Victoria Hall had many more uses

Ladies of the late 19th century with their bicycles.
Ladies of the late 19th century with their bicycles.
The men of HMS Hunter

Revealed: The harrowing wartime ordeal of HMS Hunter’s men

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I was admiring my colleague Chris Owen’s Remember When pages last week when my eye was caught by the picture of the Victoria Hall in Commercial Road. Did you know the building had more uses than just a theatre and cinema?

When Miss Agnes Weston, ‘the sailors’ friend’, went over the top of the handlebars of her bicycle in Western Parade on November 19, 1896, she ended up with a double fracture of her left leg. This was at a time when cycling was booming among the upper classes.

So a bicycle riding school would perhaps have benefitted Miss Weston. But perhaps not as it is believed she got her front wheel caught in tramlines, so no amount of training would have stopped that occurring.

Anyway, I digress. A riding school was established by the Wallace Ash Cycle Corporation in Victoria Hall. The company was floated with capital of £20,000 (about £2m today).

It was formed to manufacture the Leader and other bicycles at a factory in Russell Street, Southsea, and sell them at a small outlet in the same street.

The company also provided a house-to-house cycle cleaning service.

All the firm did was buy frames, handlebars and the rest of the bike from a large factory, assemble it all and stick a transfer on the machine to give it the Wallace Ash trade name. Simple.

There were, therefore, hundreds of cycles all looking the same with each owner saying that his was better than the other when in fact they were all the same bike.

In February 1896 the riding school in Victoria Hall was suspended for a week to make way for ‘the biggest bicycle exhibition ever to be held in the south of England’.

No fewer than 500 machines were on show. Also exhibited were cycle hosiery and other riding clothes.

A racing machine built for the champion of Russia was brought by a Mr G Cole a well-known Portsmouth rider.

Perhaps the strangest item on show was a cycle with oval wheels. Looked at with grave interest, it was designed for lovers of horse riding. The idea was to impart the motion of a horse.

Whether this idea took off, apart from in the circus, is not known.