THE CELEBRATED PEDESTRIAN
Robert Barclay Allardice, who was universally known as Captain Barclay, was born in August 1777 at Ury House just outside Stonehaven in Scotland. Barclay was one of the strongest men of his time, which seems to have been a family trait. His family were famous for their muscular prowess and pastimes such as wrestling bulls, carrying sacks of flour in their teeth and uprooting trees with their bare hands were part of the Barclay family tradition. As a boy, Barclay played with a two handed sword which was too heavy for most grown men to lift. By the age of 20, he could lift an 18 stone man from the floor to a table with one hand. Hammer throwing and caber tossing were like children's games to Barclay.
However, it was his extraordinary walking feats that earned Barclay his greatest renown and the title of the 'Celebrated Pedestrian'. Long distance walking was a popular spectator sport in the 18th and 19th centuries with huge crowds willing to pay entrance fees to watch walking events. It could also be extremely lucrative for its top competitors, particularly if, like Barclay, they were not adverse to a degree of gamesmanship to stack-up the odds. In 1801, he wagered a thousand guineas that he could walk 90 miles in 21 hours, but reputedly caught a cold, and lost. He then increased the stake to 2,000 guineas, and lost again. He then got odds which would pay him 5,000 guineas if he won, which he did, with an hour to spare.
His first recorded competitive walking performance was in 1796 when he walked for 110 miles in 19 hours 27 minutes in a muddy park; in the same year he did 90 miles in 20 hours 22 minutes; in 1802 he went 64 miles in 10 hours; in 1805 he walked 72 miles between breakfast and dinner; in 1806 he walked 110 miles 100 miles over bad roads in 19 hours; and in 1807, 78 miles on hilly roads in 14 hours. In 1808, he started at 5am, walked 30 miles grouse shooting, walked 60 miles home in 11 hours, dined and walked 16 miles to a ball, returned to his home by 7am, and spent the next day shooting, having travelled 130 miles and gone without sleep for two nights.
In 1809, at Newmarket he accomplished his most noted feat of endurance walking. This involved walking one mile in each of 1,000 successive hours. In other words Barclay was required to walk a mile an hour, every hour, for forty-two days and nights. Barclay started on the 1st June and completed his historic feat on the 12th July. His average time varied from 14 minutes 54 seconds in the first week to 21 minutes 4 seconds in the last week. Over 10,000 people were attracted to the event and Barclay picked up substantial prize money for his efforts. Variations on the "Barclay Match" were attempted throughout the century. It was attempting Barclay's feat that brought Ada Anderson, one of the great women pedestrians of the late nineteenth century, to the public's attention.
Walter Thom in his book, 'Pedestrianism', published in 1813 describes Captain Barclay's 'astonishing exploits', provides a table of his pedestrian activities, a journal of his Newmarket walk and a chapter on his genealogy and family history. Barclay, himself, provides a chapter on his training methods. It seems, however, that he did not adhere strictly to any rigorous training regime and had a reputation for hearty eating and drinking. Despite this, Barclay had a profound impact on athletics generally and his training methods, involving purging and sweating, and the eating of meat, were widely used throughout much of the century.
Barclay also eschewed any form of athletic strip and his preferred form of dress for competition consisted of a top hat, cravat, warm woollen suit, lambs wool socks and thick-soled shoes. Walter Thom attributes Captain Barclay's pedestrian powers to his great strength and his walking style that involved bending the body forward to throw the weight on the knees, taking short steps and raising his feet only a few inches from the ground.
Captain Barclay's other main sporting interest was boxing in which he acted as sponsor and trainer of Tom Cribb, the bare knuckles Champion of the World in 1807 and 1809. He was also a distinguished soldier, an excellent shot and a successful gambler. In his fifties, Barclay started a new business venture; the 'Defiance' stagecoach that ran between Aberdeen and Glasgow. Barclay made the 'Defiance' one of the most efficient and reliable stagecoach services that Scotland had ever seen. Despite his predilection for pedestrianism, Barclay was an accomplished stagecoach driver and is credited with taking the London mail coach to Aberdeen single-handed, which required him to be in the driver's seat for nearly three days and nights.
Captain Barclay met his end on the 8th May 1854, dying of paralysis a few days after being kicked by a horse.