The Days before Lycra!


For those of us who enjoy cycling, the early days of Lockdown in April were a real joy with almost no traffic on the roads. However, that was the norm for the residents of Forncett over a hundred years ago before the car had arrived here. Mass production of bicycles began in the 1880s and the bike began to offer a new and enjoyable form of transport, providing a convenient way to get around and also a new form of recreation. However, the well-dressed cyclist bore little resemblance to the lycra-clad enthusiast of today.

Lady cyclists in the early 1900s

Some time between 1883 and 1888 David Fox and his wife Sarah moved from Tibenham to take over Forncett End Stores, opposite the Methodist Church. They had two sons, the marvellously named Urbane Bertie Spurgeon Fox and Fergus Henley Fox. In the early 1900's Fergus and Urbane saw a new opportunity set up a separate business, Fox Bros., selling, hiring and repairing bicycles. The enterprise was obviously successful and by 1908 they had expanded and had a second shop in New Buckenham.

A 1913 trade diary from the New Buckenham shop gives a fascinating insight into their business. In February three "New Hudson" cycles were bought for the Forncett store.

A ladies' 1916 New Hudson 

A new bicycle typically cost between £4 and £6, which doesn't sound much but is actually equivalent to £400 or more today. So, the purchase of a bike was a very significant outlay. For this reason the hiring of bikes was very popular and you could hire a bike for about 6d per day, something like £2.50 at today's prices. On a busy Saturday in summer the New Buckenham shop could hire out as many as 25 bikes with customers including the Rectors at both Bunwell and Carleton Rode.

Urbane Fox died in 1933 and soon after that, the cycle business in Forncett End closed. However, his brother Fergus continued to run the New Buckenham shop until his death in 1960 at the age of 78!

Mike Merrick