In her day described as “Britain’s greatest woman athlete” Nellie Halstead certainly had a pedigree to prove it. The Bury and Radcliffe Athletic Club runner’s career took off in the 1930s and led her to an Olympic medal.
In 2012, Olympic Year, two members of the club were very fortunate to meet Nellie’s niece, Mrs Rose Poulton in Cheshire, who kindly showed them boxes of medals, photographs and shared her own memories of her Auntie Nellie. She even had Nellie’s special spikes that she wore for her Olympic run.
Nellie was born in Radcliffe in 1910, the youngest of three sisters. Edith was also a keen athlete but did not show the same promise as her sister.
In 1930 Nellie broke the world record for the 220 yards sprint at the English Championships and went on to break the world record for the 440 yards race in 56.08 seconds, a record which stood for 22 years.
In 1932 at the Los Angeles Olympics she represented Great Britain and won a bronze medal in the 4×100 relay. In 1934 at the Empire Games she represented England and won gold in the then 3×110/220 yards, silver in the 4×110/220yds and a bronze in the 220 yds. She also raced in places such as Berlin, Prague, and San Francisco. Her passports, photographs and her neatly written diary about her trip on the Mauretania on her way to Los Angeles and then her stopping off at New York on the way home to visit a relative are all treasured by the Poulton family. The diary was produced for the local paper and printed in instalments.
When her running career was at an end, she became the Centre Forward for the Dick Karr Ladies Football Team and then in later life she became an excellent golfer as a member of the Lowes Park Golf Club near Bury.
Nellie began her working life as a weaver at the Pioneer Mills in Radcliffe, but when her running career took over, she was given part time work in a local brewery. Later on she became a highly skilled top welder at Mather & Platt’s until she retired. She was later a familiar figure working on a stall at Radcliffe Market. At that time she lived in Holborn Avenue.
Nellie, who had enjoyed a tremendous welcome home after her Olympic success, died of a stroke at the age of 81 in 1991. But she has not been forgotten, for as well as the Nellie Halstead Trophy bought by Mrs Poulton with the money that Nellie left, the club has named the track at Cam’s Lane after her. A plaque has also been placed at the Book of Stone at the East Lancs Crematorium to mark her achievements. The stone monument in the shape of a book carriers famous local names.
The Lowes Park Golf Club was also presented with a silver trophy, which is won every year by the lady golfer with the best eclectic score throughout the season.
In May 2012, Nellie was entered into the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies.
In June 2012, to commemorate the London Olympics, the club loaned the Nellie Halstead Trophy to Bury Art Museum to be put alongside other trophies and medals of local Olympians in a special exhibition.