Byline: TONY HENDERSON
AS the Olympic wind-down continues, the spotlight has fallen on the importance of sport in the life of the North East more than a century ago.
Ashbrooke Sports Club in Sunderland is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The club, with its pavilion dating from the late 19th Century, is today home to cricket, rugby, hockey, tennis, squash and bowls sections.
It is also a meeting venue for Sunderland Strollers running club and has football training and coaching sessions.
The club's archive has thrown up what is described by Ashbrooke archivist Keith Gregson as a real gem.
It is a huge, handwritten book covering every detail of the club's annual Whit holiday sporting events, from 1893 to 1904.
They attracted up to 7,000 spectators.
The club actually opened with a Whit sports event on May 30, 1887.
The book is an important social history source which gives an insight into the type of people who were taking part in sports activities in the North East at the time.
"This is an exciting discovery due to the depth of information in the book," says club member and author Keith, who has written a book on the history of Sunderland rugby club, which was set up in 1873.
Genealogist Keith, who lives in Sunderland, is a former history teacher whose books include Tracing Your Northern Ancestors, A Viking in the Family and this year's Sporting Ancestors: Tracing Your Family's Athletic Past, published by the History Press.
Now Keith is applying his family research skills to investigate the individuals recorded in the club's Whit sports book.
"It is a real gold mine of information for the social and family historian," he says.
"It lists the names and addresses of all the cyclists and athletes who took part - on average more than 200 entrants each year.
"This was a time when the Victorians and Edwardians were keen on exercise and both harrier clubs and cycling clubs sprang up all across the region.
"Other information in the book enables us to work out which races they entered, their clubs and colours and the handicaps they carried with them "We can discover who were the average club athletes and cyclists and who were the real 'cracks'."
Keith has been able to discover the occupations and ages of many of the competitors.
He says: "'Some came back year after year but, as a rough guess, there must have been well over 1,000 different athletes and cyclists involved over the 12 years and I can recognise many popular North East surnames. …