Alfred Ernest Lyttelton Preece was born in Christchurch, the only son of Hannah and Thomas, who ran a auctioneering and produce business. Hannah and Thomas, a native of Worcester, had come to New Zealand in 1858, and had settled first in Lyttelton, before moving over the hill to Christchurch.
Alfred had received his education at Christ’s College, from 1874 to 1877. After leaving school he trained and worked for some time as a clerk before establishing his business as a cycle trader, circa 1882-83. His business, which went under the name of Cyclists Exchange, appears to have taken up two shop frontages in the A1 Hotel building on the south-east corner of Cashel and Colombo Street.
In 1884, when he was twenty one years old, he sailed for England on board the steamer, the Doric. He went to Maidenhead where he made an order for cycles with manufacturers, Hickling & Sons. One of his personal purchases was a fifty two inch Pilot Pennyfarthing and a King of the Road lamp from Lucas & Sons. He travelled to Birmingham to visit cycle manufacturing factories and whilst there became interested in photography. He purchased a half plate camera called an ‘Instantograph’, a tripod, plates and chemicals which came to the grand total of four guineas from Lancaster & Sons, and spent eight days learning the rudiments of photography before joining the Cyclist Touring Club to cycle south to Coventry, Worcester, down the Severn River and Oxford, visiting his father’s relatives on the way. After four months in England, he boarded the Aorangi in London, under the command of Capt. Turpin, and sailed back to Lyttelton.
On his return, Preece appears to have sold the cycle business. He then entered into partnership with Mr. Frank Standish and set up a photographic studio on Montreal Street, just south of North Belt, a business which was to continue as ‘Standish and Preece’ into the 21st century.
Cycling in Christchurch
In March 1873, Henry Oakley mounted his solid-tyred penny-halfpenny and made the first reported cycle trip from Christchurch to Sumner. After the invention of the pneumatic tyre, cycling became a popular past time as well as an extremely efficient mode of transport on the flat terrain of Christchurch. Just about every photo taken of the streets of Christchurch in the late 1800s and early 1900s will show as many cyclists as there are horse drawn vehicles. At Preece’s Bicycle Exchange, located at ‘Triangle’ on the corner of High and Colombo Streets, pennyfarthings, tandem or ‘sociable’, bicycles and equipment were available for hire, exchange or purchase.
Christchurch’s first velocipede race held in 1869, ran between Latimer Square and the Railway Station and back. In 1879, the Pioneer Bicycle and Amateur Athletic Club and the Touring Cycle Club was formed, and the following year a championship cycle race meet in Hagley Park.
In 1884 you could join the Tourists Cycling Club with its eight other members. The “tourists” met for their second Saturday outing at 3pm on October 13th, at its Drill Hall. Under the leadership of Sub-Captain, Mr. A. Hawkins, the cyclists proceeded down Colombo Street towards the Port Hills. The top was soon reached where the eight members had to stop due to a small accident to one of the bikes. Soon they were running down the hill to Hoon Hay, around Sunnyside, through to Middleton and onto a dry and dusty road to Riccarton and Fendalton. They found the dry conditions and odd flock of sheep “not the best preservatives” of a good riding road, however the tourists found the last leg a great improvement making a fast run into town, back by 5.30pm.
From 1885, cycling competitions were largely held in Lancaster Park where a cycle track had been formed. In December 1887, English professional cyclist Fred Wood brought with him the amateur cyclist W. Brown, to compete in New Zealand’s first international race meeting, held at Lancaster Park on Boxing Day. During Wood’s two month stay he set four professional records; Quarter mile grass, Half Mile Grass, Ten Mile Grass and One Mile Path, and competed in a ten mile match against two trotting horses, which the horses won.
New Zealand’s first women’s cycling club, the Atalanta Cycling Club was formed in 1892. The club was named after a popular brand of cycle which was manufactured in England especially for New Zealand roads. Although the number of ladies cyclists in Christchurch was relatively large in the 1890’s, it appears not as many as hoped joined the club, so in 1896, the club met to discuss how to encourage more women to join. It was decided that if they had a club room in the city with a bicycle shed attached, ladies who lived at a distance might be more encouraged to use it to stay and rest in. They could also leave their parcels and bicycles there while doing their shopping so as not to run the risk of their cycles being damaged or lost.
In 1895, the city had its own Bicycle Band whose members played instruments while riding their cycles in formation.
