Please cite this article as:

Martin, D. A Short History of the Barclay Match: Long-Distance Pedestrianism in the Nineteenth Century, In Piercey, N. and Oldfield, S.J. (ed), Sporting Cultures: Global Perspectives (Manchester: MMU Sport and Leisure History, 2019), 149-165.

ISBN paperback 978-1-910029-49-7

Chapter 8


A Short History of the Barclay Match: Long-Distance Pedestrianism in the Nineteenth Century

Derek Martin



On Newmarket Heath in the summer of 1809 Captain Robert Barclay (1779-1854), a landed gentleman with an estate in Scotland, walked one mile each hour for 1,000 consecutive hours (41 days and 16 hours).[1] At the same time he won a wager of 1,000 guineas and cemented his reputation as the most famous ‘pedestrian’ (i.e. athlete) of his era. (Competitors on foot, whether professional or amateur, could always be described as a ‘runners’ or ‘walkers’, but towards the end of the eighteenth century ‘pedestrians’ became the preferred term – ‘athletics’ as a term for amateur running and race walking did not come into common use until the 1860s.) It became the prevalent view that the ‘Barclay Match’ was one of the more bizarre wagers that had been the special preserve of the Regency era’s ‘gentlemen amateurs’, that it was a unique and unprecedented feat of such extreme endurance that it was unlikely ever to be equalled.

The argument presented here is that the perception of the Match as a picturesque but archaic event, quickly obsolescent and of no lasting significance in the later history of pedestrianism is wrong. The literature on the later life of the Barclay Match is exiguous. The accelerating digitization of British and Irish newspapers, particularly the local and sporting press, allows a new perspective. This chapter is based on an analysis of 284 Matches on the Barclay pattern identified from newspaper sources for the century after 1809. It is recognised that many were attempts that did not succeed and many more (perhaps the majority) were not refereed or properly authenticated, nevertheless it is argued that to an extent that has not been recognised, massive distance challenges were a recurring and important part of pedestrianism throughout the nineteenth century. Barclay’s happy choice of a wager that demanded a task repeated a mesmeric, seemingly endless, number of times, had created a formula that was to have an enduring fascination.

Origins and ‘pedestrian mania’

In comparison to horse racing, cricket or even prize fighting, its historiography is still thin, but pedestrianism was undoubtedly one of the popular spectator sports of the eighteenth century. Although short and middle-distance events were always the essence of the sport, endurance events have been an abiding part. Barclay’s biographer and the first historian of pedestrianism, Walter Thom, writing in 1813 and looking back over the previous fifty years regarded long-distance walking as the most prestigious part of it. It had become ’fashionable and general’ and he attributed its development to the ‘patronage of men of fortune and rank’ from the 1760s onwards.[2] Barclay was undoubtedly an outstanding athlete but he was not unique. The precise format of his Match was new, but it was part of a long-established pedestrian culture of long-distance walking. In the 1770s and 1780s the great Foster Powell (who was not quite a ‘gentleman’ – he had to work for his living) achieved fame by walking the 394 miles from London to York and back in less than six days.[3] In Barclay’s own time he was not the only gentleman walker, for example, Captain Fletcher walked sixty miles on Doncaster race course in 1801 for 1,000 guineas and the year before Barclay’s match Mr Downes walked 700 miles in 20 days on turnpike roads for 200 guineas.[4]

Barclay’s Match made the long walk even more fashionable. In 1815 the Bristol Gazette marvelled at the number of gentlemen infected by ‘the rage for walking’, a reader of the Cambrian lamented that ‘a whole race of fifty miles a day men have arisen, and … [w]hat before was the disease of an individual is now become an epidemic’, and the Morning Post dubbed it all a ‘pedestrian mania’.[5] In the ten years after the 1809 Match at least ten amateurs attempted a Barclay Match but, without exception, failed to complete. More astute ‘gentlemen amateurs’ walked enormous distances but wisely eschewed the relentless six-week tramp of the Match. They walked for wagers, not to provide a public spectacle, often on a journey as did Captain Acres in 1812 when he did 300 miles in four days for a bet of 200 guineas on the roads between London and Somerset. They were often accompanied by umpires on horseback or in a chaise, like Mr Flowers who in 1818 did fifty-five miles a day for fifteen days (825 miles in all), on an elaborate route through the West of England, again for 200 guineas.[6] Although they were private matches the press often followed them closely, as shown by the daily reports of Mr Stokes’s 1,000 mile walk in twenty days at the Crown Inn near Bath.[7] Such walks for wagers continued into the late 1820s, but gradually ceased to be the ‘gentlemanly’ thing to do.[8]

By then the Barclay Match and the long-distance trade had passed to pedestrians who were not ‘gentlemen’. The force which sustained the pedestrian mania came increasingly from working class jobbing pedestrians. In 1815 George Wilson, a weedy 51-year old itinerant pedlar from Newcastle-on-Tyne, had attempted a walk of 1,000 miles in twenty days at the Hare and Billet pub on Blackheath. He explicitly acknowledged the example of Captain Barclay and that his hope also was to make money.[9] In the event it hardly mattered. His performance provoked such scenes of riotous enthusiasm that the Greenwich magistrates stopped the performance after fifteen days in fear of civil disorder.[10] Others followed: James Jones, a pedlar, walked 1,050 miles in twenty days at Oxford, James Evans, a Welsh drover, walked 1,008 miles in eighteen days at Newmarket, and Daniel Crisp, a bricklayer, walked 1,037 miles over seventeen days back and forth between London and Oxford.[11] In these and other walks working pedestrians adopted the classic thousand-mile target, but generally they avoided the strict timekeeping demanded by a verifiable Barclay Match, opting instead for a straight fifty or sixty miles a day. Where the backing was available, pedestrians would still adopt the Barclay format and sometimes even play with it. Josiah Eaton walked 1,100 miles at hourly intervals (forty-six days) on Wilson’s course at Blackheath and Henry Barnet did 1,000 miles but at two miles each hour over twenty-one days, at Lambeth.[12]

