Bicycling For Ladies


Artist: John Burnside
Born: 19 March 1955
Link(s): Wikipedia Page

Poet John Burnside was inspired by the suffragette and cyclist Sylvia Pankhurst and the women of Bow who campaigned for women’s rights at the turn of the 20th century. The poem looks back to the radical history of this part of east London, remembering women cyclists as emblems of a changing world.

The first part of the poem looks longingly from the perspective of women who dreamed of “riding out” to revel in the “solitude of some far crossroads”. Burnside then dreams of a ghostly Sylvia Pankhurst revived from history, followed by hordes of women cyclists. The poem ends with a haunting reminder of how the acts of the past can be easily forgotten as the modern world cycles away.

Burnside was inspired by historical sources, drawing on a well-known women’s liberation pamphlet entitled ‘Bicycling for Ladies’, as well as other material from the Sylvia Pankhurst archives. The poem also includes the words of the women who worked with Pankhurst in east London, such as Nellie Cressall.

... Between the morning and the evening wash they dream of riding out, like Pankhurst girls, in Rational Dress, on shiny new machines, to Waltham Abbey, Thornwood, Magdalen Lever …

From ‘Bicycling for Ladies’