London - Wood Green

Bounds Green Road : N22 8DU London - Wood Green : Image credit Bowes and Bounds Connected London - Wood Green : Image credit Haringay Online
The track was built on the Nightingale Hall estate, which was cut into two by the Great Northern Railway and the land sold off. The cycle track was built in ten acres of the land in 1895 by The North London Cycling and Athletics Ground Company whose directors included Arthur Walter Gamage who owned Gamage's famous Holborn store and was vice-president of Finsbury Park Cycling Club. The concrete track was designed by Harry J Swindley and measure 503 yards (3½ laps to the mile), 21 feet wide with 24° bankings. The concrete track was built by the Imperial Stone Company and laid in 5 feet wide strips, 4 inches thick on a base of 12 inches of hard rammed core. There was a roofed grandstand for 1,500 visitors and another uncovered stand for 300. In all, around 10,000 spectators could be accommodated. There were two large dressing rooms, 13 private dressing rooms rented by racers, 2 offices, a large licenced refreshment bar, a club room and a director's room. The Wood Green track cost a total of £18,000 (£2,387,000 at 2020 prices) which included £3,000 for the track itself and £3,600 for the grandstand.

The first race meeting was on Whit Monday 7th June 1895 and that year the track saw a 24-hour marathon race for professional cyclists. The same year, Platt-Betts beat the world 1 mile record in 1 min 48 sec in front of a crowd of 18,000. Wood Green only catered for professional riders.

The first track meet of 1896 at Wood Green was on 10th March and the last on 1st October. Between these dates 70 race meets were held, including 20 meets on Saturday afternoons. At the Easter Monday 1896 meet, organised by Arthur Gamage, there was the first Ladies' cycle race in England (against France) on an outdoor track. Top of the bill was a 2 mile mixed tandem race which was run to the strains of the popular song "Daisy Bell" played by a military band. Women's racing was subsequently banned by the NCU at ordinary meetings.

The Hub commented in 1896 that a big meeting would cost £500 to £600 and if there was a very large crowd, this may result in a profit of £400. Wood Green was the only London track with a full liquor licence, which was a great help to profitability.

On Saturday 16th May 1896 James "Jimmy" Michael, the Welsh cycling champion, attracted a crowd of 12,000 to Wood Green to watch him attempt the world hour record and try to better 30 miles. He was paced by the French Gladiator team. Jimmy managed just under 29 miles, a quarter of a mile outside AA Chase's hour record. Ten days later, Jimmy's team mate Tom Linton broke the record with a magical 30 miles at the Velodrome du Seine in Paris.

The Hub magazine of Feb 13th 1897 comments that the track was in very good condition, "the cement was as good as new. The cement is laid down in big slabs. In the course of time some of these may sink, and so not quite evenly join their neighbours, causing a tiny bump to the rider's wheel as he passes over the spot. Two or three of the Wood Green slabs have so misbehaved themselves; but careful filling of their adamantine edges has completely restored the path to perfection. No perceptible sink of the 8ft 6in. banking has taken place - a very important consideration when it is remembered that at Putney Velodrome a drop in some places of nearly 6ins. took place."

Wood Green was open every day, throughout the year. The commercial viability of the track was helped by its catering facilities and the 6 days a week drinks licence until 11pm.

Paced racing bicycle was extremely popular in the 1890's with pacing by tandems triples and finally quints being used as pacers, however the new Pingault electric tandem was demonstrated at Wood Green and left everything behind.

The large crowds attracted to track cycling reduced and, in spite of it's important as a first class cycle race venue, Wood Green track closed in 1900. The land was sold for the housing and Braemar Avenue and Northcott Avenue stand where the track once was.

London - Wood Green : Image credit The Hub
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Photos : Bowes and Bounds Connected, Haringay Online, The Hub