Decline and revival

Between the 1820s and the 1850s commercial sporting activity grew in volume and sophistication.[13] In pedestrianism sprints and middle-distance events predominated, events generally taking place on turnpike roads, often near the public houses. From the 1840s the pedestrians began to leave the roads, sometimes forced off by the new police forces and sometimes attracted by the dedicated sports grounds which were now evolving and to which athletic events were increasingly migrating.[14] These were lean times for the long-distance pedestrian; with the end of the ‘mania’ period the market for their particular abilities was depressed. But the knowhow was not completely lost. Multi-day, ultradistance events were kept alive by a number of career pedestrians who from the 1820s to 1840s sustained long though precarious careers performing athletic feats for wagers with local ‘sporting gentlemen’, or for what they could harvest from collections, donations or subventions from the public houses from which they performed their walks. Examples from this period include pedestrians like Robert Skipper (floruit 1816-1842) who in 1830 walked sixty miles a day for three consecutive days on the fifteen miles of road between the Three Compasses in Carmarthen and the King’s Head in Llandeilo and sixty miles a day for four days between Leamington Spa and Stratford in 1830; John Mountjoy (fl. 1838-1865), who specialised in six-day walks, did 360 miles, walking sixty miles a day between the Bald Faced Stag at Finchley and the White Hart at St Albans in 1839; John Townsend (fl. 1821-43) walked sixty-four miles a day for six days at Liverpool in 1840.[15] These were all athletes who were all capable of doing 1,000 miles, but devoting forty-two days to such an enterprise was rarely going to be a commercial proposition. Sometimes a pedestrian could find a sponsor and a paying audience and there are sporadic reports of Barclay Matches in enclosed grounds. Richard Sutton (fl. 1822-1842) walked 1,200 miles in 1,000 hours at the Cricket Ground in Brighton in 1827 (there was said to be a wager of £100 at stake) and Robert Cootes (fl. 1827-1856) in 1828 walked 1,250 miles in 1,000 hours at the garden of the Green Man on the Old Kent Road (the proprietor apparently paid him £50).[16]

James Searles (fl. 1819-1866) was one of the last men to make money by walking a Barclay Match on a public road. In 1843 in Leeds he walked between two pubs a mile apart.[17] His walk was widely reported and inspired a small epidemic of old-style Barclay Matches on the roads, mainly amongst professional pedestrians. Thomas Thompson, the ‘Flying Stag of Warrington’ walked 1,008 miles at York in 1844 and again, in a pub-to-pub walk, at Hull in 1845; Thomas Ellis, the ‘Flying Stag of Edinburgh’ walked 1,000 miles from the Railway Tavern in Ramsgate; and a pedestrian called Alabaster walked one mile and one furlong each hour for a thousand hours (1,125 miles in all) on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge from his base in the New Inn.[18] For a while, opportunities opened in the new sporting grounds.

The catalyst was probably the rivalry between Searles and another professional pedestrian, Richard Manks.[19] The entrepreneurial Edward Broadbent precipitated a new ‘Barclay mania’ when he promoted a Match by Manks at his Barrack Tavern Ground in Sheffield in June 1850.[20] Searles responded with his own Match at Tranmere in September.[21] The following June Manks returned to the Barrack Tavern Ground to walk for a prodigious seventy-two days (1,000 quarter miles in consecutive quarter hours, 1,000 half miles in half hours and then 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours, 1,750 miles in all).[22] James Ireland of the Red House Ground in Battersea sponsored Searles to equal Manks’s 1,750 miles.[23] Huge crowds attended each event. In 1852 Manks and Searles again did extended Matches (1,750 miles for Manks, at Hartshill near Newcastle under Lyme, 2,000 miles for Searles at Toxteth) and at least another seven pedestrians joined in with their own variants. Amongst them were Robert Cootes (who had walked a Match in London back in 1828, see earlier) did two ‘short’ matches, at Belfast and at Gloucester, Thomas Hick of Leeds and Luke Furness of Sheffield, did ‘long’ Matches of 1,500 miles at Plaistow and Leeds.[24] In all there were eleven Matches that year, four of them at running grounds, the rest in various enclosures at pubs.

After 1853, male pedestrians and their sponsors more or less abandoned the Barclay Match as no longer a paying proposition. However, the traditional Barclay format lived on and indeed acquired new vigour in the hands of a new set of practitioners – women, who used it as a route into athletics that was otherwise closed to them.

