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Author Paul goes in search of Victorian King of the Peds’

PUBLISHED: 22:07 26 November 2008 | UPDATED: 13:50 05 October 2010

A NEW book is shedding light on the little-known but once popular Victorian spectator sport of Pedestrianism. Author Paul Marshall, who discovers his own ancestor was famous pedestrianist,’ is challenged to find who was King of the Peds,’ which he uses as his title, and has drawn up a shortlist which includes two champs from London’s working class East End

King of the Peds, by Paul Marshall

A NEW book is shedding light on the little-known but once popular Victorian spectator sport of Pedestrianism, writesElse Kvist.

Author Paul Marshall, who discovers his own ancestor was famous 'pedestrianist,' is challenged to find who was 'King of the Peds,' which he uses as his title.

He has drawn up a shortlist which includes two champs from London's working class East End.

'Pedestrianism' was a mix of long-distance walking and running, which attracted eager punters willing to bet a bob or two.

The 'pedestrian mania' reached its dizzying heights in 1879.

Athletes from across the world would be attracted to the Royal Agricultural Hall near The Angel, Islington, now London's Business Design Centre.

Among the scores of rugged men dressed in an array of colourful costumes making their way around sawdust tracks for up to six days and nights were George Hazael, from Whitechapel, and William 'Corkey' Gentleman, from Bethnal Green.

Hazel, the 'Whitechapel Walking Wonder' born in 1844 in the Commercial Road, makes the 'King of the Peds' shortlist.

He travelled all over Britain in pursuit of 'pedestrianism' prize money. Then he emigrated to America and became the first man to make 600 miles in six days, winning the staggering sum of $18,380, estimated at a cool £240,000 in today's money.

The other 'pedestrianist' Marshal found from the East End, Bethnal Green's Bill Gentleman who was born in 1833, earned his 'Corkey the cat man' identity selling cats' meat, which he delivered walking between 12 and 15 miles a day.

He also made money running in handicap races from a mile to 10 miles at East London venues such as Hackney Wick grounds and the Prince of Wales grounds at Mile End, for cash prizes up to £10.

These men had "the pulling power of yesteryear" and latter-day sports stars like Mohammed Ali, Tiger Woods, Pele and David Beckham, Marshall has discovered.

Marshall got interested in 'pedestrianism' after his grandmother told him as child that they had a famous ancestor.

His great, great uncle was George Littlewood from Sheffield, another 'pedestrianist' contender for the book's title.

King of the Peds, by Paul Marshall, published by Authorhouse at £18.99.


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