On Two Wheels Through The Thirties

My parents, Albert and Gladys Burnett, spent much of the 1930s on two wheels. They started on a tandem, and then at some point they progressed to a motorbike. At times they flirted with three wheels, but such experiments were short-lived. Once, my father bought a Morgan Super Sports three wheeled car – it had the look of the progeny of a drunken mismatch between a sports car and a motor cycle – but had to sell it after a couple of days when the back wheel got caught in a tram line in Bull Green, Halifax. Following this incident, my mother refused to get into the vehicle ever again, and it was returned to the dealers. Decades later, Albert’s face would still cloud over whenever we drove around Bull Green roundabout, the site of the death of a young man’s dreams. When he was in his seventies, I bought him a plastic model of a Morgan Super Sports – by then they had gained quite a classic car cult status – and he displayed it proudly on the sideboard, close to the re-corked bottle of QC Sherry, next to the tasteful china desk lamp in the shape of a semi-naked native beauty.

The point when they switched from muscle-power to petrol power, can be best identified by their clothing. Their cycling outfits were quite distinctive and featured matching jackets, shorts and rather fetching cloth hats. Such outfits, no doubt, provided them with the physical freedom to peddle their way up some of the more challenging climbs of the Yorkshire Dales. Although Gladys looks energetically engaged in providing the necessary motive power for their tandem, in some of the photographs that remain from this period, photographs can, perhaps, be deceptive. My father would always claim that she would sit at the back of the tandem with her feet off the peddles and let him do all the necessary work. Indeed, on one occasion, at some traffic lights on the Harrogate Road, she dismounted to look in a shop window whilst the lights were at red. My father didn’t notice her absence, and when the lights changed, he set off and peddled on for a further mile before realising that she was missing. He returned to the traffic lights to find my abandoned mother in tears by the side of the road.

They must have made the change from tandem to motorbike at about the time they got married – in 1936. Sat astride a powerful motor bike – in my fathers’ case, in this photograph, a Royal Enfield – necessitated clothing of a more protective nature. The colourful linen of the early part of the decade gave way to darkened leather, and the lone excursions of the courting couple were replaced by group adventures to more distant places. And to the sound of a high-powered two stroke engine, they motored on towards the nineteen forties.

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