Female pedestrians

There had been female athletes since the eighteenth century. Until the custom died out in the early nineteenth century women regularly competed in ‘smock races’ (short races for a prize of a linen smock, or perhaps a guinea in cash, often at a fair or festivity or promoted by a publican to drum up trade).[25] Thereafter, there is some slight evidence from the 1820s and 1830s that women would on occasion walk on the road for what they could collect from spectators. In particular, reports survive of Mary M’Mullen, an itinerant pedestrian whose speciality was to walk 96 miles in twenty-four hours for donations.[26] But before the 1850s the only authenticated example of a female Barclay Match was by Mrs Harrison, a 39-year old who performed it on a turnpike road at Wortley (near Leeds) in a local outbreak of pedestrianism after James Searles’s 1843 walk.[27]

As the upsurge of the long-distance men in the early 1850s petered out, a number of female pedestrians took over and created their own Barclay revival, which lasted for almost two years. The credit for starting it should probably be given to Kate Irvine, an American who in August 1852 walked a ‘half Barclay’ of 500 miles in 500 hours (twenty-one days) at the pedestrian ground at Aston in Birmingham, repeating the feat soon after around the bowling green behind a pub in Wolverhampton.[28] After Irvine another five women walked full or abbreviated Barclay Matches. The most prolific was Mrs Jane Dunn, who walked two full Barclay Matches in 1853, at Manchester and at Hartshill in the Potteries, another in 1854 at Birkenhead and a ‘half Barclay’ at Bristol.[29] In all, thirteen multi-day matches can be traced.[30]

The female pedestrians astutely exploited the advantage of novelty, including the publicity that could be had at the time for the American Amelia Bloomer, who was advocating a new form of emancipated dress for women – ankle-length pantaloons and a loose, knee-length tunic. The dress style was widely ridiculed but it was newsworthy. Dunn highlighted it in her advertising.[31] The idea of a ‘Bloomer pedestrian’ may have been imported from the United States – a Miss Cushman had walked 500 miles at St Louis in 1851 in ‘full Bloomer costume’ and Irvine wore it, as did Mrs Macarte, an American circus performer who walked a half Barclay Match at Plymouth in 1854.[32]

The owners of dedicated sporting grounds were on the whole reluctant to admit women Barclayists amongst the sprints, dog racing, rabbit coursing, pigeon shooting and other activities which were their normal fare. Only Kate Irvine had walked at a recognised running ground. Barclay Matches were promoted by proprietors of pleasure gardens, pubs or hotels where they were already providing music, dancing, fireworks or whatever amusement might tempt the visitor. The walking women were an additional novelty. For a modest entrance charge (twopence or threepence was standard) they could see a woman walk, at a set time every hour or half hour, day after day, week after week. When Mrs Dobson walked 30 miles a day for seventeen days at the Portobello Gardens in Dublin the sixpence for admission ‘entitle[d] each visitor to three shots in the splendid Shooting Gallery’.[33]

Neither the walker nor the proprietor were necessarily concerned to authenticate the walk as a properly timed and measured athletic performance. We cannot say how seriously the participants or the spectators took the rules of the game. Generally, however, the sporting press were sceptical of the authenticity of these matches. Presumably the spectators were sufficiently convinced by what they saw to have no doubt that they were watching a major feat of endurance. If these contests were presented more as ‘sport’ than ‘entertainment’, the integrity question became more important. If the gates were not open in the middle of the night, or no watchers had been appointed, there could be no guarantee that the pedestrian had walked her mile every hour of every night. Some promoters did make a point of offering rewards for anyone who detected a walker missing a mile, and no evidence of fraud survives, but the authenticity of these Matches remains an open question.

1860s: the Northern pedestriennes

After the last Bloomer walks there was a decade in which there were few Barclay Matches by men, and none by women, it was a woman who triggered the shortest and most intense period of Barclay activity yet seen. In August 1864 inside London’s biggest music hall, the Alhambra in Leicester Square, a boardwalk 277 feet long had been constructed. Here Margaret Douglas started a 42-day Barclay walk. She was a middle-aged mother of several children and had lately arrived from Australia. She had convinced the Alhambra that it could be a paying proposition; there had been indoor Barclay Matches in the 1850s in saloons and theatres in the gold-rush town of Ballarat and in Melbourne and she had walked at least two herself.[34] London, however, did not prove fertile ground, attendance was poor and the Alhambra stopped the Match after 34 days,[35] but rather than stifling any Barclay revival, this seems to have encouraged one. In September 1864, barely two weeks after Douglas’s premature eviction from the Alhambra, Emma Sharp, a 30-year old married local woman, walked a Barclay Match on the ground next to the Quarry Gap pub near Bradford. Reportedly 10,000 paid to watch her.[36] By the time that she finished a new Barclay craze was well under way. In the two years to 1866 there were more than twenty Matches. It was overwhelmingly a phenomenon of the industrial towns of the North of England: in the eight months between September 1864 and May 1865 there were only ten days when there was not a woman doing a 1,000 mile match somewhere in Yorkshire or Lancashire.[37] As in the 1850s, the venues were almost without exception pleasure gardens or grounds attached to hotels or pubs, and the walk was an adjunct to the normal entertainment at the gardens, a band usually played at the popular times, refreshment rooms were open and dancing was often advertised.

