Poole Park Track
I grew up in the 70s, we lived right beside Poole Park so much of my childhood was spent playing there. We just took it for granted, but now looking back and learning about its creation I realise how lucky I was to have free range over this Victorian creation. Many long summer evenings were spent watching the the cycling at Poole Track. My elder brother, Tom, raced for Bournemouth Arrow (Marguerite's Club) and cut his competitive teeth here. Riders would travel quite a distance to compete, and local clubs included Poole Wheelers, Bournemouth Arrow, Bournemouth Jubilee, Crabwood and The Wessex Road Club. I remember the atmosphere building as riders and their supporters met up, standing amongst a sea of bikes laid on the ground in front of the Cricket Pavilion; the 'pssssst' hiss as the track pumps were released from tyre valves; the very tall commentator Mr Moss calling for the crowd to stand back from the track. The star riders from the time I remember as a ten year old boy were Steve Moss who would always be the scratch rider in the handicap sprint, easily overhauling the field. George Dixon was the class act in the group races. I particularly remember him riding a low-pro track bike - something very new at the time. Our family building company J.H.Wilson & Sons even sponsored a meeting in about 1978.
THE CREATION OF POOLE PARK. The Railway came to Poole via Parkstone in 1872. A rail causeway cut across Parkstone Bay from Whitecliff to just north of Bator. This resulted in a landlocked brackish water lake with marsh and reed beds. In 1885 the landowner, Lord Wimborne, donated the land to the Borough for the creation of a Peoples Park and Recreation ground. A competition was held for the design of the Park and was won by Elford. A cricket pitch enclosed by a circular bicycle track formed the principle feature of Elford's scheme for the park (plan 1887). The Park was officially opened 1890 but the cricket ground and cycle track were not completed until 1892.
The Pavilion had been completed in 1890, it can be seen in the photograph of the shoreline in Parkstone Bay. And yes, the harbour came all the way to the edge of sandbanks road. Apparently the nearby Sloop public house was named after an ancient Sloop boat that was rotting away in the nearby reed beds. I presume that this area was finally drained when it was cut of from the rest of the seawater lake by a road built across the southern tip of the lake. Elford's design for the Park was a masterpiece making full use if the relatively small acreage of land that boardered the large saltwater lake.
I wondered whether the cycle track was designed specifically for racing or whether it was for recreational cycling and then adopted for racing. After a little research I learned that Victorian racing tracks were a 'thing' and were typically circular or oval. Poole's track is circular and measures three laps to a mile. Further research revealed a thriving racing scene, the earliest report I found was from 1893 within the first year of the tracks opening. Poole had two main clubs in the 1890s, the Poole Wesley Guild CC founded 1890 and Poole Cycling Club. From 1895 Poole CC adopted and new name, the Poole Wheeling Club or Poole Wheelers although many stuck with the original name Poole CC . In the race report (below) from 1893, the Bantten (or Banten) family feature strongly. The family owned a Bicycle shop. Leon was their star rider, featuring in reports throughout the decade riding for the Poole Wesley Guild CC. I was interested to learn that the Poole Wesley Guild, part of the Methodist Church is still in existence.
Bournemouth Guardian. 23 September 1893
THE POOLE PARK SPORTS
There was a large attendance at the Poole Park Sports and Fire Brigade competitions on Wednesday afternoon, and the proceedings were of very successful and enjoyable character.
ONE MILE HANDICAP BICYCLE RACE, for boys under 17. - The prizes were a medal, given by Mr C Banten; 7s6d (Poole C.C ); and 4s. The starters in this race were: A C Rogers (Wesley C.C.), scratch; C Habgood (Wesley C.C.), 10yds; M E J Pearce (Wesley C.C.), 15yds; L Banten (Wesley C.C.),15yds; A Osman (Wesley C.C.),25yds; O E Sydenhan (Poole C.C.),30yds; and M E Rogers (Wesley C.C.),60yds. Habgood got to the front early in the race, and was allowed by the others to get a good lead. Banten made his effort on the last lap, but could only make up part of the distance , and the result was: Habgood, 1 ; Banten, 2; Sydenham, 3. Time, 2 min 53 2-5th secs.
