London - Caterham Asylum

Marcuse Road : CR3 5FP
The Wanderers Bicycle Club held a club championship meeting on the cricket pitch at the Caterham Asylum on Saturday 29th June 1878. This unusual venue came about because the man in charge of the Caterham Asylum was WS Cortis, the father of HL Cortis the champion bicyclist. In addition, Dr James Adam, the principal officer of the Asylum, was a keen bicycle rider. Stef Eastoe describes arrangements for the event and shows a letter from the Wanderers secretary confirming details.

At the time of the meeting, HL Cortis* was just 21 years old. The Referee of June 30th 1878 described the event "A capital course, 440 yards in circumference had been roped and staked and was in every way fitting for the purpose....About 120 of the female inmates of the asylum were present during the sports and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the privilege accorded them". The racing included 1 and 4 miles handicap races which both ran to two heats and a final and a 200 yards slow bicycle race. Interestingly, in this single article, HL Cortis' name appears as Curtis, Cortes and Cortis. There are no further reports of bicycle racing at the Asylum after this.

The Caterham Asylum opened in 1870 on a 72 acre site and accommodated 1,560 patients. The Asylum was renamed St. Lawrence hospital in 1941 and closed in 1994. The site was developed for housing and is now the area around St. Lawrence Way

*HL Cortis was a medical student and a member of the Wanderers Bicycle Club, he had a short but brilliant career as a professional bicyclist, being one of the best riders in the country. In the four years that he rode, he won National Championships, was the fastest rider in the world over 1 mile and broke the world hour record four times, eventually achieving over 20 miles in the hour. Cortis must have been tall as he rode a very large wheeled ordinary, which was pictured when he was featured on the Players cigarette card cycling series. Cortis emigrated to Australia in 1883 to pursue his career as a doctor and he died there on 28th December 1885 aged only 28.


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