1900: From Padiham to Paris (via Lowerhouse)

Steve Bunce, on Radio Five Live’s Olympic Breakfast last week, did a piece on the 1900 Paris Olympics, laughing at some of the bizarre events, such as hot air ballooning and underwater swimming. Working on the theory, that you can usually find a Lowerhouse link if you look hard enough, (or cheat) the Paris Olympics are no exception.

Anne Cochrane

From Padiham to Paris (via Lowerhouse)

The 1900 Paris Olympic Games were only the second of the modern era, and were really a carnival associated with the Paris Great Exhibition.  They included many very bizarre events such as live pigeon shooting, which, thankfully, soon bit the dust as an Olympic discipline, as indeed did a lot of pigeons.

It is fair to say that some of the events weren’t very competitive.  All that Devon and Somerset Wanderers, a touring club side, had to do to win the cricket was beat a make-shift ex-pat team, which they did by an innings.

However, in amongst all the nonsense, there was a genuine amateur athletics meeting, recognised by the IOC. The Olympics were not yet “a thing” and there was very little enthusiasm amongst English amateur athletes to go to Paris, even with all expenses paid.  A lot of the athletes at the “Exhibition Games” were USA College men, who were already competing successfully in Europe (except on Sundays, for religious reasons).

And here’s a lovely if tenuous local link – the winner of the 800 metres, beating the highly- rated John Cregan from Princeton University, was Alf Tysoe, who, exactly a month previously, could have been seen competing at the Lowerhouse CC 30th Annual Athletics Meeting, who was born in Padiham and who, for several years, had been the best middle distance runner in Britain!  And this (briefly), is his story.

Born the son of a coachman/groom at the Old Vicarage in Padiham in 1874, he was admittedly only a little boy when the family moved to Dolphinholme. In 1892 he started running with Skerton Harriers, before transferring to his main club, Salford Harriers. He ran, and won, everything from sprints to cross country, but soon concentrated on the middle distance events. He won the Northern Counties mile in 1898 with a time that stood as a record for 38 years. He won too many titles to list here, but there is a good bio. at the Salford Harriers website. Just a working man, (said to be a farmhand), he would have needed to pick up prizes where he could, so even though he was a Champion, he also competed at local athletic meetings, where handicapping meant that he didn’t always win, but it must have still been worth his while.

On Saturday 9th June 1900, at the Lowerhouse meeting, giving away a 50 yard start to the winner, and 57 yards to the runner-up, he came third in the half mile, beaten by only 3 yards and 2 yards respectively.  Most of the rest of the field, once “the champion became third in the bend for home”, just gave up. Also, he is listed earlier as running in the 220 yards, he came through the heat but wasn’t placed, or didn’t run, in the final. Perhaps he used this as a warm up for the coming half mile. The Time-keeper, Handicapper and Referee at the meeting was Mr. J.H. Hardwick, of Bury, the Secretary of Salford Harriers, who was instrumental in taking the young Tysoe to the Harriers, and there were several Harriers competing, so Alf was amongst friends, although he is listed as being from Blackpool where he was now living with his parents.

He may not have won at Lowerhouse, but he certainly won the half-mile at the AAA championships on 9th July, setting a world record time, and on 16th July he won the Olympic 800 metres in Paris.  He also won a gold medal as one of the English team in a very strange 5000 metres team event.  Another member of the English party was Sid Robinson from Northampton, who won silver in the 2,500 metres steeplechase, a bronze in the 4,000 metres steeplechase, and also a gold in that 5,000 metres team event.  According to “The Scottish Referee” of 13th June, 1898, he was also Alf’s cousin. (Alf’s father was from Northamptonshire).

The “colour” of medals has been applied retrospectively by the IOC, it is believed that in 1900 winners received a trophy of some sort rather than a medal.

On 20th October, 1900, by popular demand, Alfred met Charles Bennett, champion distance and cross country runner and winner of the Paris 1500 metres, in a head to head over three quarters of a mile in front of 5,000 people at Belle Vue, Manchester.  Alfred won easily, with his trade-mark sprint finish.  This was, however, to be Alf’s last major event.  Tragically, just a year later, on Saturday 26th October 1901, Alfred Ernest Tysoe, champion athlete, died at home in Blackpool, aged 27.

According to the Athletic News of 28th October, early in 1901 he became ill with a severe bout of pleurisy. Then, in the summer, a chill became bronchial pneumonia, which turned to consumption (T.B.), with cause of death being tubercular meningitis.  Modern anti-biotics would probably have saved him.  Like many of the amateur athletes of that time, he did not profit much from his success. Salford Harriers started a fund to move him somewhere healthier, but it was too late.

In the many heartfelt newspaper obituaries he is universally described as a likeable, modest man who always tried his best in his races

“He was a fine runner and a good fellow and his early death will be generally lamented, most especially amongst his club mates, who in his last hours rallied round him and did their utmost to make the fleeting time as happy as possible.”  (Lancaster Standard Nov. 1 1901)

Men of Salford Harriers, including his old mentor Mr. Hardwick, were pall bearers at his funeral and many well known athletes were amongst the mourners. He was buried in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool where his gravestone says:

“In loving memory of Alfred Ernest Tysoe.

Amateur Champion half-mile runner of the world. ”

ac 7/8/2021

Newspaper Information sourced from the British Newspaper Archive, Suggested links :

http://www.racingpast.ca/bob-phillips.php?id=47

https://www.salfordharriers.co.uk/about

https://www.olympedia.org/athletes/69547

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1900_Summer_Olympics

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