100 years ago the sport of race walking reached unbelievable proportions in Bradford, and newspaper coverage of the sport vied with football and rugby. Following the success of the Bradford Whitsuntide Walk race walking events were held almost every weekend in the Bradford district with most of the outlying villages including a walk as an attraction at the annual galas and fairs. The distances ranged from 12 to 20 miles and every event was well supported by both competitors and spectators. It’s recorded that in 1926 R. Wooley of Wibsey Park Harriers won five consecutive 20-mile events at Bingley, Oakenshaw, Gomersal, East Bierley and Cleckheaton.

The Bradford Whit Walk set the trend. Other distance races were popular attractions and in 1923 the Dick Hudson’s Walk was introduced, sponsored by the Bradford Daily Telegraph (a predecessor of the Telegraph & Argus) and was an instant success.

In January 1923 Herbert Redgrave, a waiter at the Great Northern Hotel, claimed to have set a record for walking from Bradford to Dick Hudson’s hostelry on the edge of Ilkley Moor. He started from the former Bradford Daily Telegraph offices in Piccadilly and headed for the finishing post at Dick Hudson’s by way of Manningham Lane, Victoria Road, Saltaire, Shipley Glen, Eldwick Beck, and round by the Travellers Rest at Eldwick. The course was a popular jaunt for family outings in those days. The exact distance was 6 miles 940 yards and Redgrave had estimated he could walk the distance in under 65 minutes. He completed the course in 62 minutes 43 seconds.

The course was a popular jaunt for family outings in those days. The exact distance was 6 miles 940 yards and Redgrave had estimated he could walk the distance in under 65 minutes. He completed the course in 62 minutes 43 seconds.

The venture generated a lot of local interest and a sizeable crowd gathered at the finish to see him complete the walk. A collection at the end of the walk realised £2, shared between the Bradford Cinderella Home at Morecambe and the Hull Orphan Sailors’ Home. Herbert had gained race-walking experience with the London Belgrave Harriers and was a member of the Bradford-based Yorkshire Walking Club.

With interest in the sport staying high the local club arranged for a Dick Hudson’s Challenge race to be held on Easter Monday 1923, with the Joshua Tetley Cup being presented to the winner. The event was sponsored by the Bradford Daily Telegraph, with changing facilities being provided in the Drake Street premises of the newspaper and Joshua Tetley, of brewery fame, donating a silver trophy for the annual competition.

Half-an-hour before the starting time people began gathering in Piccadilly. The crowd grew steadily as the minutes passed and when the walkers toed the line thousands lined the streets. Mr C.H. Derwent (general manager of the Bradford and District Newspaper Company) was starter and sent the competitors on their way by pricking a large balloon as a starting signal! Crowds of people lined the route and thousands made their way to Dick Hudson’s to see the finish.

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Frank Holt, the Bradford postman and one of the North’s leading walkers, won the event in 59 minutes 20 seconds, followed by Willie Hall, Jack Wagenheim and Stanley Kershaw who all returned a faster time than the previous record, with Herbert Redgrave finishing fifth.

The course for the early walks was not very good for race walking due to the poor state of the roads and pathways and in 1929 it was changed to the better known route, from Bank Street and on to the main Keighley road, past Manningham Park and Saltaire, through the centre of Bingley turning right at the lights and up the steep hill in Park Road to Eldwick, finishing at Dick Hudson’s. This extended the course to 8 miles 520 yards. The winner of the first race on the new course was W.T. Cowley of Bingley in a time of one hour 15 minutes 45 seconds. It’s interesting to note that he was the first competitor to win the race three times in succession, in 1933-34-35, a feat repeated by Jim Stancer of Sheffield in 1962-63-64. A comparison of the winning times reflects the quality of the competitors attracted to the event.

The race became established  as one of the best known events on the race walking calendar, usually held in September, and over the years attracted top walkers nationwide. A feature of the day was the fish and chip meal provided by the Telegraph and Argus after the race for officials and competitors.

The race became established  as one of the best known events on the race walking calendar, usually held in September, and over the years attracted top walkers nationwide. A feature of the day was the fish and chip meal provided by the Telegraph and Argus after the race for officials and competitors. It was ironic that in 1967, when the event  attracted a record entry of 95, the T & A unfortunately had to withdraw their sponsorship. However the 1968 and 1969 events were sponsored by Joshua Tetley and in 1970 by the Bradford and District Licensed Victuallers Association.

There was a danger of the walk coming to an end in 1971 when a sponsor could not be found, but rather than let the walk die the club decided to hold it as an invitation event, followed by pie and peas at Eldwick Hall, making it one of the social highlights of the year. In the eighties the Walk took place on the Sunday before Christmas and, with generous sponsorship from the West Yorkshire Motor Group, offered race walkers the chance to start the festivities in sportive mood with races and prizes for men, women and youths.

When the Yorkshire Race Walking Club promoted the Winter League Walks for the Northern Area Race Walking Association it became one of a series of races, but inevitably it fell victim to the stringent road safety regulations which beset many of the traditional race-walking events on main roads, and the final Dick Hudson’s race was held in December 2008.

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