Category Archives: Lost Sports Stadia

The London Irish at Perry Hill – Edwardian Rugby in Catford

A while back, Running Past covered the short lived Perry Hill Stadium, also known as Dog Field – which saw the racing of both greyhounds and midget cars in the 1930s.  While researching that post, it became clear that one of the former users of what became known as Dog Field was London Irish Rugby Club – they were there when the cartographers ‘called’ in 1913 – although the Ordnance Survey didn’t seem to publish the map for another 20 years, by which time the Irish’s nomadic existence had seen them move an several times and they had obtained their first permanent home in Sunbury-on-Thames.

It seemed strange to see a reference in Catford to a rugby club that had been in the Premiership for a dozen years until their relegation in May 2016 (although at the time of writing they are topping the Championship).  The roots of the Irish go back to 1898 and their first match was against the long since defunct Hammersmith but they had moved from ground to ground and from one part of the capital to another.  Their first home was in Herne Hill, where they moved in 1900, but it was then on to Stamford Bridge (then known as the London Athletic Ground), followed by a brief sojourn at Wandsworth Common and a couple of seasons in Walthamstow before they ended up at Perry Hill, Catford (1).

The ground was known as Laurel Brook (2) which was the name of a large house adjacent to the ground (see map above).  The first game after the move from Walthamstow was a heavy home defeat to United Services in front of a ‘large crowd’ in early October 1907 (3)

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There were brief mentions of further defeats by Guy’s Hospital (4) and Old Merchant Taylor’s (5) before Rosslyn Park were beaten in mid-December (6).  In the New Year, a grim sounding dismal 0-0 draw was played out with near neighbours Catford Bridge (7).  The crowds declined quickly though, as the initial excitement of rugby in Catford waned, a cursory report in The Scotsman for the third game noted (8)

OLD MERCHANT TAYLORS, three goals and two tries; LONDON IRISH, nothing. At Catford. Attendance small.

There is a very grainy picture of the team from the Penny Illustrated that season (9).

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The mentions in The Times of the matches at Laurel Brook remained little more than scores in the 1908/09 season – they were, in the main, defeats, with the Irish getting heavily beaten by visiting teams.  The Bedford Mercury did a more in depth report of a ‘poor’ match in late February 1909, where the home side again lost.  Crowds were still sparse and the reporter noted ‘they want and deserve more encouragement, and now that they have a nicely appointed ground on a lease for a few years it is hoped that they will get it.’ (10). They may well have done better away from Laurel Brook that season, as, from the 28 matches there were 15 wins and 13 defeats (11)

The 1909/10 season began with a rout as the United Services were again the visitors – the Irish were no match and failed to trouble the scorers whilst the opposite scored seven goals, one dropped goal and three tries (12) – it was a score that would not have been out of place on the neighbouring cricket fields.  It was only marginally better when Old Merchant Taylors visited a few weeks later, and again the Irish failed to score (13).  All the home matches that campaign seemed to ended in disappointment for the faithful at Perry Hill.

Whether there were changes in the summer, it wasn’t clear, but there was at least an improvement in the opening fixture of the new campaign but there wasn’t excitement for the paying public as neither Barts nor The Irish forced the scorer to get out of their chair (14).

The Times bravely sent one of their reporters to a match at Perry Hill early in the 1911/12 season against London Hospital – s/he clearly wasn’t impressed by the fayre on offer from the men (presumably) in green who again lost heavily – the Irish forwards ‘deteriorated hopelessly .. a series of promiscuous kicks….’ (15)

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A 28-0 win against London French provided a brief respite for the home faithful (16) but defeats at Perry Hill started again against London Scottish (17).

January 1913 saw a rare home win against Streatham (18), however, it was probably to be London Irish’s last match at Perry Hill – future home matches that season, in what was to prove to be a more successful campaign, were in Wandsworth, probably ground sharing with London Welsh until war broke out in 1914 and the club was mothballed until hostilities ceased (19).

Presumably the lease ‘for a few years’ had come to an end and they either decided to try their luck elsewhere or they were forced to move.  The former seems more likely as there seemed to be no development pressures on the ground until the 1930s and poor crowds noted in the early years are probably unlikely to have picked up with the poor performances on the pitch.

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Today, part of the ground is still there – it is a pleasant piece of open grassland, generally quiet when I pass on early morning runs past, apart from a few dog walkers – appropriate given the later name that is still used by a few ‘Dog Field.’  The western side succumbed to development – the eastern end if Datchet Road – in the 1930s presumably after the greyhounds and midget cars had left. 

