Edinburgh - Royal Patent Gymnasium

Royal Crescent : EH3 6QA Edinburgh - Royal Patent Gymnasium : Map credit National Library of Scotland Edinburgh - Royal Patent Gymnasium : Image credit Canmore National Record
The Royal Patent Gymnasium opened in April 1865 at the Royal Crescent Park and advertised itself as a ‘safe and healthful place of amusement.' It was built, at considerable expense, by Mr John Cox.

The gymnasium must have been remarkable in its time and was described in the Old and New Edinburgh periodical. "Amongst the many remarkable contrivances here was a vast ‘rotary boat', 471 feet in circumference, seated for 600 rowers; a giant ‘see-saw", named ‘Chang' 100 feet long and seven feet broad, supported on an axle, and capable of containing 200 persons, alternately elevating them to a height of fifty feet, and then sinking almost to the ground; a ‘velocipede paddle merry-go-round', 160 feet in circumference, seated for 600 persons, who propel the machine by sitting astride the rim, and push their feet against the ground; a ‘self-adjusting trapeze'..... Here also is an athletic hall, with an instructor always in attendance, and velocipedes with the largest training velocipede course in Scotland."

The gymnasium was tremendously popular when it opened, entrance cost six pence and crowds of 15,000 were recorded for some events.

The gymnasium started holding foot races as soon as it opened. By 1869, the gymnasium was advertising that French and American velocipedes would be available for sale or hire at 1 shilling and six pence per hour. In April 1869, a new 150 foot long velocipede hall was opened for indoor practice.

The Edinburgh Daily Review of June 11th 1869 carried an advertisement for weekly one mile velocipede races at the gymnasium. There appears to have been an outdoor track at this time. It is unclear if all of these races took place, as there were few reports of race results. In an effort, presumably, to create interest, a 5 miles match race was arranged on August 14th 1869 between Mr A Bathgate, a bicycle instructor at the gymnasium, and Mr RJ Klamroth*, who had ridden his velocipede from London to Edinburgh.

Promoting bicycle races at the gymnasium must have been difficult with the popular Powderhall track being so close. The Scotsman of August 18th 1869 carried a letter complaining that contestants in the bicycle races were not allowed to use their own machines, but had to ride a machine provided for them by the gymnasium, that they had never ridden before.

The Edinburgh Athletic Club held their sports meeting at the gymnasium grounds on June 11th 1870 and there was a one mile velocipede handicap race included in the program.

On August 14th 1870, Mr Bathgate raced against W Lapsley, an Edinburgh amateur over five miles. Lapsley had 600 yards start, but Bathgate overhauled him to win by half a wheel in 25 minutes.

The gymnasium held weekly running races where betting was allowed, these races were well attended. Pedestrian races were popular at the gymnasium and several Grand Pedestrian Galas were held in the 1870's. An American, EP Weston, first attempted to walk 500 miles in six days at the gymnasium in June 1876,

John Cox died in 1874 and the lease was taken by JMD Brown who was also the manager. After the tremendous success of the opening years of the gymnasium, it began to fall out of fashion in the late 1870's.

The Gymnasium closed in 1879, due to the lack of use, and the ground was taken over by St Bernard's football club. The football club stayed until 1883 and then moved to Powderhall. They returned to the now derelict site in 1900 and built a new ground there, which was known as the Royal Gymnasium Ground.

The War Department took over the Gymnasium in 1916 and when they left, the pitch had been ruined and parts of the grounds damaged. As a consequence, the ground was unusable until 1924, when St Bernard's FC moved back again and stayed there until 1943. The Royal Gymnasium was also used for greyhound racing as an independent flapping track from 1930 to 1933.

After the Second World War, part of the gymnasium site became the George V Park and warehouses were built on some of the site. The Royal Bank of Scotland subsequently occupied the site and a large re-development of the area has recently been proposed.

* The WashCycle blog describes Klamroth's ride. The 400 mile trip took him six days, with 65 hours in the saddle which made for an average speed of 7.5 mph. To power himself though the journey he ate half a dozen eggs and a pound of steak every morning for breakfast along with a pint of sherry. He continued to sip sherry along the journey.

Edinburgh - Royal Patent Gymnasium : Image credit edinphoto.org.uk
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Photos : Canmore National Record, edinphoto.org.uk
Maps    : National Library of Scotland