A few weeks ago, in a post on the Greenwich Cowboy, distance running at the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee Green was covered in passing. The landlord there in the early 1840s, Charles Moreton, tried a number of different sports to try to get additional drinkers into the pub, offering prizes and, no doubt, facilitating gambling on the outcomes. Some of these other sports will be returned to in later posts.
One of the events that were tried out was sprinting – both on the flat and over hurdles. The first recorded one was in August 1844. It was advertised as a ‘foot hurdle race’ over 12 equidistantly placed hurdles on a 350 yard course – presumably along what is now Eltham Road (the longer distance races run by the Greenwich Cowboy and others were that direction). In horse racing terms this first race would be described as a ‘maiden stakes’ as it was only open to men who had never won a hurdle race before. The prize was a silver cup (1) but there would have undoubtedly been some side bets on the outcome.
The race was reported in The Era, a newspaper that covered sports and theatre that was published between 1838 and 1939 – after a number of heats the final was between Railway Jack and Makepeace – who clipped the penultimate hurdle and fell leaving Railway Jack the winner (2).
The following year, hurdling was over 440 yards, over 8 hurdles with several of the previous year’s competitors returning. William Gazeley, Ned Wild – Merrylegs, Greaves, Martin and the previous year’s winner Railway Jack all competed. The final was between Martin and Railway Jack who came from behind to win at the Tiger’s Head. Gambling which paid for these races was clearly in evidence, with the newspaper report noting – ‘There was a good deal of speculation on the race.’ (3)
Several of the sprinters also competed on the ‘flat’ over a 140 yard course in October 1844. The ‘A’ race for 5 sovereigns was between Edward Smith and Wild, ‘Merrylegs’, the latter who raced at a variety of distances, ‘won in gallant style’. The evening’s ‘B’ race saw Mitchell beat John Perch (Railway Jack) over the same distance for 2 sovereigns (4).
Sprinting on the streets, mirrors one of the more recent developments in athletics – taking sprinting into temporary tracks and ‘stadia’ in city centres – such as the Manchester City Games and its counterpart in Newcastle, the Great North City Games, a precursor to the following day’s Great North Run half marathon.
1. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 18, 1844; Issue 308
2. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 25, 1844; Issue 309
3. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, September 04, 1845; Issue 22388
4. The Era (London, England), Sunday, October 27, 1844; Issue 318