Manchester - Radcliffe the Old Racecourse

Bolton Road : M26 3RF Manchester - Radcliffe the Old Racecourse : Map credit National Library of Scotland Manchester - Radcliffe the Old Racecourse : Image credit batodfoundation.org.uk
The first mention of bicycles in Radcliffe was ‘an amusing bicycle race' which was reported to have taken place at the Radcliffe Show, which was held on the Racecourse ground on August 30th 1869.

Athletics events were held at the racecourse from 1876 and the first ‘proper' bicycle racing there was the Radcliffe and Pilkington Athletic Association meeting on August 24th & 26th 1878. The meeting was not completed because of bad weather and the sports were concluded on September 28th when a 1½ miles bicycle handicap race was held, but this meeting was abandoned because ‘spectators over-ran the course'.

For the 1879 season, a company called Radcliffe and Pilkington Athletic Association Limited was set up to cash in on the race meetings at the Racecourse, and the ground was enclosed and a cinder track was laid. For the next two years, the company organised frequent running, bicycle and pedestrian events at the ground.

The company ran three athletics festivals in 1879 and the Sporting Chronicle of August 6th 1879, carried an advertisement for the second athletics festival and brass band competition on August 16th & 18th 1879, which were held "on the Company's new grounds, the Racecourse, Radcliffe." There were five running races and one bicycle event, the Tradesman's Plate, a handicap race over two miles.

Race meetings continued throughout 1880 and the Radcliffe Bicycle Club, which had just been formed, played an active racing role and their club championship races took place at the ground. The long distance champion runner ‘Choppy' Warburton* turned professional in 1880 and his first race in the paid ranks was a 20 miles match running race at Radcliffe on April 17th 1880 against J Bailey of Sittingbourne for £50. Warburton, who was 5 to 2 favourite, won after Bailey retired exhausted at 14 miles.

The Radcliffe BC held their first annual festival on October 2nd 1880. The meeting was successful with a good number of entries. There were two open handicap races over 1 and 5 miles and two Club handicap races over 1 and 10 miles. The latter race was for a gold medal and the Club Championship.

The Racecourse did not prove profitable for the Radcliffe and Pilkington Athletic Association Limited and they went into liquidation in 1881 and the ground was sold to a farmer.

After the demise of the Radcliffe and Pilkington Athletic Association, bicycle racing temporarily took place at two other locations. The Radcliffe BC held their Second Annual Festival on August 12th 1882 and the Athletic News reported that the event took place "in a field at Radcliffe in the presence of 2000 spectators...the course was nearly six laps to the mile." Heywood and Radcliffe Harriers held their first athletic sports meeting on May 5th 1883 in a rough field on Stand Lane, Radcliffe. There was one bicycle event, a two miles race, which the Athletic News described as "little better than a mere farce....so steep was a certain portion the field that competitors were obliged to dismount and push their machines up the hill."

The Racecourse ground was let to Radcliffe Cricket Club who organised bicycle racing and athletics at the ground. Their Annual Festival was held on August 29th 1885 on cinder track 3½ laps to the mile with bicycle handicap races over one and two miles. The Cricket Club continued to organise sports with bicycle races for the next ten years with crowds as large as 3,000. The Club folded in 1896 due to financial problems.

A new cycling club, the Radcliffe CC started organising their own annual sports meetings around 1900, which proved popular. Two ‘card sharps' were sent to prison for two months hard labour after being caught playing the three card trick and ‘pricking the garter' at the 1902 sports meeting. The last bicycle racing at the ground was probably the 7th Annual Radcliffe CC meeting on July 7th 1906 at which there were six running races and two bicycle handicap races over half and one mile.

The Radcliffe Cricket Club re-formed in 1908 and they have played at the Old Racecourse ever since.

* Choppy' Warburton was a very successful amateur runner, he turned professional in 1879 and after his own athletic career was over in 1888, he started coaching runners and cyclists. His most notable charges were the world class bicycle riders Jimmy Michael and the Linton brothers Tom and Arthur. Warburton was an extrovert and showman, which was reflected in his striking appearance and behaviour. It is likely that Warburton used drugs with his riders, although this was never proved.

Manchester - Radcliffe the Old Racecourse : Image credit Radcliffe Cricket Club
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Photos : batodfoundation.org.uk, Radcliffe Cricket Club
Maps    : National Library of Scotland