 

Notes

  1. Peter Bills (1998) Passion in Exile, 100 Years of the London Irish (Mainstream, Edinburgh) p24
  2. Ibid, p24
  3. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 07, 1907; pg. 11; Issue 38457
  4. The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 25, 1907; pg. 9; Issue 38499.
  5. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 09, 1907; pg. 7; Issue 38511.
  6. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 16, 1907; pg. 7; Issue 38517.
  7. The Times (London, England), Monday, Feb 03, 1908; pg. 11; Issue 38559
  8. The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland) 9 December 1907
  9. Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, March 21, 1908; pg. 182; Issue 2443
  10. Bedford Mercury 5 March 1909
  11. Bills, op cit, p26
  12. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 11, 1909; pg. 16; Issue 39087.
  13. The Times (London, England), Monday, Nov 15, 1909; pg. 20; Issue 39117.
  14. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 17, 1910; pg. 18; Issue 39405.
  15. The Times (London, England), Monday, Oct 30, 1911; pg. 14; Issue 39729.
  16. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 11, 1911; pg. 15; Issue 39765.
  17. The Times [London, England] 26 Feb. 1912: 12.
  18. The Times (London, England), Monday, Jan 13, 1913; pg. 13; Issue 40107.
  19. Bills op cit, p29.
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Dog Field, Perry Hill – A Long Lost Catford Midget Car and Greyhound ‘Stadium’

Running Past has covered several long gone sports stadia in Catford – notably The Mount, where Charlton played for a season (and Catford Southend somewhat longer) and the velodrome in what is now Sportsbank Street.

In addition to this, there seems to have been a short-lived ‘stadium’ in Perry Hill that was home to the racing of both greyhounds and midget cars (not at the same time) in the early 1930s.  It shouldn’t be confused with the main Catford greyhound stadium, whose entrance was in Adenmore Road.  While it was referred to as ‘Perry Hill Stadium’ this implies something somewhat more grand than it actually was.  Given various references to Rubens Street iit may have been a ground-share with Forest Hill Cricket Club – what is now home to Catford and Cyphers Cricket Club.

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There is another possibility though, those with long memories of Perry Hill suggested in a Facebook discussion of this post, an area adjacent to it, next to the river as being Dog Field.

This was home for a while to London Irish RFU (there is now a post on their stay in Perry Hill here), although not mentioned in their on-line history, and is shown on an Ordnance Survey 25 inch map surveyed in 1913, but not published for another couple of decades. By this stage, London Irish RFC had ended their early itinerant history and had found a base in Sunbury on Thames in 1931.

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As the original access was a track from Rubens Street, this may have explained the address of the ‘Stadium’. Greyhound racing would have required some form of pavilion, which was presumably still there from the days of London Irish or the adjacent cricket club could have been used. Crucially, it would make more sense as midget car racing would have churned up the outfield of a cricket field.

The company seems to have been set up for greyhound racing – the track was initially an unlicensed one (1) – one of the Directors, a Herbert Leonard Blann was prosecuted by the RSPCA for using live rabbits fixed to a ball for the greyhounds to chase  in late 1933 (2). While it joined the British Greyhound Tracks Control Society (BGTCS), a short-lived rival to the bigger National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC), that folded in 1935.

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The 1934 Betting Act tightened up licensing and all owners had to apply to the London County Council for a £90 licence which allowed for 104 meetings a year with betting along with a further four without it.  Presumably they were successful as there are reports of racing in October 1935, although there was further trouble with the law as the Company was fined £25 and Hubert Blann £5 for permitting betting at Sunday meetings om August 1935 (3).

Midget car racing was introduced at Perry Hill in June 1935, it was a young sport which became big in the USA and Australia, but seemingly much less so in Britain although there were tracks in the 1930s at Crystal Palace, Lea Bridge, Greenford and Dagenham.  There were attempts in 1948 to get the sport to take off with a ‘tour’ of American cars at Stamford Bridge (British Pathé video below) as well as at Charlton’s Valley and Walthamstow greyhound stadium,  but it never seems to have taken off as major sport here.

While Herbert Blann was almost certainly involved in the races at Perry Hill, there have been suggestions that one of the other promoters was Kaye Don.  Don had been a massive name in 1930s motor sport both on land and water; he had set the record on Lake Garda in February 1932 at 177.387 km/h (110.2 mph).

Don’s fall from grace though had been spectacular – he was convicted of the manslaughter of Francis Tayler, a MG mechanic, while testing a car on the Isle of Man in 1934 – the car had no lights, number plates or insurance, yet it was driven on open public roads at 10:00 pm – it was involved in an accident from which Frankie Tayler subsequently died. Don was sentenced to four months in prison.

Don was injured himself in the crash and it seems that he didn’t race again, and was out of prison by the time the races happened at Perry Hill.  Based on Blann’s flouting of the law – maybe a partner like Don would have appealed.

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The first racing on the 250 m long course seems to have been on 8 June 1935.  Little is known other that there seem to have been around three events and one of the drivers to feature was Jean Reville (see above – picture source) who enjoyed several victories in the three meetings; Reville was probably the leading light in the nascent sport – but he was to emigrate to Australia later that year.

