The Linton Brothers from the Cynon Valley took the cycling world by storm. They beat the best from across the globe and became some of the world’s first sport stars. This is their story.
As with so many stories from the Cynon Valley, our story starts with industry, coal in particular. John and Sarah Linton joined the thousands who relocated to the Welsh Valleys over the course of the latter half of the 1850s in pursuit of work created by the rapidly growing coal industry.
John and Sarah would find their way to Aberaman, where John became a gardener for the wealthy industrialist Sir George Elliot of the Powell Duffryn Company. They would go on to raise four children, John, Arthur, Samuel and Thomas. Nobody expected what would happen next; like the children of the community around them, their future seemed to revolve around the world of coal and the life of a collier.
The eldest son John, once old enough, was employed at Treaman Colliery. Arthur soon followed at the age of 12; he first worked as a door boy, then when a little older, a haulier. His younger brothers would follow him in turn.
Escaping a Life Underground
Life in heavy industry was not for everyone and some turned to education and sport to seek new opportunities. For Arthur, Sam, and Tom their chance came through cycling. Their talent saw their passion for the sport grow and they progressed from club level through ever-increasing tiers until they reached national and international competitions.
Throughout this epic rise they stayed proud of their roots in the Cynon Valley and regularly wore The Prince of Wales’ badge, the emblem of choice for the nation’s sportsmen.
‘Champion Cyclist of the World’
By 1893, Arthur had broken every record up to 100 miles. His success attracted the attention of James ‘Choppy’ Warburton, trainer and agent of the Gladiator Cycle Company. In 1894, Arthur travelled abroad, taking on the champions of Europe and broke four world records in the process. He was labelled ‘Champion Cyclist of the World’ and in 1895 was welcomed back to Aberdare as a hero.
Like their elder brother, Sam and Tom began competing in races in 1892. Like Arthur, Tom quickly gained success in international races and broke records.
Success brought prizes. Local races could bring in a prize of £7.7s – in comparison, a collier in South Wales could bring in around £1 per week. International prizes brought even more; winning at a race in France could pay £150, three times the amount a collier could earn in one year. Commercial sponsorship brought further reward; it is estimated Arthur earned £4,000 over his career.
In this period, the Linton Brothers were challenged by fellow Aberdare cyclist Jimmy Michael. A neighbour of the Linton family, he was said to have learnt his craft cycling around Aberdare up and down the alleys delivering meat from the butchers. He proved himself to be a talented cyclist and became a protégé of Arthur and his then trainer Jack Jones. Success came quickly and Jimmy attracted the attention of ‘Choppy’ Warburton. Jimmy, like the Lintons, would go on to race the best cyclists in Europe, becoming the World Middle Distance Champion in 1895.
By 1896 a rivalry had merged between Jimmy and the brothers – once teammates, they were rapidly descending into rivals. When rumours reached Jimmy that Tom Linton was bragging that any of the brothers could race and beat him, Jimmy challenged them to a race in Paris. Jimmy offered them a phased head start and declared: ‘I am middle distance champion of the world, not Arthur Linton’.
Jimmy would part from Warburton in 1896 and depart for the United States, where he continued to find fame breaking records and earned widespread respect.
1895 proved a difficult year for Arthur because a past injury returned and a split from ‘Choppy’ Warburton saw a downturn in form and the loss of many of his titles. Yet after reuniting with his coach in May 1896, Arthur returned to form, winning the Boudreaux-Paris race.
Tragically, just a few weeks later in July, Arthur died at the age of 28, reportedly of Typhoid fever.
Tom Linton followed Jimmy to America. For a time, he attempted to resurrect their rivalry, but Jimmy was at the height of his fame and success. A defeated Tom returned to Europe where he would live until his death from Typhoid Fever, aged 38 in 1914.
Jimmy’s success would eventually come to end when he was beaten by the American cyclist Major Taylor. After this, he sought a life as a jockey and racehorse owner. As his success waned, he sought to revive his cycling success. Yet his attempt to relive past glories did not materialise. A bad fall threatened to end his career and he sought a return to America. However, he would never reach America, passing away on the journey. His death was recorded as ‘delirium tremens’ which suggests that he died of alcoholism.
Sam Linton suffered several serious crashes and was forced into retirement. Returning to the Cynon Valley, he worked as a collier. He would go on to live until 1935.
A Mixed Legacy
The sad early demise of three of the great Aberaman cyclists should not disguise the outstanding accomplishments they achieved. A mystery, however, lingers around them. Argument persists today around the death of Arthur Linton with suspicions over the role his manager played; allegations concerning overtraining and doping his charges remain. There seems to be sufficient evidence to suggest that something happened in the Bordeaux – Paris race that would not be legal today, a race which saw extensive discussion around who should be the winner. Eventually it was decided that Arthur would be recognised as a joint winner.
After Arthur Linton’s death, there was a mood for some public monument to be erected in his memory. Two items in the Church remember Arthur. The first is a decorative brass lectern and the second is the stained glass in the west window. The window was completed in 1899 and depicts ‘Faith, Hope, and Charity’. Today the Linton Brothers and Michael are remembered amongst some of the first world-famous sportsmen.
This article on the Linton Brothers has been produced from the exhibition ‘Speed” at the Cynon Valley Museum (2016). For more Cynon Valley History head to “Stories from the Collection”
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