The names of sixteen women who walked can be recovered and there is evidence that some of them were beginning to think of pedestrianism as a career choice. Mrs Atkinson walked three times (at Leeds in November 1864, Bradford in May 1865 and Wakefield in July 1866) as did Emma Gowthorpe (at Leeds in 1864, at Stockton in January 1865 and Bury in August 1866) and Edith Parsons (at Blackburn in November 1864, and Accrington and Preston in 1865) and Mary Wood walked twice at Burnley, in the winter of 1864-65.[38] However, this period of northern enthusiasm subsided as quickly as it had begun.

1870s and 1880s

By the mid-1860s an observer at the time could reasonably have concluded that the Barclay Match had run its course. Amateur athletics had started its inexorable rise and was on its way to relegating professional pedestrianism to the fringes of sporting activity. But in the 1870s and 1880s, against the odds, there was one last and remarkable revival of long-distance pedestrianism. In a survey of the period 1870 to 1890, 123 matches on the Barclay pattern were identified. Two factors were particularly significant, one was the part played by female pedestrians from around 1870, the other was the American-inspired upsurge in long distance work from around 1876.

Arguably it was again female pedestrians who kept the Barclay Match alive. The generality of male pedestrians were indifferent to it. For them it was an outdated ritual, taking up an unconscionable time and, more importantly, difficult and expensive to put on and with limited moneymaking potential. But for an aspiring female pedestrian it was the gateway into the sport. The catalyst this time was Margaret Atkinson, who had walked three Barclay Matches in the revival of the 1860s.[39] When the female Barclay Matches faded away in the middle of the decade, she took her athletic ability into the music halls. Her novelty performance was to appear in her ‘native costume’, walk one mile around the stage in eleven minutes (usually about 100 circuits) and sing her ‘Walking Song’.[40] Being of mixed race she reinvented herself as ‘Madame Angelo, the Mulatto, a Native of Calcutta’ (although in truth, she was born at Barnard Castle).[41] She continued as a music hall performer until at least 1881 but by 1870 she was taking time out most years from the music hall circuit to do a Barclay Match.[42]

In 1873 several women started walking the thousand miles in and around the West Midlands and the Staffordshire Potteries (possibly in imitation of Madame Angelo). This time they were able to make a career of pedestrianism. From Dudley there was Rebecca Richards, who walked eight Barclay Matches between 1873 and 1879, Lucy Richards who had a career of eleven years (1873 to 1884) and Ann Willetts (thirteen Matches between 1875 and 1883) and Emma Bailey from the Potteries, who accumulated the same number between 1874 and 1884. These were all, as far as their sparse biographical details can be harvested, working class women. The music hall also provided new entrants. After Madame Angelo the most important figure in the development of women’s pedestrianism was Ada Anderson, who came from the theatre.[43] She had great natural ability and walked several impressive variants of the Match, including 1,500 miles in 1,000 hours in at Leeds and 1,008 miles at Skegness in 1878.[44] She then went to the United States, where a boom in female long-distance walking was also taking place and enjoyed great success and made money before the American enthusiasm petered out in the early 1880s.[45] Blanche Victor, a former trapezist who was described as Ada’s ‘pupil’ walked between 1880 and 1885 and Mademoiselle Violetta, who walked in all-female race at Birmingham in 1884 was Margaret Atkinson’s daughter and appeared in the music halls with her strong woman act (she would ‘throw heavy men with her teeth). [46]

As this female pedestrian revival gathered pace in the mid-1870s the world of long-distance pedestrianism was transformed under the influence of the American Edward Payson Weston. After a career in the United States, including the first ever walk of 500 miles in six days, he arrived in Britain in 1876, where his ability combined with a flair for publicity roused great public interest and no little combative spirit amongst British pedestrians.[47] Knowledge and technique in multi-day events that was dormant in the British pedestrian community was recovered and they rapidly upskilled to compete with Weston, who rarely walked matches of less than 100 miles. Unofficial world championships inaugurated by a sporting baronet, Sir John Astley, took place in 1878 and 1879.[48] Contests proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic. They were generally on the ‘go-as-you-please’ principle (walk or run, the competitor with the furthest distance at the end wins). They ranged from what became the ‘classic’ race, six days and nights continuous, down to local contests of fourteen, twelve or six hours a day.[49] Their popularity was such that by 1876 Athletic News was identifying ‘a pedestrian revival’ and the following year Bell’s Life proclaimed ‘a long-distance walking craze’.[50]

A six-day contest had several advantages over the old Barclay Match; it was shorter (six days rather than forty-two), it was quicker (a good six-day go-as-you-please competitor could cover four times the distance in a day of a Barclay walker), it had more action (you could watch several competitors racing rather than one solitary plodder), and it tended to be more comfortable for the spectator (events were generally held indoors rather than outdoors). Few male pedestrians persevered with the Barclay Match.[51] Female pedestrians, however, continued with the Barclay Match, if only because as yet they lacked the critical numbers to sustain genuinely competitive races. Nevertheless, they had to offer a more entertaining sporting spectacle. Consequently, from the mid-1870s they can be seen changing the nature of their Barclay Matches.