The racing on four wheels and four legs didn’t last long though; Perry Hill Stadium Ltd was in liquidation before the end of 1935 – the action was brought by a creditor, Charles John Hull, who was the long-term licensee of the Osborne Arms in Deptford.

With hindsight it was probably a doomed venture – both sports had local competition, midget car racing was run at an established speedway track at Crystal Palace and greyhound racing in Catford – both of which had much better public transport links.  The owners of the Catford Stadium had tried midget car racing without success in 1934, so perhaps that should have been a warning.

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If the location was the cricket ground, the sport that predated the venture still continues – one of the parts of the club that now plays there – Catford and Cyphers – used to be based at Pennerley Road, the pavilion remains there but the ground has been lost to development.  Oddly, it too tried speedway once in 1932, although the details of it are ‘sketchy.

If Dog Field was the old London Irish ground, part of it was built on with the eastern edge of Datchet Road – the rest remains as open space – appropriately still used for dogs – the main users being dog walkers and their hounds.

Notes

  1. “The Training of Greyhounds.” Times [London, England] 30 Dec. 1933: 7.
  2. “Fine for Cruelty to Rabbits.” Times [London, England] 5 Jan. 1934: 14.
  3. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligence 22 October 1935

 

Catford’s Long Lost Velodrome

Catford was home to several sports stadia which have been lost over the years, including the greyhound stadium and The Mount, home to Charlton for a season, both of which have been covered before in Running Past.  Another very short-lived one was a cycling and athletics track on a site close to Brownhill Road, now taken up by Elmer Road and Sportsbank Street. It was the track home to Catford Cycling Club and Blackheath Harriers between 1895 and 1900.

Running Past has covered the early history of Blackheath (now and Bromley) Harriers on the Heath; Catford Cycling Club’s origins are little later, not being formed until 1886 – but within a decade or so it had become ‘probably the foremost track racing club in Britain’, according to its official history at least.

In the early 1890s, while the area around Rushey Green was beginning to be developed and from the 1893 Ordnance Survey map, building had reached a nascent Laleham Road but no further east – the big development of this area was to start a couple of year later by the sale of North Park farm  to form the Corbett Estate – on the eastern edge of the map.  The track was not there long enough to trouble the cartographers but was in the field to the north west of Cockshed Farm.

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Some of the early track meetings of the Catford Cycling club were held at Paddington Recreation Ground  – which had opened in the early 1880s, adding the cycling track in 1888. By 1889, the club was getting large numbers of entries for their main race day, the programme for which went on for 7 hours (1)  – their open mile novice handicap in that year attracted 143 entries (2) and 464 in total (3).  Racing was to continue the following year with meetings in July (4) and August (5).

By 1892 the club was getting crowds of 7,000 at Paddington Rec. (6) and holding international meetings with Dutch cyclists  there in torrential rain (as pictured below) (7)) in the home fixture, along with a return one in less inclement conditions in the Netherlands (8)

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By 1893 Catford Cycling Club  races were being held at the Herne Hill Velodrome which had opened a couple of years earlier, and with as many as 13,000 watching (9) thoughts seemed to turn to trying to get an equivalent closer to home.  The races at Herne Hill may well have had the ‘furiously’ riding George Lacy Hillier, officiating at them. – Running Past covered his career a few months ago,

During 1894 funding was secured to obtain both the land and construct at Catford ‘the largest track in Europe, the surface was of special cement designed to give a perfectly smooth running plane whilst allowing the newly invented pneumatic tyres perfect adhesion.’  It had with seating for 1,000 spectators, plus standing room for many thousands more.

Building was well underway by November 1894 (10) and almost complete by January 1895 (11).  The prospectus for it described it as ‘a new sports resort’ with Blackheath Harriers to make it their headquarters.  The opening ceremony was planned for May 4 1895 (12), although this ended up being delayed a couple of weeks (13).

The new stadium was opened by Lord Kinnaird, President of the Football Association, on May 18 (14) with a full programme in rather rainy conditions with 10,000 spectators – the races included a victory for  Birmingham’s F W Chinn in the Quarter Mile scratch race – see below (15).

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There were a couple of line drawings of the new track and the inaugural meeting in the Picture Post, with what was presumably meant to be Crystal Palace in the background (16).

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Records fell that summer as the track lived up to its expectations in terms of speed – CF Barden broke every record from 2 to 10 miles in late June (17); FW Weatherly beat the British quarter-mile flying start quarter mile a month later (18) and in September, AP Marples took over seven seconds off the licensed amateur mile record to finish in 1:56:40 (19).

Successful racing continued into 1896, when the Easter Monday meeting in early April saw crowds of 10,000 and with WH Bardsley of the Polytechnic Cycling Club, pictured on the far left,  taking the 1st place in the 10 mile scratch race (20).  There were at least two other race days in May one of which an attendances of over 15,000 (21) and the other an international against a Danish team (22).  JW Stocks beat many of the records set by CF Barden in early June (23) – it was the first of several British and World record set on the track that summer.

