Brighton & Hove Clarion Cycling Club  



Why 'Boots and Spurs'?
Ian Bullock

I became well acquainted with the Clarion – probably the most successful socialist paper ever in Britain, whose hey-day was in the 1890s – while doing the research for my history thesis.

Back in the late '70s on one of my cycling trips I was staying in a youth hostel somewhere in or near the Fens – Bourne probably. In the members' kitchen, preparing to heat up their baked beans or whatever were what seemed to me a couple of very old men – and since I was in my late thirties then, they probably really were quite old rather than young fellows in their fifties or sixties. I noticed that one was wearing a big silver 'trumpet' badge with the Clarion logo, so more or less without thinking I said 'Boots'. He instantly responded 'Spurs' and then asked me how I knew about this.

The origin was that according to Blatchford, the founder and editor of the paper, during his army days it was the custom in his barrack room to take turns telling stories after 'lights out'. To make sure that someone was still listening and they hadn't all dropped off the story teller would occasionally call 'Boots' and – to demonstrate they were still awake his listeners replied 'Spurs'. This then became the custom among the 'Clarionettes'.

Anyway, I discovered that these guys were off to the Easter Meet of the Clarion Cycling Club in – if I remember correctly – Skegness. I was amazed (and delighted) to find that the organisation was still going – it was founded in 1894 and the paper finished in the 1930s – and I got the necessary details and briefly joined up. But what with one thing and another I let my membership lapse and almost forgot all about it. Then a few weeks before Christmas 2003 I came across some Clarion transfers that were part of the members' kit and thought I might just try to see if the club was on the web – not really expecting that it would still be going another quarter of a century on. I thought it couldn't still be going. But in fact they have a rather splendid web page on

So I wrote to the national secretary and have received a reply, sent off my subscription to become a fully paid up member of the Oakhill (Blackburn) section. It would have been a long ride to get to the starting point since I'm told they rarely venture south of the Ribble. Still I only needed two more members and we could start a Brighton section!


Incidentally, during the 12 years I ran the Access to HE course at what's now City College Brighton and Hove, I called the news sheet I used to keep in touch with the hundred odd students each year 'The Perisher' – and I understand that my colleagues have decided to keep the name now I have retired. This explains the origin.

The Perisher'

Alex Thompson, Edward Fay, William Palmer and another sympathiser, Robert Suthers, all resigned from the Chronicle with Robert Blatchford. They were joined by Robert's brother Montague who also gave up his job, and on 12th December 1891 they 'went to sea in a sieve' by bringing out the first issue of the penny Socialist weekly, The Clarion (fondly referred to as the 'Perisher') from a tiny office in Corporation Street, Manchester.

From Denis Pye Fellowship is Life. The National Clarion Cycling Club, 1895–1995 (1995) p 6.

As explained in another entry in this section, Ed Furey came into possession of a copy of the 1962-63 Clarion CC Handbook. Among other things it gave an account of the origin of the 'Boots and Spurs' greeting which is a little more detailed than the one in Denis Pye's excellent Fellowship is Life. The familiar tale of Blatchford's army experiences is given but then it goes on:

The first Annual Easter Meet was held at Ashbourne in 1895. Members from different districts were strangers to each other. Whilst it was still daylight it was easy to recognise the Club badge, and thus to know that another member had turned up for the first meet. The trouble came at nightfall. Those who had arrived were lounging around the village and the roads leading into Ashbourne. It was quite easy to see when a light was approaching but it was not possible to know whether the rider was wearing the club badge or not. One brainy member of the club put on his 'studying cap', then came forth with the suggestion that if these cyclists were Clarion members, they were also 'Clarion' readers. If they read the 'Clarion' they would read 'Nunquam's' army articles. Therefore, if they called out 'Boots' they would understand that this was from some other 'Clarion' reader and member, and they would answer 'Spurs'. This worked so well that ever since 1895 this has been recognised as our members' 'password'. Members from the south who are touring in the north, or vice versa, on seeing a cyclist wearing the club badge will call out 'Boots'. No further introduction is necessary. The other answers 'Spurs'.


'Remember this, and when you next hear a member call 'Boots', don’t look at him (sic) as though he was calling you something unpleasant, answer 'Spurs' and stop if you have time. He is a comrade of the same club, enjoying the best of all pastimes, and you will find the spirit of comradeship exists between you both.'

Quite right too!

Ian Bullock
May 2004

^ top