Robert Barclay Allardice of Ury (25 August 1779, Stonehaven, Kincardineshire – 8 May 1854), generally known as Captain Barclay, was a notable Scottish walker of the early 19th century, known as the celebrated pedestrian. His most famous feat was the walking of 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 guineas in 1809. He is considered the father of the 19th century sport of pedestrianism, a precursor to racewalking.
He should not be confused with his father, who had assumed the name Robert Barclay Allardice, who undertook the first redevelopment of the town of Stonehaven.
Captain Barclay's father was Robert Barclay, 5th of Ury (1732–1797), a member of an ancient Scottish family, and the great-grandson of Robert Barclay, 2nd of Ury (1648–1690), who published in 1678 a noted Apology (i.e. defence) for the Quaker faith. The banking Barclay family which founded Barclays Bank were descended from this 2nd Laird.
Robert Barclay married, in 1776, Sarah Ann Allardice, a descendant of Robert II of Scotland and of the Earls of Airth, Menteith and Strathearn. In recognition of the nobility of his wife's family, Robert Barclay thenceforth took the surname of Allardice.
Several of the Barclay family were noted for unusual strength. The first Laird of Ury was reputed one of the strongest men in the country at the time of the English Civil War, and Robert Barclay Allardice senior was himself a noted pedestrian, who once walked 510 miles (820 km) from Ury to London in 10 days.
Captain Barclay made his home at Fritwell Manor in Oxfordshire.
Feats of Pedestrianism
- In 1801 Captain Barclay walked 110 miles (177 km) in 19 hr 27 min in a muddy park
- In 1802 walked 64 miles (103 km) in 10 hours
- In 1805 walked 72 miles (116 km) between breakfast and dinner
- In 1806 walked 100 miles (161 km) over bad roads in 19 hours
- In 1807 78 miles (125 km) on hilly roads in 14 hours
The thousand-hour walk
Captain Barclay's most famous exploit took place between 1 June and 12 July 1809 at Newmarket, during which he walked 1 mile (1.6 km) in each of 1000 successive hours, to win an initial wager of 1000 guineas.
The enterprise quite caught the public imagination. The Times, which carried little in the way of general interest news, printed this report alongside an account of the campaigns of Marshal Soult in the Peninsular War (14 July):
- The gentleman on Wednesday completed his arduous pedestrian undertaking, to walk a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours, at the rate of a mile in each and every hour. He had until four o'clock P.M. to finish his task; but he performed his last mile in the quarter of an hour after three, with perfect ease and great spirit, amidst an immense concourse of spectators. The influx of company had so much increased on Sunday, that it was recommended that the ground should be roped in. To this, Captain Barclay at first objected; but the crowd became so great on Monday, and he had experienced so much interruption, that he was at last prevailed upon to allow this precaution to be taken. For the last two days he appeared in higher spirits, and performed his walk with apparently more ease, and in shorter time than he had done for some days before. With the change of the weather, he had thrown off his loose great coat, which he wore during the rainy period, and on Wednesday performed in a flannel jacket. He also put on shoes thicker than any which he had used in the earlier part of his performance. He said that during the first night after his walk he would have himself awaked twice or thrice, to avoid the danger of a too sudden transition from almost constant exertion to a state of long repose.
- One hundred to one, and indeed any odds whatever, were offered on Wednesday; but so strong was the confidence in his success, that no bets could be obtained. The multitude of people who resorted to the scene of action, in the course of the concluding days, was unprecedented. Not a bed could be procured on Tuesday night at Newmarket, Cambridge, or any of the towns and villages in the vicinity, and every horse and every species of vehicle was engaged. Among the Nobility and Gentry who witnessed the conclusion of this extraordinary feat, were:—
- The Dukes of Argyle and St. Alban's; Earls Grosvenor, Bessborough and Jersey; Lords Foley and Somerville; Sir John Lode, Sir F. Standish, &c. &c.
- Capt Barclay had a large sum depending upon his undertaking. The aggregate of the bets is supposed to amount to £100,000.—He commenced his feat on the first of June.
During the 42 days of this exercise, his average time per mile increased from 14 m 54 s to 21 m 4 s, while his weight dropped from 13 st 4 lb (84.5 kg) to 11 st (70 kg). If the report of the total wagers was accurate, they were equivalent to some £5 million ($US 8 million) in modern terms.
Captain Barclay's rank was in the 23rd Regiment of Foot, which he joined in 1805. In 1809 he served as aide-de-camp to the Marquess of Huntly on the ill-fated Walcheren campaign, starting out just 5 days after the completion of the 1000-mile feat.
Claims to titles
Captain Barclay claimed the Earldom of Airth, his lawyers claiming that this title could be inherited through the female line. The claim was rejected by the House of Lords in 1839. A similar claim to the Earldoms of Menteith and Strathearn was not pursued. A curious aside to the latter claim is that it would have implied that Captain Barclay was the rightful King of Scotland.
Descent of the title
Captain Barclay died in 1854, as a consequence of injuries from the kick of a horse. The only surviving child from his marriage was a daughter Margaret who had moved to America but eventually re-settled in Great Britain and retired to Cornwall with her eldest son, also a Robert Barclay-Allardice (who later became Mayor of Lostwithiel between 1899-1901 and 1904-6). This Robert Barclay-Allardice married and had one daughter, Mary Graham Barclay-Allardice, whose descendents (through an only daughter, Margaret - the great-great granddaughter of Captain Barclay) live in Gloucestershire and Hampshire.
The Lairdship of Ury, heritable only in the male line, passed to a third cousin, Charles Barclay, who lived in Surrey.