Scooter hire shop

9th February 2001 at 00:00
(Photograph) - What's the story?

If you had talked about toy scooters a few years ago, this is the kind of old-fashioned picture people might have imagined - wooden scooters, children in baggy shorts and pinafores, and a bumpy ride over the cobbles.

But the scooter has been the subject of a dramatic image make-over - returning to popularity as a shiny metal fashion accessory that appeals to children and ageing fashion victims. And the number of scooters appearing in parks and on pavements, from Tokyo to Torquay, reflects their success in becoming a global craze.

If you're buying a modern scooter, you can expect to pay anything up to pound;100. This would have been well beyond the reach of any pocket money the children pictured here might have received in 1923. They have gathered outside a shop owned by a Mr Plumb, where you could hire a state-of-the-art scooter for a penny an hour.

Although the children are grouped in the doorway - coins in hand - suggesting Mr Plumb might have had a hand in setting up the picture, the photograph does suggest a more innocent time, when toys were less plentiful, streets were safer and the prospect of a ride on a scooter was enough to pull a crowd.

Then, as now, it wasn't enough to have any old scooter. The toy's popularity in the first two decades of the 20th century spawned a range of designer versions, with names such as "the ska cycle" and "joy runner".

This was to distinguish them from a toy with a much older pedigree - the home-made version, which involved attaching a pair of wheels and a steering column to a piece of wooden board. All you needed then was the scooter's ost important moving part - the leg that pushed it.

Children were riding "horses" made from a board with wheels as far back as the Middle Ages. The basic concept must be one of the oldest and simplest in existence. But in the post-war years scooters fell out of favour - usurped by other sets of wheels, such as bicycles, tricycles, pedal cars, go-karts, roller skates and skateboards.

The revival of scooters began in the late 1990s, with the so-called "micro-scooter" - a chic aluminium deck designed by a Swiss inventor as a mode of transport for short journeys. These were machines for urban living - lightweight, highly portable and nimble enough to take their riders through crowded city streets.

These style-conscious metal boards, with a top speed of 20 miles-per-hour, took scooters out of the fashion doldrums. After becoming a craze in Japan, they were soon snapped up in the United States and Europe as style toys for adults.

But children also wanted to play and, according to British toy retailers, scooters were the biggest selling Christmas toy last year, in an industry worth pound;1.65 billion a year.

The children outside Mr Plumb's shop would now be in their Eighties, and if they saw a scooter gliding past, they might be forgiven for thinking they had seen it all before. Photograph: Hulton Getty.



National Museum of Childhood:

British Toy and Hobby Association:

This picture is taken from The Times's A Century in Photographs: travel 1900 2000, researched and written by Ian Harrison (Times Books pound;16.99)

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