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picture via e bay Feb 2016

The opening meeting of the 1897 season saw crowds of only half the number of 1896 at just 5,000 (24), although numbers in races later in the season increased, with a peak of 10,000 in May (25).  Worrying signs were on the horizon that winter as a Catford builder, Henry Woodham, sought to lay out a street (Elmer Street, later Road) parallel to Brownhill Road, hard up against the track – while he was initially unsuccessful but it was a sign of things to come (26).

Racing continued as normal in 1898, although attendances were well down on previous years – the Whit weekend meeting attracted only 6,000 (27) compared with 15,000 24 months earlier. There were fewer race reports during the year, with some races being cancelled.  The 1899 season started with ‘disappointing’ crowds despite ‘delightful weather’ (28) and the paucity of press coverage continued.

Just 2,500 were there to see the opening fixture on Easter Monday in the new century (29) and while the annual 50 mile race was to happen in September it was to be its last at the track (30).  It was sold to a speculative builder for £7,500 (31), the reporter seemed to think that Catford was in south west London though.  In reality, the offer of a large amount of money from a developer in the context of falling gates was probably an offer too good to refuse for the owners.  When the builder was Henry Woodham or not is unclear – but he certainly developed houses in the area at around the time the stadium was sold an was based at 132 Brownhill Road.

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Oddly, the grandstand remained – used for warehousing until the 1990s, when it too succumbed to development – the modern houses below are where the stand once stood. The street name, with its hints of a brief record breaking past, is all that remains.

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Notes

  1. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 25, 1889; pg. 326; Issue 1460.
  2. Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1889; Issue 13453
  3. Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, May 25, 1889; pg. 4; Issue 10206. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
  4. Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), Thursday, July 17, 1890; Issue 6603
  5. The Morning Post (London, England), Wednesday, August 20, 1890; pg. 3; Issue 36873
  6. Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 16, 1892; Issue 14389.
  7. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, September 03, 1892; pg. 151; Issue 1631
  8. Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Monday, August 15, 1892; Issue 10655.
  9. The Yorkshire Herald, and The York Herald (York, England), Monday, May 08, 1893; pg. 8; Issue 13081. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II
  10. Birmingham Daily Post (Birmingham, England), Wednesday, November 14, 1894; Issue 11359
  11. The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Monday, January 21, 1895; Issue 9306.
  12. The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Wednesday, March 6, 1895; Issue 9344
  13. The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; pg. 2; Issue 38359
  14. Daily News (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; Issue 15331
  15. The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 20, 1895; pg. 2; Issue 22115
  16. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 25, 1895; pg. 327
  17. The Standard (London, England), Friday, June 28, 1895; pg. 8; Issue 22149
  18. Berrow’s Worcester Journal (Worcester, England), Saturday, July 27, 1895; pg. 6; Issue 10527.
  19. The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, England), Thursday, September 19, 1895; pg. 8; Issue 12788.
  20. The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, April 07, 1896; pg. 3; Issue 38636. British Library Newspapers, Part II: 1800-1900.
  21. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 09, 1896; pg. 296; Issue 1824
  22. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 30, 1896; pg. 345; Issue 1827.
  23. The Morning Post (London, England), Tuesday, June 02, 1896; pg. 5; Issue 38684
  24. The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, April 17, 1897; pg. 3; Issue 38958.
  25. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, May 2, 1897; Issue 2438.
  26. Daily News (London, England), Thursday, October 21, 1897; Issue 16090.
  27. The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 09, 1898; pg. 2; Issue 23045
  28. The Standard (London, England), Monday, May 08, 1899; pg. 2; Issue 23357
  29. The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, April 14, 1900; pg. 6; Issue 39894
  30. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, September 9, 1900; Issue 2613.
  31. Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, November 20, 1900; Issue 16505.

 

 

 

Early Amateur Running In & Around Blackheath

This weekend, Blackheath will see the start of the 36th London Marathon, but running on the Heath is nothing new – Blackheath has a long athletic history with recorded events going back at least two hundred years.  Running Past has covered the late Georgian long distance walkers – George Wilson, the Blackheath Pedestrian and Josiah Eaton, the Woodford Pedestrian.  Later in the century large crowds were drawn to the heath by the likes of William Gazley, the Star of Kent and Tom Cook, the Greenwich Cowboy for their running and related exploits.  These were all professionals, with wealthy backers, and large amounts of money changed hands through gambling.  The athletes themselves though probably saw very little of the money that was made through their efforts though – Cook and Gazley both seem to have ended up living in poverty.

