Historian Andrew Barton has, for decades, held an interest in the Pedersen bicycle, invented in Dursley by Mikael Pedersen at the turn of the twentieth century. Gloucestershire Gazette reporter Stuart Rust spoke to the chairman of Dursley Heritage Centre about the bike’s fascinating history, in the first of our Days Gone By features.

MIKAEL Pedersen was born on October 25, 1855, in Floeng, to the west of Copenhagen.

Upon leaving school he took an apprenticeship at the Maglekilde Maskinfabric, which made agricultural equipment, and designed an improved type of cream separator, which would be seen by Robert Lister, founder of Dursley-based engineering giant RA Lister and Co, who obtained manufacturing rights in the 1890s.

So popular was Mr Pedersen’s machine, known as the Alexandra, that Lister’s expanded rapidly to become world-renowned throughout the world.

“It is perhaps this one event that enabled Dursley to become the centre of engineering it did,” Dursley historian Andrew Barton told the Gazette.

Mikael was encouraged to come to Dursley in what might today be considered a consultancy role at Lister’s. Mikael He brought with him his design for a new bicycle, made of small-diameter metal tubing with a unique ‘hammock’ saddle. He demonstrated his first Pedersen cycles to established cycle makers in the hope that they would manufacture, but failed to garner any manufacturing interest. And so, from about 1900, production began at the Pin Mill in Water Street, Dursley.

Mikael designed two- and three-speed gears for his cycles, which were first marketed in 1903. RA Lister and Co would take it over in 1905.

At the end of the war Mikael and his third wife Ingeborg moved to London but soon separated. Ingeborg returned to Denmark with the couple’s three boys but Mikael remained in London until 1923. Mikael Pedersen died in an old people’s home in October 22, 1929, at the age of 74.

After his departure from England in the early twenties, Mikael was all but forgotten, his name remembered only by veteran cycle enthusiasts.

This changed in the 1970s when, by chance, Pedersen enthusiast Finn Wodschow met Mikael’s son Vagn in Copenhagen. More details of Mikael’s life became available as a result of this meeting, information that would later be compiled in a book by David Evans’ book, called The Ingenious Mr Pedersen.

Since then, many people interested in Mikael have visited Dursley, and in 1978 a plaque commemorating his life was unveiled on Raglan House by the then Danish Ambassador.

At about this time Jesper Soelling in Copenhagen began to experiment with making Pedersen style cycles, using modern materials. Others followed, including Michael Kemper in Germany and Chris Margenout in Cheltenham.

In the 1990s it became clear that Mikael’s unmarked grave in Copenhagen was about to be reused. In 1995, Finn Wodschow brought Mikael’s remains to England and they were re-interred in Dursley Cemetery in a grave marked with a memorial engraved with an image of his iconic bicycle.

Andrew’s own interest in Mikael Pedersen began in the 1970s.

“My personal connection to the cycle stems from a lifelong interest in cycling and a tentative link goes back to 1978 when I was living in Buckinghamshire.

“I distinctly recall going into my local book shop and purchasing a newly published volume, The Ingenious Mr Pedersen by David Evans.

“I knew nothing about Mr Pedersen or his bicycle, and indeed had never heard of Dursley.

“Little did I know that one day, over 20 years later, I would end up living in the town and would get to know the author very well. I was also to become involved in the running of the town’s heritage centre. Life has some strange twists and turns.”

In 2009, Dursley Heritage Centre was donated the remains of a very early Pedersen bicycle dating back to 1898 or earlier. The bike was in very poor condition, so was put into store.

Luck was with the centre in 2013, when a cycling event finishing in the town saw about 30 enthusiasts of the Pedersen ride to Dursley from Dover over the course of a week, including Michael Kemper, now the principal manufacturer of modern reproduction Pedersen cycles, arrive in town with his fellow cyclists.

On seeing the Heritage Centre’s own decaying cycle, he at once offered to restore it, with the results now on show at the centre, an offer that couldn’t be refused.

The Mikael Pedersen bicycle, which can be seen now in Dursley’s Heritage Centre, is the result of many hours of hard work by Michael.

To read For more about the Pedersen bicycle, read the latest edition of David Evans’ book, Mr Pederson: A Man of Genius. Most of Andrew’s knowledge of the Pedersen comes from Evans’ research. To learn more about the history of Dursley, visit Andrew’s website at dursleyglos.org.uk.