Raleigh’s domination of the British bicycle industry for much of the twentieth century perhaps isn’t the only reason why dedicated bicycle archives are easier to locate in Britain than in France, though even a quick glance at the catalogue of Raleigh holdings at the Nottinghamshire Archives gives a sense of how far the company’s influence once extended. The collection offers researchers a glimpse of the bicycle industry from the inside, as company records, promotional material aimed at both consumers and bicycle dealers, and scrapbooks of advertisements and articles mentioning Raleigh in specialist and non-specialist publications show how the company evolved in tandem (sorry!) with cycling culture — and how play and humour played a surprisingly important role in its commerccial strategy.
An undertone of play and leisure can be seen even in documents promoting utility cycling: 1920s print advertisements aimed at urban workers depict the advantages of cycling over the “Push! jostle! jolt!” of public transport, while advertisements in specialised publications like the Police Chronicle extol the benefits of a Raleigh in securing promotion at work and as a dependable mount for long-awaited holidays. Promotional material aimed at dealers often carries knowing headings along the lines of “A few words from Raleigh that may interest and amuse”, and advertising blocks aimed at customers, associating cycling with leisure activities such as cricket and shooting, are recycled with slogans like “Wishing you a good bag [of customers] for 1921”, and “Don’t get ‘run out’ this season … Keep stock with Raleigh and you’ll never be stumped for sales”. Advertisements in periodicals like Cycling highlight the pleasures of outdoor activity and touring for both men and women, and by the mid-1920s begin to play on middle-aged nostalgia, as a well-dressed man leaves his wife in a car by the roadside to look wistfully at a lightly-loaded bicycle leaning against a wall. Also in Cycling, the long-running sponsored feature “By the Heron’s Head” (recycling the famous Raleigh emblem as the name of a country pub) offers humorous commentary on the world of bicycle touring. While earlier advertisements tend to show lady cyclists respectably dressed and chaperoned, posters and advertisements from the early 1930s onwards give increasing prominence to female figures in buch briefer sportswear.
Raleigh’s influence has given rise to a number of exhibitions, books and digital collections, including the Wheels of Fortune online exhibition hosted by the Nottinghamshire Archives, the I Worked at Raleigh site and mobile app, developed from the University of Nottingham’s Raleigh Project, and the Heritage Site of former Raleigh subsidiary Sturmey-Archer — all of which show different aspects of humour, play and leisure in and around the bicycle industry. In terms of industrial history, it’s also helpful to imagine Raleigh’s activities in Nottingham side by side with the city’s other manufacturing industries, on display at the Nottingham Industrial Museum.