Cycle Racing

Wolverhampton Chronicle, 3rd August, 1870.

By the late 1860s a number of manufacturers in the town were starting to produce ordinary, and later safety cycles.

They were the first kind of mechanical personal transport, which captured the public's imagination, and became very desirable.

Oliver McGregor, being an astute businessman realised the potential of organised cycle races in the grounds.

He built a cycle track and actively promoted race meetings, which were a great success.

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 took place 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, the highlight of the day being 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 a record time of 3 minutes 9.5 seconds. By September he had reduced his time to 3 minutes 6 seconds.

Wolverhampton Chronicle, 14th September, 1870.

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 31 miles, leaving Keen to win in a record time of 3 hours 9 minutes 19 seconds.

From a poster of around 1876. Courtesy of the late Jim Boulton.
The view opposite shows the skating rink on the left, at the top of the garden, and the ornamental boating lake, and fountain, surrounded by the cycle track.

In 1876 Oliver McGregor took on a partner, Mr. Wiley, and opened a skating rink. The grounds then became known as Molineux Pleasure Grounds.

Wolverhampton’s West Park opened in the summer of 1881, and so in order to continue to attract people to the Molineux grounds, McGregor decided to concentrate on sporting events.

At the time, the rail network covered much of the country, and enabled people to easily and quickly travel long distances in a day. Thanks this new form of public transport, the popular cycle races could easily attract many thousands of spectators, which ensured the profitability of the grounds.

During 1886 Oliver McGregor sold the Hotel and grounds to Mr. Edwin Steer, the first of many new owners.

A view of the extension on the western side of the house. Courtesy of David Clare.

    A view of the far western extension. Courtesy of
    David Clare.
Also in 1886 Molineux became the venue for the International Bicycle World Championships, such was its stature.

High wheelers eventually gave way to safety bicycles. 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. Within a short time, local cycle enthusiast, John Marston was producing Sunbeam cycles.

The following is an account of one of the very early Wolverhampton race meetings which comes from the collection of the late Jim Boulton. 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.

The cycle track was one of the best in the country, and became the venue for many international races.
Mr. McGregor continued to be as inventive as ever, offering a wide range of attractions, as can be seen from this advert.







           Wolverhampton Chronicle, 28th July, 1875.

Many different types of sporting events were catered for, including athletics, and cricket.

John Fullwood's drawing of the rear of the house from the top of the garden.

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