Addiscombe cycle shop-owner who had record-breaking career

SUNDAY SUPPLEMENT: Further research into the archives at Croydon Minster has discovered another local who reached Olympic heights in the last century, writes DAVID MORGAN

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Cycle star: Charlie Davey was a world championship medal-winner and Olympic cyclist from Addiscombe

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Cycle star: Charlie Davey was a world championship medal-winner and Olympic cyclist from Addiscombe

The Stockholm Olympics of 1912 were the last Games to be held before the Great War. It was also the final time that the gold medals were made of solid gold.

For countries which ceased to exist after the Treaty of Versailles peace settlement in 1919, this was to be their final appearance at the Olympic Games. This was the case for Bohemia.

For one Croydon resident, their call-up to represent Great Britain in the Stockholm Games was to be a stepping stone in his sporting career.

Charlie Davey was a Croydon man through and through. He was christened on the same day as his sister Elizabeth in December 1889 in Christ Church, Sumner Road, although he had been born three years earlier, in 1886. The Davey family lived at 43 Church Street in his early days, according to the 1891 census.

Thomas and Theodora Davey lived there with their three boys and their daughter.

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Baprismal records: Charlie and sister were christened on the same day

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Baptismal records: Charlie and sister Elizabeth were christened on the same day

Thomas Davey was variously described in official documents as a carpenter, joiner or a cabinet-maker. Charlie grew up to be a cabinet maker as well, although he would eventually open a cycle shop.

In his early teens, Charlie enjoyed athletics and football before his brothers, Edwin and Arthur, encouraged him to try cycle racing. This was on a grass track, and Charlie’s first efforts produced five prizes. He was hooked! Charlie was 19 years old, and he would have an outstanding 20-year career as a racer. Brother Edwin, usually known as Ted, became a member of the Catford Cycling Club.

Charlie Davey first joined Addiscombe Cycling Club, where he quickly established himself as a formidable competitor. He only stayed with them for three years though, as the club folded due to a shortage of officials.

In 1910, Charlie Davey joined the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club. The objective of the club was: “To prove, by the yardstick of athletic competition, that vegetarians could easily hold their own against their meat-eating counterparts.”

Charlie, on his vegetarian diet, thrived in this club. The next season he finished third in the Anerley 12-hour time trial which qualified him to represent England at the Stockholm Olympics. He was one of six Vegetarian club members selected for the team.

It was to prove a big year for Davey. He got married on March 21 1912 to Eva Hawkins at the Mary Magdelene Church in Addiscombe. They set up home at 9 Nicholson Road.

The Olympics was the focus of his training that year, so that he could be ready for his race on July 7.

There was just one cycling event in the 1912 Olympics, the men’s road race time trial.

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March past: the traditional teams parade at the Olympic opening ceremony in Stockholm in 1912. The city’s velodrome had been demolished to make way for the new stadium

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March past: the traditional parade of teams at the Olympic opening ceremony in Stockholm in 1912. The city’s velodrome had been demolished to make way for the new stadium

There were no track cycle events as the only cycle track in Stockholm had been bulldozed to allow the athletics stadium to be built and the authorities were not going to construct another one.

The race was held at Lake Malar, on a circular course around the water. It proved to be interesting in many ways. There were many more competitors than the organisers had anticipated, with 151 riders from 19 countries turning up. That meant the competition started at 2am in order to accommodate the large numbers of starters.

There were 33 riders from Great Britain alone, as the cyclists represented their own country: 12 from England, 12 from Scotland and nine from Ireland.

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Gruelling: a contemporary report of the single cycling race at the 1912 Olympics

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Gruelling: a contemporary report of the single cycling race at the 1912 Olympics

The course was 196 miles long. The riders were sent off in groups, rather than individually, with two minutes between each group. Davey got nowhere near a medal, finishing in 11hr 47min 26sec for 39th.

The winner was a South African, Rudolph Lewis, in 10hr 42min 39sec. Davey’s friend, Fred Grubb, a future business partner, won the silver medal and England won the team silver, although Davey’s time didn’t count as only the first four finishers’ times were included.

When he returned from Stockholm, Davey continued with his club cycling, proving to everyone just how good he was. He set two Roads Records Association records in 1914: one was the London to Worthing and return run which he completed in 6hr 7min 25sec; the other was the 50-mile tandem time trial which he completed with E Paul in 2hr 5min 38sec.

