Penny Farthings or High Wheelers evolved from an 1860’s French design, the Boneshaker. The innovations that Eugene Meyer (FR) and James Starley (UK) brought to the bicycle were a larger drive wheel made possible by lightweight tensioned spokes (earlier bikes had heavier compression spoke designs similar to horse drawn vehicles).
The huge front wheel was both the strength and weakness of the Pennies. The effective gearing up of a rider’s effort meant rapid progress, but the rider’s position high atop the wheel made them susceptible to deadly “headers”. An obstacle of sufficient size, would pitch the rider forward with potentially messy results.
Pennies were only popular for a few years, from the 1870s to the 1890s, and their use was largely confined to the same sort of people that ride them today; risk takers and speed demons.
It wasn’t until the safety bicycle was popularised by James Starley’s nephew, John Kemp Starley, that the bicycle became a utilitarian device of interest to ordinary people. Paradoxically for such a memorable design a new term was coined in the wake of the “Safety” - the Penny Farthing was dubbed an Ordinary.
Ken Bugden owned a bicycle shop at 107 Pier St, Perth at a time when the city centre was dotted with bicycle retailers.
A prized showpiece was his 1874 Penny Farthing bicycle from England. The bike was kept securely under lock and key in the shop, as larrikins would make of with it and attempt to ride it through the city.
He married briefly, but disastrously, in 1943, to the “petite and dainty” Dorothy Allington, who shortly after their marriage was committed for trial for planning to set Ken’s premises alight with kerosene. The newspaper breathlessly reported she “wore the sheerest of sheer stockings on a pair of lovely legs.”
Whether those legs ever straddled Ken’s Penny Farthing remains a mystery. His Penny Farthing, however, survives as a wonderful example of the origins of early bicycling.
Quote from current owner Mal Bell;
I bought the Bugden Penny farthing at an auction in Fremantle in the early 1990s. With the bike was a newspaper cutting with a picture of Ken Bugden riding this bike to his business premises According to the report he had been apprehended by the police and had been told not to ride the penny farthing on the roads. I enquired as to whether I could have the cutting, but was told that the family wished to retain it. I believe this happened in the early 1930s, and 1934 seems to ring a bell, but I am uncertain of this. I have been unable to make contact with any descendants of the Ken Bugden family, and also have not found any information on the ‘net.