The essence of Barclay was retained – a set distance to be covered in consecutive time segments where failure to come up to scratch on time meant the failure of the Match. The time-honoured slog for weeks around the back garden of a pub was still the default position and one-mile-each hour, forty-two day Matches still took place. However, between 1877 and 1888 only fifteen were on this traditional pattern, against fifty-three that were variants. The format was changed in two ways. The first was to walk further in each hour, to impress with greater and greater distance: for example, Ada Anderson walked one and a half miles an hour (1,500 miles) at Leeds in 1878 and Madame Angelo achieved a monumental two miles an hour (2,000 miles) at Bradford in 1880.[52] The more frequent variant, because it required overall less time and logistical support, was to reduce the time for each segment and the overall distance. This made a greater break with Barclay tradition: to make the rest time for the walker shorter and shorter it correspondingly increased the pedestrian’s stress, coming nearer to the limits of stamina and endurance and introducing a popular element of the six-day races, where almost continuous movement was essential for success. In 1878, at the Dewsbury and Batley Skating Rink, Elsie Chadford walked half a mile every consecutive twenty minutes from Monday evening to Saturday night (186 miles in all). The same year Ada Anderson performed 1,344 quarter miles every consecutive quarter hour day and night for fourteen days (336 miles).[53] Other female pedestrians performed in similarly merciless exploits for another three or four years.

Many of these events moved indoors, as the male pedestrians had already done. Concert halls, theatres and recreation halls were enlisted, Madam Englo walked four hours a day at a music hall in Northampton, four women raced for six days at the Lambeth Baths and roller-skating rinks were employed.[54] The entrepreneurial Ada Anderson even built her own temporary building at Skegness on a cricket ground for a 28-day Barclay Match.[55]

Alongside these changes, which for a few years made the women an accepted part of the sport of pedestrianism, were their own indoor ‘go as you please’ races. Female pedestrian tournaments were held in Britain and Ireland in the ten years 1879 to 1888. In that period twenty-four all-female races have been traced. They could not have happened until a critical mass of female pedestrians had been achieved and audiences accustomed to the idea that women could succeed in feats that earlier had been thought impossible. There were three or four small tournaments a year, such as the 1884 event at the Bingley Hall in Birmingham where fifteen women entered, chasing a £40 first prize and a championship belt, walking ten hours a day for six days on a 195-yard track watched by 9,000 spectators, and the 1886 tournament in Aberdeen where up to 5,000 watched seven women walk three hours a night for a week.[56] But thereafter interest declined rapidly.

Unfortunately for the female pedestrians, just as they were securing their own place in the sport the pedestrian story effectively ended. Public interest fell away, and by the end of the 1880s it was dead in Britain and Ireland.

Envoi – the last Barclayists

Two male pedestrians were the last inheritors of Captain Barclay. William Gale (fl. 1852-1881) was one of the great long-distance walkers of the century. Born in London, where he trained as a bookbinder, he began race walking just as the Barclay boom of the early 1850s was ending. In that period of Barclay enthusiasm he walked Matches in the old style, at pub grounds and on turnpike roads in Lancashire, notably 1,000 miles in Liverpool, 1,500 miles at Birkenhead and a ‘double Barclay’ (2,000 miles in 2,000 half hours) at Preston.[57] He married and settled in Cardiff and for 20 years worked at his trade, training pedestrians and doing walking matches when the opportunity arose.[58] When Weston reinvigorated the sport in 1876 Gale, who had not walked for some years, sent him a challenge to a match, which the great man disregarded. The following year, at the age of forty-five Gale started a series of intensive walks that took the Barclay format to an entirely new dimension.

In 1877 at Cardiff he walked 4,000 quarter miles every consecutive ten minutes; he was therefore doing the Barclay distance of 1,000 miles, but in 27 days 19 hours, with no opportunity to rest for more than five minutes at a time).[59] For the next few years he took advantage of the public appetite for extreme pedestrian exploits, finding audiences to watch him do increasingly punishing variants of the Barclay Match. He secured the use of the Agricultural Hall, scene of big six-day races to repeat his Cardiff ’ten-minute quarter miles’ feat. Assiduous publicity, a generous spread in the Illustrated London News and sensationalist headlines such as the Lancet’s, ‘Suicide by Pedestrianism’ ensured an audience of up to 10,000 visited.[60] After that he toured, typically staying a week at a town, hiring a hall and walking a quarter mile every seven and a half minutes from Monday to Saturday evening (250 miles).[61] At the same time he was training and advising Ada Anderson and he followed her to America, where in New York in the summer of 1881 he walked 6,000 quarter miles in consecutive ten-minute periods (thus 1,500 miles in 1,000 hours).[62]

By the mid-1880s multi-day endurance events had fallen out of fashion again, Gale had gone to America and it seemed inevitable that his records would never be equalled, and indeed never likely to be challenged. But there was to be one last walker in the Barclay tradition. William Buckler (fl. 1883-1907) was born in Newport in Monmouthshire in 1848, went to sea in sailing ships at the age of twelve and was a sailor for thirty years. He contested pedestrians matches when opportunity presented itself and when he retired from the sea tried his luck in six-day races (at Cardiff in 1883 and Birmingham in 1884) without noticeable success. Road walking had survived in South Wales and Buckler was perhaps the last of the ‘journey’ walkers in a way that would have been familiar in the 1820s or 1830s. In 1885 he did solo six-day walks on the roads covering 300 miles or more each time. When he did 51 miles a day for six days through the streets of Aberdare, the obstruction caused by the crowds watching him earned him a caution from the magistrates and a warning not to try to repeat it.[63] Nevertheless he was doing 300 miles on the road as late as 1894.[64]