THREE MILE HANDICAP. First three in each heat to compete in the final. The following were the prizes: -£1 1s, given by the Poole C.C.; 12s 6d, and 7s6d. First heat: Ten entered for this, G H Guy being on the scratch mark, and conceding starts up to 300 yards. He caught his man on the first lap, and when the bell rang came away and won with ease in 8 min 45 2-5th secs. Lawson Banten gained second place, with Baker third. The second heat produced eight starts. F W Horn was on the scratch mark, and conceded starts as Guy to the other competitors. Daniels, Habgood, and Piper came to grief early in the race, and the issue was fought out between Leon Banten, Plumley, and Horn. Banten went away when the bell rang, and won by 40 yards, in 8 min 57 3-5th secs, Horn beating Plumley by half a wheel for second place. The final in this event was a very disappointing race. The two scratch men, Guy and Horn soon caught the others, and a waiting race took place till the last lap, when the competitors went off at a tremendous pace. The following was the result: Guy, 1; Leon Banten, 2; Horn, 3. Time, 9min. 9 1-5th secs.
Poole Park Sports were held on Wednesday afternoons, this was the day for half day closing in Poole. I remember this from my childhood, do any shops observe this tradition today? I wonder. Large crowds were draw to attractions such as model boat racing in the lake, running races, Fire Brigade Drill Competitions and Military Bands. Proceeds often went to the towns Cornelia Hospital.
Bournemouth Guardian 9th June 1906.
Under circumstances probably the most favourable that have attended any sports in Poole Park, and the presence of one of the largest crowds seen in the Park, the annual meet of the Poole Shop Assistants, organised on behalf of the Poole Cornelia Hospital, came off on Wednesday afternoon. The weather was perfect and the heat was tempered by a cool breeze, refreshing both to spectators and competitors.
The various races were well entered for, and some exciting sport resulted, particularly in the shop assistants' events. The recent resuscitation of the Poole Wheeling Club had the effect of bringing a larger number of local cyclists into the field than has been seen for several years, and this aided to the interest of the sports. C.B. kingsbury, of Portsmouth, attended to defend several several cycling championships held by him, but in only one case, the one mile, had he to exert himself, Richardson, of Bournemouth, running him so close that the race was the cycle event of the meeting.
Follow the link below to see rare footage of a similar Athletics meeting in 1902.
There seems to have been a lull in racing and disappearance of formal Cycling Clubs in Poole from the time of the Great War (1914), until a revival in the 1920s. Poole Wheelers and Athletic Club was formed from informal group known variously at the Mentone Wheelers or the 'Parkstone Suicide Club' in 1926. The format of meetings remained unchanged from the 1890s. The program started with the heats of the Handicap Sprints and finished with the 20 miles scratch race, this schedule persisted into the 1970s. Below is an account of the 1930 20 mile Championship 1930 published in first edition of Poole Wheelers & AC club Magazine.
Poole Wheelers' Cycling & Athletics Club. Club Magazine May 1930
‘Encouraged by the frantic shouts of 12,000 spectators, Billy Harvell won the 20 Miles Championship on May 7th in record time by half a length. Although all the weather had been dull, as evening drew near the Clerk of the Weather suddenly remembering our Big Event, shifted the threatening clouds and poured forth some welcome sunshine. Doe and Dominey were absentee from the starting card, but Gillard, a recently elected member, made the number twelve.
Prize Giving. Never before have I seen such a sea of faces as when Alderman A Shutler, Secretary of the first Poole Wheeling Club, addressed the crowd from the Pavillion. Before calling upon Miss Burge to present Harvell with the ‘Burge’ Cup, he said so many nice things about the race and the club in general, that the present Secretary blushed violently and immediately ordered a larger size in hats. Harvell stepped up for the silver and after smiling nicely for the photographers, and shaking hands with Miss Burge (some say he kissed her) he carefully tucked it under his arm and made way for the Sloop. After Hollywood and Barnes, amist roof lifting cheers, had taken their piece of china and silver, President Jimmy, looking very charming in a brand new suit, expressed the Club’s thanks to Mr and Miss Burge and the 12,000 for their attendance’.
Sunny Evenings in Poole Park My Memories of Poole Track
and slow once you are over the line, massive compression of the bunch takes place on a narrowing path, with only one outcome! Some have to take to the outside grass and navigate the benches and trees suffering a slight loss of focus on the race and, more importantly, about 5 mph! Did anyone ever hit a tree or bench? Not from my memory but one rider did overdo the swinging wide tactic to find the small lake conveniently waiting. Next lap he was seen caked head to foot in mud, knee deep in water rummaging around in the sludge for his bike.
Gone now but the wall of the old Zoo, again only about 1 metre outside the path made sure there was limited room for manoeuvre and, it’s still there, the slightly uphill but widening route to the final sweeping bend. Here at last the path widened but, with only 30 odd metres to the finish line, all a bit late. Just 20 metres after the finish line, comes the next challenge, yes the path more than halves in width inside about 10 meters. This is essential information when riding the early laps
of an Elimination race. Get near the front of the bunch