The origins of organised sports in Ambleside have variously been traced back to the granting of the market charter and the annual fair. As far back as the 17th and 18th centuries sporting events were held in Low Wood Bay where events included regattas with rowing races as well as cock-fighting and bare fist boxing (both of which would be unacceptable today). There are many early reports relating to wrestling contests, but whether they were linked to larger organised events along with other sports is not clear. The most significant of these was in 1809 when Professor John Wilson (aka Christopher North of Elleray) offered the then huge sum of five guineas and a silver belt to the winner of the Ambleside contest.
The Golden Jubilee year of Queen Victoria’s reign, was the initiative for an organised Sports in Ambleside in 1886. It was so well received that one enthusiastic report stated: “It is a long time since any of this class of sports were held at Ambleside, but having broken the ice, as it were, it is the intention, so I hear, of those gentlemen who took the initiative in the above, to try to make them annual.”
So the era of the annual organised sports had begun and the principles of sponsorship were quickly embedded. In 1887 the sports commenced shortly after 5pm with prizes from the trades people and “a sum of money from the gentry”. It is interesting to note that the following events were included: wrestling, 100 yards flat race, running high leap, putting the stone, hop skip and jump, hurdle race, fell race, running long leap and potato race. In 1892 an appropriate name was initiated by the cycle club – Ambleside and District Amateur Athletic Sports.
There followed a chequered history. Both the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Great War (1914-18) took their toll. In 1920 the Sports were resumed and held on Miller Field but soon they lapsed until after the Second World War.
The Modern Era
The current format of the sports and its new setting came into being immediately after the Second World War. In 1945 the Hound Trailing Association arranged a series of three trails and a boys’ fell race, after which a meeting held in the Golden Rule decided to restart Ambleside Sports (today’s hard working, enthusiastic committee holds its meetings at the same location!). The setting for the “new” sports was to be Rydal Park, through kind permission of Rydal Estates and its tenant farmers. Since 1946 the sports have been held annually at this location, the only exception being Foot & Mouth Year (2001) when a Family Fun Day was held at the Rugby Club, featuring children’s races, which proved so popular that they were introduced into the main program when the sports returned to Rydal Park. There have been many landmarks since then but a few significant dates were:
1947 – the sports changed from Saturday to Thursday
1956 – introduction of the Ambleside Sprint
1962 – quote from the Westmorland Gazette “Now no equal in Lakeland for the number of events included in a programme crowded, by perfect organisation, into little more than 5 hours”
1984 – introduction of the Rydal Round Fell Race
2002 – children’s races re-introduced, with their own running track.
2015 – entries for track events now accepted on the day.
This brief history is produced with kind permission from Marjorie Blackburn,
the author of Our Traditional Lakeland Sports