From 1895 he turned to breaking the old Barclay records. At the third attempt he broke Gale’s ‘quarters in ten minutes’ record with 4,000 quarter miles in consecutive nine and a half minute periods (26 days 9 hours), at Swansea in September 1896.[65] For the next ten years he found audiences around the north of England for increasingly inhuman attempts on the record. In 1898 at Hunslet in Leeds he walked 4,000 quarter miles in consecutive nine and quarter minute periods. The press estimated an astonishing crowd of 20,000 to 30,000 at the ground to see him finish and thousands more could not gain admission.[66] In 1902 at Wolverhampton he again broke his own record by doing the quarters in nine minutes each.[67] After that he reverted to a more traditional variants of the Barclay Match with hourly intervals. In 1905 he was at at Ardwick Athletic Grounds in Manchester to walk two miles and fifty yards each hour for 1,000 hours (2,028 miles 720 yards) to ‘break his own record of 2,000 miles’.[68]

A month after Buckler’s walk at Manchester, William Gale died in Cincinnati.[69] In September 1907, Buckler, now 58 years old, started his last Barclay Match – an attempt to walk two miles and 530 yards each hour (2,300 miles in all), at Halifax, but was timed out after seven days and 326 miles.[70] He lived on for two years and died of tuberculosis in 1909 at the age of 60 in a lodging house in Hull, where he was working as a dock labourer.[71]


In one of the accidental symmetries of history the death of Buckler rounds off the story of the Barclay Match a hundred years after it had begun in 1809. Over that century the Match served different functions and different constituencies. In its many reinventions it provided a setting for changes in sporting personnel, venues, finance and social attitudes. When Captain Barclay walked on Newmarket Heath in 1809 he could be seen as already a relic of a fading Georgian and Regency culture of leisured gentlemen playing out the wagering fever that had been such a characteristic of their age. But he was also part of the established and growing sport of pedestrianism (the first general sporting periodical, the Sporting Magazine, founded in 1792, included pedestrianism alongside horseracing, hunting, shooting and fishing, boxing and cricket as the leading sports of the day). Pedestrianism in the fullness of time became the sport of athletics and became a fully modern sport, predominantly of short- and middle-distance running. However, it had always been also an endurance sport (it still is) and the Barclay Match persisted, regarded as a noble symbol of endurance, or as a grimly fascinating spectacle, or indeed as the ultimate futile and dangerous stunt, conflicting views which were expressed throughout its life.

Soon after Barclay, the gentleman amateur had left the field his event devolved on to working class athletes. ‘Sporting men’ wagered on them attempting immense distance challenges. Some pedestrians found employment in pleasure gardens as a novelty attraction, others performed speculative walks financed, with varying degrees of success, from subscriptions or street collections. By the late 1820s, the pickings to be had were meagre and few attempted the Barclay Match, although some male professional pedestrians kept it as a part of their repertoire which they could perform if a suitable commercial opportunity presented itself. Such opportunities became increasingly rare, not helped by the generally hostile attitude of the sporting press, which was sceptical of the claims made for unregulated, unauthenticated and admittedly occasionally fraudulent events. The revival of the event in the early 1850s was therefore a surprise. For a few years some of the new running grounds then evolving drew big crowds to watch extended Matches of up to 2,000 miles. But the emergence of these grounds was the start of the transformation of pedestrianism into a stadium-based sport that was eventually to be absorbed into and replaced by modern amateur athletics. The Barclay Match did not fit happily into this environment and male pedestrians effectively abandoned it from that time on.

However, the Match had a long and vigorous afterlife, mainly in the hands of female pedestrians. In three successive waves of Barclay activity they established their place in what had been exclusively a male sport. In the ‘Bloomer’ period of the early 1850s, in the sudden release of female vigour in the Northern industrial towns in the 1860s, and finally in the 1870s individual women became recognised as sporting celebrities in their own right. They showed that it was possible for women to be serious participants in a sport that entailed a serious degree of commitment and physical ability. Several features of the Barclay Match combined with the usual imponderables of historical development to make this apparently obsolete event a providential one for female pedestrians. It was one in which women could perform at a high level because it played to feminine strengths in stamina and endurance events. It was also an archetypal event of the sort where the contest was solely against time or distance, so a pedestrian could perform as an individual, not dependent on finding opponents or fitting into a rules-based sporting structure or organisation. Unfortunately for the Match, all of these factors contributed to its disappearance from the sport. The extreme endurance events that were brought near to the limits of human capacity in the six-day races of the 1870s and 1880s incited huge public interest for a decade, but also an equal and opposite reaction that meant that they disappeared from the mainstream of athletics, to survive only as a spectacle in the hands of a few pedestrians like Gale and Buckler. For the female Barclayists there was a double blow, not only did their branch of the sport fade away but, unlike male pedestrians they could not continue in the sport of amateur athletics, where they were only reluctantly admitted a generation later.



[1] Walter Thom, Pedestrianism (Aberdeen: D. Chalmers, 1813) provided an hour-by-hour record of the walk; Peter Radford, The Celebrated Captain Barclay (London: Headline, 2001), is the standard modern treatment.

[2] Thom, Pedestrianism, 40, 43, 45.

[3] Powell (1734-1793) accomplished the feat four times between 1773 and 1792, with a best time of five days fifteen hours and fifteen minutes. He worked as a solicitor’s clerk but for the last twenty years of his life he was also the most famous long-distance pedestrian in the country. A biography came out soon after his death, Anon., A Short Sketch of the Life of Mr. Foster Powell, The Great Pedestrian (London: Westley, 1793).