Walter Chinnery

Walter Chinnery

The mid-Victorian period saw the growth of the gentleman sportsman, the amateur athlete, the development of athletic clubs, track and cross country racing.  One of the very first competitive cross country races of this era on Blackheath was on 5 October 1867 – a mile handicap steeplechase, which the Go Feet Blog posted about last autumn.  The race was won by A Maddock from Richmond, who had been given a 15 second head-start on Walter Chinnery.  Chinnery was a founding member of the world’s oldest track and field club, London Athletic Club (AC), which had been set up in 1863 and was initially called Mincing Lane AC.  The following summer he was to become the first amateur athlete in the world to break 4:30 for the mile in August 1868.  Chinnery was to become a wealthy stockbroker and was perhaps not atypical of the ‘gentlemen amateurs’ of the era – very different indeed to their forerunners of a couple of decades before like Gazley, who lived in comparative poverty on the Greenwich/Lewisham borders.

Three of the biggest athletics clubs in south London had their roots from the late 1860s and all had links with Blackheath and its environs.

Lewisham’s main club – Kent AC – has its roots in two clubs formed in the 1880s, Lewisham Hare and Hounds and West Kent Harriers.  The ‘Hare and Hounds’ element of the name was common in the early clubs and related to cross country races that mimicking hunting – a paper/flour trail being set by the ‘hare’ who goes off first for the ‘hounds’, the runners, to chase.  As the blog has noted before, this type of racing has its links back to  the fee paying Shrewsbury School and was adopted by rowers in Putney wanting to keep fit during the winter in late 1867 – became Thames Hare & Hounds – their history describes them as ‘a gentleman’s club’ in this era.

Lewisham Hare and Hounds and West Kent Harriers amalgamated in 1898 and their early training runs took them the still rural Blackheath environs of Kidbrooke.

unknown artist; Old Brick Field, Kidbrooke; Greenwich Heritage Centre; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/old-brick-field-kidbrooke-193789

Painting of Kidbrooke from 1889 – See notes copyright at bottom

Another local club Cambridge Harriers is now partially based in the Kidbrooke/Eltham border in Sutcliffe Park.  However, it had its roots in the Cambridge Settlement where students would live and work among the poor, devoting their time to philanthropic, educational and religious activities within the local community. The first of these was set up in Walworth by St. John’s College, Cambridge in 1884, followed a year later by the Clare College Mission in Rotherhithe.   Initially they set up a cricket club, but like the Putney rowers they looked to running to provide winter fitness.  Their first run was from close to the Dowager’s Bottom (a former name for this part of Blackheath) – from Tranquil Restaurant at 56 Tranquil Vale on 6 October 1890 with 15 runners turning out.

While Blackheath currently has no athletics clubs, there is one that retains the name despite the geographical association having long since gone – Blackheath and Bromley Harriers.  Their origins are much earlier than Kent AC and Cambridge Harriers and are a few miles to the west in Peckham, starting as Peckham Hare and Hounds, but changing their name to Peckham AC soon afterwards – like Thames Hare and Hounds their initial raison d’etre seemed to be to help keep amateur sportsmen (and it was men) fit for a range of other sports ranging from cricket to rowing and gymnastics.  Their club history claims that they were the earliest club to athletic club to offer both cross country and track athletics.

Source - ebay March 2016

Source – ebay March 2016

Their links to Blackheath started in 1878 when they moved to the Green Man on Blackheath Hill and changed their name to Blackheath Harriers.  Like many clubs of the era they were founded for male athletes only – women’s athletics developed much more slowly and separately – the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) was set up in 1880, with the Women’s equivalent only coming in the 1920s – something covered in a post a while ago on the first women’s AAA championships which were held in Downham.  Blackheath, though were slower than most in integrating – they didn’t allow women members until 1992.

The handicap steeplechase from 1867 was quite common fayre of the early days on the Heath – there were press reports of a repetition in the second winter at Blackheath with 42 runners in an inter-club race in early 1880 (1).  The fixture was repeated the following year (2).

The Blackheath Society have a series of sketches of Blackheath Harriers from that era – including runs through Kidbrooke and in front of Morden College which they have allowed to be used here (see picture notes at end).

B&BH4

Their track and field competitions were held elsewhere – the 1881 Championships were held at Stamford Bridge – although press reports described them as a ‘disastrous failure’, due to the wet and cold.  They had a high number of entries though – including 83 for the handicapped 100 yards (3).

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From the following winter there was evidence of that staple of cross country running with a mob match against Ranlegh Harriers, from Richmond (4).  Later that season the ground was ‘fearfully heavy going’ and conditions’ in ‘weather as unfavourable as could be imagined’ around Blackheath for the annual steeplechase (5).

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Their major athletics meeting of the year moved to Catford in 1883 – to the Private Banks Sports Ground, by the stations.  The highlight of the fixture, on a grass track, was a then record of 4:24.25 for the mile by W G George of Moseley Harriers (6).  At another meeting at the Oval organised by the club in September the same year, W G George took a second off the record – 5,000 were there to watch events (7).

