This one may appear to be way out in left field. Herne Hill Velodrome. London, England. That is no where near Claremont, you might say. But knowing of my passion for cycling, interest in cycling landscapes, and historic preservation, London relatives, and the occasional reader of this blog from across the waves as well, a brief posting on the saving of Herne Hill is not so hard to understand after all.
But, lets backup a little. What makes the Herne Hill Velodrome so special. Well, first of all it is old, one of the oldest velodromes in the world, dating back to a day when the bicycle was king, and racing them was the most popular sport, with fans and spectators packing the stands, eager to take in the fast-paced and often dangerous action. The velodrome at Herne Hill was constructed in 1891, the venue became the site for what has ever since been known at the Good Friday Meeting beginning in 1903. This race has seen world champions participating, and world records set. Frank Southall, was one of those record-setters during the 1920s and 1930s, when upwards of 10,000 spectators were drawn to witness the action of the Good Friday Meetings. Some of the most highly successful racers of the 1950s and 1960s raced here, including Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, Reg Harris, and Tom Simpson. More recently, Graeme Obree, Tony Doyle, Chris Boardman and Bradley Wiggins all circled the Herne Hill track; Wiggins in fact, began his track racing career at the venerable velodrome.
In 1948, the Olympic Games came to London for the second time. The Herne Hill Velodrome was resurfaced to host the track racing events, and is the only venue remaining from that mid-century competition. Other improvements were made at the time as well, including new viewing stands, approach road, and turnstiles. It is interesting to note that, though more than one hundred years have passed since the velodrome's founding, the original wood grandstand, dating to 1891, remains on the grounds, a historic relic.
Herne Hill went into steep decline in the 1990s, has suffered from disrepair, and faced the prospect of permanent closure. Thankfully, however, British cycling bodies, racers, and the local community took efforts to save the velodrome to heart. This month those efforts paid dividends, and the velodrome received a new 15 year lease, which will allow repairs and improvements to be made to the facilities. Herne Hill is an important, and still relevant, feature of the greater London urban landscape, and its historical significance is indisputable: "You see old black and white photos and you see the same trees in the background, and you see the same grandstand... Generations of people have come down here. My dad, and his dad as well used to come down here..." - Jason Cattermole (a coach at the Velodrome).
Though London will present a new velodrome to the world for the Olympic Games in 2012, Herne Hill hopes to be ready with a new face, providing a place for endurance training for various nations during those games. The above poster aside, I took a quick glance at the Herne Hill calendar, they seem to hold events at the track almost every night, from training and classes, to actual races. Quite impressive for a facility of that age.
Just thought I would update this one since Ride The Black Line found a nice little clip from the first of the Good Friday Meetings for this year. You can view it here.