Category Archives: Sporting & Aviation Pioneers

George Lacy Hillier – A Victorian South London Cycling Champion

Tucked away in the corner of of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery is a squat, unremarkable family tomb, it is easy to ignore when passing but it is the family grave of the Hilliers and contains the remains of George Lacy Hillier, one of leading Victorian amateur cyclists and cycling administrators.

GL Hillier 2

A biographer of an American cyclist Arthur Zimmerman puts Lacy Hillier into some context

It is hardly possible to overestimate the important of George Lacy Hillier in British cycling in the 1880s and 1890s … A fierce propagator and defender of ideological amateurism and denigrator of commercialism and professionalism….

 

The biographer, Andrew Ritchie, went on to note that in addition to being a multi-distance champion in 1881, he was a member of the Racing Committee of the National Cyclists Union, he was the editor of Bicycling News – for which he wrote ‘acerbic and verbose articles’, he promoted and judged race meetings and a was a ’tireless and outspoken critic of those whom he disagreed, which was almost everyone.’

George Lacy Hillier was born in Sydenham on 6 June 1856 (1) – his father was from Bloomsbury and a member of the Stock Exchange, his mother from Bognor Regis.  He seems to have been a sickly child and he was sent away to school (2) – the 1871 census had him at the Temple School in Brighton, perhaps to get the ‘air’.

By the next census in April 1881, he was back living with his parents who were then residing in Anerley Park – just to the south of Crystal Palace Park – and already a member of the Stock Exchange.  His rise to fame in the cycling world seems to have been a fairly meteoric one – there were only a few mentions of him in the Victorian press before the 1881 ‘season.’

He had competed in the 50 mile Championships in 1880, but there was no mention of him finishing – he certainly didn’t get onto the ‘podium’(3).  There were some glimpses on what was to come in the autumn of 1880, he won a mile handicap race at Crystal Palace (4) and was placed second in a tryicycle race from Finchley to Hitchin and back against some of the leading amateurs of the day (5).  But in early season races in Leicester (6), at the Kennington Oval, in front of 4,000 spectators (7), and at Alexandra Palace (8) he was winning races comfortably at a variety of distances.

The Leicester race was at the new Belgrave Road Cricket and Bicycle Ground which was later home to the nascent Leicester City for a season.  It was also to host both the mile and 25 mile cycling championship that summer.  With the mile event, there were two rounds and then a final against C E Liles of the Temple Club (9)

GL Hillier 5

With the 25 mile race Lacy Hillier seems to have been content to let others stay on the front making his decisive move on the 21st mile, holding the lead until the end (10).   About a week later he added the 50 mile Championship at Surbiton to his palmarès, winning by 40 yards at the finish (11).

GL Hillier 6

He continued actively to compete for another six or seven years, but he never came close to reliving the glories of the summer of 1881.  He represented Britain in an international match in Leipzig in 1885 (12)

He ran too, competing at cross country for South London Harriers (13); he race walked for the London Athletic Club (14), and, according to his obituary (15) he was also a good swimmer. A hundred years later he might have been an international triathlete.

He was frequently reported in the 1880s and 1890s press reports as an official and timekeeper; he also wrote a massive Handbook of Cycling, which one of the reviews suggested that while ‘ the quantity is great, the quality does not equal it.’ (16).  He was passionate about the amateur ethos of the sport – as a wealthy member of the Stock Exchange throughout his riding career, he could afford to be, at one point wanting those who earned their living as delivery cyclists classed as professionals (17).

While not competing, he continued riding – he was prosecuted in 1897 for the fantastic offence of ‘riding a bicycle furiously’ with the police estimating his speed on College Road in Dulwich at a moderate 12 to 14 miles an hour (18).

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GLH Novel 1Lacy Hillier died in 1941- his Times Obituary (19)  also lists him as writing two novels ‘The Potterers Club’, a now out of print cycling novel, which he launched at the 1900 Cycle Show; the other was ‘The Weston Diamond’ about which little is known.  Despite having moved to Chichester in his latter years, he is buried in the family grave close to the north-eastern corner of Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery.

 

GL Hillier 4

Notes

  1. “Obituaries.” Times [London, England] 24 Feb. 1941: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 15 Apr. 2016
  2. Ibid
  3. Daily News (London, England), Friday, July 9, 1880; Issue 10679
  4. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, October 10, 1880; Issue 1574
  5. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, November 7, 1880; Issue 1578,
  6. Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 23, 1881; pg. 2; Issue 3658.
  7. The Graphic (London, England), Saturday, May 7, 1881; Issue 597.
  8. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, July 10, 1881; Issue 2016
  9. Leicester Chronicle and the Leicestershire Mercury (Leicester, England), Saturday, July 23, 1881; pg. 2; Issue 3671.
  10. ibid
  11. The Newcastle Courant etc (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England), Friday, July 29, 1881; Issue 10778.
  12. The Leeds Mercury (Leeds, England), Saturday, September 12, 1885; Issue 14799.
  13. Penny Illustrated Paper (London, England), Saturday, December 05, 1885; pg. 362.
  14. Reynolds’s Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, April 13, 1884; Issue 1757.
  15. Times [London, England] 24 Feb. 1941 op cit
  16. The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), Friday, May 20, 1887; Issue 6918.
  17. The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post (Bristol, England), Monday, December 7, 1891;
  18. “Police.” Times [London, England] 11 Aug. 1897: 9. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
  19. Times [London, England] 24 Feb. 1941 op cit

The census and related information come from Find My Past.