Race walking events were organised too – including one from Chislehurst to the Green Man via Eltham Church in 1903 (8).

They also had a rather odd annual bachelors v married men, the two reports found for 1905 (9) and 1906 (10), both saw victories for those out of wedlock.

Interest seems to have declined in Edwardian England – attendances well down at the 1906 Crystal Palace meeting (11).  Cross country numbers too reduced – a five mile race in late 1908 only attracted six entries, of these, only four made the starting line (12).

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Blackheath Harriers were to move on from the Heath – by 1922 they were based at the Private Banks Sports Ground in Catford for track and field and they purchased a base in Hayes in 1926 for their road and cross country running.  Membership increased considerably after WW1 with the 500 level being reached in 1923.

From 10:00 on Sunday morning around 38,000 runners start the marathon on various parts of the Heath, of those around 100 will be from Kent AC, Cambridge Harriers and Blackheath and Bromley Harriers (Blackheath Harriers merged with Bromley AC in 2003).  The elite men will finish around 12:05 but amongst the slower competitors at around 4:30 pm will be the millionth London marathon finisher.

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Notes

  1. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, February 15, 1880; Issue 1943
  2. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, February 05, 1881; pg. 90
  3. Daily News (London, England), Monday, October 10, 1881; Issue 11071
  4. Daily News (London, England), Saturday, October 28, 1882; Issue 11400
  5. The York Herald (York, England), Monday, February 12, 1883; pg. 8; Issue 9905
  6. The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, July 30, 1883; pg. 2; Issue 34663
  7. The Morning Post (London, England), Monday, September 24, 1883; pg. 2; Issue 34711.
  8. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, October 17, 1903; pg. 246; Issue 2212
  9. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, January 28, 1905; pg. 54; Issue 2279
  10. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, March 10, 1906; pg. 150
  11. The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, May 19, 1906
  12. I.P.: Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times (London, England), Saturday, December 26, 1908

Notes on Pictures

The painting is by an unknown artist and is owned by Greenwich Heritage Centre  and is displayed via the Art UK website, and reproduction for non commercial research such as this is allowed under the terms.

Thank to the Blackheath Society for allowing the use of the sketches of Blackheath Harriers, it is just one of several hundred pictures from their fantastic photographic archives which they have recently allowed public access to – they are well worth a visit!

Lee Races

 Like many current pub landlords, the 19th century Thomas Sears of the (Old) Tiger’s Head was keen to increase income by diversification.  This included a series of sporting activities including ‘foot racing’ – running races with handicaps which the blog will return to in the future, pre-Queensbury rules boxing and horse racing – the Lee Races.

Lee Races were a series of local horse races based initially, and finishing In 1845, at Lee Green behind the Tiger’s Head (left picture below – note 1) but then with the same or similar names moving  to 

  • Harrow Fields, which were nearer to Eltham
  • Shooters Hill Road between the Sun in the Sands and the Earl of Moira (right picture below (2) which was the former name of the Brook, which is now a Co-op) public houses; and 
  • An unclear location in Eltham – presumably somewhere near Eltham Green.

 

 The July 1834 races were based in the two large fields behind the Old Tigers Head  at Lee Green, in whose garden was the grandstand, effectively between what is now Lee Road and Lee Park. The fields were probably those marked “Lee Green” in John Roque’s map (3) from a century before below.  The area would now include streets around Heathlee Road.   

The 1834 races were described in the pro-racing New Sporting Magazine 

The inhabitants of Lee, Blackheath etc got up some very good races … (the course being laid out in two large fields in front of the houses at Lee), which brought a large assemblage of people…amusing and enjoying themselves happily and innocently…the first Lee Races having gone off so well, we hope that steps will be taken to ensure a repetition of them. 

 The report in the New Sporting Magazine skirted over the death of a Greenwich pensioner who crossed the road during a race and was run over, and possibly a rider (4).  The ‘large assemblage’ clearly wasn’t peaceful enough for the relatively gentile people of Lee and the following year the races moved to Harrow Fields.

There is some debate as to where Harrow Fields were located.  Kincaid (5) has them in the area around Crathie Road (top left of photos below) and Scotsdale Road to the south of Eltham Road. However, the ‘History of Lee’ suggests that they were in an area where substantial houses were built there before 1882.  That would put them a little further to the west and north of Eltham Road – around the current Southbourne Gardens (bottom right in photo below), Courtlands Avenue (top right) and, possibly, as far east as John Roan Playing Fields. The were Harrow Cottages marked around there in the 1870 OS 6″ map.  Sutcliffe Park was, of course, formerly known as Harrow Meadow. 

  

Meanwhile, the ‘Shooters Hill races’ started in 1836 with separate organisers who attempted to link to those in Harrow Meadows.  They were known as the Lee, Lewisham, Greenwich and Eltham Races and were reported on in the Morning Chronicle in 1836 (quoted in the Lewisham Heritage blog) with The Greenwich Borough Cup won by a horse called Eliza Thornville. 

