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The Beginnings - in Victorian England

The sheer size of the gap between the online race statistics and the reports in the contemporary 19th century press - means that this page needs to be completely rewritten. For example, the year 1880 had four British six-days recorded when this web site was started. Now we have 19 confirmed events for that year alone - amazing given the limited range of newspaper archives available online.

1878

SIX-DAY cycle racing is generally thought to be of American origin but the first recognised "six" was held in England at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London in November, 1878. This pioneer race was won by a Yorkshireman, William (Bill or Willie) Cann from Sheffield, riding a high wheeler bicycle (penny-farthing) and covering 1,060 miles. In those early days Sixes were individual affairs, not a team race as now. But riding was limited to 16 hours per day - or less in later races.

1878 Report - London

Earlier Claims

WallerGWAberdeen

George William Waller’s belt from the Aberdeen Six? Now at the Tyne and Wear Museum with his 1879 World Championship belt - detail below.

WorldBelt2

Waller later opened his own Bicycle and Recreations Grounds in Byker (of course), Newcastle, where he promoted races for amateur and professional cyclists. He also employed 200 or so men building houses in Heaton, Tyneside; many of which are still around. He died in 1900 [age 45] in Newcastle when his horse bolted and he was thrown from his trap.

However there is some dispute about the November race being the first, since “Velo Gotha”, the Belgian cycling bible, states that there were two Sixes in London in 1878 with the other won by a Mr. Smythe. Going through the press reports there was, indeed, another six day race at the Agricultural Hall, Islington in 1878. And it included a W H Smythe - but was a pedestrian race. That is a foot race - not a slow cycle race. This may be the source of the confusion.

A French source claims that Charles Terront won a Six in Birmingham in 1875 - so pre-dating the London races. But so far this has not been found recorded elsewhere. Terront would have been just 18 in 1875 and, it seems, did not come to race in England until 1878.

However in 1875 there was a six day solo ride by David Stanton - a cycling star of the time. And this feat was soon repeated, in England, by Frenchman Camille Thuillet. It was then followed by a challenge by Stanton to ride against Thuillet for six days. Stanton and Thuillet were regular opponents, racing in England over a range of distances throughout the year.  But finding a report of this two-man six day race actually happening eludes me. The next nearest thing to a true Six was when Thuillet rode at the same time as Frank White over six days in September 1876 - but Thuillet was at the Molineux grounds and White was at the Walsall Arboretum. However this was soon followed, in October, by a two-man six day race where Thuillet covered the greatest distance but White won the wager - since he had been given a 40 mile start.

1879

In the following year there were three more recognised Sixes - two in London (April and September) and one in Hull, Yorkshire. All three were won by George Waller from Tyneside. One or more was billed as the “Long Distance Championship of the World” with a prize of belt and 100 guineas (£105). George Waller became a major player in the early six day races - and indeed cycling generally - first as a rider then as a promoter >>

1879 Report - London Race 1

1879 Report - London Race 2

1879 Report - Hull

Update 27-Aug-2011 - reports of a Birmingham Six Day held in 1879, won by Henry Higham, have just been uncovered. More ...

TerrontCharles240

Charles Terront in 1891 - winner of the 1st Paris-Brest-Paris

1880

Frenchman Charles Terront won all three of the officially recorded Sixes that year - at London (Race Report), Hull (Race Report) and Edinburgh (Race Report). There is also a Newcastle Six reported on “Memoir du cyclisme” as won by Bill Cann. The existence of this race is confirmed by a press cutting from the Daily News (Saturday 26-Jun-1880) stating that George Waller fell while riding in the Six Days’ Bicycle Contest at Newcastle-on-Tyne and was found to have a broken collar bone.

However research by SixDay.org.uk shows that there were more British Six-Day races that year.

The Hull Six report mentions that Terront had previously won at Edinburgh with a distance of 920 miles and also that Lees had won at Leeds with a distance of 1,020 miles. This was the first reference to a Leeds Six Day. A search of the Leeds press found more - Leeds Six Day Race 1880

Further clues lead to the discovery of press reports for a Wolverhampton Six Day in 1880. The next found was a second Six Day in Edinburgh followed by another in Dundee. Then the Bristol Mercury reported a Six Day in Bristol as well as a reference to an earlier one in Dublin. And checking the Dublin press then found - the Dublin Six Day Race 1880.

