Charley Barden was born in Canterbury in 1874. In 1881, he was living in the Brough of Chelsea and in 1891, in Kensal Rise. (Census) He may have grown up in the riverside town of Maldon, Essex. He started racing when he was 14 and moved to London. There he joined the Polytechnic cycling club in the city centre, making friends with one of the stars of the day, Bert Harris of Leicester. The two eventually toured Europe together to ride tournaments.
A year later Barden moved to the club at Catford, then in countryside south of the city. The Catford club held races in the streets of the village and built a track reputed to be the fastest in Europe. It was there that Barden's talent was notice and developed.
In 1895 Barden rode at Catford against Jimmy Michael of Wales, who won the world's first motor-paced championship that year in Cologne. The occasion - which prompted tales of doping and fixing of races - was the so-called Chain Match. Riders who used Simpson chains were contracted to ride against those who didn't, to prove which design was superior.
Such races were held at different venues and, while most accounts say it was Catford, others say Germany. All the accounts say that Barden and Michael were pitched in a five-mile race in front of a crowd of about 15,000. They start with Michael taking a drink from his coach and manager, Choppy Warburton and end with his riding poorly to his falling off his bike, remounting and setting off in the wrong direction. Michael's strange behaviour led him to accuse Warburton of doping him. Barden, too, later made accusations of race-fixing and they were to ruin his career in Britain.
Barden rode the world professional track championship at Copenhagen in 1896 and Glasgow in 1897, finishing second on both occasions. His fame and looks drew huge crowds at velodromes and he was mobbed by fans wherever he went. He was English champion in 1896 and broke records from 440 yards to 10 miles.
He married his first wife, Mary, in 1897 and, by 1911, had 5 children - 2 of whom had died by then. (Census)
Barden's friend and his colleague in tournaments across Europe, Bert Harris, was the first English sprint champion. In one meeting in Australia he won £800 at a time a skilled worker in England earned £85 a year. Three years after his national championship, and with his career starting to fade, he rode at a meeting on the track at Aston, Birmingham on Easter Monday, 1897. He crashed in the 10-mile race, hit his head on the cement track and died on 21 April after not regaining consciousness.
Barden accused the others in the race of making him fall, cutting away his front wheel through their riding so he would not win. The National Cyclists Union held an inquiry and Barden made himself more unpopular by accusing the witnesses of "out and out lies". The issue split fans of cycling but race promoters were more united and Barden found it harder to get engagements.
He could still race on the continent and he moved to Paris. He lived there until 1899, then returned to Britain and retired. He died in 1962.Leicester.
Barden joined the Merchant Navy, sailing on a troop ship to the Boer War. He moved to Leicester, where Bert Harris had lived, and married a girl in the city. He opened a shop in Saffron Lane, Leicester, where a cycle track was later built, then worked at Bentley Engineering in the city. He joined the Working Men's Club but rarely spoke of his career.