Norwich - Recreation Ground

Earlham Road : NR2 3PD
In 1890, the Church of England, through CEYMS (Church of England Young Men's Society) arranged to provide a 9 acre piece of land at Earlham Road, on a long lease, for recreational use. The Earlham Road Recreation Ground opened on July 9th 1891 and had a cinder track, 3 laps to the mile, 28 feet wide, with ‘high-banked corners'. The track was built on advice from Mr Broughton, the manager at Kensal Rise and cost £700. There was a cricket pitch within the cycle track, a flagged cricketing space and concrete and grass tennis courts. The total cost of the recreation ground was £1,800.

At the opening meeting of the track, on July 9th 1891, the bicycle races were; 1 mile bicycle handicap race (Norfolk residents), 2 miles open handicap, 1 mile scratch and 2 miles handicap (CEYMS members). Also in 1891, evening meetings of running and bicycle races were promoted, which attracted 3,000 spectators.

The CEYMS Athletic Organisation organised a Whit Monday meeting in 1892 and the evening meetings continued through the 1890's. The CEYMS arranged for a committee to administer the tack and allowed Norwich Amateur Bicycle Club and the Norfolk and Norwich Bicycle Club to hold meetings there.

There were six bicycle races at the June 27th 1896 meeting and the top event was a 10 miles scratch race for the Norfolk Daily Standard challenge cup. AQ Watson of Thetford CC won this event in 28 min 4.8 sec. There was a second meeting in September that attracted 3,000 spectators.

The following is a report from the Norfolk Chronicle from hellenicaworld.com of a meeting in June 1898: "The championship meeting of the National Cyclists' Union was held on the Earlham Road Recreation Ground, Norwich. The five miles' professional championship was won by H. E. Meyers, Dutch Cyclists' Club, in 15 minutes 36 1-5th seconds; the five miles' amateur championship by A. S. Ingram, Polytechnic Club, in 14 minutes 11 2-5ths seconds; and the 25 miles' amateur championship by H. W. Payne, West Roads Cyclists' Club, in 1 hour 4 minutes 52 4-5ths seconds."

A further race in August 1899 was also reported: "The 50 miles' championship of the National Cyclists' Union, Eastern Counties Centre, was won on the Earlham Road Recreation Ground, Norwich, by C. F. Morley (champion 1897-98) in 2 hours 20 minutes 49 4-5ths seconds."

Four riders from the Norwich ABC managed to borrow and Ariel quadricycle from the Dunlop pacing team on June 2nd 1899 and set about riding for a 1 hour Eastern Counties track record, achieving 25 miles 504 yards.

There were evening race meeting in the early 1900's but these were not well attended. The bicycle race meetings in 1902 & 1903 included motorcycle races, but attendance was only 800 people.

There was an important event on August 5th 1913 which featured Bill Bailey and Leon Meredith. Record attempts were the feature of the meeting where Bill Bailey attempted to beat his ¼ mile flying start national record but was unsuccessful, returning 26.8 sec, a new track record. Leon Meredith attacked his 5 miles motor paced record of 8 min 55 sec but was just 4 seconds outside it.

There was a revival of sports interest when the Hospital Sports were held at Earlham Road on May 17th 1921. The event had a record crowd of over 6,000 and the sports included the NCU (Easter Region) 10 miles championship, which had not been contested since 1914. The winner was Herbert Golden of the Norwich ABC in 26 min 55.6 sec.

There was not much use made of the track in the 1920's but there was a sports meeting in 1936 as an initiative during the recession. Bicycle racing seems to have completely stopped by the start of WWII.

The Ecclesiastical lease for the grounds ran out in 1939 and the cycle track was due to be demolished. The city purchased land next to the Recreation Ground to make a public park. There was some development of the site but a smaller recreation ground was retained and is still in use as the Recreation Road Sports Centre.


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