Stoke on Trent - Victoria Athletic Grounds
Boothen Road : ST4 4FJ
Stoke on Trent - Victoria Athletic Grounds : Map credit National Library of Scotland Stoke on Trent - Victoria Athletic Grounds : Image credit Wenlock Olympian Society Stoke Victoria Athletic Club was established in 1868 and the club organised an annual Wakes week sports meeting which, although they had no permanent ground, quickly became an important event. A one mile bicycle race was included in the sports from 1875 and at the 1876 sports, the one mile bicycle race was won by Tom Sabin of Coventry, who also won the first bicycle race in the Much Wenlock Olympian Games that year.

Stoke Victoria Athletic Club opened a new ground on July 13th 1878 with a cinder track "of 500 yards in extent and almost circular in form." From old maps, the track was more oval than circular and Stoke City started playing football, on a pitch within the track, in 1878. The adverts for the event give the track length as 533 yards and there was a 1,000 seat grandstand at the ground.

When the new track opened in1878 a bicycle section of the Victoria Athletic Club was formed by some members of North Staffordshire BC. There was a contest at the track between Stoke Victoria and Macclesfield BC before the track opened. The official opening of the new ground extended over two days 6th and 7th August 1878, which was in Stoke Wakes Week. The bicycle events were 1, 2 and 5 miles open handicaps and a 1 mile club handicap race. The bicycle races were well supported, there were 35 entries for the one mile open and 17 in the club event. On October 12th 1878 there was a 50 miles handicap race.

Racing at the track continued in 1879 and at the June 28th meeting, the 2 and 5 miles handicap events were both won by the novice limit man J Shakeshaft of the home club. At the wakes 1879 meeting there were several crashes and one of the corners of the track was criticised. Because of poor weather for the previous two years track meets, the club finances gave cause for concern at this time.

The Victoria Athletic Club invested £2,500 in the ground between 1877 and 1889 and the Stoke Wakes Week meetings developed into one of the most prominent events in the Midlands. The club benefited financially from local industries, particularly from the Minton pottery family. The meetings attracted large crowds, with 20,000 spectators attending the first day of the 1889 meeting. Prize money was high, up to 10 guineas first prize, which attracted large fields for events.

Stoke Unity Bicycle Club held their sports at the Victoria ground from 1883, their meeting in 1884 included the 25 miles Championship of N Staffordshire and the 1885 meeting attracted 3,000 spectators. Burslem Cycling Club held their annual sports at the ground when Port Vale, their usual venue, was not available.

Lottie Stanley** the champion American woman track rider rode at the Victoria Grounds on June 28th 1890. The concluding event of the meeting was a two miles scratch race between Stanley and Joe West, the one-legged bicycle champion of Birmingham. Stanley took the lead and after the first mile she was in front by two lengths, but West pile on the pressure and eventually he won fairly easily.

The cinder cycle track was re-laid in 1891. At the 1896 Wakes Week meeting, the World 25 miles record holder Jeb Gascoyne from Chesterfield appeared and won the sprint event.

The Wakes Week meetings continued through the 1900's for the next twenty years and the meetings drew massive crowds and top riders. At the 1911 meeting "The attendance numbered between 10,000 and 12,000 - slightly below the average." Top riders such as Olympic silver medallist Jack Sibbit and Olympic gold medal winner Ben Jones competed there.

The Wakes Week sports continued into the late 1920's but the last bicycle racing there was in 1926, when Albert White and Syd Cozens rode.

Stoke City FC bought the Victoria ground in 1919 and stayed there until 1997 when they moved to the Britannia stadium. Stoke City's long occupancy of the Victoria Ground is a record in English football history. The ground was demolished in 1997 and stood empty for twenty years until it was developed for housing.

** In September 1889 five of the star American women cyclists toured Britain for four months, the women were Louise Armaindo, Lottie Stanley, Jessie Woods, May Allen and Lillie Williams. Women racing on high bicycles was a novelty in England but fairly commonplace in America. The women returned to America in January 1890, except Lottie Stanley, who toured Britain by herself for six months from May 1890 and appeared in exhibition and handicap races against men.

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Photos : Wenlock Olympian Society
Maps    : National Library of Scotland