Ironmongers and bicycle shops such as Preece’s did a ‘roaring’ trade during the last decades of the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, they became more successful as Christchurch’s cycling public grew – cycling being the main mode of transport for the working class. By 1912, it was estimated to that there were between 20,000 – 30,000 privately owned bicycles.
With such a large number of cyclists on the streets, it was inevitable they would attract their share of attention from the law; the Christchurch Star reported on July 4th, 1900 a series of offences by cyclists around Christchurch.
CYCLING WITHOUT LIGHTS
Reginald White was charged with, on June 18, in Victoria Street, riding a bicycle between the hours of sunset and sunrise without a light attached. He was fined 5s and costs 7s. – Matthew H. West was also charged with cycling without a light in Victoria Street on the night of June 18, and was fined 5s and costs 7s. – James William Burrows, charged with a like offence in Durham Street, on the same date, was similarly dealt with. – William Pike was charged with riding a bicycle on the footpath of Papanui Road, St. Albans, on June 7. Defendant, who did not appear, was fined 10s and costs 7s.
Source: Christchurch Star, July 14th, 1900. Papers Past.
In March 18th, 1905 an accident is reported in the Star which illustrates the velocity some cyclists were reaching when at full speed.
Mr. A. Appleby, who is suffering from an accident to the right eye, owing to a bee or fly striking it while he was cycling, underwent another operation on Thursday. He is getting on fairly well.
However one Mr. Hendy was not so fortunate after his cycling accident in town,
An inquest was held at the Christchurch Hospital at nine o’clock this morning, touching the death of Thomas Henry Hendy, who was knocked down by a bicycle on November 24. The inquiry was conducted by Mr. R. Beetham, district coroner, and Mr. F. W. Sandford was chosen foreman of the jury.
Water Fox, resident surgeon at the Hospital, deposed that the deceased had been admitted to the Hospital on Nov. 24 suffering from a fracture of the right thigh and extensive bruising on his right hip. After being in bed for two or three days, he developed asthma, to which he was subject, his lungs became engorged, and he died on Nov. 29, in consequence of heat failure, caused by lying on his back. The accident made it necessary for him to life on his back.
James Mason, furniture salesman, remembered Nov. 24. at a few minutes before 9 am. on that date, witness was riding a bicycle in Tuam Street near Montreal Street. He was going about six miles an hour. There was a cart immediately in front of witness, who saw Mr Hendy a little in front on the right. Witness called, “Look out,” but Mr Hendy was too close for an accident to be avoided. Witness thought the handle-bar must have touched Hendy. Witness’s bicycle was not too upset. Witness did all he could to help Hendy afterwards.
To Sergeant-Major Ramsay: Witness did not think the vehicle mentioned had such to do with the accident. Could not say if he had both hands on the handle-bar at the time.
To the Foreman: Witness was going at sufficient speed to have passed the cart if he had kept on. Could not say if it was his intention to have passed the cart at the time.
John Patterson deposed that on Nov. 24 he was driving a dray up Montreal Street at a walking pace. Witness saw a cyclist coming down Tuam Street in the centre of the tram line. The cyclist seemed to notice witness when some six yards from the dray. and went to pass behind it. Witness heard the cyclist call, “Look out.” He also heard the fall and on looking around saw the cyclist picking Hendy up. Hendy stood on his feet after the collision.
To Sergeant-Major Ramsay: The cyclist was going six or seven miles an hour, not more. He had one hand on the handle bar. and was twirling his moustache with the other. Saw Mr Hendy who did not seem to be looking cross the road at an angle. Mr Hendy appeard to be watching the dray, and probably did not hear the cyclist.
To the Foreman: There was no other vehicle about at the time.
Arthur George Wilson, employed by Mr. Barrett, chemist deposed that he was watering the footpath at the time of the collision. Mr Hendy crossed the road at an angle. Witness noticed the collision. The cyclist was going at a slow, easy pace.
Joseph H. Hendy, son of the deceased deposed that he was at work a few yards away from where the accident occurred and arrived on the scene a few seconds afterwards. His father was taken to the Hospital accompanied by witness and Mr. Mason. Deceased was fifty one years of age, and had enjoyed good health for some time previous to his death.
To the foreman: Deceased did not appear to attach blame to the cyclist. He mentioned what had happened and then his mind seemed to wander.
The jury without retiring, returned a verdict of “Death by Accident.”
Source: CYCLING FATALITY, Christchurch Star, December 1st, 1898. Papers Past.
Cycling remained a fixture in christchurch up until the 1950s when it gradually disappeared with the increase in private vechicle usage.