Northampton - Melbourne Grounds
Duston Road : NN5 5BG
Northampton - Melbourne Grounds : Map credit National Library of Scotland Northampton - Melbourne Grounds : Image credit Melbourne Gardens were opened in 1864 by John Collier with a fete, gymnastic display, slack wire walkers, balloon ascent and a fireworks display. Sports were held there in the 1860s and the first bicycle race was in 1869. The location was popularly known as Collier's Gardens.

The Northampton Gymnastic Club held their second annual athletic sports on June 8th 1869 at the Gardens and a one mile "velocipede or bicycle race" open to all comers, was included. The race entrance fee was 2s 6d and first prize was two guineas. Admission to the meeting cost 1s 6d, stand 1s extra and a large stand was erected for the event. There were nine entries for the race, but only five started and the mile race required five laps of the ground. Mr Cooper of Coventry won the race despite falling off with a lap to go, his time was 4m 10s. There was also a local velocipede race in which four riders competed.

There was a Grand Velocipede Tournament at the Gardens on August 9th 1869, the main event was a one mile race, with a first prize of £10 and there was a further race open to residents of the town and county of Northampton for a £5 prize. Bicycle racing continued there through the 1870s and John Collier promoted bicycle racing to attract people into the Gardens.

The Northampton Amateur Athletic Club held their 7th athletic and gymnastic fete on August 4th 1873 at the Gardens, the extensive sports program included a one mile bicycle handicap race with nine riders in two heats. The Athletic Club fete was an annual event through to the 1880s.

John Collier continued to put on well supported amateur and professional races. On August Bank Holiday 1875, there was a race between the French Champion, Mons. C Thuillett and the Champion of the North, William Cann, over fifteen miles for £50. The two riders were well matched, with Cann winning the race by eight inches, in a time of 59 minutes. In the same year there was a race between C Thuillett and A Keen.

In 1878 there was a one mile handicap race for £20 and at a grand athletics fete in 1879, John Collier arranged for the meeting to be illuminated by ‘Electric Light'. There were also annual bicycle fetes, which commenced with a procession of bicycles through the town

On 23rd February 1884 there was a five miles race between Fred Wood, the world penny farthing champion and the five best riders in Northampton, each of the five riding a mile in turn against Wood. The race was won by Wood and the event was a benefit for Charles Baucutt, a local rider who had a long and sever illness.

In 1885, John Collier, the owner of the Gardens, died and the Gardens were bought by John Franklin and he re-named them Franklin's Gardens.

In the summer of 1888, there were a series of five races for the Northampton Victoria Cycling Club silver challenge cup**, over one, three, five, seven and ten miles. In 1888 the Northampton and County Amateur Athletic Club moved their annual sports to the County Cricket ground.

In July 1888 the Gardens were sold to Pugh and Phillips (a local solicitors) for £17,000 and then sold on to a new company Franklin's Gardens (Limited) who raised £25,000 in share capital. One of the directors was Mr T Phipps Dorman, who was also a director of the local Phipps brewery company.

Franklin's Gardens and Abbey Park were extensively developed as a 30 acres sports ground. There was a new cricket ground encircled by a bicycle racing track 3¾ laps to the mile, a grandstand, a swimming pool and zoological gardens. Even though the Gardens were out of town, there were trams running every few minutes from the town centre.

Franklin's Gardens (Limited) held an extraordinary shareholders meeting on March 7th 1889 to agree to borrow £10,000 from P Phipps brewery to finance further work in the Gardens.

Bicycle racing continued whilst the Ground was being developed and the new bicycle track opened on Whit Tuesday 1890 with a fete and gala. The cinder bicycle track was advertised as 500 yards in circumference. The open bicycle handicap races were over one and two miles and there was a novices mile race. The attendance was very poor.

After a period of financial losses, on December 14th 1891, the shareholders of Franklin's Gardens (Limited) approved a move to sell the company as a going concern, which would pay the shareholders about 4 shillings in the pound. Things did not improve for the Gardens and the company was liquidated in March 1893. The Gardens continued to operate under the management of Mr Tom Upton, but there was no bicycle racing there. Most bicycle racing in Northampton at this time was held at the County Cricket Ground.

There was only one more bicycle race at the ground, this was reported by Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper to have taken place on July 2nd 1910, and the meeting incorporated the NCU ten miles (Northampton Centre) championship, along with half and one mile open handicap races. The Athletic New reported that the track was positively dangerous and, in the championship, final, all twelve of the competitors had fallen either in the heats or in the final. This was the last time that bicycle racing took place at the Gardens.

The Gardens continued to be popular as a social and sporting venue and eventually became most well known as a rugby ground, with the home team Northampton Saints, who had played at the ground since the 1888. The rugby stadium was completely re-built in 2001 at a cost of £6M and the venue is now called "cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens", to reflect the current club sponsor cinch (a car supply company).

** The Northampton Victoria Cycling Club was formed in the 1870s for "gentlemen amateurs". The club did not go in much for racing, but they sponsored track races with a silver Challenge Cup series in 1888 and 1889. When the club finally wound down, the following announcement appeared in the Northampton Daily Reporter on March 17th 1890 "The Victoria Cycling Club has died. Four members assisted in the burying. It's only possession, the Challenge Cup, is to be sold to pay its debts, and provide its tombstone".

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Maps    : National Library of Scotland