Cycling on the ‘Continong’ in 1906

Two things that jump out from a cursory glance at The Continong by the pseudonymous Anar de la Grenouillere, F.O.N.S., of which a file copy of the fourth edition of 1906 was found at Jot HQ the other day, is first the rather forced facetious tone of its advice to travellers to France, and secondly the predominance of references to cyclists.

In 1894, when The Continong  first appeared, the motor car had only been around for a handful of years and so presumably the author did not feel it necessary even to acknowledge its existence. But by 1906, when many more manufacturers were producing cars, this rise in traffic is not acknowledged in this ‘revised and updated ‘edition. Touring France for the English speaker was still all about railways or, in Paris, ‘buses and trams  ( though not the Metro, although this had been established by 1906)  possibly walking, horse-drawn ‘cabs’ but most of all, cycling. Compared to the four pages devoted to railways and three on cabs and cabbies, the author provides fifteen pages of advice for cyclists.

The first few pages of this advice are devoted to what to expect on arriving in France. British cyclists are urged to join the TFC (Touring Club de France) which was founded in 1890. For a mere five shillings a year, benefits include a Handbook, and the exemption of duty on their cycles, and for a few extra francs a Year-book containing a list of over 3,000 approved hotels, at which members enjoy a privileged position as to charges, a Year-book for foreign countries and a book of ‘skeleton tours’ for the whole of France and adjoining countries. Incidentally, a compulsory requirement for cycles being ridden in France and elsewhere on the continent was a name-plate ‘bearing the name and address of the owner (and) attached to the machine’. This seems to have been the equivalent of a car licence plate, which back then became a legal required for motor vehicles in 1903. Again, this suggests that cycles were seen as the predominant form of personal transport, at least in France.

The Continong continues with a selection of these cycling tours, picking out some of the more interesting sights. There is also a warning that ‘ if you are interested in French politics and would like to ascertain, while in Rouen, whether Paris is quite free from anarchists and from their bombastic speeches, you had better go and read the latest telegrams that are put up outside the offices of the Journal de Rouen, in the Rue Saint-Lo. ( my italics) .Anarchism had become rife in parts of northern Europe by this period and in the East End of London was to culminate in the famous ‘ Siege of Sidney Street’ orchestrated by the celebrated Estonian activist ‘ Peter the Painter ‘ in 1910.

Eating out in provincial France back in those days was very cheap, as it still is in many places today. The author notes that while staying with a friend in Brittany they had lunch at St Michel-en-Greve in ‘the only inn in the place’.

‘We had a glass of vermouth, a whole box of sardines, large steak with fried potatoes, a grand omelette, pears, biscuits, cider and bread ad lib, coffee and cognac, and it cost us both 2 fr. 50. A shilling each !! And excellent it was !!! What do you think of that ??

To be continued.

R. M. Healey

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