Fast on the Grass at Roundhay Park by Neil Hudson
Yorkshire Evening Post Article
Published Date: 13 June 2009
It is probably a lesser-known fact that Roundhay Park in Leeds is the home of a turf cycling club which dates back more than 100 years.
In fact, the banking that surrounds the cricket oval overlooked by Roundhay Mansion is actually a cycle track and has been used since Victorian times.
The quarter-mile banked course was built in the early 1890s and the cricket pitch in the middle added as a secondary feature.
Before the war grass track racing was a popular pastime with clubs up and down the country.
West Riding Track League, formed after the Second World War, is still going today. It is open to people of all ages and ability and has produced riders who have gone on to compete at the Olympics.
Mandy Parker, 48, whose son, Joseph, 10 and husband Chris, 49, both compete in races, has just taken over as secretary at the historic club – an appointment which incidentally prevented the club from closing after the departure of the league's long-serving organiser.
She said: "The track was built in the 1890s and the cricket pitch was not the first priority. Races would take part every weekend. Grass track racing was so popular there were clubs all over the country.
"After the Second World War, you could expect to see up to 80 riders at meetings, pulling in crowds of three to four thousand. There used to be two open meetings a year and Leeds Corporation would help with the organisation. They would pull in crowds of up to 100,000."
Today, the sport is growing in popularity again among young people and organisers are keen to promote the pastime.
Recent drainage works carried out by Leeds City Council have meant that the banked oval is now in tip-top condition.
Mrs Parker said: "I can't thank the council and the park staff enough for the wonderful work they have done. The track is in brilliant condition.
"This year I would like to see a full calendar of races and because we have got the track in good condition, I'd like to see top riders return to Roundhay to taste some of the excitement of their forebears."
The club's hall of fame includes Ellis Brown, a sprint champion from the 1950s – the club still hands out the Ellis Brown trophy – and Albert Hodson, whose daughter Pam Clay is the mother of Olympic medalist Jonny Clay. Pam still holds world records for roller cycling events and Jonny, from Horsforth, won a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Brian Robinson, the first Briton to enter and win a stage in the Tour de France, who is from Dewsbury, also trained on the track.
Bob Westmoreland, 79, joined the club as a 21-year-old in the 1950s and said it still gave him the same excitement today.
Mr Westmoreland, who also acted as an official and race starter, said: "When I joined it was a big organisation and you could expect 80 to 100 riders on race nights, with two or three hundred spectators.
It’s still just as exciting today, especially watching the kids, who have some wonderful little races.”
Races include the ‘devil’, where riders set off and the slowest person after each lap drops out; and an Italian pursuit, where two teams of five set off, racing against one another, with the quickest dropping out at the end of each lap.
The club meets every Monday at 7pm, apart from bank holidays, until mid-August. New members are welcome. Entries cost £7 for seniors, £5 for juniors and £3 for juveniles. Contact Mandy 07917 860 292, or email mandyparker2 @ntlworld.com.