So that made a total of 10 Sixes in Britain during 1880 - but the numbers kept increasing ... so that now there are 19!

1881

Then there is a gap in the official race records for the UK until the Newcastle Six Day of 1883. However reports in the Northern Echo describe a Six Days’ Professional race at Middlesbrough in September 1881. Also the description of this race clearly shows that idea that all these early races were “24 hours in the saddle” affairs is wrong. The race programme has the “Six” running from 2:30pm until 10:30pm each day - and, somehow, to also have a separate six-hour amateur race. More digging in press reports has found more - a Newcastle Six Day and another Six in Bishop Auckland. That was three “new” Sixes in 1881 - but more press reports keep turning up new events at new venues.

So this is the current summary of British Six Day Cycle Races, confirmed or suspected, up to the end of 1881; in date order. Almost all are backed up by full press reports but a few are simply a list of results or a lone paragraph. It is still possible that there are more waiting to be re-discovered even though the calendar is starting to fill-up!

LabelDate-140

LabelVenue-140

LabelWinner-140

LabelMore-100

18 to 23 November 1878

Agricultural Hall, Islington, London

William (Bill) CANN

reports

28 April to 3 May 1879

Agricultural Hall, Islington, London

George William WALLER

reports

1 to 6 September 1879

Agricultural Hall, Islington, London

George William WALLER

reports

27 October to 1 November 1879

Bingley Hall, Birmingham

Henry HIGHAM

reports

22 to 27 December 1879

Rifle Barracks, Kingston upon Hull

George William WALLER

reports

14 to 20 March 1880

Agricultural Hall, Islington, London

Charles TERRONT

reports

26 April to 1 May 1880

Molineux Grounds, Wolverhampton

Henry HIGHAM

reports

3 to 8 May 1880

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

Charles TERRONT

reports

17 to 22 May 1880

Cardigan Fields, Leeds

F J LEES

reports

31 May to 5 June 1880

Rifle Barracks, Kingston upon Hull

Charles TERRONT

reports

14 to 19 June 1880

Burnbank Drill Hall, Glasgow

Henry HIGHAM

reports

21 to 26 June 1880

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

W PHILLIPS

reports

21 to 26 June 1880

Town Moor, Newcastle-on-Tyne

G E EDLIN

reports

12 to 17 July 1880

Sands, Carlisle

J W LAMB

reports

9 to 14 August 1880

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

W PERRY

reports

9 to 14 August 1880

Earlsfort Rink, Dublin

T ANDREWS

reports

23 to 28 August 1880

Skating Rink, York

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

30 August to 4 September 1880

Sunderland

R ROBERTS

reports

27 September to 2 October 1880

Gilkes Street, Middlesbrough

F J LEES

reports

11 to 16 October 1880

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

R ROBERTS

reports

8 to 13 November 1880

Feethams, Darlington

J BATTENSBY

reports

15 to 20 November 1880

Drill Hall, Bristol

Robert JAMES

reports

15 to 20 November 1880

Drill Hall, Dundee

W PERRY

reports

27 December 1880 to 1 January 1881

Cricket grounds, Newcastle-on-Tyne

George William WALLER

reports

9 to 14 May 1881

Queen Street South, Huddersfield

J W LAMB

reports

6 to 11 June 1881

Granby Row, Manchester

J W LAMB

reports

27 June to 2 July 1881

Town Moor, Newcastle-on-Tyne

F J LEES

reports

4 to 9 July 1881

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

Henry HIGHAM

reports

8 to 13 August 1881

Cricket Field, Bishop Auckland

W PARKES

reports

29 August to 3 September 1881

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

George William WALLER

reports

19 to 24 September 1881

Cattle Market Ground, Middlesbrough

J W LAMB

reports

10 to 15 October 1881

Next to Baths, Stockton on Tees

abandoned through gales

reports

7 to 12 November 1881

Cricket Field, Sunderland

??

reports

As can be seen from this growing list a “Six Day Circus” had been established - driven mainly by George Waller and concentrated in the North East of England. It was equipped to set-up a board track within a marquee where a town did not have a large enough hall. And there was also “The Bicycle Racing Company” promoting similar races - but with a different team of riders in Scotland and Ireland.

