Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Powell, Foster

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POWELL, FOSTER (1734–1793), pedestrian, born at Horseforth, near Leeds, in 1734, came to London in 1762 as a clerk to an attorney in the Temple, whence he subsequently migrated to New Inn. Two years later he commenced his career as a pedestrian, by walking fifty miles in seven hours on the Bath road. In November 1773 he walked from London to York and back, a distance of four hundred miles, in 138 hours. His best achievements, however, were performed in three successive years, 1786–8. In the first of these he walked 100 miles in 231/4 hours, in 1787 he covered 112 miles in the 24 hours, while in 1788 he reduced his time for 100 miles to 21 hours 35 minutes. In 1792 he walked again from Shoreditch to York Minster and back in 5 days 151/4 hours (1351/4 hours), 23/4 hours better than his previous time. The 10l. he obtained for this feat is said to have been the largest sum he ever received. He was careless of money, and his great walks were undertaken for trifling wagers. He was very popular, and was often welcomed back to London by huge crowds. Powell died in straitened circumstances at his room in Clement's Inn on 15 April 1793, and was buried on 22 April in the church of St. Faith in St. Paul's Churchyard. The pedestrian was 5 ft. 9 in. in height, and of sallow complexion. Abstemious at other times, he took brandy to sustain him on his long expeditions. Powell was one of the earliest athletes of whom we possess any authentic records; and he was probably rightly regarded as the greatest pedestrian of his time, or indeed of the century. But most of his feats were eclipsed by Captain Barclay [see Allardice, Robert Barclay] during the early years of the nineteenth century; and all his records have now long since been broken. Four hundred miles were travelled by G. Littlewood at Sheffield in 1882 in under ninety-seven hours; one hundred miles were walked in 18 hours 8¼ minutes by seconds by W. Howes in 1880.

[A Short Sketch of the Life of Foster Powell, London, 1793, with a portrait by Barlow, which was modified for Granger's Wonderful Museum and Wilson's Wonderful Characters; Chambers's Book of Days, ii. 633; Gent. Mag. 1793, i. 381; Thom's Pedestrianism, 1813; Particulars of the late Mr. Foster Powell's Journey on Foot from London to York and back again [1793], 8vo.]

T. S.