After the war broke out, Davey served with the newly formed Royal Naval Air Service, based in the Orkneys. He survived his time in the forces and quickly got back into the saddle when he returned to civilian life.

Among the many hazards for cyclists riding in races on England’s roads a century ago were punctures. The taking off and the changing of a wheel took valuable time. Davey invented a quick-release system which enabled riders to change wheels very much quicker than before. This new release mechanism was included in bicycles built by Grubb and Allin. Davey had put up capital for Grubb so that he could resume production after the war. Grubb and Allin’s workshop was on Whitehorse Lane.

By the time the next Olympic Games were staged, in Antwerp in 1920, Davey was 34 but still still a formidable racer. The British Olympic Association named Davey as a reserve for the cycling team. He had to travel to Harwich where the team was to sail across to Hook of Holland. As soon as all the team arrived and were on board, Davey left and travelled to take part in a club event.

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Annual dinner: Charlie Davey was a significant figure in Croydon cycling, helping to revive Addiscombe CC

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Annual dinner: Charlie Davey was a significant figure in Croydon cycling, helping to revive Addiscombe CC

He was selected, next, for the British team in the inaugural World Amateur Road Race in 1921 in Copenhagen. Davey pedalled his way to a bronze medal behind the champion Gunnar Skold from Sweden. At 35, Davey had arrived on the world stage.

He confirmed that status the following year, winning another bronze in the World Amateur Road Race, which that year was staged in Liverpool. Britain won a clean sweep of the medals that year.

The following year, 1923, saw a momentous decision. Davey turned professional. This was late in his career, at 36, but he signed for the New Hudson Bicycle Company and cycled with them for four years.

During that time, he set records for riding from Land’s End to London, London to Bath and back, London to Portsmouth and back, as well as 24-hour records. Charlie Davey was certainly a rider with stamina as his 24-hour record was set at 402 miles. Not bad for a day’s hard work!

In 1924 Davey took part in the Bol D’Or 24-hour cycle race in France. Held at the Buffalo Velodrome in Paris, the riders were paced by a tandem. Davey performed creditably to finish sixth.

Once he had turned professional, Davey could no longer compete in amateur races. Instead, he turned to coaching and managing riders as well as being a senior official timekeeper.

Davey also ensured that club cyclists in Croydon were well-catered for. In 1929, Davey organised a meeting to resurrect the Addiscombe Cycling Club. In an advert placed in Cycling magazine of January 11, 1929, it announced that Charlie Davy would chair a meeting in the Dorcas Rooms, Clyde Hall, Addiscombe on January 15 with the view that Addiscombe CC could become viable again. At the meeting, Davey was declared the chairman and the club became an integral part of the local sporting scene.

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Honoured career: Charlie Davey’s entry in the Golden Book

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Honoured career: Charlie Davey’s entry in The Golden Book of Cycling

As reported in a local paper, Davey was keen to promote the social side of the cycling club as well as the racing. In January 1930, he organised the first Addiscombe annual club dinner at the Café Royal in North End. A “humorous talk” was given by Mr Bartleet, the chair of the Belle Vue Cycling Club. Not to be outdone, Davey, also the host club’s president, provided the musical entertainment being described as “an accomplished tenor”. Was there no end to his talents?

Even at the age of 47 in 1934, Davey made another attempt to break the 24-hour record, but he was forced to abandon the effort after 130 miles because of blustery weather.

In 1959 and by now in his 70s, Charlie Davey was rewarded for a lifetime of achievement by being given an entry in The Golden Book of Cycling. It was a glowing tribute which marked a lifetime of racing, coaching, managing and officiating in the sport. It was said that he had an unsurpassed knowledge of the routes of long-distance record attempts, and his organisation and officiating brought a huge degree of professionalism to each event.

Charlie Davey died in 1964 in Beckenham Hospital, having lived for many years on Lower Addiscombe Road, above his shop selling cycles and gramophones, and leaving a sporting legacy that is well worth remembering and celebrating in this Olympic year.

  • David Morgan is a former Croydon headteacher, now the volunteer education officer at Croydon Minster, who offers tours or illustrated talks on the history around the Minster for local community groups

If you would like a group tour of Croydon Minster or want to book a school visit, then ring the Minster Office on 020 688 8104 or go to the website on and use the contact page

Some previous articles by David Morgan:

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