Around England by Bicycle: the C G Harper Collection

The Historic England Archive has recently completed the cataloguing and digitisation of over 1,100 original drawings from the C G Harper collection, with generous support from TownsWeb Archiving. The collection can be viewed online on the Historic England Archive website.

Line-drawn archive illustration showing a man and a woman walking down steep stone steps between houses to a rowing boat
Robin Hood's Bay, Fylingdales, North Yorkshire. Drawn by C G Harper 1892-1933. Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive CGH01/01/0343

The drawings provide an artist’s impression of a ‘Lost England’, showing idyllic scenes of towns and villages before the large scale development after the Second World War. Geographically diverse, the collection covers churches, public houses, bridges, street scenes, country houses, coastal views, road signs and village scenes, providing an atmospheric picture of England and English life during the early 20th century.

Charles George Harper was born in 1863 in London. His professional career began as a printer, but he also began to write articles for periodicals and newspapers about his lifelong passion – the history and topography of England.

Line-drawn archive illustration showing a man walking along a sinuous causeway bridge
Swarkestone Bridge, Stanton By Bridge, Derbyshire. Drawn by C G Harper 1892-1933. Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive CGH01/01/0581

In 1892 Harper’s first work, a collection of articles about the Brighton Road, supplemented by his own illustrations, was published. This was to be the start of over 30 years’ worth of travel and research, covering most of the country, and leading to the publication of over 40 volumes.

Harper meticulously researched his books, travelling the length and breadth of the country by bicycle, and producing detailed illustrations along the way. In many of his illustrations he added a self portrait of a moustachioed man with a bicycle.

Line-drawn archive illustration showing a railway viaduct with a sailing boat moored at a landing stage in the foreground
Calstock Viaduct, Cornwall, seen from the east. Drawn by C G Harper 1892-1933. Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive CGH01/01/0495

He covered all the major old coaching roads – the Bath Road, the Dover Road, the Great North Road, the Norwich Road, to name but a few. He also produced volumes documenting the south coast, including the Kentish Coast, the Dorset Coast, the Devon Coast and the Cornish Coast. Alongside these he published works on the Old Inns of Old England, Thames Valley Villages, and Cycle Rides Round London.

Harper died in 1943, and his collection of drawings seems to have been dispersed. The HE Archive’s collection of over 1,100 original drawings is likely to only be a small part of his output.

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