The Great Jarrow Bicycle Race 1888

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During the latter half of the 19th century, the rapid pace of industrial growth brought prosperity to former mining hamlets such as Jarrow. Small businessmen and skilled workers found themselves in possession of modest wealth, and also spare time, and one of the beneficiaries of this phenomenon was sport. A vast new range of sporting activities sprang up in a remarkably short time. The sport which would come to dominate the scene by the end of the century was association football, but initially it was individualistic sports which captured the attention, such as boxing, pedestrianism (running), and cycling. In addition to national events, local champions would issue challenges to each other, and these provided not only an interesting spectacle, but also the opportunity for a wager or two.

The Jarrow Amateur Bicycling Club was a relative latecomer to the scene, being founded in 1884. The club's first annual race meeting took place on 21st June 1884 at the Cricket Field 1, Park Road, Jarrow. This comprised what is now the football pitch in the West Park, together with the land on which the houses in North View and South View now stand. More than 3,000 spectators were present at this inaugural event, which featured a 1 mile handicap for club members only, won by T. Jefferson of Jarrow, a 2 miles invitation scratch race, won by E. J. Wilkinson of Newcastle CC, a 2 miles professional handicap, won by J. Wilkinson of Hebburn, and a 1 mile open handicap, won by J. Green of Burradon. All the races were run at an average speed in excess of 20 miles per hour, which was quite an achievement considering that the participants were riding true "boneshakers". The pneumatic tyre had been invented earlier in the year by Charles Dunlop, but was not yet in general use. A typical advertisement for a cycling event at Jarrow is reproduced below.

cycling advert

On 21st April 1888, the town hosted an altogether more prestigious cycling spectacle. W.A. Rowe, an American professional cyclist fresh from his victory over George Hendee, five times American Champion, was to take on W. Wood from North Shields over 20 miles. The event was covered in detail in the Newcastle "Daily Chronicle", and this account is reproduced below.



1. In the summer of 1890 Jarrow Amateur Bicycling Club fell into disagreement with Jarrow Cricket Club, from whom they leased the track, and set about looking for an alternative site. After considering a number of possibilities they leased a 6½ acre site at Monkton. This was transformed into a new cycling and running track which was formally opened on 15th August 1891. In 1894 some members of the club realised that the facilities were suitable for football, and formed Jarrow AFC. The venue, Monkton Stadium, is still in use today

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