Congleton - Congleton Park

Mill Green : CW12 1NS Congleton - Congleton Park : Map credit National Library of Scotland
Congleton Town Council bought twelve acres of land in 1856, to lay out a public park. The park, which was built by Edward Kemp, opened in 1871. Before the Park opened, the first bicycle races in Congleton took place on August 16th 1869 at the racecourse, the race was held during Congleton Wakes Week** and there were six velocipedes and one bicycle, who raced for a £3 first prize.

At the Congleton Wakes of 1870, there was a gala on the Congleton Recreation Ground (possibly Congleton Park before it officially opened) on Monday 15th August which included a Grand Bicycle race. Other events apart from running were three legged races, wheelbarrow races and pig races. During the races, a monster balloon ascended and the grounds were illuminated with "coloured fire" and a fireworks display finished off the evening.

There was also bicycle racing at Congleton Cricket and lawn tennis club, who held their annual sports at the Willow Row ground from 1883 and included one and two miles bicycle handicap races.

The first Congleton Park sports were held on Whit Monday and Tuesday 1884 on a grass track, four and a half laps to the mile. The following bicycle events were included, a youths one mile handicap and open one and two miles handicap races, these last two races the were both won by local champion WH Stubbs.

After the Congleton August Wakes Week sports set up by the cricket club had been abandoned, the sports were resumed in 1885 and were held in Congleton Park. Bicycle races dominated the two day meeting with a total of seven bicycle and tricycle events. The first prize for the three miles handicap races was a racing bicycle, built to order of the winner, by Rudge of Coventry. In the evening, the park was lit by Chinese lanterns and the meeting concluded with a grand fireworks display.

The two meetings, at Whitsun and August Wakes week became annual affairs, with seemingly little other bicycle racing taking place there between times. Congleton Cycling Club was formed in 1886 with WH Stubbs as captain and the following year, the Congleton Sociable Cycling Club was formed. The Whitsun and August Wakes meetings continued through the 1890s and into the 1900s. At the 1890 Wakes meeting there were 7,000 spectators over the two days making the event financially successful. Proceeds from the sports were used to improving the park facilities.

On the first day of the August 1890 Wakes meeting, there was a one mile roadster machines handicap race for local riders, won by FJ Chadwick of Biddulph CC on cushion tyres, but there was an objection to his win as he lived 6 miles away rather than the stipulated 5 miles. In the two miles open handicap, SR Ridgway, was disqualified when it was found that he impersonated another rider of the same surname in the heats, in order to get a better handicap. Ridgway persisted in riding in the final and was reported to the NCU. One the second day, there was a one mile local race for ordinaries and one and two miles open handicap races. The additional penalty for pneumatics at the meeting was 75 yards for the mile and 160 yards for two miles, in spite of this, pneumatic machines took all the prizes.

The bicycle racing on the grass track at Congleton Park never attracted particularly top class riders, but the surroundings of the park were particularly beautiful and helped to attract spectators to the sports. The last bicycle racing there was probably the 17th annual August Bank Holiday sports in 1906 at which there were half and one mile open handicap races on both days.

Congleton Park is still in use and is Grade II listed by National Heritage. The track in the park appears to still exist.

** Each town in the North of England had their own Wakes Week during which nearly all the inhabitants had the week off, factories and shops closed and people went on holiday or day trips by special trains. The Wakes Weeks were at different times to spread the crowds at holiday venues. Congleton's Wakes Week was early August, whilst at nearby Macclesfield it was early July.


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