Winding back the clock at the Wellesley Recreation Ground
- Credit: Archant Library
Take a trip back in time at the Wellesley Recreation Ground in Great Yarmouth.
Perhaps you remember cheering on the Bloaters when you watched your first football match. You may even have a ticket stub from that infamous victory over Crystal Palace in 1953 that was passed down to you by a loved one. A family member might recall attending celebrity cricket matches many moons ago. Maybe you think back to tearing around the track while you represented your school at an athletics meeting.
Many Yarmouth locals will have fond memories of the Wellesley Recreation Ground. But what is the story behind this much-loved venue?
In September 1885, the town council proposed developing seven and a half acres of North Denes into a recreation ground. A circular cinder bicycle track, one third of a mile long, was laid there in April 1888 but the ground was officially opened a few months later on August 6 by the town mayor. An estimated 3,000 people attended that day and paid a shilling for the privilege.
It is thought that the first football match played at the Wellesley took place on April 11, 1890 when the County Captain’s team visited on their annual tour and played against a Yarmouth side.
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One year later, the town council’s Recreation Committee recommended building a grandstand with a refreshment pavilion and dressing room – they estimated it would cost £1,000 - which in today’s money would be roughly £128,000.
The new stand opened on Whit Monday, June 11, 1892, and more than 4,000 visitors attended to watch a mix of cycling and athletics events.
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Even though Great Yarmouth Town FC formed in 1897 it was not until the 1901-2 season when they were allowed to use the Old Recreation Ground – as the Wellesley was known back in those days.
Since then, the ground has hosted several historic and fascinating events. During WWII, American airmen played baseball games there. In 1953 the ground welcomed its biggest crowd – 8,944 people – who saw the Bloaters beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in the FA Cup first round.
In the 1970s Father Christmas landed by helicopter in the ground several times, and the television programme ‘It’s a Knockout’ came to the Wellesley.
A fire broke out in the grandstand on September 16 1987 which took several weeks to repair. Two years later, a £2,100,000 all-weather athletics track was built and Olympic sprinter John Regis officially opened it on August 5, 1990.
More recently, in May 2002, the stand, tennis pavilion and ticket office received a Grade II listing.
What are your memories of the Wellesley Recreation Ground? Let us know in the comment section below.
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