Coventry - Midland Counties Bicycle Ground - Stivichall

Kenilworth Road : CV5 6QD Coventry - Midland Counties Bicycle Ground - Stivichall : Map credit National Library of Scotland
The Midlands Counties Clubs first formed an association in 1876* and the following year (1877), the Midland Counties Bicycle and Athletic Club was formed and had a ground at Stivichall Lodge (The Firs) on Warwick Road/Kenilworth Road. There were extensive grounds around The Firs and a cinder bicycle track was constructed, 320 yards around and 15 feet wide.

The first meeting at the new ground was on Whit Monday June 10th 1878. The Kenilworth Advertiser carried a notice of the meeting which stated that the new cinder path was 5½ laps to the mile. There were two running races and two bicycle races, both handicaps, over one and five miles. It was noted that the path was in a heavy state, but by the next meeting it had been considerably improved.

The second meeting of the Midland Counties Bicycle Association was held at Stivichall on July 20th 1878. The bicycle races were as follows. A one mile handicap race open to members of the Godiva and Meteor clubs only. A half mile handicap for boys under 15 years old. One and three miles open handicap races, the three miles race was won by W Bird. The machines in the one mile tricycle handicap race were; the ‘Coventry tricycle' by Haynes and Jeffries', the ‘Challenge' by Singer, the ‘Salvo' by Starley and the ‘Express' by Jackson. W Starley on a Salvo, won the event and W Kettle was second on a Challenge.

The autumn meeting was held on September 21st 1878 with a ‘very large attendance'. The bicycle races were; one mile clubs handicap (33 starters), three miles open handicap (22 starters) and a one mile handicap race for youths under 16 years old. The three miles race was won by CA Palmer of Aston in 10 min 9 sec and the Birmingham Daily Post reported that ‘The bicycle races were run on a cinder track.'

The first professional racing at Stivichall was held on October 5th 1878, the event was a 25 miles handicap race, 130 laps of the track. The race was promoted by manufacturers Hillman and Herbert who managed to attract the some top professional riders of the day including John Keen, David Stanton, Walter Phillips, S Rawson and O Jamieson. There was a crowd of 1,000 to see Phillips win the race in 1 hr 26 min 9 sec.

At a meeting on November 9th 1878, there were three events and in the one mile open race ‘for a silver cup, value 10 guineas', second place was taken by JK Starley of Coventry BC.

The popularity of the track remained strong throughout 1879 with Easter Monday and Whitsun meetings attracting crowds of 3,500. At the July 26th 1879 meeting, a young man named William Bird died from injuries that he received when riding in the heats of a one mile race at the Midland counties ground. There was a collision and Bird was thrown violently to the ground, he was unconscious and died from his injuries three days later. He was 29 years old and had a wife and two children.

The fatal accident did not stop the use of Stivichall and the professional 25 miles race was run again on October 4th 1879 with George Waller, John Keen and Walter Phillips competing. Keen retired and Waller won the race in 1 hr 24 min 1 sec, Keen was riding his 56" Eclipse and both Waller and Phillips were riding Hillman and Herbert 53" Premier machines.

The Ancient Order of Druids held a meeting on April 24th 1880. It was their intention to have both amateur and professional bicycle races, but they could not get approval for this, so included only one and two miles amateur bicycle races. There was a large crowd ‘of between one and two thousand' at the event.

Bicycle race meetings at Stivichall continued to be very popular with events on June 2nd and June 12th. The Coventry Philanthropic Society held a large meeting on August 2nd 1880. The day started with a procession of cyclists riding through Coventry to Stivichall, where a large fete took was held in the fields around the track. The entertainment included bands, singers, acrobats, side shows and balloon ascents. There were five bicycle races over one to three miles. The one mile handicap race needed seven qualifying heats and each race had a new bicycle as first prize.

This was to be the last bicycle racing at Stivichall because a new cinder track had opened at The Butts in Coventry had opened in 1879 and from the start of the 1881 season, the Midland Counties Bicycle and Athletic sports were held there.

Firs House that housed the bicycle track was originally known as Stivichall House and dated from around 1720. The track had disappeared on the 1890's maps. The Firs was enlarged and around 1900 became a prep school, the lawned areas around the house were used as playing fields. The school closed in 2021. The Firs still exists but the grounds around it have gradually been built on with housing.

* The Midlands Counties Clubs held their first rally June 5th 1876 at Leamington Spa, the event was organised by Mr A Webb, the Banbury Cycling Club Captain and around 200 bicyclists from 15 clubs rode through the town to Warwick and back. "Amongst the machines most generally admired were those produced by the Coventry Machinists' Company and Messrs Haynes and Jeffries' Ariel and Tangent."


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