These races only had three annual meetings and, according to Kincaid (6), there were strong suggestions of fixed races and ‘intolerable nuisance in the neighbourhood.’ (7)

The 1837 ‘Eltham’ event was overshadowed by something other than the racing – an early attempted parachute jump which went badly wrong a couple of weeks before the races – this was covered before in the blog.

The races seemed to degenerate after Sears stopped his involvement in 1838 – possibly due to being convicted in 1837 of, what appears to have been, selling alcohol without a licence on the course.  

Sear’s wasn’t the only criminal activity – 1838 Old Bailey case records note several cases relating to the Races including John Bridger who was imprisoned for 6 months for the theft of a handkerchief; a William Richards was ‘confined’ for 5 days and whipped for stealing a horse cloth; and John Ebbs was imprisoned for the theft of a bunch of keys and a bag of money. The sentences handed down the following year seemed harsher and included a George Smith who was convicted of theft with violence, oddly against another George Smith, and transported for 16 years; and John Wood was transported for 10 years for the theft of a handkerchief, although he did have some ‘previous.’

The racing seemed to of a relatively low quality too – James Christie Whyte’s ‘History of the British Turf’, quoted in Wikipedia, described Lee’s 1840 races as “only of local interest” 

By 1841 at a new venue nearer Eltham, the races were described as ‘a most miserable affair altogether’ and the course described as ‘shocking’ (8).

The races returned to Lee Green in 1844 with a moderate degree of success, but much less so in 1845 race where numbers were sparse and it was to be the last year.  Lee was changing with Lee Road and Lee Park were beginning to be developed.

Horse racing was changing too, until the early nineteenth century it was a sport that took place at the local level as moving horses any distance was difficult.  The growth of the railways changed all this as the movement of horses and spectators became much easier. The 1838 Derby saw the first horse racing special rail services. 

  

Derby Day in the 1850s (9).

Permanent horse racing tracks began to be developed, including those at Sandown Park, Lingfield and Kempton which offered income from gate receipts as well monies from selling rights to gambling and alcohol sale.

Lee wasn’t the only location in the area to lose its racing – courses at Tunbridge  Wells and Rochester & Chatham had also disappeared by the end of the century.

Finally, the late nineteen century historian of Lee, F. H. Hart, after describing the clientele as the “lowest classes” and highlighting the “many accidents” concluded, 37 years after the final race, that 

We cannot be too thankful that the long list of these nuisances is now abolished, and that we live in more refined times.


Notes

  1. Picture of (Old) Tigers Head – from an information board at Lee Green
  2. Picture of Earl of Moira – source Culture 24 
  3. Map from an information board at Lee Green, the original was published in 1740
  4. Kincaid, D (2001) ‘Lee Races’ in Lewisham History Journal No 9, p34
  5. Kincaid, p35
  6. Kincaid, p44
  7. Kincaid, p52
  8. Kincaid, p53
  9. Source Wikipedia

A Review of the Year

January 2nd seems slightly late to be doing a review of 2014, but it is the anniversary of my first post, on the Battle of Deptford Bridge, so it seems quite apposite.

My expectations 12 months ago were limited, I was writing and researching for me and didn’t really expect there to be too much of an audience. I was surprised to start getting people reading my posts, the first one that got more than a handful of views was Ghost Signs in Lewisham and Catford, which has had a steady trickle ever since – including several around Halloween who were using the search term ‘haunted Catford’, sorry that I probably disappointed you.

The number of ‘views’ steadily increased during the year and the other most read pieces included
The Zeppelin Attack on Hither Green
Anti-German Atttacks in WW1 Deptford
Ghost Signs – Charles Holdaway, a Lewisham Painter
Listed Lewisham – The Excalibur Estate
Thomas Murphy and the Charlton Greyhounds

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My original aim was a post every two or three weeks but somehow have managed 95, although about half of those are largely running based – I never really intended to write about running, seeing it as a means of transport for posts rather than a topic in its own right; but it seemed natural once I started.

As for my favourite posts, there are a trio of standout ones because I enjoyed the research for them
Shakespeare and Lewisham – when I found that the story of King Lear was linked to the old Manor of Lee;
The Inaugural Women’s AAA Championships – which brought together a national championship in Downham and some family history; and
Rollo Richards the New Cross Post Office Bomber – where I ‘discovered’ a large anarchist group in Deptford and the bomber’s later funding of a church bell in Cudham.

A big thank you to everyone who has followed me here or via Twitter and/or retweeted links to the posts. Thank you too to those who have commented on posts, it is always great to get feedback. And the final thank you is to those relatives of people who were part of the histories that I have written about who have shared their family stories and their family photos. I hope that I did justice to your relatives and their tales.

