She Wore Her ‘Inexpressibles’ – and Walked 1,000 Miles

October 29, 1864

In England, Emma Sharp completed a highly publicized walk of 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometers) in 1,000 hours. This milestone in 19th century pedestrianism took place at a 120-yard (109.7-meter) roped-off course in Laisterdyke, a part of the then-municipal borough (now city) of Bradford.

More than 55 years earlier in the English town of Newmarket, renowned pedestrian Robert Barclay Allardice (popularly known as Captain Barclay) had completed the first walk of 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometers) in 1,000 hours. Sharp is widely believed to have been the first woman to successfully take on that same type of walking challenge.

After letting her husband John know about her plans to follow in Captain Barclay’s formidable footsteps and become a pioneer in the process, Sharp – in her early thirties at the time – started her extensive walk on September 17 with no actual training but plenty of determination. She walked steadily for 30 minutes at a time, during which she averaged approximately two miles (3.2 kilometers). At the end of each half-hour, Sharp would take a 90-minute break at the nearby Quarry Gap Hotel before getting back on the course for more walking.

Over the span of six weeks, Sharp walked both day and night to log in the 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometers) needed to complete the challenge she had begun. She persevered in this endeavor despite the grueling nature of the walk, the painfully swollen ankles she experienced early on, and the lack of a regular sleep schedule. Sharp also had to contend with prevalent cultural perceptions that the sort of physical activity she was engaging in was too strenuous and scandalous for any woman. She was even criticized for the comfortable clothing she wore for the event, with many opining that her wardrobe was more appropriate for men. The Bradford Observer, for example, highlighted Sharp’s “red and black checked coat and inexpressibles” – the latter phrase referring to the then-taboo wearing of trousers by a woman.

Then there were the people who had placed bets against Sharp successfully finishing her ambitious walk. As days turned into weeks, and Sharp showed no signs of giving up her efforts, those people began carrying out unpleasant and even illegal measures to thwart her progress. Some tossed burning embers on her route around the course, and others tried to drug her food. There were even some who attempted to trip Sharp while she walked. At one point, a few desperate individuals tried to debilitate or at least demoralize her with chloroform.

Sharp prevailed against these tactics and others, however, and continued to walk around the course. Ultimately, 18 police officers wearing civilian clothes were assigned to blend in with the crowd at the course and help protect Sharp against unruly spectators.

More than 100,000 people altogether are estimated to have turned out at one point or another to watch Sharp walk around the course, and approximately 25,000 were on hand when she reached her goal of 1,000 miles (1,609.3 kilometers) at about 5:15 a.m. on October 29.

While Sharp earned a substantial amount of money from her share of the ticket sales for the history-making event, her great-great-granddaughter Kathy Nicol emphasized in a 2009 interview with the Bradford-based Telegraph & Argus that it was never about the potential profits. “I think she did it to show she could do it and to put women on the map,” said Nicol.

For more information on Emma Sharp and her pioneering 1864 walk, please check out http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2016/05/time-emma-sharp-walked-1000-miles-1864-just-prove-woman/.

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