Robert Sadler Poem

The following poem was read out at the unveiling of the plaque to Robert Sadler in Garratt Lane on September 16th 2017. It is by local Tooting poet, John Byrne.






Way back in Victorian days

there emerged, a new exercise craze

and come sunshine or rain, just behind Garratt Lane

they held various running displays


Robert Sadler with space out the back

had constructed a new running track

this appealed to the feet of the sporting elite

who decided they’d give it a crack


On the Summerstown circuit to tread

keen to verify what had been said

but a five minute mile proved too stiff a trial

so they settled for seven instead


Pedestrians wiry and thin

would stroll to the start to begin

where in fog or in freeze, long moustache to the breeze

they mustered belief from within


His ambitious dream realised

and competitor’s limbs energised

Robert Sadler’s work done, fired the first ‘starting gun’

with a glee that could not be disguised





Then just like the tortoise and hare

their talents defying compare

in those ill fitting shorts, all whiskers and warts

they advanced round that closed thoroughfare


The small fellow knew how to win

he battled through thick and through thin

in the final furlongs he went hammer and tongs

to succeed by a slender margin


The method of start seemed quite fair

observed by a crowd standing there

they would wait on their marks to the sound of the larks

till a bloke chucked his cap in the air


This three lap per mile running track

was a harsh place when under attack

yet once trimmed to four became less of a chore

and quickly they learned the new knack


Just the one rather raw complication

Bob’s Grounds lacked a railway station

so they all trundled down from far flung Wandsworth Town

in true sportsmanlike preparation


Bob served only best beer of course

so Young’s was the most likely source

there were pints for the men who often drank ten

and a gallon or two for the horse




Free entry is what I’m announcing

promised Bob, his critics denouncing

they will not pay again, a pledge I’ll maintain

their petty grievances trouncing


The 200 lap walking event

lasted almost 10 hours in extent

and the crowd fell asleep when it slowed to a creep

this was difficult to prevent


There was scheming and hold ups galore

you’d wonder what a schedule was for

and with darkness descending a premature ending

meant they all came back next time for more


The track’s pulling power was revived

once Red Indian ‘Deerfoot’ arrived

this new long distance king much enigma did bring

and for decades his record survived


Mr ‘Deerfoot’ came then he went

years on they still spoke of that gent

a homeward bound trip on the Great Eastern ship

saw the bulk of his winnings well spent


False starts were a source of frustration

attracting deserved consternation

when the crowd became bored with the constant discord

‘Bell’s Life’ sought some clarification




Through the full range of English weather

pedestrians came together

from far and from near thirteen months of the year

to burn some serious leather


One chap ran an ultra fast mile

shattering the record in style

but four minutes two seconds was too fast they reckoned

so his feat was never compiled


The ‘Crow Catcher’ never caught crows

he had little interest in those

he just ran like the wind, deficit to rescind

who dreamt up that name goodness knows!


They travelled from far and from wide

extravagant bets to decide

so fortunes were lost as some found to their cost

along with their athletic pride


The hundred yards entry was sparse

neither runner possessed any class

after just a short spell they both tripped and fell

the discipline ending in farce


With the ‘Suffolk Stag’ just past his prime

he endeavoured to win one more time

but failed to retrieve the ace up his sleeve

never reaching the finishing line




Track records were set and then broken

small trophies awarded in token

there were sporting delights on those warm summer nights

and spectator interests awoken


Did the great monarch ever attend?

did she cheer as they charged round the bend?

seeming somewhat bemused yet quite often amused

her everyday look to transcend!


The gambling and drinking was rife

causing all sorts of trouble and strife

this disorderly den saw the ruin of men

playing havoc with family life


Then as neighbours began to complain

about drunken brawls in the Lane

the pedestrians knew as the backlash grew

that they’d never compete there again


So the Running Ground fell from favour

of the month, no longer the flavour

its eleven year run filled with all types of fun

left many a mem’ry to savour


Robert Sadler to this very day

rests four running track laps away

modern athletic rank, him and his like to thank

for their brave pioneering foray



















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