The Recreation ground was made available for the people of Ilkeston to use by the Duke of Rutland in 1876, the ground was levelled and turfed at a cost of over £800. The Recreation Ground was on Pimlico Lane, which later became West End Drive, and the ground was sometimes referred to as Ilkeston, Rutland or Pimlico Recreation Ground.
The first bicycle racing on the grass track at the Recreation Ground was at the Ilkeston and Shipley Flower Show on Thursday August 26th 1880. The meeting opened with Mr Emanuel Jackson making a balloon ascent, which went off successfully. This was followed by a bicycle race, which caused great excitement and was won by RG Bowes of Langley Mill with an Ilkeston man, Jas Bostock, coming second. After the racing, the 1,600 spectators were entertained by a troupe of artistes.
The Ilkeston Athletic sports and gala was held on August 27th 1881 and two bicycle events were included - one and two miles open handicap races. The two miles race was won by Robert Cripps*. The Derby Mercury reported "There was not a very good attendance and the affair will not be a financial success." There was to be another balloon ascent at the event by Mr Jackson, but he could not obtain a sufficient amount of gas and the ascent was abandoned. There followed an extraordinary scene "a crowd of roughs ran to the balloon with shouts of rip it up', knife it' and other threateningly demonstrations." The crowd attempted to smother Mr Jackson under the balloon before half a dozen policemen eventually managed to regain control and rescue both Mr Emanuel and his balloon.
Ilkeston & District Floral and Horticultural Society advertised a bicycle handicap race on August 2nd 1884. Ilkley Bicycle Club was formed in 1884, but it took them a few years to make their presence felt racing on the track.
The first Ilkeston BC sports meeting was held on September 1st 1888, on a track a little more than six laps to the mile.' The meeting used a dressing tent, a refreshments tent and the wooden cricket hut. The events were bicycle races and flat (running) races. The bicycle races were a 1 mile closed handicap (Ilkeston BC members only) and 1, 2 and 3 miles open handicap races, the 2 miles event was for safety bicycles only. H Synyer rode at the meeting, together with the Ilkeston cracks' GW Howard and FT Fletcher**. The meeting was a success with 3,000 spectators and it became an annual event for the next six years
The grass track at the Recreation Ground was often rolled by a steam roller to get it into top condition, but was still uneven. In wetter weather the track could be difficult and the track did not seem particularly safe as it was too small at 5 or 6 laps to the mile. At the 1883 sports, held in glorious weather, about a dozen machines were disabled through crashes.
The town of Ilkeston was very competitive with its neighbour Long Eaton, who had a purpose built cycle track from 1885. Ilkeston then looked to have their own cinder track, which was eventually built at the Manor Ground and the Ilkeston BC sports moved there in 1893, where they remained. Ilkeston BC was in debt in the late 1890's but remained active until around 1899, after which the club wound down and eventually faded away after 1900.
The Duke of Rutland gifted the ground to Ilkeston in 1914, on the condition that it was called the Rutland Recreation Ground. The town council bought land to extend the ground which opened officially on May 6th 1925. Derbyshire county cricket was played at the ground from 1925 until 1994.
On July 22nd 1927, the Ilkeston Hospital Sports moved from the Manor Ground back to the Rutland Recreation Ground. At the following year's Hospital Sports, on July 21st 1928, the four Wyld brothers were riding, Harry took the half mile scratch and Percy won the ¼ mile Derby district championship race. The following month, three of the Wyld brothers rode in the team pursuit event at the Amsterdam Olympic Games and won the bronze medal. Previously, at the 1924 Olympics, Harry Wyld had won bronze in the 50km track race. The Hospital Sports were attracting 5,000 spectators with 300 race entries. The Hospital Sports was the principal meeting at the ground and the sports continued until 1935.
The Hospital Sports were revived on July 12th 1947 with three cycle races, including the 5 miles NCU (Notts & Derbs) championship race. They were held again in 1948, but this was the last cycle racing to be held on the Recreation Ground.
Derbyshire County Cricket Club played at the Rutland Recreation Ground between 1925 and 1994 and held one-day matches at the ground from 1970 to 1994. In 2002 a massive development to turn the ground into a multi-purpose sports centre was proposed and the new Rutland Sports Park was eventually opened in 2006 with a sports hall and gymnasium.
* Robert Cripps was a well known racing cyclist and bicycle maker from Nottingham. He went into partnership with Thomas Humber and the Humber-Cripper tricycle was named after him. Cripps went on to make motorcycles.
** Fred Fletcher was the star rider of the Ilkeston BC. At the first NCU safeties championships at Paddington in 1889, twenty year old Fletcher won the one mile and twenty five miles championship races.