London - Alexandra Palace/Park

Alexandra Palace Way : N22 7AY London - Alexandra Palace/Park : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Alexandra Palace/Park : Image credit Finsbury Park Club History
A park of 250 acres was opened in 1863 and named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). The parkland was redesigned in 1875 to include a trotting ring and cycle racing track (both within the horse racing course), a cricket ground, ornamental lakes, a Japanese village, tennis courts, a permanent fun fair and an open air swimming pool. The bicycle track was gravel, 2½ laps to the mile, of "varying width and condition of surface, containing a long gradient on one stretch."

The Morning Post of May 29th 1875 carried an advert for bicycle racing at Alexandra Park "This day (Saturday) at three o'clock, Prizes to the value of 100 guineas will be competed for by Messrs. Taylerson, Nevill, Thorpe, Gerrard Smith, Herbert Smith, Howard, and other distinguished amateurs." The following Monday, there was a top quality 10 mile championship race between "Camile Thuillet (champion of France), John Keen (champion of England), W Cann (of Sheffield), David Stanton, &co."

More racing followed in 1876 and The Field of 22nd January announced "It has been arranged to hold six meetings during the season on the new bicycle track. A cup for the championship of England will be given." On 28 June 1876, Oxford v Cambridge held their 50 mile championship race on the track. Alexandra Park was also popular with cycling clubs and the following clubs held races there : Finchley BC, Tufnell BC, Tower Hamlets BC, Clarence BC, Stanley BC and Atalanta BC.

On 20th October 1878 The Referee reports on the Great 25 mile Handicap Race which was run at Alexandra Palace for a prize of £25. The scratch rider was John Keen, but he caught Phillips of Wolverhampton, who had 3½ minutes start on him after 10 miles. Phillips held Keen's wheel for some time but Keen eventually dropped all his opponents and won by 3 laps in the fastest time on record of 1hr 20min 37sec. Keen made his own machine especially for the track and it was described as "the lightest and most fragile we have ever seen."

There was another well supported event in October 1879 for amateurs only, which attracted 100 entries. The riders included the famous ‘crack' HL Cortis of the Wanderers CC (the Long Wanderer) who was riding a 60 inch wheel. Cortis won the prestigious 3 miles handicap race off scratch, lifting the 21 guineas cup and establishing a new 3 miles record of 8 min 55.4 sec. The Badminton Library describes the race "All who saw the race must remember how the white-vested athlete flew down and up the hill and dashed at top speed round the, then unbanked, lower corner, whilst the last lap was a magnificent effort, and the victor deserved the cheers which welcomed his return to the dressing-room."

In 1880 a report of the Essex Tricycle Club meeting at Alexandra Palace the event was described as "not a success, the course being very heavy and unsuitable for tris." In a scathing attack on the management of the track Wheel World comments "The lessees of the Alexandra Palace are about to take steps to have the bicycle track put in order. Such is the stereotyped announcement which has been made on average every six months for four years past."

Bicycle racing continued through the 1880's with RJ Mecredy winning the 25 miles tricycle championship in 1886. The Alexandra Palace annual bicycle races and athletic sports meeting on 16th Sept 1888 seemed to mark the end of racing at the Alexandra Park outdoor track.

In 1895, The Badminton Library comments on the Alexandra Palace track "3 laps to the mile, somewhat resembles a D in shape. The dressing accommodation was good. This track is grass-grown and never used now."

An indoor velodrome was built in the Great Central Hall of Alexandra Palace and used for bicycle races in the winter of 1902-3. The track was 12 laps to the mile and built in sections on the ‘hog-back' principle. The track is confined within a width of 86ft and extends 200ft in length and 10ft 6" in height. The velodrome sections were reported to be on casters so that the hall could be cleared in ‘an hour' Leolyn Gus Hart, the organiser, intended to take the track around the country after the racing period finished in April 1903. It was planned to have amateur racing once a week and professional racing every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday through the season.

Amateurs were allowed on the track from 18th December and the first professional race meeting was on 24th December. The international event was successful and attracted 3,000 spectators, with match races between world champions AA Chase and E Jacquelin. The management provided additional entertainment at the velodrome including boxing, gymnastics and motor cycle speed trials.

Racing continued to be popular, but the crowds were smaller, 1,500 attending on 24th January 1903. A 6 day cycle race was held at the velodrome starting on 2nd February 1903. Hall and Martin ran out the winners with 839 miles.

At the meeting on 14th February, there was a terrible accident to the Italian racer Carapezzi who sustained serious injuries. The attendance reduced to around 800 in February and racing seemed to have stopped by March. The bold initiative was not repeated in subsequent years.

On 2nd November 1936 the BBC launched the world's first full television service at Alexandra Palace, the television studios became home to the pioneering Open University. The Alexandra Palace has been a music venue, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Queen and The Who played there. The horse racing course closed in 1970. The Great Hall is Grade II listed and is still used.

London - Alexandra Palace/Park : Image credit Hagelt Henk Facebook - Yesterdays velodromes
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Photos : Finsbury Park Club History, Hagelt Henk Facebook - Yesterday's velodromes
Maps    : National Library of Scotland