[4] The Courier, March 9, 1801, 1; Morning Chronicle, March 2, 1808, 3; Morning Post, March 16, 1808, 4.

[5] Morning Post, December 16, 1815; Bristol Gazette, December 21, 1815; Cambrian, December 9, 1815.

[6] St James’s Chronicle, July 4, 1812, 4 (Acres); British Press, June 3, 1818, 4 (Flowers).

[7] The Star, November 25, 1815, 3.

[8] A late example of one of these matches was in September 1826 when Captain Parker walked from Hyde Park Corner to Reading and back (seventy-six miles) in nineteen hours for a wager of 100 sovereigns and heavy bets. At sixteen miles ‘he refreshed with a glass of wine’, ‘the pedestrian’s friend…accompanied the Umpire in a chaise, with the necessary provisions’ (Morning Post, 12 September, 1826, 3).

[9] ‘If a military Gentleman, by a forced march of a thousand miles in a thousand hours, could win such a prize as a thousand guineas, a poor man, by performing the like task in less than half the time, might have some chance of moderate success’ (George Wilson, A Sketch of the Life of George Wilson the Blackheath Pedestrian…Written by Himself (London: Hay and Turner, 1815), 47.

[10] Sporting Magazine 46 (September, 1815), 244.

[11] Morning Chronicle, April 15, 1817, 3; Oxford University and City Herald, August 9, 1817, 3 (Jones); Stamford Mercury, July 9, 1816, 1 (Evans); New Times, 12 May 1818, 3 (Crisp).

[12] Morning Chronicle, December 27, 1815, 3; Bell’s Weekly Messenger, July 27, 1817, 240.

[13] Adrian Harvey, The Beginnings of a Commercial Sporting Culture in Britain, 1793-1850 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), 20, 26-7, 42, 45.

[14] Mike Huggins, The Victorians and Sport (London: Hambledon and London, 2004), 115.

[15] Carmarthen Journal, January 22, 1830, 3 (Skipper); Bell’s Life, March 3, 1839, 4 (Mountjoy); Chester Chronicle, August 7, 1840, 4 (Townsend).

[16] Brighton Gazette, December 20, 1827, 3; Bell’s Life, May 25, 1828, 3.

[17] Yorkshire Gazette, November 18, 1843, 5.

[18] York Herald, February 17, 1844, 8; Hull Packet, July 4, 1845, 8; Dover Telegraph, September 6, 1845, 5; Cambridge Independent Press, 21 December 1844, 3.

[19] Richard Manks (fl. 1843-1862), known as ‘the Warwickshire Antelope’ from his birthplace.

[20] Era, August 4, 1850, 5.

[21] Liverpool Mercury, October 15, 1850, 5.

[22] Era, September 7, 1851, 5.

[23] Bell’s Life, September 21, 1851, 5.

[24] Era, July 11, 1852, 6; Liverpool Mercury, November 2, 1852, 8; Belfast News-Letter, May 3, 1852, 2; Gloucester Journal, May 15, 1852, 2; Era, May 9, 1852, 5; Leeds Intelligencer, September 4, 1852, 8; See Derek Martin, ‘James Searles and the Revival of the Barclay Match’, in Pedestrianism, ed. Dave Day (Manchester: MMU Sport and Leisure History, 2014), 111.

[25] Peter F. Radford, ‘Women’s Foot-Races in the eighteenth and nineteenth Centuries: A Popular and Widespread Practice’, Canadian Journal History of Sport 25 (1994): 50.

[26] Mary M’Mullen (or M’Millan, McMullan, etc.) was active from at least 1826 (at York, Bell’s Life, October 8, 1826, 7) until 1830 (at Norwich, Norwich Mercury, May 1, 1830, 3).

[27] Hull Packet, January 12, 1844, 4.

[28] Preston Chronicle, September 11, 1852, 3; Liverpool Mercury, October 8, 1852, 7.

[29] Manchester Examiner, June 15, 1853; Staffordshire Advertiser, August 20, 1853, 4; Liverpool Mercury, August 11, 1854, 1; Bristol Mercury, September 2, 1854, 5.

[30] There were also events at Sheffield, Trent Bridge, Carlisle, Dublin, Birkenhead and Plymouth.

[31]For example: ‘GREAT ATTRACTION!! Mrs. Dunn, the celebrated Pedestrian, in Bloomer Costume…has again been backed…to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours’ (Staffordshire Advertiser, July 23, 1853, 1).

[32] Morning Advertiser, November 21, 1851, 6; Manchester Times, July 13, 1853, 8; Era, August 27, 1854, 7.

[33] Freeman’s Journal, January 14, 1854, 1.

[34] Geelong Advertiser, April 16, 1859, 2; Bendigo Advertiser, April 13 1859, 2; September 21, 1859, 2; The Star (Ballarat), July 12, 1859, 3.

[35] Morning Advertiser, September 7, 1864, 7.

[36] Sporting Life, November 2, 1864, 4.

[37] Towns that had more than one Match were Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Burnley. There were also Matches at Carlisle, Gateshead, Stockton, Blackburn, Bury, Accrington, Halifax, Huddersfield and Honley.

