The Yorkshire coast cycling hero who was the first man to reach 20mph on his bike

Herbert Liddell Cortis
Herbert Liddell Cortis

As the Yorkshire coast prepares to welcome the Tour de Yorkshire for a fifth year, Filey is gearing up to recognise its own cycling hero.

Herbert Liddell Cortis, who was born in the seaside town, was the first cyclist to ride 20 miles in an hour, breaking the record at Crystal Palace in July 1882.

It was a remarkable achievement considering he reached the speed, not only the hi-tech streamlined bikes that the Tour riders use, but on a penny farthing.

A blue plaque to celebrate to Cortis will be revealed next month, on the wall of Filey’s Evron Centre, close to the site of his former family home on John Street.

Richard Hay, owner of the BikeAbout Filey shop, said: “A few people came into the shop asking if I knew about this famous 19th century cyclist.

“Embarrassingly, I’d never heard of Herbert Liddell Cortis but did some digging and realised that, as a town, we should be celebrating him and doing what we can to make sure that he’s remembered.

“Hence the plaque idea, which the community have really got behind.”

The project has been funded by Filey Tourism Association and Filey Chamber of Trade with consent and support from Scarborough Borough Council.

The unveiling of the plaque will take place at 2pm on Saturday, April 13, outside The Evron Centre.

Special guests will include Yorkshire-born British cycling champion, Denise Burton-Cole, who is also the daughter of famous cyclist Beryl Burton.

There will be a small exhibition about Cortis in the Evron Centre, which will be open to the public and free of charge immediately before the unveiling until 4pm.

Janet Deacon, area director of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: ‘I’m so pleased that Herbert Liddell Cortis is to be remembered and honoured with his very own blue plaque.

“I bet he would have loved to have seen the Tour de Yorkshire coming through Filey last year and the huge crowds lining the streets cheering the cyclists on.

“With this plaque, Herbert’s memory lives on and we can all celebrate a Filey champion.

Herbert Liddell Cortis was born in Filey on June 7, 1857. He lived on John Street, where his father was the local doctor and the town Registrar.

He qualified as a doctor himself, while becoming one of the world’s leading amateur cyclists.

Sadly, not long after breaking the speed record and having moved to Australia, Cortis died after an illness, at the age of 28 in New South Wales.

There appears to be no members of the Cortis family left in Filey today with his descendants scattered around the world but, on being told about the plaque, a number of his family visited Filey over Christmas to see where it was to be placed.

His great-granddaughter Anne Casey said, “We’re delighted that Filey is going to display a plaque. Herbert was an amazing man from all that we know about him.

“We can’t thank the people of Filey enough.”