South West London DA: Sou' Wester Archive
Profile of Bill Stead

Profile: Bill Stead - (Sep/Oct 2005)

When Bill Stead celebrated his 90th birthday with Wayfarers friends at Cobham on 7th July 2005 he also celebrated more than 70 years of cycling. During these seven decades he has seen the rise of cycling in the boom years after each of the two World Wars. Following WW2 he saw the formation of our South West London DA in 1948. Bill has set out his knowledge of the events in the early development of London's DAs in a record of its history. This record was an important contribution to our celebration of the first 50 years of the DA held in 1998.

Bill's first bicycle was purchased in 1929 when he was a 14 year old schoolboy living in Chelsea. The funds for the bicycle came from his Saturday job delivering meat for the butchers, Lidstones, in Shepherds Bush. Their upmarket customers generously gave twopenny tips which helped Bill to buy a James Grose (Jagrose brand) bicycle. Bill recalls that it got him into trouble the following year when he committed a traffic offence. For passing a red light he was prosecuted and his mother was taken to court and required to pay a fine of two shillings and sixpence for her errant son. This was a time when he was otherwise able to ride safely to school and to the shops. Bill then started work and four years later in 1933, took to cycling as a pastime. He bought a tent which he used for annual cycle tours during the thirties, accompanied by a friend or alone. This led to his exploring all regions of the British Isles by bicycle - as his records show. 1934 Norfolk and Suffolk (with Len Green); 1935/36 Devon and Cornwall; 1937 Scotland and the Lake District; 1938 North and Central Wales; 1939 Ross on Wye - 5 nights.

On two of these tours, Bill went with Sam Pargetter who was a great influence on him for it was Sam who persuaded him in 1936 that he should join the Cyclists' Touring Club. Ten years later Bill became a Life member of the CTC.

For Bill, 1940 was important as the year he married, so cycling in that year became a tandem activity until he was called up for army service with his initial training at Catterick Camp. Whilst there, he was attracted to a notice inviting soldiers to volunteer for training as Armourers. The part which appealed to Bill was at the bottom: included in the list of work functions was 'Bike Repairs'. On this basis, he started a 10 month course at Melton Mowbray and as a result, started bicycle wheel building.

Demobilisation came in 1946 when he returned to 'civvies' working for the Gas Company. He was living in Fulham, commuting to work in the Edgware Road and back for midday lunch amassing some 60 to 70 miles each week.

At that time, there was a demand for Saturday rides so, with Bobbie Barnard (the mother of our DA Secretary) and others, the DA's Saturday Section was formed. This provided afternoon rides and ran for 25 years, expanding to provide all day rides and was a strong Section until the beginning of the decline in cycling's popularity in the sixties. So the work of Bill, Bobbie and Ernie Barnard, together with others including Tom Powell, Phil Marx, Harold Wares, Jim Gibson and little Irish Jimmy Byrne was a valuable contribution to our DA programme. Tom Powell paid tribute to Bill Stead's support for the Saturday Section in a recent discussion with me, "Bill hardly ever missed a run - and like all of us, loved tea times such as those at the Bungalow at Thorpe near Chertsey. They used to serve what we called 'Red Lights' - buns with lots of jam on the top which reminded us of red traffic lights".

In 1980, Bill was involved in another important development for the DA, the start of the Midweek Wayfarers Section providing rides each Wednesday and for these last 25 years, Bill has ridden regularly with them. He has included the mileage for these Wednesday rides in his recorded total of 300,000 miles over 65 years.

The highest annual figure was in 1937 when he cycled 16,450 miles. This total included a 15 day tour in the Lake District and Scotland. This tour was supposed to be a holiday - but, the first two days were definitely not a holiday. Bill started at Chelsea at 3pm, having worked all Saturday morning as required by employers in those days, and rode all night to arrive on Sunday evening at Mrs Braithwaite's establishment at Kendal, well known in those days to End to End record breakers. He had booked Supper and Bed and Breakfast in advance so that he could start off on his tour next day.

Here is Bill's itinerary: Straight up the Great North Road to Wetherby; then Knaresbrough; Ripley; Ripon; Sedburgh and Kendal - a ride of 270 miles which took only 27 hours. Today we could be letting the train take the strain or even flying!


Bill Stead died 10th August 2006