Type: Cinder (no longer exists - grassed over), 576y, 6 lanes, 6 lane straight
Ceremonial County: Cambridgeshire
NUTS Name: Cambridge (F)
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OS National Grid Reference: TL 458579
National Grid Reference: 545800, 257900
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The track was originally 3 laps to the mile, made of black ash and of a rather contorted ovalish shape, although it had quite a long home straight (up to 150 yards because of extensions at each end). There were a couple of rather tight bends, one of them needed to get around a tree that was inside the track. This tree was removed (during Chris Brasher's CUAC Presidency) in about 1950, and the track slightly realigned. It had thereby become shorter, and was 576 yards around. All races after 1950 tended to end up a little stump of track running on from the "home straight".
Originally Fenners was just an area of land (with orchards) owned by Caius College. About 1845 William Fenner hired it for a period, and levelled and mowed it to provide a cricket pitch. He let this out to the University Cricket Club, and they used it from about 1848 (and continue to do so to this day).
In the early 1850s, Fenner reckoned he could make a bit more money by putting down a "cinder path" and letting this out to Cambridge Colleges to hold athletics events (at this time there was no official "University" athletic club, but lots of individual Colleges had clubs). The path was pretty narrow, and in later years it was widened and facilities for field events (jumps and throws) added. The CUAC was formed in a sort of unofficial way about 1858, and more formally about 1862. They became Fenners' main tenants for athletics, while CUCC were the cricket clients. Fenners thus became the "home" of both CU Cricket and Athletics, although Caius still owned the land, with Fenner as tenant with a reasonable lease.
An early pavilion was built about 1870, and a later one about 1890 (the present cricket pavilion dates form about 1970). Fenner became a bit strange after a while, and left Cambridge for the West Country (about 1888 or so). The future for CUCC and CUAC began to look a bit insecure, since Caius, as soon as Fenner's lease ended looked as if they might sell the land for development. So the CU Cricket club decided to try to raise money to buy the land from Caius. But in fact, in the 1890s CUCC was not in as healthy a financial state as CUAC, so CUCC invited CUAC to come in on the bid. The 2 clubs put out an appeal, and got money from all over (even the Prince of Wales, who was quite an athletics enthusiast), and managed to buy the land in 1895. It was, by common usage, still called Fenners, and is to this day. So CUAC and CUCC, jointly, are the freehold owners of Fenners. But the 2 clubs, who are officially together a Company, governed by the companies act, have given the University a long lease on Fenners, so long as the University maintains it as a sporting facility.
Because ot the cricket season in the summer term, no Athletics could be carried out in that term at Fenners. So all athletics was in the Autumn and Spring terms.
This was OK for 100+ years, because the Varsity match was in March, and all British athletics took place between October and April. But eventually various cissies decided that athletics was a summer sport, so CUAC had to look for another home. So the last athletics took place at Fenners in May 1959, and CUAC moved to a new track at Milton Road. The track at Fenners remained there for another couple of years, then was dug up and turfed over. But in a very dry summer you can still see the outlines of where it was (in 1997 both the pre 1950, tree avoiding track and the post 1950 detour version could both be seen).
For the last 80 years or so of its life, running at Fenners was clockwise (except for some hurdles races, which tended to be randomly clockwise or anticlockwise according to circumstances). But in the very early years all running on all tracks was variable (clockwise or anticlockwise).
It was believed to be the Americans, who started to interfere with athletics things about 1890, who decided that runners should always go the same way round no matter what track they were on.
W. R. Loader, author of Testament of a Runner' said that the track was "thick with memories, thick with shadows, thick with greatness".
This detailed track history was kindly supplied by Dr. Chris Thorne of Cambridge University.
Last update: 09/05/1999
Please send any amendments to Tim Grose
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© Copyright Tim Grose 2003