Herne Hill Velodrome
The Herne Hill Velodrome is a velodrome or track cycling venue in Herne Hill, in south London. It is one of the oldest cycling tracks in the world, having been built in 1891. It hosted the track cycling events in the 1948 Summer Olympics and was briefly the home of Crystal Palace Football Club during World War I. Between 1987, when the track at Paddington Recreation Ground was demolished, and 2011, when the London Velopark for the 2012 Summer Olympics opened, Herne Hill was the only track in London. Herne Hill was originally named the London County Grounds, the track of the London County Cycling and Athletic Club. It became popularly known as Herne Hill track or velodrome after its position just off Burbage Road, in Herne Hill, part of the London Borough of Southwark. The velodrome was founded by George Hillier, an amateur racer, in 1891. Before then the leading venue had been at nearby Crystal Palace. Crystal Palace, however, had no banking and a poor surface and supporters favoured a track which opened north of the Thames in Paddington, in 1888. Hillier had been a leading light at Crystal Palace and tried to persuade the owners, the Crystal Palace Company, to win back the supporters and racers by redesigning the track. The company declined and Hillier looked for a new site south of the Thames. He found an area off Burbage Road in Herne Hill and leased it from Dulwich College Trustees. Work on the new track was undertaken by W. and J. Peacock, a building company sympathetic to cycling. It started in September 1890 and finished, ahead of schedule, in March 1891. The first race, open only to members of the Herne Hill club, was on 16 April 1891. The first open meeting was on 23 May that same year. The circuit was designed with 5 ft bankings which were later raised. The original surface was red shale, which needed repeated rolling. It was replaced in 1893 by wooden slats, which led to fast racing but frequent crashes after rain. Concrete was laid instead in 1896. Many records were beaten on the track, which reached a peak of popularity with the Cuca Cup 24-hour races at the end of the 19th century. Good Friday meetings From 1903 it was the venue for the Good Friday meeting organised by the Southern Counties Cycle Union. World champions have performed at Good Friday meetings, which during the 1920s and 1930s attracted attendances of 10,000. National and world records have been established there Ц Norwood Paragon's Frank Southall was a notable record-breaker in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1936 the tandem pairing from Addiscombe C.C. - Ernie Mills an
Bill Paul set a world best of 30 miles 793 yards, unpaced in one hour, although no tandem figures were recognised by the governing body at that time. War and the Olympics The National Cyclists Union leased Herne Hill for 21 years from 25 March 1942. It had been damaged during the war when the site was used for a gun battery. Weeds grew waist-high through cracks in the surface and along the track's edges by 1942. A. P. Chamberlin, secretary of the NCU, said: "The crevices between the concrete slabs of the track are covered with all kinds of growth, and I found it impossible to uproot small trees that were growing. In the back straight a luxurious grape vine has assumed interesting proportions." Work started that year to restore it to make it ready by 1943. The organising committee of the 1948 Olympic Games chose it as "the only suitable" track. It said "considerable work would have to be carried out to bring the arena, both from a competition and a spectator point of view, up to the required standard for Olympic events." The track was repaired, permanent stands were built - the only permanent construction work carried out by the Games organisers - and the approach roads and turnstiles were improved and extended. A temporary stand was built in the back straight for journalists, who had 12 telephone boxes to report to the world. A small scoreboard was also put up, which the crowd "fully appreciated." The cycling press said it was disappointed that the Games opened at Herne Hill without ceremony: What a strange nation we British are! The greatest cycling festival of this century - the XIVth Olympiad - might well have been an ordinary track promotion on the opening day at Herne Hill. Greatest oversight was the omission of any form of opening ceremony. The sparse crowd of 3,000 which gathered to watch the two-hour morning racing session received a luke-warm greeting over the loudspeakers and were then immediately given the draw of the 1,000m sprint. The racing was reported as good but the organisation poor: The worst organisation of the entire XIVth Olympiad cycling events resulted in the deciding third heat of the tandem final being held at nine o'clock. It was so dark when the two tandem pairs lined up for the final run that the Italians, in their blue racing vests, were invisible against the background of spectators. To put two tandems on the track under such conditions was a disgrace. The light was so poor that the photo-finish camera did not work and judges told photographers not to use flash for fear of harming both their and the racers' night vision.