Manchester - Heywood Phoenix Ground

Shepherd Street : OL10 1JW Manchester - Heywood Phoenix Ground : Map credit National Library of Scotland
The first bicycle racing at Heywood was at the Heywood Floral and Agricultural Society in 1869 and the Heywood Temperance gala in 1870.* These events and venues did not seem to have been used again.

The Heywood bowling club had a ground on Shepherd Street and there was a piece of land next to it, known as the Phoenix Ground, on which cricket and football was played and shows and galas were held.

The first bicycle races at the Phoenix ground were at the Heywood gala on May 7th 1870. The velocipede races at the event were a youth's (under 14 years old) 1 mile race and a 1½ mile open race, both of the races were poorly supported, but the attendance was good. The Hopwood Victoria Mills brass band played at the event and there was dancing between events. Spurred on by the success of the meeting, a second gala was held two weeks later on May 21st with the same program of events, but including a balloon ascent, which proved popular.

The bowling green was the home of Heywood Phoenix Bowling Club which was formed as a limited company in 1873. Heywood Phoenix Bowling Club (HPBC) was very active in the 1870's promoting sports in the town and the Heywood Athletics Festival became a popular event throughout the 1870's.

Apart from the annual festival there were other meetings such as the early season March 6th 1875 event in which the three bicycle races were a 1 mile scratch a 3 miles handicap and a 1 mile local handicap. Despite the poor weather, there was a crowd of 1,500 spectators.

The two day annual festival grew in popularity with the 1877 attendance rising to 6,000 spectators on Friday and double that number on Monday. There were usually two bicycle races, running races forming the main part of the program.

By the 1880's professional running races were included in the festival. The 1882 sports held over two days on August 12th and 14th were again successful with 3,000 spectators. There was a 130 yards professional running race for a first prize of £12 (worth £1,500 in 2022) and two bicycle handicap races over two and three miles. There was also a half mile bicycle hurdle race, where riders had to dismount and lift their machines over the hurdles.

The Heywood Phoenix Bowling Club Company were summoned on August 18th 1880 'for knowingly permitting gambling at their annual sports', they were found guilty and fined £25 plus costs.

The Northern Counties Athletic Association issued a notice on July 7th 1883 warning the competitors would be banned if they appeared in a meeting which included both amateur and professional races. At the HPBC annual general meeting on September 29th 1883, the club resolved to continue running their meeting with both amateur and professional events and looked for support from other Northern clubs.

This brought the club into direct conflict with the authorities and the Athletic News of March 23rd 1884 reported the AAA response "The following is a list of those cyclists, who by competing at the HPBC sports, have rendered themselves professional in the eyes of the Amateur Athletic Association and National Cyclists Union." This was followed by a list of eleven competitors.

The problems with the NCAA, AAA and NCU adversely affected sports meeting at Heywood for a few years. The Heywood Phoenix sports resumed in 1886.

Heywood Bicycle Club was formed in 1888 and the club held their first, club members only, races at the Phoenix Ground on May 25th 1889. The races were 1, 5 and 10 miles handicap, a slow bicycle race and a running race for members in uniform.

Heywood BC again held their annual sports and gala August 23rd 1890 at the Phoenix Pleasure ground. After this, the club went into decline and after they staged their annual sports on August 25th 1894 at the Phoenix Ground, the club seemed to wind down.

Heywood Wheelers was formed around 1896 and their only racing involvement was a club race meeting at the Phoenix ground on May 23rd 1899, where six club members contested a 5 miles handicap race. This was probably the last bicycle race at the Phoenix ground.

The ground was used for both cricket and football and Heywood St James FC still play at the ground.

* Early bicycle racing at Heywood - the first bicycle race in Heywood was a half mile velocipede contest at the Heywood Floral and Agricultural Society sports on August 10th 1869. There were three entries, all riding locally built velocipedes, two of the machines had 38" wheels and the other 36". The rider of the smaller wheeled machine received 8 yards start. The race was held around a quarter mile track in a rough field at Heywood Moss and the course included a sharp rise on the home straight, where ‘all were compelled to dismount and run for a short distance.'

The Heywood Temperance gala in a field at Hopwood on July 16th 1870 included a velocipede race.


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