1882

No entries in the record books - but there was a Six reported in the Aberdeen press; won by G W Waller from H O Duncan of Paris. This result is repeated in the review of the career of Herbert Osbaldeston Duncan - which also states “In Edinburgh he took part in a six day race from October 14 to 22 [1882], the race lasted 26 hours, at 4 hours per day on average. He was warmly congratulated by his friends, because without the serious accident which befell him (his machine slipped on the asphalt) Duncan would have come first, because at that time had a lead of two laps. So it was Waller who won first prize after a journey of 386 miles and 5 laps (622 km). Duncan was second with a delay of 800 meters.” translated from the French website. [not traced]

1883

The 1883 Newcastle Six Day is officially listed as being won by a Mr. Battemsby. However Battemsby is not a known surname and based on the latest press cutting searches it seems the surname should really be spelt with an “n” - and, most likely, the entries refer to Tom Battensby of Cramlington, Northumberland. But other possibilities have been discovered - as some race reports list a “J Battensby” and others a “Battersby” . Some could be typos, but there one or two reports of Sixes where both J and T Battensby were competing.

And also George Waller is listed as reappearing that year to win six in Aberdeen. However the initial press cuttings give Lees winning from Waller when the race ended on Saturday 8-Sep-1883. This race was unusual in that it seemed to be a “Seven Day” race; starting and ending on a Saturday (with no Sunday racing). But as more press reports have been discovered there is now clear documentation that Aberdeen had more Sixes from 1880 onwards - with two or three in a single summer season. [In 1886 Aberdeen had three sixes plus another in December]

In 1883 there was another Six at Middlesbrough and also one at North Shields, just a week after the Aberdeen race, that ended on Saturday 15-Sep-1883; won by Parkes.

1884-99

Here the official records diverge from the press cuttings. There are three Six Days that are listed on recognised web sites but where no corresponding press reports have been found. However there are press cuttings that describe Six Day races that are not mentioned elsewhere online.

CodyFournierGabyDuring this period sportsmen and entertainers came to Europe from the USA; one of the most famous shows being William Cody’s “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”. It came to England in 1887 in time for Queen Victoria’s jubilee. A spin-off was a number of “Cowboys v. Bicyclists” Six Day races.

Three have been spotted in the British press but there may have been more. They were popular - It is claimed that the first Islington race attracted 15,000 spectators. The horses versus cyclists six day races found are listed below.

Buffalo Bill organised various other horse-versus-cyclist races around Europe during the early 1890s - most were over three days; including one in Liverpool in 1892. These 3 and 6 day races are not listed in the conventional Sixes. The Buffalo Velodrome was a legacy on the Wild West show ground in Paris.

However another US showman, S F Cody, also came to Europe and copied not only the name but also the shows of Buffalo Bill (W F) Cody - including the horse versus cyclist races shown on this poster. No records of these race happening in Britain have been found, but “S F” did stay and become a British citizen before his death in an aeroplane accident in 1913.

Date

Venue

Cowboys on “mustang ponies”

Bicyclists

November 1887

Agricultural Hall, Islington

Marve Beardsley
Broncho Charley [Bronco Charlie]

Richard HOWELL (Manchester)
William M WOODSIDE (Philadelphia)

Christmas 1887

Bingley Hall, Birmingham

Marve Beardsley
Broncho Charley

Richard HOWELL
Charles TERRONT
William M WOODSIDE

March 1888

Agricultural Hall, Islington

Marve Beardsley
Broncho Charley

J[ules?] DUBOIS (France)
William M WOODSIDE
J YOUNG (Scotland?)

