Bicycle Racing
in Wolverhampton

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 Springfield Road.

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.

During the 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 manufacturers.

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.

The following 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.

Molineux Grounds, Wolverhampton - Champion Bicycle Contests

The 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.

The 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.

The only 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.

On 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.

Heat 3: 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 later.

The 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.

Heat 2: 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 Boulton.

A ticket for one of the cycling events at Molineux. Courtesy of Briony Pulford.

A black and white copy of a poster showing a cycle race taking place at Molineux. Courtesy of Jim Boulton.

Cycle Clubs 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.

Many cycling clubs soon turned their attention to road racing and the wheelers were no exception. After an initial decline the club reformed in 1924 as a racing club with many prominent and well-known members such as Percy Stallard, Bob Thom and Benny Whitmore. The newly formed club held meetings in Percy Stallard's shop at 30 Broad Street. Other clubs also met at cycle shops, including the City Cycling Club based at Poyners on Dudley Road and Central Roads that met at Hayward's Cycles on Snow Hill.

An early bicycle club. Courtesy of Jim Boulton.

Wolverhampton clubs including The Clarion joined forces with the Walsall Cycle Racing Club and Walsall Roads to form the South Staffs Time Trial Association and organised many time trials, often run on Watling Street between Gailey and Newport. In 1938 George Courier of Wolverhampton's City Cycling Club held the 60 mile record from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury and back, in a time of 2 hours 46 minutes 2 seconds. Local dealers such as Percy Stallard and Jack Green of Bilston Street built many specialised racing machines for club riders and they were "a must" for many of the riders.

The Wolverhampton Racing Cycling Club was founded in May 1938 and affiliated to the N.C.U. and the Road Time Trials Council (R.T.T.C.) with a membership of around 60 members including some of the best road men of the day. By 1984 Wolverhampton Wheelers had around 200 members including Hugh Porter M.B.E. and the successful rider Bob Thom. The club had excellent club rooms and facilities at Aldersley Stadium.

Local manufacturers also had racing teams which helped to increase sales of their products. Viking Cycles of 34 Princess Street and Princess Alley had a very successful team as did Wearwell of Colliery Road and Hateley's cycle shop on Stafford Road.

Some Local Riders and Their Successes

Percy Stallard. Photo courtesy of Jim Boulton.
One of the most famous local racing cyclists, Percy Thornley Stallard was born at his father's bicycle shop premises at 30 Broad Street in about 1910. He eventually took the shop over from his father and ran it until his retirement in the1990s. Percy began competitive cycling at the age of 17 and rapidly made a name for himself. He was a member of the Wolverhampton 'Wheelers' Cycling Club and selected for the World Road Racing Championship at Monthlery, France in 1933. He finished in 12th position and was selected for the following year's event at Leipzig, Germany, finishing in 6th place. In 1935 the championship was held at Namur in Belgium and Percy finished in 12th place in front of a vast crowd of spectators.

Percy trained his own team of Wolverhampton cyclists, and in 1938, one of the team, Ray Jones, won the silver medal in the Empire Games.

The Wolverhampton club entered many races and Percy became well known for his racing successes. In 1939 he won a 62 mile race in a time of 3 hours, 2minutes, 59 seconds and came in first in the last cycle race to be held at Brooklands. He also represented England in the World Road Racing Championship in 1937 and became team captain in 1939. Unfortunately the event for that year was cancelled due to the beginning of the war.

Percy brought cycle road racing to Britain. In the 1940s it was illegal to race on public roads and Percy organised a massed-start race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton, on June 7th, 1942. The event went ahead in spite of vicious opposition from the national governing body, the National Cyclists Union (N.C.U.). There were 28 keen competitors and 27 of them would complete the course. A fast pace was set from the start and at Shrewsbury A. Dobson of the Royal Navy led the field in a time of 1 hour 18 minutes, a full 17 minutes ahead of the expected time. In 2nd place was J. Beeston of Birmingham followed by R. Jones of Wolverhampton.
With 7 miles to go at Summerhouse Hill, Albert Price and Cecil Anslow, both of Wolverhampton, led the field and Corporal J. Jones of the Royal Air Force followed close behind. An outstanding effort considering that he had been delayed with a broken chain. 2,000 spectators awaited the outcome at West Park and they saw an amazing finish with Albert Price winning by just two lengths ahead of Cecil Anslow.
Albert Price finishing the Llangollen to Wolverhampton race at West Park. Courtesy of Jim Boulton.

J. Jones came in third and J. Kremers finished in fourth place. The race had been a great success and the Express & Star Comforts Fund benefited by the sum of £105. Percy Stallard should have felt proud of his achievement but all of those involved were suspended by the N.C.U. and the R.T.T.C.

The enthusiasts were undaunted by the expulsions and formed the Midland League of Racing Cyclists. Other similar organisations were formed and in November 1942 they came together to form the British League of Racing Cyclists (B.L.R.C.) with Percy Stallard as event organiser. This led to a bitter 17 year long conflict with the N.C.U., during which all of the cycle clubs in the country were forced to declare allegiance to one body or the other. Percy was soon expelled from the league for criticising its standard of race organisation, but soon returned. In 1951, he organised the first London to Holyhead race, which was the longest race in Europe at the time. His influence led to the setting up of the Milk Race and the Tour of Britain. In 1955 the first British team took part in the Tour de France.

In 1959 the B.L.R.C. and the N.C.U. merged and Percy, who was disillusioned, quit the sport. He even sacked Ralph Jones, who was his assistant in the cycle shop, because Ralph was the B.L.R.C. delegate at an international meeting in Spain. Percy's campaigning eventually paid off, as government legislation was introduced on March 1st 1960, which made road racing legal and paved the way for such events as the Tour of Britain. Percy returned to cycle race organisation, running events for veterans. In 1985 he organised the first age-related race in the country which took place at Albrighton on 28th April.

From the cover of the 1948 Viking Cycles catalogue, showing Bob Thom, one of the best racing cyclists in Britain at the time. Courtesy of Jim Boulton.
Another well known and successful rider was Bob Thom who began to compete in 1935. He soon became a member of the Wolverhampton Wheelers with fellow team mates Percy Stallard and Ray Jones. Bob finished in 6th place in the first N.C.U. mass start race at Donington Park and won the first Midland Centre Massed Start Championship with the wheelers gaining the team prize.

During World War 2 he joined the RAF and on his return after the war his competitive career with the wheelers continued. He joined the B.L.R.C. and became Independent Road Champion and a member of the winning team that competed at Tilburg. His first league win was at the 100km circuit at Dudley and many more successes followed. He was 15th in the National Road Championships in Scotland and won the Grand Prix at Weston Super Mare. He also won the first Severn Valley Grand Prix and repeated his success in 1948. Bob went on to win the notorious Tour of the Peaks and finished in 12th place in the 1947 Brighton to Glasgow race.

Bob's racing career really took off when Reg Davies of Viking Cycles decided to form a racing team and Bob became a member along with Ben Whitmore and Bill Allen. The team was very successful and did a lot to promote the company's products.

In the 1950s he decided to retire from active racing and give back to the sport some of the pleasure he had derived from it. As Viking team manager and England team manager he was the architect of many famous British victories. He continued to support local clubs and give any help he could to young riders. His son Bob junior, who was a mechanic in his father's team later became England team manager in his own right.

Wolverhampton's best known racing cyclist must be Hugh Porter who was four times World Pursuit Champion. He is a great celebrity in Europe, but even though he cycled on British roads he is virtually unknown over here.


“Wolverhampton Cycles and Cycling” by Jim Boulton. Published in 1988 by Brian Publications.

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