Meet the Sheffield Flyer - a forgotten sporting hero who once raced for 600 miles

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When naming Sheffield’s most famous runner, most people would mention four-time Olympic medallist Sebastian Coe, now Lord Coe.

However, recently the Friends of Darnall Cemetery have discovered the grave of George Littlewood, known as the Sheffield Flyer, whose feats of endurance and long-standing world records make him one of Sheffield’s forgotten heroes.

George was born in 1859 in Rawmarsh. He specialised in professional six-day races which were very popular, attracted huge crowds and lots of betting.

The racers were called pedestrians in those days.

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He still holds the record for six-day walking, achieved in Sheffield between March 6 and 11, 1882, on a 13-lap to the mile track in Norfolk Drill Hall, completing 531 miles

George won numerous races but in 1883 he raced against a horse called Charlie in a 17-mile race from Doncaster to Sheffield. He lost by three-quarters of a mile.

His fame was so great he was invited to race in the USA and made the trip twice. In 1887 he annihilated the best opposition in the world in the Championship of the World Sweepstakes.

George Littlewood with his medalsGeorge Littlewood with his medals
George Littlewood with his medals

In front of a massive crowd he then broke the 600-mile barrier at Madison Square Gardens. His record of 623 miles and 1,320 yards lasted for 96 years.

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One rival tried to sabotage him by setting fire to the tin bath of spirit that George treated his aching feet in.

Undeterred, George battled on to win and break the world record and collect the prize of $6,000 (£120,000 today).

After he retired, George took over the King’s Head Tavern in Attercliffe.

George Littlewood's grave in Darnall CemeteryGeorge Littlewood's grave in Darnall Cemetery
George Littlewood's grave in Darnall Cemetery

George died on December 4, 1912 in Sheffield. His funeral was attended by 3,000 people.

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Sadly, George’s grave has been neglected and is in need of restoration.

Nick Duggan, who trains with Sheffield Running Club, never realised that the club weekly ran past George’s grave.

In collaboration with the Friends of Darnall Cemetery, Nick has set up a crowdfunder to restore George’s grave. It has already raised £580 of its £1,000 target.

One supporter, John Nicholson, has written a song called The Sheffield Flyer that he’s hoping to record.

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The final lines are “So when you think your limit’s reached and you can go no further

“Push on for just that one more lap, like George, the Sheffield Flyer”.

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor

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