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Walk 1000 Miles In 1000 Hours - Ultimate PR - The Communications Blog - Birchills Telecom

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Walk 1000 Miles In 1000 Hours - Ultimate PR

Birchills Telecom
Published by in History ·
One thousand miles in one thousand hours– The ultimate publicity stunt
At the start of the 19th century lived some of the most extraordinary people with wealth and time on their hands and the ability to do extraordinary things.
One such man was Captain Robert Barclay. He was born, in 1779, on the magnificent family estate near Stonehaven in Scotland. He was the son of the Quaker, MP and noted athlete Robert Barclay, 5th of Ury.
Robert Barclay senior was a much-respected Scottish laird who had liked physical activity. On occasion he walked from his estate to London. That is a distance of 510 miles, which he once did in 10 days. Twice he threw a gypsy’s donkey over a hedge.

In 1788, when Robert junior was eight, his father became a Westminster MP and was re-elected at the general elections of 1790 and 1796. He told tales of the encounters between the most famous athletes of the day.  For example, he told of a thin, mild Yorkshireman named Foster Powell who walked the 400 miles from London to York and back in well under six days. Thousands lined the roads. Or the tale of Donald MacLeod, who in 1789, walked from Inverness to London, a distance of 560 miles, turned around and walked all the way back, and then on arriving at Inverness turned round again and walked back to London - a total of 1,680 miles.
Captain Barclay enjoyed gambling at Cambridge University, and became a member of the Fancy – a set of rich young men who bet huge sums on the outcomes of sporting events and challenges. His frequent companion on such occasions was the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV.
Not only did he bet on the performances of others, but often backed himself to perform incredibly demanding physical challenges.

The ultimate test of human endeavour

1809 was the Captains finest hour, he wagered a fortune that he could complete the ultimate test of human endeavour. One thousand miles in one thousand hours with one mile every hour. So within the 1,000-mile wager there were 1,000 deadlines to be met.

Barclay 's original wager was for 1,000 guineas against James Wedderburn-Webster, but with side bets it was rumoured that it was worth 16,000 guineas if he succeeded.
James Wedderburn-Webster was a small man, a well-known womaniser who, despite being married, boasted that all women were his 'lawful prize'. He was born the son of an earl but little more is known. He was only 26 years old in 1809, his friends referred to him as 'Bold Webster' and clearly he was rich.
These were colourful times, populated by an aristocracy that could afford to be bold and colourful. On the other hand, the average artisan earned about £50 a year – so the sums that the aristocracy were wagering were impossibly large in their eyes and all the more fascinating for it. The Times reported that side bets totalling over 100,000 pounds, or 40 million pounds today had been made.

The accepted wisdom when Barclay began was that this feat was impossible, or dangerously close to impossible. Everybody knew of the potential fatal consequences of pushing the body beyond its natural limits. And the risk was part of the attraction.
However, Barclay was not naïve, he had arranged a clandestine trial at Ury, his estate in Scotland, for George Mollison, one of his tenant farmers and loyal family friend, to go on foot one mile every hour for eight days. Mollison was a rugged 54-year-old who stood 6ft 3in tall and was well built, and after eight days he reported that he could go on for six months. Barclay on that basis must have felt quietly confident.

The course that Barclay was following had been measured out from his rented accommodation near the Horse and Jockey. It went across the Norwich Road and in a straight line across the heath to a post half a mile away. It was smooth and even. Every hour he walked over the course, up to and around the post and back.
Barclay knew that the course would have to illuminated, and so he had seven gas lamps erected about 100 yards apart and set up on poles on either side of the course, like street lamp-posts.  

To ensure his own safety Barclay arranged for Big John Gully, ex-champion of the Prize Ring, to act as bodyguard and accompany him at night. He also resorted to carrying, in a belt around his waist, a brace of pistols.

Throughout the whole of June and the first half of July, Barclay completed his hourly mile, day and night.  Two rival groups, the supporters and the nay-sayers, had established two camps at opposite ends of the half-mile course.

His plan was to walk the first mile towards the end of the hour and then a second mile immediately afterwards at the beginning of the second hour. This then would give him over an hour to rest between each bout of exertion.

Strained ligaments in his right knee gave the Captain serious trouble in week three, and he got toothache in week four. Torrential rain soaked him and his greatcoat in weeks two, four and five, making it almost too heavy to wear. This gave way to choking clouds of dust when the weather turned hot in weeks one and four.

In the fourth week, when William Cross took Barclay to the starting line to begin his 607th mile. It was obvious that he was asleep. Cross had to resort to violently beating his master around the shoulders with a stick. This unleashed a deluge of curses and abuse from the captain. But the bet was saved.
During the last few nights every available bed in Newmarket, Cambridge or any other town or village in the vicinity was taken. There were no horses or carriages to be had either. This was a one off feat, never to be repeated, ever!

It was on the 12th of July 1809. The crowd watched Barclay make his way along the track for the penultimate time. Barclay's recorder wrote down the time, 2.52pm, which meant that he had completed his 999th mile eight minutes inside the deadline. At 3.15pm he set off for the final mile and his success. He arrived back at 3.37, a full 23 minutes inside the deadline. The wager was won - he had done it. The crowd went wild.

By four o'clock Barclay was in bed, where he slept soundly until midnight, his first continuous sleep for nearly 42 days. At midnight Cross woke Barclay with a light meal of water gruel, and then let him go back to sleep. He slept until nine o'clock in the morning and then got up and was weighed on the Newmarket scales. He weighed 11 stone - 32lbs less than when he started. He had fully recovered by the next morning and walked the streets of Newmarket, accepting the crowd's congratulations.
Captain Barclay left from Ramsgate on Thursday 20 July 1809. He was on board a ship to support Lord Huntly in the fight against Napoleon, only eight days after his triumph at Newmarket.
After The Wager

His endeavours kept Captain Barclay away from his Ury estate for much of each year, but he would return to the family home for a month or two each summer. The Captain’s spinster
sister Rodney (sic) kept house there, with the assistance of a few servants.

The Captain became so fond of one young servant that she had a child by him. He took her off to the south of England and their wealthy neighbours were led to believe they were man and wife. This was scandalous in their day. They finally married when she was about to give birth to their second child. Unfortunately, both mother and child died shortly afterwards.
The Captain continued the programme of agricultural improvements begun by his father on visits home. To encourage local arable farmers, he formed a company, Barclay, Macdonald & Co, to build the Glenury Distillery on the north bank of the River Cowie in 1825. He sold shares to local investors and advertised their whisky in London’s popular sporting periodicals. Glenury Distillery was eventually demolished, having succumbed to the effects of whisky overproduction of the 1980s.
He started his own stage coach service between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and often drove long stages himself. He once drove a coach all the way from London to Aberdeen, stopping only to change horses.

At the age of 65, Barclay had a son by a young and hard-drinking local girl. She bore him another son when he was 70 and, after the death of the disapproving Rodney, the couple lived together at Ury Castle.

By then, however, the Captain had been forced to sell his stake in the distillery and mortgaged his estate to meet huge debts. Old age finally began to take its toll and he suffered a series of strokes in his mid-70s. He died, in 1854, after being kicked in the head by a horse.


You can read the book published in 1813 by Walter Thom

Pedestrianism; or, An Account of the Performances of Celebrated Pedestrians during the Last and Present Century.
      With a full narrative of Captain Barclay's public and private matches; and an essay on training.

It is on Project Gutenberg here

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