Hastings - Central Cricket Ground

Station Road : TN34 1PH Hastings - Central Cricket Ground : Map credit National Library of Scotland Hastings - Central Cricket Ground : Image credit Sussexworld
The Central Cricket Ground was built on land leased from the Cornwallis estate in 1864, the rent was £25 per annum and the cricket trust subsequently bought the ground for £5,000 in 1869. Sussex County Cricket Club frequently played at the ground from 1865 up to the 1960's and played 143 first class matches there.

The first bicycle racing at the ground was a Pedestrian Fete, held on July 21st 1869 which had running and pedestrian races and a ‘Grand Velocipede Derby'. Before the race, Mr Spencer* ‘performed some extraordinary feats on the bicycle.' There were four entries for the one mile velocipede race, which was six times around the course. The winner was Mr Walder from Mr Nixon.

The was a Monster Fete on regatta day, August 17th 1870 at the ground, where there were running and hurdle races and two ‘Grand bicycle races'. Bands played and there was dancing, a concert and finally a fireworks display by James Payne of London.

A bicycle club was formed for Hastings and St Leonards on October 12th 1876 at the Swan Hotel. The club bought a boneshaker bicycle for £2 to attract new members.

The Hastings fete, held on August Bank Holiday Monday 1877, included a two miles open bicycle handicap race with ten starters racing for a silver cup valued at seven guineas. The race winner was C Fitzgerald of Ashford.

The Pedestrian Fete on August Bank Holiday 1878 drew 4,000 spectators and included a two miles bicycle handicap race, which was run in two heats. In the final, H Joy of St Leonards was the cup winner. At the Easter Monday 1879 Pedestrian Fete, the two miles race was restricted to members of the Hastings and St Leonards BC. There were eight entries and Mr Lovett, a ‘young lad' won ‘in splendid style, amid loud applause' when he lapped the other competitors.

The Hastings and St Leonards BC held their first annual race meeting at the ground on July 9th 1879 and competed for their one mile and five miles club championships. The Easter, Whitsun, July and August Bank Holiday meetings became regular events, attracting attendances of around 3,000 spectators.

At the August Bank Holiday meeting in 1881, there was a match race between ‘Happy' Jack Keen** and A Evans of Portsmouth, which was won easily by Keen. Hastings and St Leonards BC suffered a decline in numbers and activity for a few years, whilst the Hastings Athletic Club cycling membership increased and they promoted athletics and bicycle race meetings at the ground.

The Hastings and St Leonards BC bounced back and the club's 6th annual race meeting on August 16th 1886 at the Central Ground was successful. The club's 5 miles championship was decided and club handicap events over 1 and 2 miles were held, together with a club 1 mile novices race, a club 1 mile tricycle race and an open 3 miles handicap.

This was a very active time for the Ground, in 1887 there were five open meetings, including an event celebrating Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and the Hastings and St Leonards BC 7th annual race meeting.

The NCU banned amateurs and professionals from riding at the same meeting in 1890 and this resulted in much less bicycle racing at the Ground. A 12 hour race was held on the track in October 1st 1890, with nine competitors. With some rain on the grass track, the solid tyres had made the ground very muddy and difficult. RT Watkinson won the event, covering 118¾ miles. Pneumatic tyres made their first appearance at the Ground in 1890.

The Ground was popular through the 1890's with the usual Easter, Whit and August Bank Holiday meetings, attracting up to 4,000 spectators. At the Whit Monday 1897 Alliance Amateur AC meeting, the track was marked out with tape (following the Surrey Club's practice at the Oval) instead of sticks and flags.

In August 1898 there was a ‘Ladies International Cycling Race Meeting' and the main attraction was Mademoiselle Lisette++. No woman opponent would race against her, so she raced against two men and lost.

On July 8th 1901, there was a race between Charlie Barden, (ex-champion of England) and Henry Dubbin (ex-champion of Sussex) for £25 a side, over three races 1, 2 and 5 miles. About 1,000 spectators paid to watch the race in which Dubbin received 50 yards start per mile. Each of them won a race and in the deciding 5 miles event, Barden lost by a foot.

The long run of bicycle race meets at the Central Ground came to an end with the Whitsun 1902 meeting organised by Hastings and St Leonards BC. It was some years before the revival of bicycle racing in 1909,when the Hastings Club organising three sports meetings and hosted the NCU (Sussex) one mile championships. This revival lasted until the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1923, a new track at Hastings - The Pilot Field, was used, but this proved unsuitable and bicycle track racing at Hastings went back to the Central Ground the following year.

The Hastings and St Leonards C&AC held a sports meeting on August Bank Holiday 1935. The bicycle races at the meeting were a one mile club championship race and the ¼ mile and 1 mile NCU (Sussex) Championship races. The gate was not large enough to prevent some financial loss for the club and following heavy loses in the previous two years, the club abandoned the August meetings.

Racing on the track resumed in 1947 and a successful ‘Sports Festival' was inaugurated. Hastings Warrior CC held their sports meeting in 1950 and included the NCU (Sussex) ½ mile championship. This event ran each year until 1955. This was probably the last bicycle racing to take place at the Central Ground.

The Ground hosted the immensely popular Hastings Cricket Festival and many famous cricketers played there over the years, including W.G. Grace, Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs and Denis Compton. From 1982, the Ground was under discussion for re-development and the last cricket match played there was in 1989, after which the cricket club moved to Horntye Park. The Priory Meadow Shopping Centre was built on the site, which opened in 1997.

* This was probably Charles Spencer, a pioneer velocipede rider, who imported a velocipede from Paris in 1869. The same year, Spencer rode his velocipede from London to Brighton in twelve hours.

** John Keen, known as Happy Jack, lived in Surbiton and was the professional champion of England. After racing in America in 1876, Keen was recognised as the fastest rider in the world. When Keen retired, he became a bicycle manufacturer in Surbiton and built machines with the brand name Eclipse. Keen was believed to be the first rider to use toe-clips on his pedals.

++ Amelie Le Gall was known as Mademoiselle Lisette and she was considered to be the 1896 women's world cycling champion. She was sponsored by the Simpson Chain company and trained by controversial coach Choppy Warburton. She rode in trousers and ‘disliked corsets'.

Hastings - Central Cricket Ground : Image credit Tim Carpenter Hastings - Central Cricket Ground : Image credit Tim Carpenter Hastings - Central Cricket Ground : Image credit National Cycle Museum
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Photos : Sussexworld, Tim Carpenter, National Cycle Museum
Maps    : National Library of Scotland