Oxford - Iffley Grounds

Iffley Road : OX4 1EQ Oxford - Iffley Grounds : Map credit National Library of Scotland
Oxford University built a new track at Iffley Road in 1876 on ground leased from Christ Church. The track is described in the Earl of Albermarle's book. "The Oxford path is on a slight slope. It is a yard or two over three laps to the mile, is square in shape, with the ends rather rounded, and narrow, excepting the straight finish, which is broad and well laid. The material used is cinder, which gets rather loose in hot weather, and always runs a trifle dead. The corners are fairly easy; the run down the back stretch is somewhat baulking to a stranger to the path, an unobtrusive white post and rail fence being prominently placed on the turn. The dressing accommodation is excellent in every way."

The bicycle club at Oxford was formed in 1873 and was called the Dark Blue Bicycle Club. In 1881 it changed its name to Oxford University Bicycle Club and in 1882 there were 40 members.

The Oxford/Cambridge inter-varsity races moved from the road to the track in 1877. The first matches were held at Iffley Road on June 11th 1877 and Ion Keith-Falconer won the 2 and 10 miles races for Cambridge and JC Thorpe won the 25 miles race for Oxford. The matches continued through the 1880's with the venues alternating between the universities.

The track was sometimes used by non-Oxford riders (strangers) and the university meeting on 18th June 1878 there was one race open to strangers. The bicycle track was also used by other organisations for their sports, including St John's High School, the Oxford Churchmen's Union, the Oxford University Press and the College Servants Club. The Oxonian Bicycle and Tricycle Club held monthly meetings in 1883.

The University held their annual amateur sports and the 18th August 1887 meeting included the following bicycle races; 2 miles novices handicap, 1 mile handicap (no safeties), 3 miles handicap, 4 miles roadster, handicap and 5 miles handicap. It is likely that participation in the sports was by invitation. By 1890 the inter-university matches between Oxford and Cambridge had stopped.

There was a meeting for local clubs on 15th August 1895 which included a one mile championship of Oxford race. The event was organised by the Oxford Bicycle and Tricycle Club with East Oxford Cycling Clubs and included a full evening of racing which was ‘an unqualified success'.

The Oxford B&TC still ran their August meeting in 1900 for the one mile championship of Oxford and the Swinhoe Silver Challenge Cup. The Oxford Times of June 15th 1901 lamented on the future of racing at Iffley Road because outside clubs could not afford the cost of hiring the ground in the summer vacation and gate receipts were poor. "This year it seems very doubtful under the circumstances whether any races will be decided at all. Racing does not pay in Oxford, and there are very few men going in for the sport."

Cycling racing was generally in decline at the end of the 1890's and the University Cycling Club ceased to operate in 1902. Any bicycle racing after this time occurs as part of sports days, run by organisations that could attract good crowds, such as the Oxford City Police sports day.

There does not seem to have been any more bicycle racing at the Iffley Road track after the early 1900's, but the track was used for athletics. Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile on the Iffley Road track in May 1954. The running track was resurfaced in 2007 and renamed the Sir Roger Bannister Running Track. It now forms part of the Iffley Road Sports Centre.


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