Manchester - Pomona Gardens

Pomona Strand : M16 0TT Manchester - Pomona Gardens : Image credit Ian Banks Pinterest
James Reilly bought the Pomona Gardens in 1868 and energetically set about developing it as the UK's leading Pleasure Gardens. He built the ‘Royal Pomona Palace', the largest hall in the country at 216 feet long, 220 feet wide and 60 feet high, it was capable of accommodating over 20,000 people. Pomona was cheap for visitors and Reilly provided a wide range of excellent attractions. Dancing was a lucrative all-year-round proposition and there was a winter garden, musical festivals, horse and dog shows, a zoo, fairground, circus, botanical exhibitions and machinery displays. Reilly was also a pioneer in providing sports facilities such as cycling, running, football, bowling, sailing, billiards, quoits, a gymnasium, and a shooting gallery. The Pomona attracted more than 100,000 visitors in its first year.

The bicycle track was cinder and 740 yards in circumference, but as early as 1876 there were reports that the track condition was poor.

In the 1870's the Pomona was thriving and putting on regular top class bicycle racing events. In 1876, they promoted a 2 day sports series in association with Athletic News, with amateur bicycle, running and walking races which attracted a crowd of 5,000. An advertisement for the event in The Sporting Chronicle of September 8th 1876 describes the track "The running will take place on a broad cinder path, ten yards broad and half a mile in circumference. The grounds, which are considered the most complete in the provinces, are replete with every convenience both for the public and the competitors. There is a permanent grand stand, and in case of wet weather there is shelter for thousands of spectators. There is also, for the convenience and comfort of the competitors, dressing rooms, shower bath, weighing room, refreshment rooms etc."

The event was held again in 1877, the amateur and professional bicycle meeting offered £100 in prizes and the riders included John Keen and his brother Bradley, David Stanton, Cann of Sheffield and Rawson of Wolverhampton.

The Pomona continued through the early 1880's but its popularity was on the wane. The Manchester Police and Fire Brigade sports were held at the Pomona in 1883 and drew a crowd of 7,000 or 8,000 spectators and their 1884 meet 10,000 to 12,000. This was unusual as the Pomona must was losing its popularity at this time as The Athletic News in 1885 comment that "the public won't go to Pomona".

On August 14th 1886, the West Manchester Cycling Club held their 7th annual race meeting at the Pomona Gardens on the 4 laps to the mile cinder track, attracting 3,000 spectators. The events were 2 miles bicycle handicap, 1 mile tricycle handicap and 1 mile Maiden handicap "open to riders who have never won a first prize." Also in 1886, The Rusholme Bicycle Club held open meetings at the Pomona as did Salford Harriers the following year. The 4 laps to the mile track is described as "the inner track" so possibly the outer track could have been used for trotting.

There was an explosion at a chemicals factory near the Pomona in 1887 that severely damaged the palace, which, together with fierce competition from its rival Belle Vue, resulted in the Pomona closing in 1888 and part of the site was developed as docks for Manchester Ship Canal which was being built at that time. Unlike the docks development at Salford Quays, the Pomona docks were left derelict for over 100 years.


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Photos : Ian Banks Pinterest