THEY were once denounced as 'swaggering scorchers' - cyclists riding at break neck speed through towns as though they arrogantly possessed a monopoly of the road.

But one man was determined to put the brakes on them, and if it meant prison because they could not meet a fine, then prison it would be.

Judge Gye heard how one Southampton woman suffered such extensive bruising after being hurled to the ground that she was confined to bed for several days.

The drama happened on May 25, 1903, when Elizabeth Thomas had ridden her bike out of Manchester Street and crossed over to her proper side to continue down Above Bar when Percy Fortescue came over at great speed and struck her.

Thomas picked herself up and went to work at the Grand Theatre that evening but was in such discomfort she was sent home and examined by a doctor who ordered to stay at home and rest.

Six weeks later Thomas sued Fortescue for £5 at the county court over his reckless riding.

Fortescue maintained the accident was not his fault, saying he had been forced onto the wrong side of the road to avoid Thomas who suddenly emerged from the side street.

"I did not hit her machine at all. Her front wheel struck my back wheel and buckled it."

But eye witness Frank Kimber saw it differently.

"He was riding at a terrific pace and ran straight into her wheel, knocking off her machine onto her back. Had he been riding slowly, it would not have occurred. He rode over her front wheel and went on up the street but when some people shouted to him 'stop', he got off his bicycle and returned to the spot.

" When I said 'it was your fault', he abused me and threatened to smash my head in. I then rode on to Tauntons School with him following me and there he threatened to give me a jolly good hiding."

Giving judgement for Thomas, the judge said there was no doubt as where the blame lay. Fortescue ought to have slowed down when he saw her and not tried to get ahead of her.

"These scorchers are all over the place, disregarding every single soul but themselves. They keep up with the pace for their own selfish purposes, disregarding old gentlemen, old women, children and dogs and everything else. Everyone has to get out of the way of the scorcher, as with bent back and head down, they scorch along the public streets, thinking because they go at a rapid pace they are entitled to do that and everyone else must get out of their way.

"That is not the law. Scorchers who pride themselves on their pace must be taught a lesson and one of the functions of being a judge is to attempt to teach them that lesson.

"It is a rather hopeless task but I am going to attempt it and therefore give judgement for the plaintiff with full costs forthwith. I hope this will be a lesson to the defendant to exercise more caution when riding."

The forlorn Fortescue protested he had no money but the judge was unsympathetic.

"If you have the means to ride a bicycle and injure other people, then you must accept the risk of what happens to you."

He replied: "Then I shall have to go to prison. I have no means."