1878: The Two Annual Athletics Galas

On the back of our post about 1878 earlier in the week (read more here), Anne wrote about the need to have two athletics galas in one year. Below is a great follow on write up from Anne on what happened that year.

Even though Dugdale’s kept working on reduced wages during the strike, the annual Athletics Festival was postponed until the strike finished.  A couple of days after the strike ended, the Club put the refreshments out to tender for the 6th Annual Lowerhouse CC Athletics Gala on 27th July and Charles Ridehalgh, the landlord of the Bird in Hand (Lane Ends) was granted an occasional licence for the Sports,  Mr. Dugdale, the owner of the  ground and one of the  magistrates, agreeing to a licence for the Sports, but not for cricket matches.

Like many cricket clubs, Athletic Meetings at Lowerhouse were proving immensely popular, a bit  like holding the Worsley Cup Final every year. The local press reported them in great detail, including all the names of competitors who often came from far afield, in pursuit of good prizes.  At Lowerhouse they had had five good years, with the event growing year on year, and making very good money. On a good day crowds were enormous.  However, on this day, the weather was poor  and the ground heavy but “several thousand” people still paid to watch men (no women) compete for cash prizes, mostly by running various distances. This sounds a bit boring, but it was well organised, the band of the Lancashire Rifle Volunteers (Padiham) played, and the crowd had a good time. There were often objections to winners, and allegations of cheating, one chap had been cheered home in a heat of the 100 metres as he was smaller than all the other runners, only to be disqualified for being a professional.  However, the balance sheet shows a loss on the day of about £14, a real blow as the previous year they had made £70, the equivalent of several thousand pounds today.

Therefore, desperately needing to recoup their losses and make some money, the Committee decided to have another go, and a second event was arranged for 31st August.   Another wet morning caused despondency, but it fined up and by 3 o’clock, the LRV band played again and a decent crowd turned up, some 2000 by 4 o’clock. Showers during the afternoon sent people seeking shelter in  the pavilion or better still, the refreshment tent, where Mr. Ridehalgh of the Bird in Hand had again obtained a special licence.  The programme for the second event was more varied, including a 200 yards sack race, pole leaping and “the ball gathering event .. at the southerly end of the course, on a plot recently mown for the contest”.   The pole leaping having reached 9 feet three, it had to be called off due to rain . The winner was G Barker of Bacup, who then went off to compete in another pole leaping event later that afternoon at Clayton le Moors, being something of a local specialist in the event.

The sack race caused much mirth, with two “specialists in the event” fighting it out, leaving the rest of the field sprawled out at various stages in their wake.

Light relief was also provided by the ball gathering event, although, confusingly, potatoes were used, with 30 being laid out in lanes a yard apart, over a distance of 930 yards, competitors had to collect them in a basket, as quickly as they could.  This took typically around 3 minutes 40 seconds.  In the final, W. Shaw of Rowrth, near Marple, won despite missing his basket with a couple of potatoes and  having to run further to pick them up. J. Bridge of Burnley came a good second.  They won £2 and 10 shillings respectively.

A highly anticipated tug of war  had to be cancelled due to lack of entrants, so  the final event was a lively 2 mile handicap walking race which attracted 15 entrants, one or two of whom are described as  having made little preparation with regard to dress.  The winner was R. Holden of Habergham, known to his cheering friends as  “Choppy” who had been given a start of 290 yards.  At the end there were allegations of some walkers having broken into a run, one chap claimed he was the real winner having finished whilst the rest still had a lap still to go, but the judges’ decision was upheld by the referee.

At the end of the Sports, the band played for dancing. 

However, this second attempt also resulted in a slight loss, which was a huge financial set-back.

The Athletic Festivals were held from 1873 to 1905, and this is the only year when they held two. A lesson learned.

Anne Cochrane

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