Great Yarmouth - Recreation Grounds
Wellesley Road : NR30 1EY
Great Yarmouth - Recreation Grounds : Map credit National Library of Scotland Great Yarmouth - Recreation Grounds : Image credit Archant Library Great Yarmouth Recreation Ground was developed by the town council in 1888 from seven and a half acres of land in North Denes. A cinder bicycle track, one third of a mile long, was laid there in April 1888 at a cost of £800. The track was officially opened later in the year by the town mayor. There were plans to bank the corners, but this was not carried out until 1893. There were also three cricket pitches and a concrete tennis court. The Recreation Ground was also known as the Old Recreation Ground from 1897 and then the Wellesley Recreation Ground from 1908.

The opening meeting of the track, organised by the Great Yarmouth Athletic Club, was held on August 6th 1888 and an estimated 3,000 people attended and paid a shilling entry fee. The bicycle events were 1 mile scratch, 2 miles local handicap, 5 miles open handicap and a 2 miles tricycle handicap race. The meeting was popular with riders and there was a large London contingent of competitors.

The Second Athletic sports was held on September 10th 1888. The one mile handicap race was won by W Travers "on a wonderful lightweight machine, weighing only 13 lbs." Throughout the summer of 1888, the Great Yarmouth Cycling Club ran a monthly competition for a challenge cup.

After a very busy opening year for the track, 1889 was quieter, probably because a new cinder track opened at Gorleston, some 4 miles away, which also hosted athletic sports meetings.

Great Yarmouth Wheelers was formed in 1892 and attracted 117 members in its first year. At the track, a new grandstand, dressing room and refreshments pavilion, costing £1,000 opened in 1892 at the Whit Monday track meeting. The main open sports meetings through the 1890's were the Whit Monday meet and the August Bank Holiday meeting. The sports were popular, with attendance of around 4,000 spectators.

In 1893 the cinder track was improved by banking the curves. The bankings still survive as grassy banks. At the Whit Monday sports in 1893, there were ½, 1 and 2 miles open handicap races and a 2 miles local handicap for the Mayor's Challenge Cup.

Mike Fishpool on the ‘Playing Pasts' website records a womens' track race at the Recreation Ground "The first recorded British women's track race took place as part of day of cycle and pedestrian races at the Recreation Ground, Great Yarmouth on 7 August 1893 in front of nearly 6,000 spectators. The one-mile handicap race featured four ladies, including Tessie Reynolds who was riding for the Brighton Wanderers cycling club. Tessie comfortably won the race, taking the first prize of a china tea set."

The 50 mile NCU (Eastern Counties) Championship was held at Wellesley Road on September 8th 1898, the race was won by the holder, C.F. Morley of Cambridge in a time of 2 hr 33m 48s. In 1901 Great Yarmouth Town FC started playing at the Recreation Ground.

In 1903, after a couple of lean years, Yarmouth Wheelers held a very successful open meeting on July 16th with seven bicycle events including a 3 miles tandem handicap race and the club 2 miles championship race.

The track was little used before the War and in 1913 the Recreation Committee recommended the turfing over of the cycle track which had fallen into disuse but as a result of a petition the Council reconsidered and instead authorised the spending of £60 on repairs to the track. Unfortunately, the track fell into disuse after WWI.

During WWII, American airmen played baseball games there. After WWII a sum was put aside to repair the cycle track but bicycle racing was never held again on the track.

The running track and football pitch at the Wellesley ground were still used for other sports. In 1953 a crowd of 8,944 people watched Great Yarmouth FC beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the FA Cup first round. In the 1970s Father Christmas landed by helicopter in the ground. The TV program ‘It's a Knockout' was held there. In 1989, a £2.10M all-weather athletics track was built. The Grandstand was listed Grade II in 2000, but now has structural problems and is not used.

The Recreation Ground is still used for athletics by Great Yarmouth & District Athletic Club and is the home of Great Yarmouth Town FC.

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Photos : Archant Library
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