Catford was home to several sports stadia which have been lost over the years, including the greyhound stadium and The Mount, home to Charlton for a season, both of which have been covered before in Running Past. Another very short-lived one was a cycling and athletics track on a site close to Brownhill Road, now taken up by Elmer Road and Sportsbank Street. It was the track home to Catford Cycling Club and Blackheath Harriers between 1895 and 1900.
Running Past has covered the early history of Blackheath (now and Bromley) Harriers on the Heath; Catford Cycling Club’s origins are little later, not being formed until 1886 – but within a decade or so it had become ‘probably the foremost track racing club in Britain’, according to its official history at least.
In the early 1890s, while the area around Rushey Green was beginning to be developed and from the 1893 Ordnance Survey map, building had reached a nascent Laleham Road but no further east – the big development of this area was to start a couple of year later by the sale of North Park farm to form the Corbett Estate – on the eastern edge of the map. The track was not there long enough to trouble the cartographers but was in the field to the north west of Cockshed Farm.
Some of the early track meetings of the Catford Cycling club were held at Paddington Recreation Ground – which had opened in the early 1880s, adding the cycling track in 1888. By 1889, the club was getting large numbers of entries for their main race day, the programme for which went on for 7 hours (1) – their open mile novice handicap in that year attracted 143 entries (2) and 464 in total (3). Racing was to continue the following year with meetings in July (4) and August (5).
By 1892 the club was getting crowds of 7,000 at Paddington Rec. (6) and holding international meetings with Dutch cyclists there in torrential rain (as pictured below) (7)) in the home fixture, along with a return one in less inclement conditions in the Netherlands (8)
By 1893 Catford Cycling Club races were being held at the Herne Hill Velodrome which had opened a couple of years earlier, and with as many as 13,000 watching (9) thoughts seemed to turn to trying to get an equivalent closer to home. The races at Herne Hill may well have had the ‘furiously’ riding George Lacy Hillier, officiating at them. – Running Past covered his career a few months ago,
During 1894 funding was secured to obtain both the land and construct at Catford ‘the largest track in Europe, the surface was of special cement designed to give a perfectly smooth running plane whilst allowing the newly invented pneumatic tyres perfect adhesion.’ It had with seating for 1,000 spectators, plus standing room for many thousands more.
Building was well underway by November 1894 (10) and almost complete by January 1895 (11). The prospectus for it described it as ‘a new sports resort’ with Blackheath Harriers to make it their headquarters. The opening ceremony was planned for May 4 1895 (12), although this ended up being delayed a couple of weeks (13).
The new stadium was opened by Lord Kinnaird, President of the Football Association, on May 18 (14) with a full programme in rather rainy conditions with 10,000 spectators – the races included a victory for Birmingham’s F W Chinn in the Quarter Mile scratch race – see below (15).
There were a couple of line drawings of the new track and the inaugural meeting in the Picture Post, with what was presumably meant to be Crystal Palace in the background (16).
Records fell that summer as the track lived up to its expectations in terms of speed – CF Barden broke every record from 2 to 10 miles in late June (17); FW Weatherly beat the British quarter-mile flying start quarter mile a month later (18) and in September, AP Marples took over seven seconds off the licensed amateur mile record to finish in 1:56:40 (19).
Successful racing continued into 1896, when the Easter Monday meeting in early April saw crowds of 10,000 and with WH Bardsley of the Polytechnic Cycling Club, pictured on the far left, taking the 1st place in the 10 mile scratch race (20). There were at least two other race days in May one of which an attendances of over 15,000 (21) and the other an international against a Danish team (22). JW Stocks beat many of the records set by CF Barden in early June (23) – it was the first of several British and World record set on the track that summer.
The opening meeting of the 1897 season saw crowds of only half the number of 1896 at just 5,000 (24), although numbers in races later in the season increased, with a peak of 10,000 in May (25). Worrying signs were on the horizon that winter as a Catford builder, Henry Woodham, sought to lay out a street (Elmer Street, later Road) parallel to Brownhill Road, hard up against the track – while he was initially unsuccessful but it was a sign of things to come (26).
Racing continued as normal in 1898, although attendances were well down on previous years – the Whit weekend meeting attracted only 6,000 (27) compared with 15,000 24 months earlier. There were fewer race reports during the year, with some races being cancelled. The 1899 season started with ‘disappointing’ crowds despite ‘delightful weather’ (28) and the paucity of press coverage continued.
Just 2,500 were there to see the opening fixture on Easter Monday in the new century (29) and while the annual 50 mile race was to happen in September it was to be its last at the track (30). It was sold to a speculative builder for £7,500 (31), the reporter seemed to think that Catford was in south west London though. In reality, the offer of a large amount of money from a developer in the context of falling gates was probably an offer too good to refuse for the owners. When the builder was Henry Woodham or not is unclear – but he certainly developed houses in the area at around the time the stadium was sold an was based at 132 Brownhill Road.
Oddly, the grandstand remained – used for warehousing until the 1990s, when it too succumbed to development – the modern houses below are where the stand once stood. The street name, with its hints of a brief record breaking past, is all that remains.
- The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 25, 1889; pg. 326; Issue 1460.
- Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1889; Issue 13453
- Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, May 25, 1889; pg. 4; Issue 10206. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
- Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, July 17, 1890; Issue 6603
- The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, August 20, 1890; pg. 3; Issue 36873
- Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 16, 1892; Issue 14389.
- The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, September 03, 1892; pg. 151; Issue 1631
- Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Monday, August 15, 1892; Issue 10655.
- The Yorkshire Herald, and The York Herald (York, England), Monday, May 08, 1893; pg. 8; Issue 13081. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
- Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Wednesday, November 14, 1894; Issue 11359
- The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Monday, January 21, 1895; Issue 9306.
- The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Wednesday, March 6, 1895; Issue 9344
- The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; pg. 2; Issue 38359
- Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; Issue 15331
- The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; pg. 2; Issue 22115
- The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 25, 1895; pg. 327
- The Standard (London, England), Friday, June 28, 1895; pg. 8; Issue 22149
- Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, July 27, 1895; pg. 6; Issue 10527.
- The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Thursday, September 19, 1895; pg. 8; Issue 12788.
- The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, April 07, 1896; pg. 3; Issue 38636. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.
- The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 09, 1896; pg. 296; Issue 1824
- The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 30, 1896; pg. 345; Issue 1827.
- The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, June 02, 1896; pg. 5; Issue 38684
- The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, April 17, 1897; pg. 3; Issue 38958.
- Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, May 2, 1897; Issue 2438.
- Daily News (London, England), Thursday, October 21, 1897; Issue 16090.
- The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 09, 1898; pg. 2; Issue 23045
- The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 08, 1899; pg. 2; Issue 23357
- The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, April 14, 1900; pg. 6; Issue 39894
- Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, September 9, 1900; Issue 2613.
- Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, November 20, 1900; Issue 16505.