|An illustration of foot racing in Victorian times|
Early sporting contests were either trials of strength or speed. Prize fighting and wrestling fell into the former category and running into the latter. Wolverton did not have a running track of any kind until the Park was opened in 1885 and races were largely improvised affairs. A sprint over a short distance, described in those days as a foot race, could be easily organised and a crowd could assemble to watch the outcome.
One that was reported in 1858 took place outside the Locomotive Inn (now the Galleon) at Old Wolverton. It is likely that the field to the east of the Locomotive was used as it was available for other sporting activities. This contest was organised between James Martin, known as “the Wolverton hero” and James Stones, another very fast runner. A prize of £1, about a week’s wages, would go to the winner. Now James Martin was 45 years old and his challenger only 25, so Stones sportingly gave the older man five yards head start. Even so, he was unable to make up any distance on the older sprinter who crossed the finish line five yards ahead. The distance of the race was not specified, but one assumes 100 yards.