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Saturday, 15 May 2010


The Bayley family, who followed the yellow brick road of the industrial revolution to become prosperous Lancashire mill owners, were of eighteenth century farming stock. They were noted not only for their business acumen (wrote an early twentieth century Stalybridge historian) but also for “their exceptionally fine physique and love of all field sports.”

Racing over hurdles, Brompton
(from The Graphic magazine, 1871)

George Adam Bayley, a cousin and contemporary of my great grandmother’s, inherited the genes of his father William, of whom it was written “in physique he had few equals and no superiors”; of his grandfather Joseph, “a finely built and handsome man, a daring horseman”; and of his great grandfather Joseph, “a fine and powerful man.”

Adam was a keen amateur athlete, a noted swimmer, wrestler, runner and jumper. At a great Athletic Festival held in Manchester, 29th July, 1865, open to all comers, his record was as follows: cleared the bar at 9 feet 9 inches in the pole-jump; covered a distance of 18 feet 5I inches in the long jump; cleared at a stand jump 9 feet 9 inches; won the 220 yards hurdle race easily; and threw the cricket ball a distance of 105 yards. Nobody throws the cricket ball any more (except cricketers of course), but when I was a lad it was one of the central events of the school sports day.

For his wonderful feats that day Adam was awarded a silver medal for pole-jumping, silver medal for long jumping, and gold medal for running and jumping. I’m afraid none of the Bayleys’ athletic prowess has come down to me or any of my siblings. My brother and I are tall and had legs long enough for the high jump to be easy at junior school, but that was as far as we went with sport. 

My father had an arrhythmic heart condition that forced his withdrawal from sports activities at his school, something he always regretted. He turned to academia. His father’s generation were keen alpine climbers, but  by day white collar professonals of one sort or another - lawyers and historians. In general we have been all thinkers rather than doers, whose genes apparently (and ironically) overpowered those of the strapping Bayley lads.

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