London - Surbiton Recreation Grounds

Balaclava Road : KT6 5DN London - Surbiton Recreation Grounds : Image credit PodiumCafe London - Surbiton Recreation Grounds : Image credit PodiumCafe
Surbiton Recreation Grounds track opened on April 12th 1879 and was considered to be the best and fastest track in the London area in the 1880's. The new cinder track was 440 yards around, 14 feet wide and egg-shaped. Interestingly, the track was ridden clockwise, before there was general agreement to ride anti-clockwise.

The Wheels of Time website comments on the track "The slope down from the railway ensured a fast start and it's wide cinder track and banked corners meant it was known for its speed. Surbiton was also considered one of the safest tracks owing to the fact it did not have any fencing round either side that could have impaled falling riders." G Lacy Hillier comments that "it was too slightly banked at the corners, a fact that caused many good men to run wide; but the four corners, being only quarter turns, were easy and well graded".

In the first year of opening there was a Whit Monday meeting, but the attendance was described as ‘meagre'. This was followed by an August Bank Holiday Monday meeting that had one and two miles bicycle races and a slow race.

There were two ‘crack' riders who were regulars at the Surbiton track. Herbert Liddell Cortis of the Wanderers CC, known as the Long Wanderer, was particularly tall for the day at 6ft 1½ inches and his long legs enabled him to ride a 60 inch wheel. Cortis was a champion rider and record breaker. John Keen, known as Happy Jack, lived in Surbiton and he was probably the most well-known and successful bicycle rider in the world. Keen became a bicycle manufacturer in Surbiton and built machines with the brand name Eclipse. Keen was believed to be the first rider to use toe-clips on his pedals

At the Connaught Rangers BC meeting in late August 1880, Cortis won the 10 miles scratch race and set a new record of 29 min 54.2 sec, the first time that 30 minutes had been beaten for 10 miles. In 1880, Cortis made two attempts on the hour record. In the first attempt, he fell after 18 miles, but was successful with the second attempt achieving 19 miles 1420 yards.

1881 July 6th G Lacy Hillier of the Stanley BC won the NCU 5 miles and 50 miles bicycle championships. The Surbiton track hosted club annual championship races from 1881 for the Surrey, Stanhope, Kildare, Twickenham, Richmond and the Wanderers Bicycle Clubs. Ion Keith-Falconer was the president of the London Bicycle Club from 1879 to 1886

The Wanderers BC held an evening club meeting on 7th June 1882 and in the one mile event Cortis won convincingly with the fastest time ever recorded of 2 min 41.6 sec. Cortis rode a 60 inch Invincible made especially for the event by the Surrey Machinists' Company.

At this time there was intense interest in trying to ride 20 miles in an hour, paced and this was first accomplished by Cortis at Crystal Palace on 1st July 1882 when he achieved 20 miles 297 yards. There was another attempt at the Wanderers BC evening race meeting on August 2nd 1882 with Cortis and Ion Keith-Falconer of Cambridge University watched by 1,200 spectators, the largest ever seen at the ground for a club meeting. Pacing was by ten riders on solo machines, changing every mile or so. Keith-Falconer, who had no pacers of his own, followed Cortis' wheel for just under six miles when Cortis began to pull ahead and opened up a gap of fifty yards. This dispirited Keith-Falconer who retired shortly afterwards, but Cortis raced on, gradually gaining time to establish a new record of 20 miles 325 yards. The day after his record ride, Cortis got married and then emigrated to Australia two weeks later.

MJ Lowndes succeeded in beating all paced tricycle records from one to ten miles on June 21st 1883 at Surbiton, the time for his ten miles record was 32 min 33 sec.

The Surbiton BC held an evening club meeting on 17th June 1885, to decide their 10 miles championship and the Vesey Vase. It was a close race between A Keen and FW Monk, with Keen winning by a foot in 32 min 52sec.

Bicycle racing at Surbiton diminished after 1886 because "the main problem was the considerable cost to cyclists of getting there from London (4/6d return third class with a machine). This resulted in the track becoming increasingly overlooked and falling into decline."

The Surbiton BC held a club track meet on 10th June 1887 to decide the club 10 mile champion and winner of the Challenge Shield. John Keen was the winner in 32 min 9 sec. Other clubs holding their championships at Surbiton that year were the Kildare B&TC, Beretta and the Brixton Ramblers BC. John Keen rode a man verses horse ride over 10 miles on 16th May 1888, the horse rider had the use of two horses, changing every mile.

On September 22nd 1887, Percy Furnival beat RH English's hour record, recording 20 miles 675 yards at Surbiton in the Berretta CC club championship race.

After 1888 all bicycle racing at Surbiton seems to have ceased. By 1891, the track was demolished and part of the grounds was developed for housing (around Victoria Avenue) and part still remains a green space, Victoria recreation ground.

London - Surbiton Recreation Grounds : Image credit PodiumCafe
Refs     : [13] [61] [466] [467] [p]
Photos : PodiumCafe