Hobby horse, c 1818.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The 'hobby' or 'dandy horse' was the forerunner of the bicycle and was invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais in France in 1817. It was introduced to England the following year by Denis Johnson, a coachmaker of Long Acre, London, who described it as a 'pedestrian curricle'. Hobby horses had no pedals, but were propelled by the rider pushing on the ground with his feet. As there were no brakes, the feet had to be dragged to slow the machine. Johnson started a school where prospective purchasers could learn how to ride the machine, and in 1819, fashionable London society was briefly gripped by a craze for riding a hobby horse. This model came from Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, and belonged to the 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840).