London - Balham - Hyde Farm

Thornton Road : SW12 0LF London - Balham - Hyde Farm : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Balham - Hyde Farm : Image credit Wiki Commons
Hyde Farm was a 60 acre field, owned by Emmanuel College, Cambridge since the 1500's and was let by them as farm land. Cricket and football was played on the Hyde Farm grounds from 1885. Around 1887, press advertisements started to appear offering to let the grounds for cricket and tennis. In the August 8th 1889 edition of the newspaper ‘Cricket', there was an advertisement "Cricket, football and tennis grounds (all thoroughly drained, October 1888), To Let at Hyde Farm, Balham, for Season, Day, or Saturdays." The advert was repeated on January 27th 1891 with the addition of "(Cycling and Running Tracks Ready in March)."

Hyde Farm Athletic Grounds, as they became known, hosted football, cricket, rugby, golf, athletics, lacrosse and baseball. The cycle track, that was built there in 1891, measured three laps and fifty yards to the mile and the proprietor of the ground was Mr HW Benham.

The first bicycle race at Hyde Farm was probably at the annual sports meeting, organised by Mr Benham, on October 3rd 1891, which featured a one mile cycle handicap (all tyres)*, the race was organised by the Combe CC.

At this time, there appears to have been a fatal accident to Mr AB Ward, associated with the track, which is mentioned in Cycling magazine of May 28th 1892. The article continues with HW Benham explaining the charges for using the track for cycle race meetings. If the club did not take any of the gate money, the charge was five shillings for one event and 2s 6d for each other event. If the club kept the gate money, the charge for hiring the ground was 42 shillings for a Saturday and 21 shillings for any other day.

Bicycle races took place, within sports meetings, fairly regularly at Hyde Farm, but they were usually smaller meetings or club events. In 1892 Nobilis CC and Alexander Institute Harriers held events there and in 1893 Rabbits' and Sons held their company sports. The DeLaune CC held a two miles handicap race in 1893 and their ten miles track championship in 1894.

In May 1895, the facilities at Hyde Farm were improved and an eight foot fence was erected, encircling the ground. Baseball was very popular at this time; the Thespians baseball team were English Champions and they were based at Hyde Farm.

On 28th September 1895 there was a club sports meeting organised by two cycling clubs, Brixton Wanderers CC and Oddfellows AAC together with two running clubs. R Morphew of Tooting BC set the track twelve hour record on 21st June 1896, covering 195 miles.

The Wallington and Carshalton Herald of 12th September 1896 reported that the lease on the ground was about to expire and "the builders have already set their ever-watchful eyes on this excellent site, there is a grave danger of it being lost for recreative purposes."

Belvedere Ramblers and North Surrey Harriers held sports meetings with bicycle races in 1897 and Burroughs and Watts held their company sports.

The track at Hyde Farm was meant to be the premier track in London, but Catford and Herne Hill proved much more popular and had better track surfaces. With the downturn in the popularity of track racing in the 1890's, Hyde Farm track became unprofitable.

The last bicycle racing at Hyde Farm was probably when the Early Closing Association held their sports on August 10th 1898, the meeting included a three miles bicycle handicap and 4,000 spectators attended the event.

The Hyde Farm grounds were sold at auction in 1896 and a housing scheme, called Hyde Farm Estate, was built between 1896 and 1916. Edward Hayes Dashwood was the lead builder. The housing at Hyde Farm was built to attract city clerks who would commute from Balham station. The housing at Hyde Farm Estate is now a conservation area.

* ‘All tyres' meant that the race was open to machines with solid, cushion or pneumatic tyres.

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