A recently updated (2004), short children’s book “Bronco Charlie and the Pony Express” gives the simplified life story of Charlie - who lived to be over 100. In contrast Woodside died of yellow fever on 18-May-1890 (aged about 30) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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The final two “official” British Six Days were listed as being at Wolverhampton in 1890 were H. Higham won and at Edinburgh in 1891 when John Dunlop Lumsden was the victor; neither have been traced. Another source says Lumsden also won Sixes at Edinburgh in 1887 and Glasgow in 1893 - and this has now been confirmed. And the same John Lumsden did certainly come 3rd in the 1894 Bordeaux-Paris. And other reports state - Mr. English won in Newcastle in 1890 (traced); C Terront won in London in 1891 (not found); W Parkes won in Edinburgh in 1892 (traced).

And this is the current summary of races traced, and still outstanding, for 1882 onwards -

LabelDate-140

LabelVenue-140

LabelWinner-140

LabelMore-100

3 to 10 June 1882

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

J CLEMINSON

reports

14 to 19 August 1882

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

George William WALLER

reports

14 to 22 October 1882

Edinburgh

George William WALLER

no reports

26 to 31 March 1883

Drill Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne

J W LAMB

reports

14? to 19? May 1883

Sunderland

W PARKES

reports

7 to 14 July 1883

Recreation Grounds, Aberdeen

W PERRY

reports

4 to 11 August 1883

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

H O DUNCAN

reports

3 to 8 September 1883

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

F J LEES

reports

10 to 15 September 1883

North Shields

W PARKES

reports

8 to 13 October 1883

Albert Road, Middlesbrough

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

27 December 1883 to 1 January  1884

St George’s Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

5 to 12 July 1884

Recreation Grounds, Aberdeen

W TYRE

reports

15 to 20 December 1884

Westminster Aquarium, London

James BIRT

reports

13 to 20 June 1885

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

J W LAMB

reports

20 to 27 July 1885

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

30 Aug to 5 Sept 1885

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

28 Dec 1885 to 4 Jan 1886

Recreation Grounds, Aberdeen

Sam CLARK

reports

22 to 29 May 1886

Bon Accord Recreation Hall, Aberdeen

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

19 to 26 June 1886

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

W TYRE

reports

14 to 21 August 1886

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

F J LEES

reports

11 to 18 December 1886

Recreation Grounds, Inches, Aberdeen

J YOUNG

reports

24 to 29 October 1887

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

John Dunlop LUMSDEN

reports

5 to 10 December 1887

Drill Hall, Newcastle-on-Tyne

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

28 February to 3 March 1888

Newcastle-on-Tyne

Tom BATTENSBY

reports

10 to 17 March 1888

Bon Accord Recreation Hall, Aberdeen

abandoned 14 March

reports

11 to 16 November 1889

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

John Dunlop LUMSDEN

reports

? December 1889 to ? January 1890

Newcastle-on-Tyne

Tom ENGLISH

reports

16 to 23 August 1890

Victoria Recreation Grounds, Aberdeen

Tom ENGLISH

reports

?? 1890

Wolverhampton
Since Higham won at Wolverhampton
in 1880 and moved to the USA
about 1884 this looks like a date error.

Henry HIGHAM

no reports

?? 1890

London
most likely a date error for 1880

Charles TERRONT

no reports

?? 1891

Edinburgh
possibly a date error for 1889 even
though Lumsden is reported has having
won a 3rd Edinburgh Six before 1892
.

