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Tale of cyclist's dash re-enacted

PUBLISHED: 10:59 15 September 2008 | UPDATED: 07:39 01 August 2010

IT is one of Bungay's best known historical tales, but a question mark has always existed over whether it could really be true.

On September 18 1899 a fire started in a shop on Upper Olland Street, and when firefighting reinforcements from Beccles were needed, a watchmaker called Charles Brown offered to raise the alarm.

IT is one of Bungay's best known historical tales, but a question mark has always existed over whether it could really be true.

On September 18 1899 a fire started in a shop on Upper Olland Street, and when firefighting reinforcements from Beccles were needed, a watchmaker called Charles Brown offered to raise the alarm. There were no telephones, and motorised vehicles were few and far between, so he cycled the six miles in 22 minutes, according to legend.

Yesterday a cyclist re-enacted the historic dash to lay the debate to rest once and for all. Dressed in period clothing, Martin Callomon, known as Cally, from Walpole, near Halesworth, rode his 1901 Royal Enfield three-speed safety bike, the closest thing that could be found to a bike that Charles Brown might have ridden. It took him 24 minutes - which suggested that the 22-minute dash might have been possible.

He said: “There was a headwind. Also I am 53 next week, whereas he was probably 18! But the roads then were probably gravelled, which would have made it harder.”

Meanwhile Mark Elmy, 42, from Bungay's Godric cycling club, riding a modern racing bike and in the latest clothing, managed it in 17 minutes. Behind them were the rest of Godric cycling club. Founder member Geoff Mayne said: “We were all really impressed by the way Cally rode. He was storming along.”

The 1899 fire started in a shop which cured ham, where a fire was left burning overnight. The flames spread to a builder and carpenter's workshop and offices. Bungay fire brigade was first on the scene, but in those days all fire engines had to have their horses harnessed before they could leave the station. The store and the carpenter's workshop were destroyed, but the rest of the street was saved.

The trial was the idea of the Bungay Society after an account of the 1899 incident was written by member Frank Honeywood. Committee member Chris Reeve said: “It was really great to be able to recreate it. It has far exceeded our expectations. We now believe it wasn't too exaggerated in the telling afterwards.

“Charlie Brown must have really gone hell for leather. It was so urgent to get the fire out, because the shops around were thatched. That could have been the second great fire of Bungay.”

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