THE story of a Bolton runner - described as a 19th century Usain Bolt - is told in a new book.
Benjamin Bradley Hart was an athlete from Deane who excelled at “pedestrianism” — the predecessor of modern-day athletics.
The early 19th century sport encompassed sprint and endurance running together with race walking and leaping.
Before the advent of organised football, it was the major spectator sport of the working classes.
Dr Peter Swain, University of Bolton cultural and sport historian, writes about the athlete in the book Pedestrianism. He said: “Hart was a remarkable figure coming from a family of 12 children in Deane.
“He started his sprinting career in 1826, when he was 19, and went on to become the all-England sprint champion of the 1820s and 1830s.
“His drawing power was so great that he could empty Bolton’s cotton mills and factories — something that didn’t endear him to Bolton’s employers.”
Today’s biggest sprinter Usain Bolton, who is also one of the world’s most famous athletes, makes millions through prize money and endorsements.
And, according to Dr Swain, things were not so different in the days of Hart.
Dr Swain said: “Hart was an outstanding athlete and his earnings from the sport made him the envy of the local workforce. Don’t forget, around 1830 a weaver in Bolton would have earned something just over £14 for the year.
“Hart could win £100 a time in some of his more important races, and that’s not including any side bets he would have had on himself.”
For one of Hart’s biggest wins, against rival Thomas Lang, more than 5,000 people were watching.
The streets of Bolton were also lined with people betting on the race.
It was reported that more than £1,600 changed hands in bets, a sum equivalent to more than £1million today.
Hart also became a well-known local footballer, an entrepreneur, a stakeholder for bets, a coach, trainer and publican, making a major contribution to the rich sporting and cultural practices of the North West of England in the 19th century.
Dr Swain added: “He finished his career coaching and training a stable of other athletes from across the North West who attempted to follow in his footsteps.
“Sadly, none of them were as good as the great man himself.”
Hart was born in Pikes Lane in 1806 and died at the age of 75 in 1881. He is buried in Tonge Cemetery in Tonge Fold.