John Dunlop LUMSDEN

no reports

18 to 23 April 1892

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

A H ROBB

reports

2 to 7 May 1892

Central Hall, Holborn, London

J W LAMB

reports

5 to 10 December 1892

Waverley Market, Edinburgh

W PARKES

reports

30 January to 4 February 1893

Burnbank Drill Hall, Glasgow

John Dunlop LUMSDEN

reports

30 December 1895 to 4 January 1896

Westminster Aquarium, London

L DAVIS

reports

23 to 28 March 1896

Agricultural Hall, Islington, London

Arthur V LINTON

reports

This final 1896 Six Day race was run as 4 hours per day amongst other racing and had some notable riders from the USA amongst the field. “Fourth stage of Twenty-four hours’ scratch race - Total distances run:- A V Linton, 333 miles 7 laps 165 yards; G Baraquin, 333 miles 7 laps 149 yds; E Hale*, 333 miles 4 laps 129 yards; F Waller*, 333 miles 3 laps 134 yards; G A Nelson, 333 miles 3 laps 78 yards; G A Paterson, 332 miles 3 laps 74 yards; T Jones, 324 miles 5 laps 131 yards; E O Perry, 324 miles 4 lpas 195 yards.” The Standard (London, England) Friday 27-Mar-1896. *These riders are thought to be; Teddy Hale - the winner of 1896 New York Six - and Frank Waller the winner at Washington and Pittsburgh in 1894.

Clearly there is more that needs to be done to confirm - or otherwise - these sketchy race results.

Brief notes about the 19th Century Male Riders are available here...

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Women’s Six Day Races

In 2009-10 the Museo dei Campionissimi in Novi Ligure, Italy featured an exhibition about the history of women's cycling. The introduction to the exhibition stated that women's racing began in London with a six day event in 1895.

Despite being a cycling fan for decades, I knew nothing about the women’s races - but now the information collected has grown to the point where they need some web pages of their own. These Ladies Six Day races - and even some “twelves” - only ran for a few years but there were plenty of them. You can read more starting from Women’s Races onwards.  And note that there was men v. women six day in 1897.

There is a summary of all the British Six Day races - and their variants - for the 19th Century here...

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Racing Starts in the USA

1891Martin1w

William “Plugger” Martin - winner of the 1891 New York Six Day. He later moved to Australia.

After Billy Cann's London success in 1878 he went to the States with Charles Terront and Harry Etherington (plus others?). And at Chicago in 1879 he, possibly, won the first Six in the USA. Shortly after Charles Terront won the first Boston Six and, perhaps, a second one at Chicago. No more US Sixes were reported until 1885 when Albert Schock won for the USA at Chicago. He, reportedly, went on to win at Minneapolis (1887, 1893) at New York (1893 x 2, 1894, 1895) and at Washington (1896).
However after some very limited research it has emerged that there has been under reporting of early US six day races. So even though it is mostly correct that big the US winners were Irish-American William (Bill) Martin at Minneapolis (1890, 1891, 1892) and New York (1891) - and Charlie Ashinger at New York (1892). This is not the full story. So Irishman Teddy Hale did cover 1,920 miles when winning the 1896 Six at New York but there were lots more great individual performances during the 1880s and 90s.
And riders from the British Isles rode in many of these early US Sixes - with Lamb, Lumsden, Stage, Wood, etc appearing in the fields. Some stayed on and became US citizens - and this accounts for why some names (Higham, Prince, ...) disappeared from the British results. Similarly US riders competed in Britain and some British Sixes were promoted by US managers.

A start has been made on collating the sources of 19th century six day race results here....

The first race using the modern format was held in New York in 1899. It was won by the team of Charles Miller and Frank Waller (both of German origin) who covered 2,745 miles, finishing two laps ahead of the field. Miller had previously won the Sixes at New York (1897, 1898) and Houston (1898). These races at New York’s Madison Square Garden developed the team-riding format that became the race now called a "Madison" in English or “l’Americaine” in French.

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Six Day Races Start in Australia

In 1881 Jack Rolfe won the first two Australian Sixes - in Melbourne and Adelaide - he also won two of the next three.  According to an Australian researcher / relative “Jack Rolfe came out from Birmingham, England in 1879 and started (or was at least involved with) the "Sydney Bicycle Works" in 1894. Newspapers at the time proclaimed him "world champion cyclist" as he challenged riders from Scotland and America. I believe he moved to Ballarat and later Bendigo in Victoria and set up shop there and started making Rolfe Cycles. His son Herbert, was also a champion rider.”

Six Day races in Australia would later overtake those in Britain ... but that’s another story ....
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For the overall look back over the great Victorian period of cycle racing see the Summary here ...

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