Athletic Days at Lowerhouse – an Overview

This is the first in an occasional series by Anne Cochrane telling the story of the Victorian phenomenon of Athletics Festivals which were crucial in keeping Lowerhouse and most other local cricket clubs afloat from the 1870s to the early 1900s.

It may take her some time….

The British Film Institute link at the end of the page is well worth checking out.

Athletic Days at Lowerhouse – an Overview

Lowerhouse held their first annual athletics meeting in 1873, it was a success and they carried on every year until 1905. Most cricket clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire did the same. In their heyday, around the last decade of the 19th Century, given good weather, there were hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators and the financial rewards kept the club afloat and subsidised the cricket. Imagine, though, the work involved, year after year, bearing in mind Lowerhouse was a club of working class men, all employed in the cotton industry.

We have two original programmes, one from 1890, and one from 1905. (click the links to see them in the History Books).

We also have enough balance sheets between 1873 and 1905, to see that although expenses kept going up, so did profits, until around 1900. Then the events gradually started costing as much to put on as they brought in, and they were discontinued.

1873-1905 was a period of great innovation and social change. For example, when the new sport of cycling was added to the Athletics Days a bicycle would look something like this:

then, after the invention of the safety bicycle in 1885, it would look like this, (a design which enabled women to take up cycling too).

Pneumatic tyres were only invented in 1888 and the 1890 Programme sternly warns that in the 1 mile race “Pneumatic tyres will be penalised by 50 yards” and 80 yards in the 2 mile race.

So the next post will consider why thousands of people would want to watch men run around a cricket field….

In the meantime, to see a rather up-scaled version of the meetings at Lowerhouse click the link to a brilliant Mitchell & Kenyon film of a 1902 Athletics Meeting at Edgebaston, watch for free from the British Film Institute, look out for the Lady Mayoress of Birmingham at the very end presenting prizes of assorted tableware.