Bicycle racing started as early as 1868 when a race took place in a park
on the outskirts of Paris. Wolverhampton was an ideal venue for such
events because of the first class race track in the grounds of the
Molineux Hotel, another on Tettenhall Road and possibly a third in
In the 1870s
the town became famous for the bicycle races that took place on the
track in the grounds of the Molineux Hotel, on the site that is now
occupied by the football ground.
Large numbers of
spectators came from all over the country to watch the
events that attracted the best riders of the day. As many as
20,000 people flocked to watch some of the races which
attracted such riders as Henry Pascoed from Paris; James
Moore, who won many of the first races; Jack Keene, one of
the fastest riders of the day; Mr. Shelton, a local rider;
H.O. Duncan, who was 50 mile world champion in 1885; and
world cycling champion R. Howell.
Wolverhampton Chronicle 3rd August, 1870
The races were promoted by Mr. O.E. McGregor, the
proprietor of the hotel and pleasure grounds and many meetings were
held, each with numerous races. Most of the races were for high
wheelers, which were the fastest machines at the time, but tricycle
races were also held.
Races were held weekly and reports appeared in the
Wolverhampton Chronicle, which give a good idea of what went on. In 1872
a meeting took place on the 20th and 21st of May and the highlight of
the day was the mile championship in which Wolverhampton rider Shelton
beat Surbiton's Jack Keen by ten yards, with a time of 3 minutes 13
seconds. In August Keen beat Shelton in the record time of 3 minutes 9.5
seconds and by September he had reduced his time to 3 minutes 6 seconds.
Wolverhampton Chronicle 14th September, 1870
An advert from the early 1880s.
|In August 1873 Shelton got his revenge when Keen
took a tumble and he had an easy win. On the same day he also won the
four mile race in a time of 13 minutes 34.75 seconds. Valuable prizes
were offered to successful competitors. In February 1874 F. Cooper beat
James Moore by two yards in the one mile race and won £100, a large sum
of money at the time. His time was 3 minutes 9 seconds.
winter of 1874 a 50 mile race was arranged between Jack Keen and David
Stanton who was considered to be the greatest cyclist in the world.
Unfortunately Stanton took a tumble after the 31st mile leaving Keen to
win in a record time of 3 hours 9 minutes 19 seconds.
In 1886 Molineux was the venue for the
International Bicycle World Championships, such was its stature. High
wheelers eventually gave way to safety bicycles and the
popularity of the races greatly encouraged some of the early
Many of the competitors opened their own workshops to
make bicycles. One of them, Daniel Rudge, an excellent mechanic, made
many improvements to his cycles and produced the best racing machines of
the day. He won the first race that was held at Molineux and later
received the gold medal at the Stanley Cycle Club's first exhibition in
London. Another local rider, Alfred Forder, began to produce machines on
a large scale and Edward Lisle founded the Star Cycle Company.
In 1886 Mr. McGregor sold the Hotel and grounds to
Mr. Edwin Steer, the first of many new owners. In 1889 the gardens were
removed and the Molineux football ground was built, but bicycle races
continued, albeit infrequently, for many years.
is an account of one of the very early
Wolverhampton race meetings. It comes from the
late Jim Boulton's collection, but unfortunately
the date and the newspaper are unknown.
Wolverhampton - Champion Bicycle Contests
closing bicycle contest for the present season,
in connection with the above delightfully
situated grounds took place there on Saturday
and Monday last. Three special prizes were
offered. The first prize being a handsome silver
cup of the value of £15, and second and third
prizes of £5 and £3; in addition to which there
were also money prizes of £1 and 10shillings for
the neatest costumes.
entries included some of the most noted bicycle
champions in the kingdom – Turner of Paris and
Johnson of London, with several local
celebrities of the town and district;
consequently the events drew together each day a
numerous attendance of patrons and others
interested in the sports.
event on the card was an All Comers’ Mile Race,
for which there were ten entries, but one
competitor – Cumberland of Nottingham did not
put in an appearance, and it was therefore
decided on Saturday, in order to ensure a field
of runners for the second day, that the losers
in the opening heats doing the best time should
be allowed the privilege of again contending. On
Saturday the first prize of £1 for the best
costume was awarded to E. Shelton of
Wolverhampton who was attired in a rich mazarine
blue jacket, with white sash; whilst the second
prize of 10 shillings was awarded to Turner of
Paris, his costume being an emerald green jacket
and white breeches. The competitors were paired
in five heats, and one, Rogers, walked over, the
distance being nine times round the circle and
thirty yards. Some excellent running took place
and the five heats were won by Forder, Johnson,
Keen, Turner and Shelton.
