St Neots - Priory Park

Off Huntingdon Road : PE19 1RF St Neots - Priory Park : Map credit National Library of Scotland St Neots - Priory Park : Image credit Google maps
Priory Park was created in the early 1800's as a park for Priory Hill House. The house was owned by the Rowley family from 1790 and in the 1890's Mr G Fydell Rowley constructed a 440 yards cinder bicycle track. Rowley was the president of the St Neots and District Cycling Club and allowed the club to use the track for training. This modern video of the remains of the track shows that it was banked. This modern video shows the remains of the track confirming that it was banked.

The first bicycle racing at Priory Park was at the Primrose League* sports meeting on Saturday June 8th 1895 with open bicycle races over half, one and five miles and a one mile race for local riders. The Bedfordshire Times reports that the racing was on a ‘fine cement track.' T his is undoubtedly a mistake, the track was cinder.

The St Neots sports meeting on April 6th 1896 was held on a ‘specially prepared cinder track, four laps to the mile, much improved this season.' The open bicycle races were ½ mile handicap and 1 and 3 miles scratch. On Wednesday June 16th 1897 there was an athletics and cycling meeting at the Primrose League Fete with £40 in prizes. The three miles scratch race was for the AH Smith Barry Challenge Cup (value £20) open to amateurs in the county of Huntingdon.

Cycling magazine of April 2nd 1898 advertised the Easter meeting and stated that the track ‘has been considerably widened and improved to meet the NCU requirements.' The bicycle events that year were half, one and three miles handicap races.

The St Neots and District Cycling Club held a bicycle race meeting on Tuesday August 9th 1898. The bicycle races were ½ mile novices and 1 mile handicap, the main event was the Club 2 miles Championship race for a cup valued at two guineas.

The Easter Monday sports meetings continued through the early 1900's, generally including half, one and two miles handicap bicycle races. Cycling magazine of March 29th 1907 carries an advert for the Easter Monday fete with bicycle events under NCU rules, half and one mile handicap races and one mile scratch on the ‘quarter mile speed cinder track'. There was also a tug-of-war and a ‘grand football match'.

There seems to be no record of bicycle racing at Priory Park for 40 years until the St Neots & District CC organised a six hour sports meeting on August 29th 1949 which included two NCU (Northampton and Bedford Centre) cycling championships and a bicycle polo match between Middlesex and Surrey. The Bedfordshire Times describes it as the finest amateur meeting ever held at Priory Park. The 2,000 spectators watched 69 cyclists and 183 athletes compete. R Walden of Wolverton won the 5 miles championship. This was the last bicycle race meeting at Priory Park.

Priory Park still exists, extending to 80 acres, it has 5 football pitches, several mini soccer pitches, and a pavilion with changing rooms and a refreshment area.

* The Primrose League was a Conservative organisation, with over a million members, whose aim was to ‘Uphold and support God, Queen, and Country, and the Conservative cause'. The activities of the League centred around social events such as summer fetes. The primrose was the favourite flower of Benjamin Disraeli, Conservative Prime Minister in the late 1880's.

St Neots - Priory Park : Image credit St Neots and District Cycling Club
Refs     : [p]
Photos : Google maps, St Neots and District Cycling Club
Maps    : National Library of Scotland