[38] Leeds Express, November 26, 1864; Bell’s Life, May 20, 1865, 7; The Sportsman, August 7, 1866, 7 (Atkinson); Sporting Life, April 12, 1865, 4; Bury Times, August 11, 1866, 1 (Gowthorpe); Preston Chronicle, December 17, 1864, 7; February 11, 1865, 7; Lancaster Gazette, April 29, 1865, Supp. 1 (Parsons); Burnley Gazette, December 24, 1864, 3; Burnley Advertiser, February 4, 1865, 2 (Wood).

[39] Ibid.

[40] Era, December 26, 1869, 16.

[41] In censuses up to 1881 she gave her birthplace as Calcutta (thus 1881 Census, RG11/4384/100, p.35 (‘Mary Ann Atkinson’)), but thereafter as Barnard Castle (thus 1891 Census, RG12/4207/19, p. 32 (‘Margaret Ashworth’)).

[42] In 1870 at Nottingham (The Era, September 18, 1870, 12), in 1871 at Walsall (Walsall Free Press, July 22, 1871, 1) in 1873 at Dudley (Birmingham Daily Post, May 10, 1873, 4). Her last Barclay Match was probably that at Wigan in 1879 (Wigan Observer, June 21, 1879, 1) and she was still appearing on stage in 1881 (Era, November 19, 1881, 11).

[43] In the 1871 Census she gave her occupation as ‘dancer’ RG10/1487/126, p.2 (‘Ada Anderson’).

[44] Yorkshire Post, May 21, 1878, 5; Lincolnshire Chronicle, June 14, 1878, 7.

[45] Yorkshire Post, May 21, 1878, 5; For Ada Anderson’s career in the United States, see Roberta Park, ‘Contesting the Norm: Women and Professional Sports in Late Nineteenth-Century America’, International Journal of the History of Sport 29, no. 5 (2012): 730; Daun Shaulis, ‘Pedestriennes: Newsworthy but Controversial Women in Sporting Entertainment’, Journal of Sports History 26, no. 1 (1999): 29; Harry Hall, The Pedestriennes: America’s Forgotten Superstars (Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2014).

[46] Era, 7 November 1869, 13; 1881 Census, RG11/4384/100, p.35 (‘Voilette Atkinson’); Sporting Life, March 19, 1884, 3; Birmingham Daily Post, March 18, 1884, 4.

[47] The most detailed account of Weston’s career is Paul S. Marshall, King of the Peds (Milton Keynes: Authorhouse, 2008).

[48] Five Astley Belt world championships took place in London in March 1878, in New York in September 1878, March 1879 and June 1879 and in London in September 1879.

[49] The era of the six-day races has received attention in Thomas J. Osler and Edward L. Dodd, ‘Six-Day Pedestrian Races’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 301, no. 1 (1977): 853; Edward S. Sears, Running Through the Ages, 2nd ed. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Co., 2015), 124-134; Matthew Algeo, Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk was America’s Favorite Sport (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014).

[50] Athletic News, June 3, 1876, 1; Bell’s Life, August 25, 1877, 9.

[51]For example, William Barnett walked a standard Barclay Match at the Wellington Street Baths in Leeds (Huddersfield Chronicle, January 1, 1878, 3) and failed in an attempted 1,500 miles in 1,000 hours at Rotherhithe (Sporting Life, August 10, 1878, 4).

[52] Yorkshire Post, May 21, 1878, 5; Bradford Daily Telegraph, January 27, 1881, 1.

[53] Yorkshire Post, September 30, 1878, 2; Bell’s Life, February 9, 1878, 9.

[54] Northampton Mercury, June 9, 1888, 8; Sporting Life, November 10, 1885, 4.

[55] Lincolnshire Chronicle, June 14, 1878, 7.

[56] York Herald, March 24, 1884, 8; Sporting Life, March 1, 1886, 4.

[57] Manchester Examiner and Times, March 5, 1853, 7; Preston Chronicle, June 11, 1853, 7; October 22, 1853, 5.

[58] Census 1861, RG9/4043/26, p.47 (‘William Gale’); Cardiff Times, October 2, 1863, 5 (1,000 miles at Cardiff); January 20, 1877, 2 (trainer).

[59] Western Mail, July 26, 1877, 3.

[60] Illustrated London News, October 6, 1877, 337-338; ‘There are several ways of attempting suicide. The undertaking … at the Agricultural Hall by Gale is one of them’ (Lancet, November 3, 1877, 665); Referee, November 18, 1877, 5.

[61] For example, at Hull (York Herald, April 22, 1878, 7), and he did similar walks at Brighton, Boston and Lincoln.

[62] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 22, 1878, 4; Boston Daily Globe, August 9, 1881, 1.

[63] Western Mail, January 28, 1885, 4 (between Newport and Cardiff); June 29, 1885, 3 (between Merthyr and Tredegar); Western Mail, November 7, 1885, 3.

[64] South Wales Echo, May 15, 1894, 3 (between Bristol and Weston).

[65] South Wales Daily Post, September 18, 1896, 7.

[66] Yorkshire Evening Post, June 7, 1898, 3.

[67] Yorkshire Evening Post, July 29, 1902, 4.

[68] Sporting Life, September 12, 1905, 4.

[69] Washington Post, October 3, 1905, 3.

[70] Yorkshire Evening Post, September 17, 1907, 3.

[71] Hull Daily Mail, November 19, 1909, 3.