News from around the Archdiocese of Liverpool



Cath Pic Jubilee Issue-1 Cover May

by Neil Sayer - Archdiocesan Archivist


Over the past year many of us have no doubt taken to solitary recreational activities such as running or cycling.  Not too long ago, cycling was seen as a means of transport not of sport.  For Father Ernest Gray, pictured here in the pages of the Catholic Pictorial 50 years ago, in May 1971, his bike not only enabled him to get round his parishioners, it gave him a useful profile in the community around English Martyrs, Haydock.


The Pic reported that ‘Father Gray firmly believes in visiting and gets round the parish easily on his small bicycle.’  It is remarkable that when this picture was taken, Father Gray was 77, yet he still managed to visit 80-90 houses each week.  No doubt the roads were quieter, and safer, then.  Father Gray was Parish Priest in Haydock for almost 35 years before he retired in 1973; he died in 1980.


The bike that he is riding is, as its many aficionados will have noticed, a Moulton Standard.  Still in production today, its design can seem as revolutionary as it did when it first appeared in 1962.  It was invented by Dr Alex Moulton, an engineer with a background in aeroengines and the car industry.  He wondered why the bicycle design had changed so little since the 1890s and went back to first principles to create this eye-catching piece of machinery.  


Created around an ‘F’ frame, its wheels were smaller than other bikes, it had front and rear suspension for comfort over cobbled surfaces, it offered a fair amount of carrying space, and the design has clearly stood the test of time.  Father Gray probably found it lightweight, easy to mount, and comfortable enough for his parish visiting purposes; and it was relatively inexpensive.


Back in the 1890s, bicycles had first come to the notice of the Catholic Bishops in England.  At their annual conference in 1897, they spent some time discussing ‘The clergy and the use of bicycles’.  It seems that priests were increasingly using bicycles (and tricycles) ‘as a means of transport over large districts confided to their care’.  Standards of dress, it seemed, had slipped, and the Bishops felt obliged to remind the clergy of ‘the rules regarding ecclesiastical dress’.  They were, however, not entirely inflexible: ‘Objection will not be made to a slight shortening of the clerical coat, where this may be found necessary when using a bicycle.  In this case a Priest who is going to visit the sick should take with him a light slip, to wear when administering the Sacraments.’


The bicycle was seen in its early days as giving too much freedom to women, whose dress and morals would suffer from taking advantage of the wider horizons it offered.  It is interesting to note that the Bishops also thought that the bicycle might ‘relax the discipline that everywhere marks out the Catholic Priest as the minister of God.’  So, a shortening of the coat was allowed, presumably so as not to hinder safe cycling.  But ‘the putting off of the clerical dress in order to mix with greater freedom in lay society is absolutely forbidden.’

Two wheels good

The Bishops felt obliged to remind the clergy of ‘the rules regarding ecclesiastical dress