Press Releases from Levens Hall
04 July 2022
Levens Hall and Gardens to Remember the Intrepid American ‘Bicycle Boys’
South Lakes historic home, Levens Hall and Gardens, is arranging a throwback Thursday with a huge difference on July 14, nostalgically remembering a visit made 92 years ago by two young students from the USA.
The ‘Bicycle Boys’ – Loyal Johnson and Sam Brewster – sailed from Boston, Massachusetts on the RMS Laconia, arriving in Liverpool on June 19, 1928, after 10 days at sea.  By the time they returned home three months later, they had cycled more than 1500 miles, battling wind, rain, flat tyres and insect bites, and had visited well over 80 gardens across the UK, riding 24-inch, 3-speed bicycles bought on arrival.

One of those gardens was Levens Hall and Gardens, whose world famous topiary garden, was a draw for the two young men. Loyal, aged 24, was collecting material for his Master’s dissertation in landscape architecture, so was no doubt enthralled by the prospect of seeing gardens founded by French gardener, Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont, in 1694.

It was the only garden in Cumbria they visited and they did so on their way back from Scotland, having toured Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens.  Although they were determined to cycle as much as possible, public transport was required at times and wet weather made this an essential choice for their visit to Scotland.  We know they returned south via Carlisle, where they visited the Cathedral, on July 13.

On July 14, they passed through Oxenholme Station and headed to Windermere, visiting the lake.  They then took a bus to Ambleside and another to Levens Hall and Gardens.  

The visit proved a relatively fruitless one.  The head gardener, Mr King, who started at Levens Hall and Gardens in 1919 and worked in the role for 35 years,  “was away playing cricket, this being Saturday afternoon.”  His wife told the two Americans that the current tenant, Sir James Reynolds, a prominent Lancashire cotton mill owner, had banned visitors, for fear of damage to the gardens.  After what was a “wild goose chase” in the grounds, to try to track him down and gain permission to enter, Loyal Johnson had to settle for a couple of photos taken from the edge of the gardens.

The disappointment he felt was tangible and well-communicated in the journal he kept.  He wrote, “to talk to both the butler and the chauffeur and again to the gardener’s wife, and to take two pictures in the garden and one of the mansion itself, and still not actually get to see the gardens, is surely a good ‘so near and yet so far’ experience.”

Having failed to gain entry, the pair headed off for a train to Sheffield, continuing their extraordinary journey around Britain’s gardens largely by bicycle thereafter, cycling up to 75 miles a day. They finally departed Britain on September 8, on the RMS Berengaria sailing from Southampton.

This epic journey has been brought to life by the Gardens Trust and RHS Lindley Library, which has created a nostalgic and atmospheric recreation of the two Americans’ travels for a new online exhibition at called The Bicycle Boys: An Unforgettable Garden Tour.  This is available until December 31, 2022, offering a poignant snapshot of British culture and gardens in the 1920s.

Extracts from Loyal Johnson’s journal and images the pair took are juxtaposed against images of the same gardens today, with added insight from current head gardeners.

Levens Hall and Gardens’ own head gardener, Chris Crowder, is pictured in the same spot from which Loyal Johnson took his photograph, with the world’s oldest topiary garden behind.  In many ways, remarkably little has changed over the years.

To celebrate the new RHS online exhibition and to remember these two intrepid garden lovers, Chris Crowder will be taking two special garden tours around Levens Hall’s gardens, at 11am and 2pm on July 14 – the 92nd anniversary of the Bicycle Boys’ visit – to provide insights that Loyal and Sam were unable to acquire.  Chris will highlight the location from which their photo was taken, so visitors can get their own version of Loyal’s image.

Additionally, anyone arriving at Levens Hall by bicycle on that day will be given entry to the gardens at a reduced rate of just £5 per person, to celebrate the spirit of the Bicycle Boys’ UK tour.

Chris Crowder says: “I feel a strong connection to the ‘Bicycle Boys’, as I also went on long cycle holidays in my early 20s, visiting all the big gardens along the way. I too was studying horticulture - in my case at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. We often caught the train up to Scotland and biked our way around the Highlands and Islands - and beyond. 

“I would love to welcome the adventurous and interested here to Levens Hall and Gardens, to see for themselves this amazing garden, on this anniversary of the ‘Bicycle Boys’ visit. We will explore the 300-year history, look at what Loyal and Sam might have missed, and the changes that have occurred.”

The Bicycle Boys project forms part of the Gardens Trust’s Unforgettable Gardens campaign to raise awareness of the value of local parks and gardens and the importance of protecting them for our future.  Much of the detail within the exhibition was contributed by volunteers within various County Garden Trusts, who carried out meticulous research.

More information about Levens Hall is at 


Press calls: Jane Hunt, Catapult PR, 01253 446925 –