Transport through the ages is a free exhibition at the New Forest Centre. A fascinating insight into the history of transport across the Forest and how this has changed over time. It also gives us an idea of what the future holds for New Forest travellers and demonstrates sustainable transport initiatives.
Sat 3 May to Sun 1 June 10am – 4.30pm daily.
The exhibition starts at a pedestrian pace and takes us on a time travelling journey across the New Forest. On stage coach and caravan, by turn pike and charabanc, to the coming of the train, to the bicycle and motor cycle, to the horse and even greater forms of horse power. It tells us that from 1900 till the 1950s most journeys in the Forest were local, by bus, bicycle, by foot or by car.
For our love of cars
Car ownership accelerated hard in the 1960s. Since then they have dominated our travel choices and the landscape of the Forest.
Nationwide we once cycled 14 billion miles per year, in the 1950s this dropped to 3 billion. In the 1950s 34% of journeys were by bicycle. In 1970 this had dropped to less than 2%. This massive rise in automobile journeys saw a similar rise in animal deaths in the New Forest, peaking at 313 in 1962.
Speed limits, reflective collars and signage have helped reduce this toll, but still today many are killed.
Things haven’t changed that much
Here I may say that I have never seen in any district more motor cars than there are in and around Lyndhurst. From morning till night they pass up and down our High Street and we are never many minutes without them.
Cycling is also universal and hundreds pass every day. Add to this a large horse traffic, both riding and driving, tradesmen’s carts, farm wagons and carts, private traps, coaches and wagonettes and you will readily see that Lyndhurst High Street is very busy for so small a place.
~ Henry Peerless, 1907
You can’t beat a good walk
Walking has never gone out of fashion. It once may have been our only option. But even today walking is a good way for visitors to get around the Forest, just as it was in 1862:
“if this should induce any readers to visit the Forest, let me earnestly advise them to do so, as far as possible on foot
~ John R Wise
The exhibition shows the coming of the railway in 1847, bringing many more visitors to the New Forest and the benefits which this brought to the area.
Revolutionary or revolting?
Bicycles were initially the preserve of the rich and fashionable but became increasingly affordable at the beginning of the 20th century. Some people thought the bicycle was ‘the invention of the devil’; you could say that some people still hold onto that view in the Forest, but that might be unkind. But like it or not, even the ordinary man or woman could now enjoy the freedom of travel offered by the bicycle. They could also afford to see more of the area too.
Even from the very early days some people realised the sporting potential of these revolutionary machines. The Christchurch Cycling Club was founded in 1877 and the Purlieu Pirates used to race their machines in the New Forest.
The safety bicycle
In 1885, the first ‘safety’ bicycle was invented. With a diamond-shaped frame, and two wheels of the same size. John Kemp Starley’s Great British invention is not that different from the bicycle that you or Bradley Wiggins might choose to ride today. To say it was a revolution, is understating the effect this machine was to have on the world, and the New Forest.
The people’s nag
By the end of the decade, the bicycle had become a utilitarian form of personal transport for millions – the people’s nag. In the countryside the bicycle helped to widen the gene pool: birth records in Britain from the 1890s show how surnames began to appear far away from the rural locality with which they had strongly associated for centuries. Everywhere, the bicycle was a catalyst for campaigns to improve roads, literally paving the way for the motor car.
~ Robert Penn, It’s all about the bike, 2010.
There is also some information on display regarding some sustainable transport initiatives being discussed and introduced by the New Forest National Park Authority. Read a review of a talk given by Mark Holroyd at the exhibition titled, ” Transforming travel in the New Forest National Park “.
The exhibition has a number of vintage bicycles and motorbikes on display as well as video and pictures on display. The exhibition includes some fantastic pictures from the New Forest Centre’s collection, as well as other museums including St Barbes, and private collections including the National Motor Museum.
The Free exhibition runs from Sat 3 May to Sun 1 June at 10am – 4.30pm daily.
Learn more from the New Forest Centre or watch the video: