Friday, January 22, 2010

Captain Robert Barclay Allardice (1779 – 1854) “The Celebrated Pedestrian”

This post is a little research on an event that took place in Newmarket Suffolk in 1809  by a famous pedestrian.

 If you are not familar with Suffolk England where I run then  I guess you may have at least heard of Newmarket . Some 16 miles west of Bury St Edmunds on the border of Cambridgeshire is the world famous home of horse racing. 

Whilst horse racing has taken place for over 2000 years it was Charles II who did more than any other monarch to advance the sport of horseracing in England. In 1665  he instituted the first race to be run in Britain under written rules and exported the name of Newmarket and the sport of horseracing to

America that same year. The first race track in the USA the Newmarket Course was built in 1665 in New York

The Jockey Club, a London gentlemen's club, came to Newmarket in 1752, and because it gradually bought up the land in Newmarket, it was able to regulate how racing took place there; these rules became adopted throughout the country, and emulated throughout the world.

During the 18th and 19th centuries pedestrianism was a huge spectator sport in Britain. It was an early form of race walking and was competitive with large wagers being stacked. Its similarity to horse racing being obvious - large crowds and big bets equestrianism (horse racing) pedestranism (race walking).

Samuel Pepys had written in the 17th century of footmen in service to aristocrats competing for large wagers. Footmen were employed to accompany coaches and walk ahead with important letters and to clear a path in narrow alleyways.

Born in 1777 near Stonehaven in Scotland 

Robert Barclay Allardice, who was universally known as Captain Barclay, was born in August 1777 at Ury House just outside Stonehaven in Scotland. Barclay was one of the strongest men of his time, which seems to have been a family trait. His family were famous for their muscular prowess and pastimes such as wrestling bulls, carrying sacks of flour in their teeth and uprooting trees with their bare hands were part of the Barclay family tradition. As a boy, Barclay played with a two handed sword which was too heavy for most grown men to lift. By the age of 20, he could lift an 18 stone man from the floor to a table with one hand. Hammer throwing and caber tossing were like children's games to Barclay.

However, it was his extraordinary walking feats that earned Barclay his greatest renown and the title of the 'Celebrated Pedestrian'. Long distance walking was a popular spectator sport in the 18th and 19th centuries with huge crowds willing to pay entrance fees to watch walking events. It could also be extremely lucrative for its top competitors, particularly if, like Barclay, they were not adverse to a degree of gamesmanship to stack-up the odds. In 1801, he wagered a thousand guineas that he could walk 90 miles in 21 hours, but reputedly caught a cold, and lost. He then increased the stake to 2,000 guineas, and lost again. He then got odds which would pay him 5,000 guineas if he won, which he did, with an hour to spare.

His first recorded competitive walking performance was in 1796 when he walked for 110 miles in 19 hours 27 minutes in a muddy park; in the same year he did 90 miles in 20 hours 22 minutes; in 1802 he went 64 miles in 10 hours; in 1805 he walked 72 miles between breakfast and dinner; in 1806 he walked 110 miles 100 miles over bad roads in 19 hours; and in 1807, 78 miles on hilly roads in 14 hours. In 1808, he started at 5am, walked 30 miles grouse shooting, walked 60 miles home in 11 hours, dined and walked 16 miles to a ball, returned to his home by 7am, and spent the next day shooting, having travelled 130 miles and gone without sleep for two nights.

In 1809, at Newmarket he accomplished his most noted feat of endurance walking. This involved walking one mile in each of 1,000 successive hours. In other words Barclay was required to walk a mile an hour, every hour, for forty-two days and nights. Barclay started on the 1st June and completed his historic feat on the 12th July. His average time varied from 14 minutes 54 seconds in the first week to 21 minutes 4 seconds in the last week.

Some reports on the event :-

"It was the afternoon of Weds 12th July and by now the crowds on Newmarket Heath had grown so vast that most of the men, women and children had very little possibility of seeing the action. It was hot with the midsummer sun beating down as more and more people arrived, drawn by the weeks of almost incessant media coverage in The London Chronicle, The St James Chronicle and The Times… Among the general hubbub, the noise of enthusiastic spectators and the smells from the food stalls, the mood was of excitement and satisfaction. Just being able to tell people when you got back home that you were there at the finish. Just being able to tell your children and grandchildren that you had been there and part of it. Part of the greatest human feat ever attempted. That was enough."

