Reading - Palmer Park Stadium

Wokingham Road : RG6 1LF Reading - Palmer Park Stadium : Image credit Reading Museum Reading - Palmer Park Stadium : Image credit Bernard Lamb personal collection
Huntley & Palmers, the biscuit firm, gave 21 acres of land to Reading in 1889, which became Palmer Park and the park was extended to 49 acres in 1891. The benevolence of the company had its roots in the 1860s, when a religious movement, "Athletic Christianity" developed in the UK. It was supported by the Quakers and Huntley and Palmers became subscribers. The aim was to keep the workers out of public houses.

The Reading Athletic Club held regular Whit Monday and August Bank Holiday sports meetings on the red shale cinder track at Palmer Park and in the 1890's the meetings drew crowds of up to 6,000. Howard Palmer, who was the grandson of one of the original Huntley & Palmer directors, was a cyclist and captain of the Reading AC.

The Reading AC Grand Annual Sports for 1892 were held on August 20th on the "new athletic and cycling tracks at Palmer Park." There was a "Half-mile First Class Bicycle Race (Limit 60 yards)" with a first prize of £10 10s, and 1 and 2 miles bicycle races.

The Reading Mercury of 9 Sept 1893 described the Reading Athletic Club Sports which drew a very large crowd and 500 entries for the running and bicycle events. The bicycle events were a 1 mile handicap for local riders and ½ mile and 1 mile open handicap races. After the race meeting there was a smoking concert with a "knife and fork tea" at the Queens Hotel.

Interest in the Reading AC sports meetings seemed to decline in the 1900's. A report on the 1910 meet spoke of reduced gates and a move from Saturday to Wednesday to try to improve attendance. The bicycle races included the one mile Championship of Reading, a one mile traders' cycle carrier handicap race and four other local and open races. There were also evening races at Palmer Park organised by Reading AC.

Racing resumed eventually after WWI on a much smaller scale with Reading Wheelers CC now organising some races. In 1924 their meet included a 15 lap point to point race and a 5 miles team pursuit race.

The 1955 NCU Racing Handbook describes Palmer Park track as brick dust with a length of 504⅓ yards, 24 feet wide and bankings of 10 degrees. This was the year that the track was re-surfaced with asphalt and at the time was described as one of the best in the country.

The track suffered subsidence as a result of being built on chalk pit land and in 2002 it was closed when the track began to suffer. Reading Borough Council had these filled and the track surface refurbished for the start of the 2003 season.

British Cycling describes a 2012 track meet "As the summer finally arrived, a sun-soaked Palmer Park saw a strong field compete for a round of the National Sprinters League, a Women's Derny race and a range of endurance events that incorporated a couple of Central Division Championships."

British Cycling closed the track for racing in 2015 for safety reasons (see below). The remedial work at the stadium involved installing a new fence around the track and improving the floodlighting. The total cost of £366,000 was met by Reading Council (£245,000) and British Cycling (£121,000). The track was re-opened on 11th March 2016 and Reading Council entered into a 10 year agreement to ensure track cycling continued at Palmer Park velodrome.

Racing at Palmer Park is well established again and the track is used for meetings of the British Cycling National Hard Track Endurance League. It has also hosted the national derny championships.

The cycle track is part of Palmer Park Sports Stadium which is owned by Reading Council. Track bikes can be hired and a Monday night Track League operates in summer. An under 18's cycling club, Palmer Park Velo is based at the track. This is a short video of the track.

Safety barriers: After the death of a cyclist during a race at the Portsmouth Mountbatten Centre track in 2014, British Cycling introduced risk assessment for tracks and banned racing on tracks that failed. Several tracks failed their risk assessment because the perimeter fencing was not up to modern standards. After the accident fencing was replaced at the Mountbatten Centre, Preston Park and Carmarthen Park.


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Photos : Reading Museum, Bernard Lamb personal collection