Monday the winners of the heats from the
previous Saturday again assembled to run off the
concluding heats for the prizes, and all the men
being first class, some excellent sport was
shown. Heat 1: Forder first, Rogers second. At
the first start Rogers took the lead, and soon
increased the distance to ten yards. On going
round for the fifth time however, Forder quickly
went to the front and after a gallant struggle,
during which they passed and re-passed each
other twice, Forder ran in an easy winner by 15
yards in 4 minutes 32 seconds.
Turner 1st; Shelton 2nd.
In this heat Turner took the lead from the
beginning and kept it, gradually increasing the
distance each round, until his opponent had no
chance, and the clever little Frenchman won the
race by nearly thirty yards. This was one of the
quickest races that has been run in this Midland
district, the winner’s time being only 4 minutes
5 seconds, and Shelton being only 5 seconds
three winners then drew lots for the final
heats, and the result was as follows: Heat 1:
J.T. Johnson, London 1st, A. Forder,
Wolverhampton 2nd. Forder winning the
toss took the inside, and started off at a
terrific pace, Johnson three yards behind. The
pace increased up to the third lap, when Forder
missed his treadle, and soon after that Johnson
passed him, and kept the lead, winning by about
twenty yards. Time 4 minutes 2 seconds.
Turner walked over. The final heat was between
Turner and Johnson. A good start was affected,
Johnson being on the inside and leading by four
yards until the end of the second lap, when
Turner made a spurt and contested from the
inside, but Johnson still held it, and then
began the finest race that has been seen in
Wolverhampton. Neck and neck they went on at a
killing pace till the end of the 7th
lap when Turner managed to get the inside, and
after a spirited finish won by about a yard.
Johnson, considering the severe struggle before
with Forder, ran his machine splendidly. Time 4
minutes. There was an immense amount of
excitement, and each man was loudly cheered,
this being the fastest race ever run in
Wolverhampton. We understand that the shortest
time in which a mile has been run by the bicycle
is 3 minutes 30 seconds. The prizes were then
awarded as follows: Turner 1st, the
cup prize; Johnson 2nd; Forder 3rd.
Subsequently a mile race has been run without
using bicycle handles, for a silver medal, which
was won by Shelton of Wolverhampton, defeating
Turner and Johnson. As we have above stated
there was a numerous attendance each day; Mr.
Trotman ably officiated as clerk of the course
and starter, and the most commendable good order
was kept throughout each day’s proceedings.
A bicycle race at Molineux. Courtesy of Jim
A ticket for one of the cycling events
Courtesy of Briony Pulford.
A black and white copy of a poster
showing a cycle race taking place at Molineux. Courtesy of
and Road Racing
During the 1870s cycling became extremely popular,
no doubt helped by racing events such as the ones held at Molineux.
Clubs sprang up across the country and one on the first was the Aston
Cycle Club of Birmingham, founded in 1869. The following year saw the
formation of the Edinburgh Amateur Bicycle Club and the prestigious
Pickwick Bicycling Club with branches in many towns.
In 1878 two important and influential clubs were
founded. The first, the Bicycle Touring Club was formed at Harrogate and
soon had over 500 members. In 1883 it became the Cyclists Touring Club.
The second, the Bicycle Union became the National Cyclists Union or
N.C.U. in 1884. By 1880 there were around 250 clubs and by 1890 thirteen
magazines dedicated to cycling were on sale.
Like most towns, Wolverhampton had many cycling
clubs, the earliest possibly being the Sun Bicycle Club formed in 1874
and based at the Sun Inn in Commercial Road. In 1884 the Wesleyan Cycle
Club was formed and meetings were held at the Darlington Street Wesleyan
Schools. They had around 40 members with an annual subscription of
2s.6d. Other clubs such as the Mount Zion Cycling Club and St. Matthew's
Cycling Club were based at church schools, whilst most of the others met
at local pubs.
The Wulfruna Cycling Club met at the New Inn,
Horseley Fields and The Grosvenor met at the Popler Hotel, Wednesfield
Road. Its annual subscription was 4 shillings for ordinary members and
10s.6d for honorary members. A lot of money at the time. The Queen
Victoria in Ablow Street, near to Sunbeamland was home to the Sunbeam
Cycle and Athletic Club, and the famous Wolverhampton Wheelers, founded
in 1880, met at the Talbot Hotel.