From The Celebrated Captain Barclay by Peter Radford

The Times
The gentleman on Wednesday completed his arduous pedestrian undertaking, to walk a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours, at the rate of a mile in each and every hour. He had until four o'clock P.M. to finish his task; but he performed his last mile in the quarter of an hour after three, with perfect ease and great spirit, amidst an immense concourse of spectators. The influx of company had so much increased on Sunday, that it was recommended that the ground should be roped in. To this, Captain Barclay at first objected; but the crowd became so great on Monday, and he had experienced so much interruption, that he was at last prevailed upon to allow this precaution to be taken. For the last two days he appeared in higher spirits, and performed his walk with apparently more ease, and in shorter time than he had done for some days before. With the change of the weather, he had thrown off his loose great coat, which he wore during the rainy period, and on Wednesday performed in a flannel. He also put on shoes thicker than any which he had used in the earlier part of his performance. He said that during the first night after his walk he would have himself awaked twice or thrice, to avoid the danger of a too sudden transition from almost constant exertion to a state of long repose.
One hundred to one, and indeed any odds whatever, were offered on Wednesday; but so strong was the confidence in his success, that no bets could be obtained. The multitude of people who resorted to the scene of action, in the course of the concluding days, was unprecedented. Not a bed could be procured on Tuesday night at Newmarket. Some bullet points
  • “1,000 miles in 1,000 hours for 1,000 Guineas” 
  • Captain Barclay wagered with a man called James Wedderburn Webster that he could walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours, covering exactly one mile in each and every hour of every day and night. 
  • The event, held on Newmarket Heath between 1st June and 12th July 1809, attracted huge crowds and vast amounts of money as it was estimated that over £100,000, probably worth £40 million today, was gambled on the event.
  • Captain Barclay was a remarkable athlete renowned for his outstanding powers of endurance and indestructible physique. Barclay was one of the strongest men of his time and was able to lift an18 stone man from the floor to a table with just one hand.  However, it was his extraordinary walking feats that earned him his greatest renown and the title of the 'Celebrated Pedestrian'.
  • His remarkable achievement in successfully winning his wager made him one of the most famous athletes in England at this time and also one of the wealthiest. The original wager was only for 1,000 guineas, but due to numerous side bets his winnings actually rose to over 16,000 guineas, over £6m in today’s terms.
  • His diet while walking consisted of 5 to 6 pounds of animal protein per day and he kept well hydrated with numerous glasses of wine, ale, porter and cups of tea. Whilst walking, Barclay felt the need to take certain security measures to guarantee his safety especially at night. He carried a pair of pistols in his belt and employed prize fighter ‘Big’ John Gully to accompany him.
  • Barclay’s average time per mile varied from 14 minutes 54 seconds in the first week to 21 minutes 4 seconds in the last week. He stopped only to have little rest breaks within each hour. Deep sleep was impossible and therefore Barclay would have suffered chronic sleep depravation.  The effort came close to breaking him physically. 
  • If the report of the total wagers was accurate, they were equivalent to some £5 million ($US 8 million) in modern terms.
Richard Dunwoody 2009 

Richard Dunwoody marked the 200th anniversary of Barclay's achievement by replicating the walk in 2009.Dunwoody was on the road for 255 hours 57 minutes and 36 seconds walking the '1000 Miles in 1000 Hours', 39 hours and 51 seconds quicker than Captain Barclay. Although a superior diet and trainers would have helped.

His fastest walking mile was 12 minutes and 19 seconds and his slowest, 17 minutes and 9 seconds with the average at 15 minutes and 21 seconds.

Dunwoody was accompanied for most of his walk with supporters and  famous stars such as Jilly Cooper, Michael Holding, Frankie Dettori, AP McCoy, Miss England, jockey Hayley Turner and Sir Michael Stoute.


  1. It is great to hear some history on your place. Lots of history to read. I find your place very interesting. Who, knows, I might put it on my world travels list. Thanks for the good read. Have a good one.

  2. Anonymous9:40 am

    very interesting ,i thought i walked a lot!


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