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Finally, writing this blog has opened my eyes to a lot of other great writing , I followed Transpontine and Caroline’s Miscellany before I started writing but discovered a lot of others too – my favourites are on my ‘blog roll’ – do try them out.

The Inaugural Women’s Amateur Athletic Association Championships in Downham

A sports field that has never had a permanent running track seems an odd place for a bit of track and field history, but the former Oxo Sports Ground on the edge of the Downham was the location for the very first Women’s Amateur Athletics Association Championships in 1923.

Regular readers of Running past may remember that the Oxo Sports Ground is now used as Millwall’s training ground and was covered here when following the Meridian Line from the edge of Croydon back to Greenwich.

While the Amateur Athletics Association had been set up in 1880 it didn’t admit women and while there were renewed attempts to allow this after WW1 they met with considerable opposition. So a number of those that had been involved in putting together an unofficial international team for a meeting in France in 1921 and who were based at the Regent Street Polytechnic (now University of Westminster) set up the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association (WAAA) in early1922 to attempt to co-ordinate English women’s athletics.

There is a photograph of the Polytechnic Ladies Athletic Club from that era which includes many of the women who featured at those first Championships in 1923, including Hilda Hatt (middle row 3rd from left), Florence Birchenough (middle row 4th from left), and Sophie Elliott-Lynn (front row, 2nd from left).

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There were a series of events held around the country that were given “Championships of England” status by the WAAA in 1922. For 1923 they held the first proper Championship meeting at the Oxo Ground (which had opened in 1921) on 18 August 1923. It isn’t an obvious venue – it was a grass track in a field that has a slight slope down towards the River Ravensbourne.

History doesn’t seem to record the numbers taking part although the winners included most of the leading lights in the sport at the time:
100 Yards Mary Lines 12.0

220 Yards Eileen Edwards 27.0

440 Yards Mary Lines 62.4

880 Yards Edith Trickey 02:40.2

120 yards Hurdles Mary Lines 18.8

High Jump Hilda Hatt 1.45

Long Jump Mary Lines 4.86

Shot Florence Birchenough 16.16 (yards?)

Javelin Sophie Elliott-Lynn 35.76 (yards?)

880 Yards Walk Edith Trickey 04:35.0

660 Yards Medley Relay London Olympiades 01:22.6

There were new World Records by Mary Lines at 440 yards and 120 yards hurdles and for Edith Trickey for the 880 yards walk. While there are photos of the event with Edith Trickey’s victory and Sophie Elliott-Lynn in action, their copyright holders wanted £50 for their use here. The Britain from Above site shows a vision of an Oxo sports day from 14 years later; there is more of a marked track then than there was in 1923.

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In 1923 Championships were the only Oxo based ones, the following year the meeting moved a few miles down the road to the cinder track at Woolwich Stadium.

Mary Lines (1893–1978) was perhaps the best known women’s athlete of her generation and a real pioneer of women’s sprinting she set a total of thirty-three world records between 1921 and 1924. As a child she had lived for a while in Helix Road in Brixton Hill and attended James Allen’s Girls School (JAGS) in Dulwich.

Eileen Edwards held the world record at 200 metres from 1924 (at that years WAAA Championships) until 1933.

Florence Birchenough was a pioneer in the throwing events representing her country several times in the javelin, shot and discus where she was British Champion between 1924 and 1928. She continued her involvement in athletics throughout her life as both a coach and official and can be seen in action below.

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Sophie Elliott Lynn, the high jump winner, came from County Limerick, and while she was also joint secretary of the WAAA and a world record holder for the high jump, was much better known as an aviator – her Wikipedia entry describes her as ‘one of the best known women in the world for a five-year period from the mid-1920s.’

She was better known as Mary, Lady Heath, or sometimes Lady Icarus, and was the first woman to hold a commercial pilots licence in Britain, the first woman to do a parachute jump, as well as setting records for altitude flying. She is perhaps best known for flying from Cape Town to Croydon Aerodrome – finally reaching Croydon on 18 May 1928, which got her onto the front pages of newspapers across the globe.

There is a brief YouTube biography, which is a trailer to a longer documentary which includes her high jumping, the now unusual double handed javelin as well as her landing at Croydon.

Sophie Elliott-Lynn wasn’t the only athlete to be captured on celluloid – British Pathé News did several features on women’s athletics in 1922 including this one on ‘Britain’s Finest Women Athletes’ which included Florence Birchenough in both the javelin and shot.

British Pathé News also ran a feature on the Women’s Olympiad 1922, which included the caption ‘The new theory that “sport may kill sex” does not worry them!’ and includes a victory for Hilda Hatt in the high jump

Acknowledgements – a big thank you to Rosie Sargent for letting me use some of the photos on her website of her great aunt, Florence Birchenough and the Polytechnic Ladies Athletic Club.