Monday 7 April 2014

A motley crew makes PRONI's document of the month
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In advance of the Giro d’Italia 2014 coming to Belfast’s Titanic Quarter in May, PRONI’s Document of the Month for April features a motley crew of Victorian cyclists in fancy dress who were participants in a cycling gymkhana.

Dated 1895, the photograph comes from the family papers of Samuel Cleland Davidson of Seacourt, Bangor, founder of the Sirocco Engineering Works in Belfast. It appeared in an 1896 edition of Sketch magazine.

Garth Stewart, who selected the document said: “With the Giro coming up, this image jumped out at me! The enigmatic dress and posture of the figures is fascinating, as is the gymkhana’s undefined location somewhere in Belfast, which is described simply as a “floor used for dancing”. I was even intrigued by the use of the word ‘gymkhana’, an Anglo-Indian term for an ‘athletic sports display'.

“The cyclists are captured in highly varying forms of fancy dress; from a matador to a sailor, from jesters to military personnel. Indeed, one gentleman is in full army regalia, but it is unclear whether he is part of the festivities or just keeping a watchful eye on proceedings!

“The gymkhana was organised by a Miss Bottomley of Clanbrassil, Cultra, County Down, who also designed the costumes for the 'skilled riders'. For her efforts, Miss Bottomley was awarded a gold bracelet and pearl broach by the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava and the Countess Annesley.”

The photograph (from the Davidson family collection, Ref: D3542/E/2A) is just one of a rich array of cycling related items owned by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, a small selection of which will be exhibited at both PRONI's Titanic Boulevard HQ and website as part of the Giro celebrations.

(I think there may have been love in the air around the two cyclists fourth and fifth from the left.)