his own ties. In their later years, mum would drive dad around the lanes and they’d often stop for a picnic, keeping old memories alive.

    1. Fantastic journey back in time Huw which evoked not so fantastic recollections of being taken hostage most Sunday mornings and being forced against my will to pedal down pointless country lanes to throw lumps of bread at overweight ducks. I later discovered 4 wheels, rather than Janet’s 4 hooves, which I found to be a quicker means of getting from Westmead to Kimbridge. On a more serious note, I recall a holiday in Scotland when I cycled unaccompanied from the middle of absolutely no where to family friends (Peter and Christine?) in Stirling which was 100 miles plus a little bit (that little bit being longer than Megan, Gareth and Colin’s little bit in Kent, obviously!) which was, as I recall, my finest moment in terms of making my parents proud. Ever!
      Oh and by the way, whilst not an avid enthusiast, I do ‘get’ cycling now! Best wishes to all, Matt

  5. Wonderful Huw … sadly I think some of those cycle-genes may have bypassed me; I’m happy to keep my jaunts to max 60 miles (at a push), with as little baggage (certainly no panniers) & a back up team just in case moral fibre gives out. Utter respect to the grandparents!

      1. Gareth and I, with our cousin Colin, cycled from our home in Hampshire to Colin (and Janet’s) home in Kent (a fraction over 100 miles) one summer when we were teenagers, then back again 2 days later. The return trip was hard work as we were tired from the first leg and the weather had turned really hot. I remember stopping at houses along the way to ask if they’d refill our water bottles!
        Those were the days! Not so much traffic and just a bit younger!

        1. It seems that journey was memorable for all of us Megan, I also remember it. One of the few, maybe only long rides we went on together. I remember we used the A272 and A25 with lane links as a London outer orbital route. I seem to remember via Star Hill to Badgers Mount and then through lanes past Uncle Lewis’s house near Swanley. If you check the route I think you will find it is closer to 140 miles.
          I do remember cycling with Gareth in the Glastonbury area on a ride that turned out longer than we intended. I remember getting anxious about us not quite knowing where we were, while Gareth was unconcerned. Gareth’s map reading did get us back to base. I can’t remember how we came to be in that area though, certainly not straight from either of our homes.

  6. I great photos Huw! And to put together some of the background stories to go with the photos is even more special.

  7. After they retired, Nan and Grandad Wiggs went off for long holidays cycling and camping in Europe. Even when they “retired” from long distance cycling in the late 1960s they still kept up their connection with the Cycling Clubs. I remember as a teenager helping them to marshal a 24 hour cycle ride – handing out drinks and cakes at the midnight stop near their home in Wiltshire!

  8. Wonderful story, the cycling tradition continues! Thank you for sharing, we hope to be able to join you two for another tour, with a group. Cycling remains one of our favourite pastimes too.

  9. Impressive! Thank you for sharing these stories about your mom and grandparents. They clearly loved the outdoors and were amazing cyclists.

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