London - Stamford Bridge

Fulham Road : SW6 1HS London - Stamford Bridge : Map credit National Library of Scotland London - Stamford Bridge : Image credit Wiki Commons
Stamford Bridge was a 6½ acre former market garden site in Fulham. The London Athletic Club (LAC) took over the site in 1876 and moved there the following year from nearby Lillie Bridge. The LAC is the oldest independent track and field based club in the world. The ground had a 440 yards cinder track 6 yards wide, which was square shaped with no banking and the bends were awkward to ride. There was also a dangerous iron post and rail fence around the outside of the track.

The first bicycle race at Stamford Bridge was in the annual Spring meeting, at which there was a four miles handicap bicycle race. There were other races there in 1877, including the championships meeting of the prestigious London Bicycle Club.

NCU's first championship was held at Stamford Bridge on 11th May 1878 and Ion Keith-Falconer won the 2 miles championship in 6 min 29 sec and AA Weir won the 25 miles championship in 1 hr 27 min 44 sec.

The NCU gave special permission in 1879 for Jack Keen, the leading professional rider, and Herbert Liddell Cortis, the leading amateur rider, to compete in a series of match races over 1, 5 and 20 miles. Two of these races were at Stamford Bridge. In the twenty miles race, Cortis won in 1 hr 4 min 43 sec, both men rode Eclipse bicycles. Keen went on to win the one mile race and then the five miles race.

The 1880's were very busy years for the track with some championship races and the appearance of star riders. HL Cortis, a London medical student at the time, was a regular competitor at Stamford Bridge. The track was very popular with bicycle clubs and the Speedwell, Pickwick, Chelsea, London, Temple and many other clubs held meetings there. A Kildare club meeting in 1888 attracted a crowd of 4,000 spectators.

The Wheel World in 1882 commented that "Stamford Bridge ‘boycotted' because of the LAC officials' disgusting treatment of the bicycle clubs, whose money they exist on." There was a press report in 1888 of ‘open betting' at Stamford Bridge and the reluctance of the NCU and officials to deal with the problem.

Gus Mears and his brother wanted to buy Stamford Bridge from its owner, Mr Stunt, to turn it into a top class football ground. Mr Stunt died in 1902 and the brothers took possession of the ground and more land in 1904. The ground was developed with Archibald Leitch based on his designs of football grounds in Glasgow and included a 5,000 seat stand. Fulham were offered the ground but declined, so Chelsea, a new club, moved in for the start of the 1905 season.

The new unbanked cinder track opened on May 10th 1905. Cycling 28th April 1909 reported "It is many years since cycle races were held at this venue. The NCU prohibited racing there as the track was unbanked and possessed a very dangerous corner, but it has recently been improved and passed by the NCU." The Polytechnic held a meeting on the improved track on May 8th 1909.

On Good Friday 1910 there was a meeting with ½ and 1 mile handicap races but there were very few bicycle races after this.

The classiclightweights.co.uk website reports "In 1931 Evelyn Hamilton won the first women's ½ mile sprint handicap and the Sporting Life trophy at the old Stamford Bridge cinder track."

Stamford Bridge is still the home of Chelsea FC who have played there since the 1905. The stadium has also hosted cricket matches, rugby, American football and baseball. The cinder track was used for speedway races between 1928 and 1932 and for greyhound racing from 1933 to 1968.


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Photos : Wiki Commons
Maps    : National Library of Scotland