Leonard Bolingbroke – an inspiration from the past.

This is an image of Leonard Bolingbroke, you may not have heard of him, but Leonard holds a very warm place in Norwich history.  He was an avid collector, not of great works of art but of items that told the story of domestic life. He was a pioneer of the English folk life museum tradition. In 1900 he purchased an old Norwich house, set out that collection and eventually made it his family home.  That home was Strangers Hall and in 1923 Leonard Bolingbroke gave that building and all its contents to the city of Norwich in perpetuity. 

Strangers Hall is celebrating its centenary this year, and this image is from one of the display windows in the building.

So, what does that have to do with the Norfolk Churches Trust and in particular the Bike Ride?

Well, what you can also see in that photograph is Leonard’s Coventry Machinist 50” (penny farthing).  He was an enthusiastic cyclist and as a young man kept a journal of his rides around the county.

This was in the late 1870s and 1880s when roads were little more than dirt tracks.  He particularly liked to visit churches on his travels and made notes on their architecture and contents.  

So, it could perhaps be said that Leonard was the very first participant in a Norfolk churches bike ride!

Leonard was an accomplished artist, which was in no small part due to his maternal grandfather being James Stark, a leading member of the Norwich School of Artists.  So, in the days before camera phones, he made some particularly good sketches of the churches that he visited.

A solicitor by trade, 1910 Leonard became the Diocesan Registrar and Legal Secretary to the Bishop and Chapter Clerk to the Dean of Norwich, being recognised as extremely knowledgeable on Ecclesiastical law.

So could you be like Leonard, mount your bicycle and visit some of the wonderful churches that Norfolk has to offer, and in 21st Century style take some photographs and let us know your stories of the day by sending them to info@norfolkchurchestrust.org.uk.

You may also want to take note of some of the useful hints that came in the handbook of his Leonard’s trusty steed.

Never ride in the early morning fasting; a little rum and milk with an egg beaten in it is an excellent sustenant.

Never fail if you are in a strange country to ascertain the character of the roads from intelligent natives of the district before starting.

Never travel on a long journey without having your drawers lined smoothly and carefully with chamois leather or buckskin.

Knickerbockers are the best nether garments to drive in and moderately thick boots are better than thin ones.

And let us not forget the cyclist’s motto, Vires acquirit eundo (we gather strength as we go)

You can find out more about Leonard Bolingbroke in the centenary exhibition at Strangers Hall, which will be free of charge for Heritage Open Days on Sunday 10th, Wednesday 13th, and Sunday 17th September. And of course you can find out more more on the Norfolk Churches Trust Bike Ride and Walk by following the link https://norfolkchurchestrust.org.uk/bike-ride-walk/

100 Years of Strangers Hall and 40 Years of the Bike Ride and Walk.


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