Blackburn - Alexandra Meadows
West Park Road : BB2 6DG
Blackburn - Alexandra Meadows : Map credit National Library of Scotland Blackburn - Alexandra Meadows : Image credit Wiki Commons East Lancashire cricket club's ground was at Alexandra Meadows, adjoining the Corporation Park. The bicycle races that were held there were on a grass track, "as level as a billiard board" with a course marked out at 336 yards.

The first Blackburn athletic festival was held on July 2nd 1870 by Blackburn Athletic Club, using Alexandra Meadows. A bicycle race was held, but bicycles were still unusual at this time and the Preston Herald's reported "A good deal of merriment was caused by the bicycle one mile race, there being five competitors." The athletics festival became a popular annual event and the organisation was taken over by the cricket club, but bicycle racing was not included again until the June 26th 1875 meeting, where "an immense concourse of persons assembled", the actual attendance was recorded as 8,000. The bicycle race was over two miles and WH Smith of Bradford Ixion BC was the winner.

Blackburn Rovers started playing at the Meadows in 1878 and a 500 seater grandstand was built in 1879. Electric lighting was demonstrated at the ground on November 4th 1878 and 20,000 people turned out to see the spectacle.

The athletics festival was well supported and at the June 1879 event there were two bicycle handicap races over 2 and 4 miles, but the number of competitors was very low. Choppy Warburton** who came from the Blackburn area, competed in the 2 miles professional running handicap event. Attendance at the festival was variable, in 1879 there were 2,000 spectators, whilst the 1880 meeting attracted over 5,000. Blackburn Rovers left the ground for Leamington Road in 1881 and the athletic festival suddenly stopped.

The athletics festival resumed with a very popular meeting in 1889 which attracted over 7,000 spectators. The following year saw the Infirmary charity sports and East Lancashire Cricket Club sports events. The sports for the Blackburn Infirmary event had engaged WG Hurst the trick and fancy bicycle rider who was known as "The King of the Wheel" and there was a balloon ascent by Captain Whelan of Huddersfield with a parachute descent by Miss Rose Niagara. The five bicycle races at the meeting made up the majority of the sports.

Bicycle racing at Alexandra Meadows again seemed to falter after 1894, possibly with the increased popularity of the cinder track at Ewood Park when Blackburn Rovers moved there.From 1902, racing resumed and the Blackburn Infirmary sports were held and Blackburn Cycling Club had their annual sports at the ground. Once again, Alexandra Meadows saw little bicycle racing until the cricket club sports were revived in 1928, which was probably the last bicycle racing at the ground,

Alexandra Meadows is still the home of East Lancashire Cricket Club.

** Choppy Warburton was a successful runner in his youth, but his athletic career was blighted by race fixing. After running, Choppy turned to coaching cyclists and signed up Arthur Linton and Jimmy Michael, who were two of the most famous track riders of the time. Jimmy Michael rode in the famous ‘Chain Wars' meeting at Catford in June 1896 where Warburton was suspected of doping Michael for race fixing purposes. Warburton and Michael were duly suspended by the NCU. Shortly after this, Arthur Linton, Warburton's other star rider, died and by the end of the following year, Warburton himself was dead from a heart attack, aged 52. Warburton's nickname 'Choppy' came from his father, a sailor, who always responded with ‘choppy' when he was asked what weather he had encountered on his voyage.

Blackburn - Alexandra Meadows : Image credit Historic England
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Photos : Wiki Commons, Historic England
Maps    : National Library of Scotland