Bobby Bridge : Our First Olympian and World Record Holder

If you go to Google and search for Robert ‘Bobby’ Bridge you will find the limited information below charting his short-lived, but remarkable career.

 

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Initially a postman, he later qualified as a dentist despite the handicap of his left arm being amputated at the elbow. On his début in the AAA championships in 1912, at the age of 29, he won both the 2 miles and 7 miles walk and he repeated the double in 1913 and 1914. At the 1919 Championships he won the 2 miles for the fourth consecutive time and was the only pre-War champion to retain his title. At the Northern Championships he took the 2 mile/7 mile double four times (1912-14, 1919), won the 2 miles twice more (1921-22), and had a fifth successive win the 7 miles in 1920. In one race at Stamford Bridge in 1914 he broke the world record for every distance from 11 miles to 16 miles (2-05:39.8) and also set a new 2-hour record.Personal Bests: 2 mile Walk – 13:48.8 (1912); 7 mile Walk – 52:06.8 (1914); 2-hour Walk – 24.781 km. (15 m, 701y).

Bobby bridge

 

In the ‘First Thirty Years’ to be found in the Club’s 1967/68 Year Book this paragraph celebrates his achievements.

The first and possibly the greatest of the club’s outstanding performers was R. Bridge. Bobby Bridge, as he was known, was a one-armed postman, whose victories and titles would fill a booklet on their own. Among his most notable triumphs were his A. A. A. titles. He won the 2 miles title in 1911/12/13/14 and again in 1919 and to add to these he won the 7 miles title in 1912, tied for first place with the celebrated H.L.V. Ross in 1913, winning again outright in 1914. Achieving the A.A.A.’s double three years is an outstanding feat and but for the war….., who knows? Bobby’s greatest day was probably the 2nd of May, 2014, when at Stamford Bridge, London, he rewrote the British record book from 11 to 15 miles and also set a world record by covering 15 miles 701 yards in two hours. This was the same race in which the famous Edgar Horton of surrey W.C. set world record figures for 12 hours walking. Even after his great years Bobby continued to race, but the loss of a leg in a motoring accident in the early 1930’s brought also a great loss to race walking


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However in a fascinating social history of Liverpool Pembroke Athletic Club, ‘Run Through a Brick Wall, written by Charles Gains, we find out a little more about our hero, along with a discrepancy or two. Here he is said to have endured his tragic accident as early as 1926.

Bobby Bridge was an internationally known walker. Although a member of Pembroke he competed mostly under Lancashire Walking Club which catered for his specialism. He represented Britain at the Stockholm Olympic Games and reportedly held several world records in his day. A tragic accident when he was still competing in 1926 terminated his career. Thereafter he remained steadfastly supporting the club as an official until his death in 1953.

We don’t have a full record of all of Bobby’s performances but here are two:

 30.06.1912 Bridge, Bob Brighton 2 miles(W) 13:48.8 min

31.05.1914 Bridge, Bob Stamford Bridge 15 miles(W) 1hr 56:41.4 min

These would still be considered useful times today !

The Chorley Guardian wrote the following obituary for Bob in 1954 :

Robert Bridge was the oldest of 15 children from Lathom, and moved to Chorley in about1898 where he was a postman and later worked in a dental practice. Robert had a passion for athletic sports and became a self-taught, home trained walker. At the 1912 Olympics in Stockhlom, he took part in the 10km walk, but was disqualified (Robert’s left arm was deformed at birth, which led to suspicions about his walking style and was a possible reason for his disqualification). In the 1913 season, he beat all competition and became Northern Amateur and International Walking Champion. In 1914, he covered 1 mile in 7 min, 21 and 3/5ths seconds to take the world record. He said “My greatest ambition is to win the Olympic Games walking contest for England in 1916″. Unfortunately, he was never to achieve this as the 1916 games, to be hosted in Berlin, did not take place because of the war. Robert was the Amateur Athletic Association champion for 1912, 1913 and 1914 over two miles and seven miles and in 1919 retained the two miles championship. Tragically, in a motorcycle accident in 1926, he lost one ofthe legs that had carried him to fame as an athlete. Although crippled he continued to act as umpire at athletic events until he was 70. He left Chorley to go into business in Liverpool where he died in July 1953.

 By co-incidence Bob was born in Lathom, only yards from the home of Liverpool Pembroke & Sefton Harriers today at Edge Hill.

As Lathom is just up the canal from Wigan on the way to Ormskirk and Southport I’ve done my share of training on the towpaths around the village, but never knew it was Bobby’s birthplace. In retrospect I like to think I was treading in Bobby’s shoes, even if not fit to wear them. Almost exactly 131 years from his birth on April 16 it’s a good time to salute his memory.

Thanks to Trevor McDermot and Ron Wallwork for the links and material.

 

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6 Responses to Bobby Bridge : Our First Olympian and World Record Holder

  1. Terry Payne says:

    You may be interested to know I have my great uncle Toms trophy! It was the original Manchester to Blackpool trophy won outright by Tom Payne in 1910 after winning it in 1909 and 1908. It is fully restored and has been re guilted to its original glory.

  2. Tony Taylor says:

    Forgive this late response, Terry. I’m just about to revive the site, which has been dormant. It’s amazing that you’ve got the original 1910 Manchester – Blackpool trophy that Tom won outright.
    Is there any chance of a photo in its original glory? If so, post to me at tonymtaylor@gmail.com. It would be much appreciated. Best wishes for the New Year.

  3. John Basford says:

    I have just found this! Bobby Bridge was my maternal grandfather and I still remember him very well. I have number of photos of him in his heyday as an athlete and a most treasure memory, his participants medal from the 1912 Olympics. I was aware of various snippets of his achievements but his article brought it all together. If their is further memorabilia relating to him I would be grateful for copies and I am happy to share what I have with the club.

  4. Tony Taylor says:

    John – forgive this belated reply to your fascinating news. It would be brilliant if you could attend one of our club races, together with the photos and the 1912 medal. How possible might this be? Best wishes.

    • John Basford says:

      Hi Tony, I tried a reply to you gmail address but I am not sure if you received it. We would love to attend one of your race meetings, unfortunately we are some distance away in Essex. We are planning to come up to Lancashire at some point and don’t have any firm plans as yet. If you could let me have a schedule of your races, I’ll see what I can arrange. All the best, John

  5. Tony Taylor says:

    Apologies for not replying earlier. I’ve sent our programme of races via e-mail. Crossing fingers our paths will cross. Best Wishes.

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