Wolverhampton - Molineux Grounds

Waterloo Road : WV1 4QR Wolverhampton - Molineux Grounds : Image credit Lost Wolverhampton Wolverhampton - Molineux Grounds : Image credit Alex Brew
Molineux House and Grounds were built by Benjamin Molineux in 1744 and the estate was bought by Oliver E McGregor in 1860. McGregor renovated the house and opened the grounds as pleasure grounds. Molineux must have been quite a genteel place in the 1870's as it advertised the facilities as boating on the pool, bowling, quoits and croquet and suitable for school and picnic parties.

McGregor was granted a beer licence in 1869 and ran velocipede races in 1869. Bev Parker reported that Daniel Rudge* won the first bicycle race at Molineux. When McGregor applied for a music and dancing licence in 1870, the magistrate remarked that "There had been considerable complaints on one or two occasions that on days when there had been velocipede riding there had been a great deal of shouting at the grounds. The bench hoped that this would be repressed."

The track at Molineux was constructed around the large fountain in the Pleasure Grounds and was reported to be 9 laps and 30 yards to the mile, although later reports give the track length as 375.4 yards. 1870's saw the Molineux grounds established as one of the premier tracks in England with top riders from around the country and abroad regularly racing in events there. At the meeting on August 6th 1870, the professional one mile Champions Cup (value 30 Guineas) race brought together John Keen, Palmer of Birmingham, Johnson of London and Mere of Paris, with Palmer winning in 4 min 21 sec.

At a Christmas meeting in 1872, McGregor managed to attract a crowd of 14,000 people to watch Keen win the 10 miles race in a record time of 35 min 30 sec., riding a machine of his own make. The one mile handicap race was won by Barlow (off 220 yards) riding a 51" Whitehouse of Aston machine weighing 41 pounds.

In 1872, John Keen won every race that he started, except one and Keen raced at Molineux every year from 1870 to 1883. In the early 1870's there were numerous match races between John Keen of Surbiton and Fred Cooper of Sheffield. On December 27th 1875 there was a one mile championship races between Keen, J Mere and Cooper, the latter winning by a yard in 3 min 13 sec.

In a 6 day race that ended on September 23rd 1876, the French champion Camille Thuillet succeeded in riding 650 miles in the six days, a feat never before accomplished. On the last day of his ride there were 10,000 spectators.

On August 8th 1882 Fred Wood of Leicester beat the local hero Dick Howell of Wolverhampton in a one mile ‘championship of the world' event by seven yards in 2 minutes 56.5 sec.

The Molineux grounds were sold by McGregor in 1884 to Edwin Steer and three years later they were sold again. There was an Easter bicycle race meeting on April 6-8th 1885, in which Gittoes & Co offered £86 in prize money. The bicycle events were a 1 mile championship and 1 and 2 miles handicap races.

There were a series of meetings in 1887 which featured Dick Howell and the American champion William Woodside of Philadelphia; these included a five miles race for £50 in front of 7,000 spectators. There was a 10 miles match race for £50 between Dick Howell and HG Crocker of Boston on August 3rd 1888. The victory went to the rider who won the most laps, which was Howell.

The Molineux grounds became less popular and in 1889 the grounds were sold to Northampton Brewery who rented it to Wolverhampton Wanderers at a low rent. The cycle track and athletics field were converted to a football ground. There were bicycle racing events in the 1890's but amateur races had gone out of favour with spectators and Molineux lost out in popularity to other tracks.

When reporting on the small crowd at the Wolverhampton RC meeting, the Athletic News of June 23rd 1890 commented "They prefer rather the professional element, and are slow to appreciate any other class of racing. It is some years since an attempt was made to run a purely amateur meeting at Wolverhampton, and it cannot truthfully be said that the revival is of such an encouraging nature as to induce other clubs to follow."

In the late 1880's, ordinary bicycles had given way to safeties, this was demonstrated at an Easter meeting in 1891, when the ordinary race, having received only 4 entries, had to be abandoned in favour of a mixed race (safeties and ordinaries), which then received 50 entries.

The number of meetings at Molineux started to reduce through the 1890's, there were amateur races but few professional events. There were not many bicycle race meetings after 1900 but the Rover Racing Cyclist Club held their cycling and athletic sports on July 16th 1910 with four amateur bicycle races and three professional running races. This seems to be the last time that bicycle races were held at Molineux.

Wolverhampton Wanderers bought the freehold of the ground at Molineux in 1923 and the Stadium is still their home.

* Daniel Rudge started building bicycles in 1874 and formed the very successful Rudge business.


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Photos : Lost Wolverhampton, Alex Brew