Liverpool - Liverpool Athletic Grounds

Prescot Road : L13 3AS Liverpool - Liverpool Athletic Grounds : Map credit National Library of Scotland Liverpool - Liverpool Athletic Grounds : Image credit Liverpool Pembroke and Sefton Harriers
Liverpool Athletic Grounds Co. was formed at the start of 1886 by a group of athletes and cyclists whose aim was to encourage all sports. The required £2,000 share capital was quickly raised, with Singer and Rudge both taking £100 of shares. The company appointed directors representing athletics, bicycling, football and rounders. A lease for the old Stanley Running Grounds was signed in January 1886 and an estimate of £460 for the works needed at the track was accepted, this included a 410 yards cinder track banked by two feet all round, and a 500 seat grandstand. The ground capacity was 16,000.

The sports held at the ground included cycling, athletics, rugby, football, wrestling, clay pigeon shooting and rabbit coursing. A new club, the Liverpool Athletic Club was formed, which was based at the ground and its members had access to training facilities. The track was referred to locally as Fairfield or Stanley, the track was in both these districts (but not Stanley Park, which is some distance away).

The ground opened on Good Friday 1886 with a three day meeting, which included six bicycle races, eleven running races and total prize money of 140 guineas. There were 4,000 spectators on the first day and Hugh Fraser of the Anfield BC won both bicycle handicap races. On the following day, attendance was a little lower and E Hale of Gainsborough BC rode his Kangaroo bicycle to much applause and won the two miles handicap. On Easter Monday, William Illston, the NCU 25 miles champion, won the 2 miles handicap from Herbert Synyer and Hugh Fraser.

The Anfield BC held an open meeting on May 15th when George Pilkington Mills of the Anfield, easily won the one mile maiden handicap off scratch. Later in the year, Mills who was the foremost road cyclist of his generation, went on to break the Lands End, John o'Groats record on a Penny farthing, recording 5 days 1 hour 45 minutes. The record stood until 2019 when it was beaten by Richard Thoday. A Whitsun meeting was held on June 12th and 14th 1886, but the field and the attendance were quite poor. This was probably because the Liverpool Shipperies Exhibition++ was held in the summer of 1886 and attracted large weekend crowds

At the July 17th 1886, the one mile NCU local championship was staged at ‘funereal pace' until the last lap when CE Stoker of the Anfield BC sped away to win, pursued by JC Wright of Kensington BC, who came second in ‘an uninteresting race'. The August Bank holiday sports were again poorly supported. There were also club meetings at the ground organised by the Anfield, Liverpool Crown BC and the North Liverpool AC.

The impressive first year meetings at the ground was not matched by attendance figures, which resulted in the company losing money. There were criticisms of both the directors and the management of the company. The cinder track was re-laid in the winter of 1886 to fix what the Athletic News described as "the hard lumpy nature of a portion of it."

The Good Friday and Easter Monday sports became a regular event for the next twenty years, the Easter Monday meeting in 1887 attracted an exceptional 15,000 crowd. There were regular meetings organised by the Licence Victuallers, the Railway sports, Edge Lane Cricket Club, the National Rounders Association and frequent charity sports meetings. Clubs also organised their own events at the ground, including Wirral BC, Oxford CC, Liverpool Racing Cyclists' Club and Cambridge CC. On September 3rd 1887 there was a 10 miles race between P Medinger, the French champion and HO Duncan, the professional 50 miles champion. The event was run the previous Wednesday and resulted in a dead heat, but Medinger won the re-run by a yard.

On Whit Monday 1888 there was a cowboys vs cyclists 6 day race, with each team riding in relay for six hours each day for a £200 prize. The cowboys were Arizona Pete and Buckskin Bill and the cyclists Thomas Battensby, JW Lamb and H Symington. During the race, Battensby had a bad crash and had to withdraw. At the finish, the horsemen had covered 552 miles, beating the cyclists by one mile. Sporting Life reported "The attendance at the opening day amounted to quite 3,000 spectators, but afterwards, it fell off and the speculation has resulted in a failure."

At the Sefton and Dingle BC First Annual Sports on August 24th 1889, there were bicycle races over ¼, 1 and 2 miles. At this meeting, JM McCornwick of Belfast Cruisers CC, raced on an Enlin & Co bicycle which was built for John Dunlop and had pneumatic tyres. McCornwick's club mate William Hume had raced on his own pneumatic machine at Liverpool Police Athletic Ground the previous month, the first time that pneumatics had been seen racing in England. McCornwick's machine created great interest at the meeting and he won both the 1 and 2 miles races.

The poor state of the cinder track seems to have been an ongoing problem at the ground. On June 29th 1895, Cycling reported "The track at Liverpool is again in a disgraceful condition. It is a wonder that the local wheelman stand the present state of affairs! Surely a good track can be secured in the city which boasts of being the second in the World."

After 1900, Liverpool Athletic Ground started to decline and at the 1907 Good Friday meeting had the smallest gate for years. A notice was posted by the NCU at the entrance, prohibiting betting, and this resulted in much of the crowd turning back for home. The Leeds and Yorkshire Mercury of April 26th 1907 commented "If this course be followed by sports promoters in general, we shall have no alternative but to come to the conclusion that cycle and foot racing have small merits of their own as sporting attractions; that, indeed, their success in the past has been due to the mere excitement of speculation."

Liverpool Corporation acquired the site in 1901 and built a Cattle Market next to the ground. Bicycle racing continued there until 1918, but had declined and the last meeting was on August Bank Holiday Saturday 1918, when two bicycle races were included, over half and one mile. In 1923, the Corporation took over the ground and built the Meat Market on the site and in 1995 a private company leased the site and opened the Liverpool Meat and Fish Market.

++ Queen Victoria opened the massive International Shipperies Exhibition, which was held in Wavertree Botanic Park and attracted nearly three million visits from May to November 1886.


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Photos : Liverpool Pembroke and Sefton Harriers
Maps    : National Library of Scotland