London - Crystal Palace

Ledrington Road : SE19 2BB London - Crystal Palace : Image credit Wiki Commons London - Crystal Palace : Image credit Wiki Commons
The Crystal Palace was built by Joseph Paxton to house the 1851 Great Exhibition. There were extensive grounds around the building with gardens and lakes. The public paid to enter Crystal Palace and the gardens, but there was no additional charge to watch any bicycle racing.

Crystal Palace was keen to promote velocipede racing and announced that a race would be held between Spencer and Mayall on Easter Tuesday 1869. This was probably a publicity event to promote velocipede riding. The first real race was held on May 27th 1869. The international ‘Velocipede Derby' took place with 8 competitors along with the ‘Englishmen's race' which had 24 riders. The Pall Mall Gazette reported that the races "took place round the basins of the great fountains, in the lower portion of the Crystal Palace grounds." and the course was about a mile in length. There was heavy rain during the event but ‘many hundreds, perhaps thousands' watched the race from the terraces. The Frenchman M Biot won the Velocipede Derby riding a Michaux machine.

The 1870's saw small scale meetings and club races take place on the terrace, but the D shaped track was quite dangerous for racing, so a new track around the Grand fountain was set out.

The new track opened on 10th October 1880, it was 503 yards around and made of cinder and coal. ‘In two places in the circuit, it was carried on stone causeways over narrow strips of water.' Unfortunately the weather was awful for the first meeting with heavy rain and strong winds. In the one mile handicap, G Lacy Hillier won off scratch in 3 min 20.8 sec. Hillier also won the other event, the ten miles scratch race for the Crystal Palace Challenge Cup (value £50) recording 42 min 14.8 sec.

The new track quickly became very popular with eleven National Championships being held there in its first 5 years, as well as several records being set up.

Herbert Liddle Cortis (the Long Wanderer as he was known to his friends, on account of his height and his club) covered 20 miles 300 yards to take the hour record on 27th July 1882. In the same week, Ion Keith-Falconer took the 50 mile championship with a record time of 2hr 43min 55.2sec. RH English broke the hour record on September 11th 1884 recording 20 miles 560 yards.

The track had begun to deteriorate by 1885, not helped by the bicycle v horse events on the track, raced by Jack Keen in 1884. When Herne Hill opened in 1891, Crystal Palace needed to do something if it was to promote any future bicycle racing.

A new concrete track was built in 1896; it took three months to build and was designed by Henry Woodham, who constructed the Catford track. The track was 3 laps to the mile, banked to 8 feet and 25 feet wide. The bankings were constructed of timber with concrete laid on to the timber and there was cycle storage for spectator's machines, under the bankings. There was a grandstand for 1,100 people. Visitors who paid their one shilling admission charge to enter the Palace also had admission to the track.

The Anerley BC took a leading role in promoting events on the track. They had club events every Thursday evening and had a club room at the track. The new track was immediately popular and the top riders Jack Stocks, Jas Platt-Betts and Tommy Linton trained at the track. The Dunlop pacing team had a workshop at Crystal Palace.

The vice-president of the Anerley was H Carwardine, who owned a large flour mill in London. In 1895, he donated the 5ft high Carwardine Cup (value 300 Guineas). In 1895, Putney was the venue for the first Carwardine Cup competition, which was a 24 hour race. The next year it was Herne Hill with a 100 mile race before going to Crystal Palace in 1897, where it stayed. The distance raced for the cup was now fixed at 100 miles and on 17th July 1897, the champion cyclist Bert Harris of the Poly won the cup.

There was a big professional meeting on 15th May 1897 with Charlie Barden winning the mile handicap and the one lap scratch. Jack Stocks won the 10 miles paced using the Dunlop pacing team. Jas Platt-Betts made an attempt on the world 5 miles paced record. He rode an Imperial Rover machine geared to 106 inches and used the Dunlop pacing team of two quints and four quads. Platt-Betts managed to beat all world records for 2, 3, 4 and 5 miles, his five mile time being 9 minutes 4.8 secs (around 33 mph).

This early video shows the track and probably Herne Hill, from about one minute in.

On 12th September 1897, the Dutch man Matthieu Cordang broke Huret's world 24 hour record paced by the Dunlop squad using windshields, his distance was 616 miles 340 yards and he used a 91 inch gear. Cordang paid all forty of his pacers a guinea each.

At the Anerley meet on 20th May 1905, a crowd of 15,000 saw Leon Meredith beaten by E Wills in the 3 miles scratch. At the meeting WT Hall set a 10 mile (paced) record of 13 min 32 sec. The meeting in the following year attracted an even bigger crowd of 19,000. These meetings were followed by a ‘smoker concert' which was popular with club men.

There was a Festival of the Empire at Crystal Palace in 1911 and the British Empire Cycling Championships were run in conjunction with it. Bill Bailey won the quarter mile, Flynn the mile and Kingsbury the ten miles.

The Daily Telegraph of June 1st 1911 announced that Crystal Palace was to be sold and launched an appeal to save it.

There were some bicycle races in 1912, including the Anerley 100 miles motor paced race on 7th September 1912. This seems to have been the last race at Crystal Palace before the track closed. There was a large fire on 30th November 1936, which destroyed most of Crystal Palace.

London - Crystal Palace : Image credit Ariel Cycles. Jerry Mortimer London - Crystal Palace : Image credit The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership London - Crystal Palace : Image credit The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership London - Crystal Palace : Image credit The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership London - Crystal Palace : Image credit The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership London - Crystal Palace : Image credit The Life and Times of Charley Barden London - Crystal Palace : Image credit Wiki Commons London - Crystal Palace : Image credit Mark Hancock
Refs     : [5] [14] [24] [34] [35] [50] [52] [91] [338] [340] [362] [p]
Photos : Wiki Commons, Ariel Cycles. Jerry Mortimer, The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership, The Life and Times of Charley Barden, Mark Hancock