Manchester - Royal Oak Grounds

Oldham Road Newton Heath : M40 2BS
Royal Oak Park was a 16 acre first-class athletic venue behind the Royal Oak Hotel. The Park opened in 1864 at a cost of £2,000. The circular track was 651 yards around and the grounds could hold 20,000 people. As well as running and cycling, the grounds hosted rabbit coursing, wrestling, bowling, quoits and trotting.

Royal Oak Park was less than half a mile from the renowned Copenhagen Running Grounds and the two venues often collaborated with their fixtures.

Bells Life of April 14th 1869 advertised "A Great National Bicycle contest will take place at the above grounds on Saturday May 1st, under the patronage of Continental and English bicycle velocipede manufacturers, when £15 will be awarded in prizes." The race at the Royal Oak was won by H Browne of Liverpool from JH Cooper of Newton Heath. A match race between these two riders was arranged on May 19th, for a wager of £25 a side.

The match race was over a distance of three miles, reported as 8 laps of the track. "It was stipulated that the driving wheel of each machine brought into requisition should not exceed 43 inches in diameter, that of the velocipede ridden by Browne measuring 36 inches and that of Cooper 38 inches. There was little or no betting." The contest proved to be one-sided with Browne winning by 660 yards.

There was a three miles bicycle race on May 29th 1869 for machines with wheels not exceeding 37 inches diameter, open the Manchester residents Withington a 20 miles radius. Nine riders competed, the winner being JH Cooper of Newton Heath from D Dixon of Miles Platting and James Cooper of Newton Heath.

The Royal Oak held their 6th annual athletics gathering over three days commencing on August 21st 1869. There were 600 spectators on the opening day and a 3 laps bicycle race was held (maximum 37 inch wheels) which was won by A Dixon from J Campbell and JH Cooper.

The proprietor of the grounds at this time was "Mr J Cooper" and as one of the riders in the first three events at the Royal Oak was JH Cooper, there could have been some family interest in promoting bicycle racing there.

On November 25th 1871, there was a one mile race ‘for the Championship of the World" and £25, between international riders JT Johnson of London and E Shelton of Wolverhampton. Johnson's machine (of his own make) had a 51" wheel and Shelton's 49½". The Sportsman reported on the betting for the race "The betting opened at 5 to 4 on Shelton, but his reign as favourite was of short duration, as it quickly veered round in favour of Johnson, on whom guineas to pounds, and in some instances 5 to 4 were laid at start." Johnson made the running and won the race in 3 min 40.5 sec. The meeting did not generate much excitement and there were only 400 spectators.

Bicycle racing at the Royal Oak seems to have ended as quickly as it began, with no races after 1871. Other sports continued, but by 1880 sporting activity at the Royal Oak Grounds seemed to have stopped. The Royal Oak Hotel continued as a pub, but closed in 1991 and there is now a Holiday Inn on the site.


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