Gateshead - North Durham Cricket Ground
Prince Consort Road : NE8 1NL
Gateshead - North Durham Cricket Ground : Image credit Gateshead - North Durham Cricket Ground : Image credit M Holborn Davidson The North Durham cricket ground was the home of North Durham cricket club from 1864. The cricket club organised athletic sports meetings from 1865, and at the sports on July 15-16th 1869, there were one mile velocipede races each day. J Curry and G Bryden were the winners and there were four competitors. These were the first bicycle races at North Durham and probably took place on grass.

North Durham cricket ground started to be used much more frequently from 1877, by which time a four sided red ash cinder track, 320 yards around had been built. The sharp corners made the track quite dangerous and the corners were banked in 1882.

The first meeting on the new cinder track was on June 25th 1877 when the Northumberland Amateur BC* held their second annual meeting, having moved from the Gosforth track. Bell's Life reported that there was "a capital cinder track, 320 yards in circumference and 9ft in width." The racing included a two miles handicap, a one mile club handicap, a professional exhibition match between J Waller and J Paterson, a ten miles scratch race and a four miles race for ‘the Champion of the North' won by LC Ridley of the promoting club.

There was a benefit meeting for George Waller** on September 27th 1879, Waller was described as ‘the long distance champion'. The bicycle racing at the meeting was a two miles amateur handicap and a ten miles race in which Waller raced against five opponents, one for each of two miles.

John ‘Happy Jack' Keen appeared at a meeting on April 10th 1880, Keen won the 20 miles race off scratch and received £15 for beating the 100 miles champion, W Phillips who was off 1 minute. The attendance at the event was reduced because George Waller was promoting a 100 miles race at Northumberland cricket ground, using his mammoth tent and portable track, this race attracted over 15,000 paying spectators.

By the 1880's, North Durham was the most important track in the area with regular meetings organised by Northumberland ABC, Elswick BC, Gateshead ABC, North Shields ABC and North Durham Cricket Club. The Newcastle ABC ran a five miles amateur Championship of the North, open to any amateur in the six northern counties. On October 9th 1880, a challenge match between Waller and Keen was advertised for £50 a side, Keen to concede a lap. Gate proceeds were to go to the Seaham Colliery Widow and Orphan fund following the 1880 explosion at the pit, which resulted in the death of 160 people.

The rectangular shape of the track attracted criticism, in 1882 the Cyclist and Wheel World Annual commented "The North Durham track is not at all in good shape, and for some time was quite dangerous, but the corners have been raised, and it is now much better."

Race meetings in the 1880s attracted crowds of up to 4,000 and there were several championship races and donated cups. The very popular 5 miles Championship of the North race was won in 1884 by Bob ‘the sensation of his time' English of North Shields ABC and "a very large company of spectators patronised the meeting."

The Kent House cup, value 25 Guineas, was presented by Snowball and Sons, who owned a department store in Gateshead, known locally as ‘the Harrods of the North'. The cup was first competed for in 1884 and in the three miles race, the cup as won outright by J Carruthers of Newcastle with victories in 1888, 1889 and 1890.

The Northumberland Challenge Cup was donated by Mr TE Jobling, president of the Northumberland ABC. At the club's meeting on May 30th 1885, the 2 miles invitation scratch race was a battle between Bob English, R Chambers of Speedwell ABC and R Milthorpe of Elswick ABC. The event was spoiled by crashes, with Milthorpe ending up the winner in front of a large crowd of 4,000 spectators.

The North Durham Cycling Club is first mentioned in 1893 and The Referee of May 5th 1893 reported "The North Durham Cycling Club's new track at Gateshead, has just been completed and three different measurements showed it to be a quarter of a mile and five inches around." North Durham CC held their athletic festival on July 8th and 10th 1893 at which the 3 miles Kent House Challenge Cup was won by J Green of Jarrow ABC. Green went on to win the Kent House Cup outright the following year.

The new track maintained the popularity of North Durham through the 1890s, the Newcastle Derwent CC annual sports on August 29th 1896 included the NCU Newcastle centre 25 miles championship. Newcastle Harriers held two day running and cycling meetings from 1891 to 1898 and a massive 8,000 crowd was seen at the 8 July 1899 sports.

In the early 1900s bicycle racing activity at North Durham was losing its popularity. The NCU Newcastle centre held a two day race meeting for all their championship events in 1902. This was the first financially successful meeting for the local NCU. The ground was used for training troops in the First World War and bicycle racing resumed after the war, but the ground was much less popular.

The Police sports were held on Whit Mondays throughout the 1930s and included the NCU Newcastle centre 5 miles championship race. The event lost money for four years and was discontinued before the Second World War. The last cycle race at the ground was probably the NCU five miles championship, it was held on Whit Monday 1937 and TW Main of Morpeth won the championship race.

It is believed that the ground was left derelict during the Second World War. In 1950, the ground was rebuilt for cricket but the banked cycle track had gone by this time. Cricket was played at the ground throughout the 1950s and the pavilion and ground remained in use until the 1990s. The site is owned by Dr Anthony James, a landowner with property in Northumberland and Durham. The ground is now an open space known as the Old Cricket Ground and there have been recent reports of plans to build housing on the old site.

* Northumberland Amateur BC held the first ever meeting in the North that was completely devoted to bicycle racing. The meeting was held at Gosforth Cricket Club on August 12th 1876.

** George Waller was the most famous professional cyclist in the country, he was a 6 day rider and world champion. Later in his career, he organised 6 day races in the north of England and Scotland using an enormous tent and portable track. Waller also built a cinder track in Byker, Newcastle and organised races there.

Gateshead - North Durham Cricket Ground : Image credit Heaton History Group
Refs     : [13] [78] [98] [122] [147] [148] [p]
Photos :, M Holborn Davidson, Heaton History Group