Retro: Early days when thousands flocked to see cycle racing

Cycling at Ashopton in the Peak District in the 1890s
Cycling at Ashopton in the Peak District in the 1890s
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The first Sheffield cycling club was the Sheffield Bicycling Club, formed in 1870.

They had their headquarters at the Sheffield Bicycle Grounds at Sharrow Vale.

A one-mile pro scratch race

A one-mile pro scratch race

The club organised their first race in 1871. The course was from a gate one mile out from Owler Bar on the Baslow road to finish at the Peacock.

The gold medal in the first year was won by Fred Cooper. By 1887 there were 14 cycling clubs in Sheffield,

However, Sharrow Cycling Club, formed in 1887, was the only one that would last until the present day.

In 1887 the cycling clubs of Sheffield held a meeting and an association was formed called the Sheffield Cyclists Charity Tournament to be held on the track at Bramall Lane around the cricket pitch.

A C Baynes in action

A C Baynes in action

The track proved to be a problem, especially with the faster safety bicycles, as the corners were virtually square.

The ground committee would not permit any turf removal to improve the track because it was primarily a cricket ground.

Loads and loads of ashes were put on the corners, despite the complaints of the ground committee, to make the track safe.

The first Sheffield Cyclists Charity Tournament was held at Bramall Lane on Monday August 20, 1888 and was a great success with 15,000 spectators.

The start of the 1897 one-mile professional race, watched by crowds of spectators

The start of the 1897 one-mile professional race, watched by crowds of spectators

At this stage of the sport the events were split into races for ‘ordinary bicycles’ (high-wheeled penny farthings) and races for ‘safety bicycles’.

A few in the crowd made remarks about the new safety bicycles as “little boys’ machines” and “were they afraid to fall off?”

When pneumatic tyres appeared in 1890 it was as if all Sheffield wanted to see what was going on at Bramall Lane at the 1891 tournament.

The turnstiles were unable to cope with the demand and many simply climbed the walls to watch.

The start of a handicap race, showing how competitors were set off to ride different distances

The start of a handicap race, showing how competitors were set off to ride different distances

The gate for a cycling event of 30,000 spectators was a record at the time. The Sheffield Cyclists Charity Tournament continued to raise money for medical charities until around the turn of the century.

The Sharrow club held their own first race meeting at Bramall Lane in 1889, The Sharrow Sports. The club went along different lines to the tournament by always including running race.

There were scratch races of various distances for both professionals and amateurs. In scratch races all the riders start together.

Sometimes in the professional races the riders would ride slowly, as you see today in sprint races. The crowds did not appreciate this “dawdling”, as they called it, and would boo the riders

There were also handicap races where the slower riders rode a shorter distance than the fastest who was ‘On Scratch’ and rode the full distance of the event.

The aim of the person working out the distance handicaps was to try to get all the competitors to the finish line at the same time.

Harry Lee, first winnrer of the Goldsmiths Shield, now the Sharrow Shield

Harry Lee, first winnrer of the Goldsmiths Shield, now the Sharrow Shield

The Sheffield Goldsmith’s Company gave a trophy to the Sharrow CC for a 100-mile race on the track in 1895.

The Goldsmith’s Shield (now called the Sharrow Shield) is a beautiful piece of work with a centre engraved with a scene of racing at Bramhall Lane.

There were only three entrants for the first race on September 27, 1895 – Harry Lee, Lonsdale and W Hiller. Harry Lee won in 5 hours 37 min 37 secs. Harry Lee won the following year.

Then in the next three years T W Naseby won and under the rules of the time won the shield outright. Some years later he came upon hard times and the shield was purchased and became the club’s property again and was competed for as the team prize of The Sharrow 50 Time trial for 90 years.

1902 was the last year cycle racing took place at Bramall Lane.

The Goldsmith’s Shield and other Sharrow Cycling club artefacts, such as the cycling medals won by the Sheffield comedian ‘Stainless Stephen’, will form part of a display at Weston Park Museum in the near future.

Anyone interested in starting cycling, visit Sharrow Cycling Club for details.

The beautifully-designed Sharrow Shield, orignially the Goldsmith's Shield

The beautifully-designed Sharrow Shield, orignially the Goldsmith's Shield