Lee’s Accidental Airship Record  – Willows II

When thinking about locations for aeronautical records in south London, the most obvious places to consider are, perhaps, Biggin Hill or the old Croydon Aerodrome (covered in passing in relation to ‘Lady Icarus’);  a  long way down the list would be Lee. But Lee has been home to two  records – the first known parachute fatality at Burnt Ash Farm, which was covered in the blog in 2015, and, for a short period in the early 20th century, it was the accidental location for the end of the longest airship flight  when Willows II landed somewhere around Winns Road on what was known as Woodman’s Farm.

Like the sad tale of Robert Cocking, Lee’s claim to fame was a purely accidental one.  The pilot was aiming for Crystal Palace but due to poor visibility and some technical problems had somewhat overshot his destination.

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From postcard in author’s ‘collection’

The pilot was Captain Ernest Thompson Willows, he was the son of a wealthy Cardiff dentist and born in 1886.  He had been inspired by the Wright Brothers and built his first airship, Willows I, two years after their flight at Kitty Hawk when Willows was just 19. It was powered by a motorcycle engine and was reasonably successful, its maiden flight outside Cardiff lasted for 85 minutes, the first of half a dozen flights.

The follow up, the imaginatively named Willows II, was another four years in the making and was slightly bigger than the first one and launched in 1909.  He extended the length of the flights – flying from Cheltenham to Cardiff in four hours in July 1910.

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Picture from ‘Flight’ 13 August 1910

The flight to Lee was the following month.  He left his ‘shed’ in the moors above Cardiff around 8 pm on an August Saturday evening, guided initially by the lights of his father’s car.  The car lights failed soon after England had been reached and Willows was left to steer by a combination of stars, lights from towns and occasional forays down to almost ground level to check where he was via megaphone (1)  His flight took him over Chippenham, Colne, Reading and Chertsey before heading towards Crystal Palace (2).

Coming to a stop was fairly rudimentary and involved throwing a grappling iron out and hoping someone would be able to get hold of it and secure the airship.  On the approach to Crystal Palace, the grappling iron got stuck in a tree and the rope broke.  He drifted on to between Lee and Mottingham, where a watchman with some help from others was able to catch the rope and secure Willows II (3).

There was some damage to the skin with a consequent loss of hydrogen, which needed to be replaced.  So it wasn’t until the following Monday evening that he was able to complete the trip to Crystal Palace – his flight took him over Lee, Hither Green, Catford and Lower Sydenham before reaching Sydenham Hill 18 minutes later – the journey was watched by thousands on the ground.  The final destination was in cloud and he lost those on the ground who he was following, so like the flight to Lee, the final descent was a bit haphazard.

Once at Crystal Palace he did regular demonstrations, which adverts were taken out for in the local and national press – such as this one in The Times (4).

Woodman 2

Willows continued with building airships – Willows II was re-built and re-named as the City of Cardiff in an unsuccessful attempt to win a £2000 prize for the first flight between Paris and London.  While he was able to sell Willows IV to the Admiralty for just over £1000, it seems to have been the only significant money he made from his passion for flight.  A period in the Royal Flying Corps in World War 1 was bookended by offering sight-seeing flights – it was on one of these near Bedford in August 1926 where the basket became detached from the airship and Ernest Willows and his five passengers hurtled to the ground – one of the passengers survived but all the others, including Willows, perished.

Woodman

As for Woodman’s Farm in Lee, it seems to have been a relatively short lived farm, its location is highlighted on the map above.  It may well have originally been part of Horn Park Farm which the blog covered a while ago.  The unplanned landing of the airship seems to be its first mention.  It was also known as Melrose Farm – which it was referred to in the 1914 Kelly’s Directory (5).

The farm was a market gardening operation supplying the army during WW1 and selling produce at Greenwich market (6).  It was run by the Woodman family seemingly until the 1930s, when, like Horn Park Farm, it was lost to developers (7).  The farm house remains on Ashdale Road, helpfully called ‘The Old Farm House’ to make identification easy and was used by the builders of streets around there, Wates, as a site office during the construction (8).

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Notes

  1. Flight 13 August 1910
  2.  Ibid
  3.  Ibid
  4.  The Times (London, England), Tuesday, Aug 23, 1910; pg. 1; Issue 39358
  5.  Josephine Birchenough and John King (1981) ‘Some Farms and Fields in Lee’, p14
  6.  Ibid
  7.  Ibid
  8.  ibid

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).

B&BH1

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).

B&BH2

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).

B&BH3

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!

William Gazley, The Star of Kent – A Running Pedestrian

Running Past has covered several running and walking pedestrians over the last year or so, within the running ones from around the 1840s the name of William Gazley (also spelled Gazeley and Gazly in some reports) quite often appears.

Unlike some of the others, he wasn’t a star, other than his competitive name – the ‘Star of Kent’, and he tried his hand at a range of distances as well as a very odd race on Blackheath involving running and picking up stone weights.

Source - ebay March 2016

Source – ebay March 2016

His reported career was a relatively short one.  One of the first reports of Gazley in the press was a race in October 1842 against another local runner Tom Cook, the Greenwich Cowboy – someone already covered in the blog. It was from the five mile marker outside the Green Man (see picture above), near the top of Blackheath Hill over Shooters Hill to the nine mile marker and returning to the Green Man.  The race was for 10 shillings, with ‘heavy bets dependent on the outcome.’ (1) Gazley seems to have opened up a lead on the run back up Shooters Hill from near Welling, taking 20 yards out of his opponent which he extended by the end, winning by 40 yards (2).

Gazley1

Two months later, in December 1842, he ran again over part of the same route. It was over a mile from the milestone opposite the Earl of Moira (later the Brook and now a Co-op) down Shooters Hill Road to the  mile marker on the edge of Blackheath – at the junction of Prince of Wales Road.  The race report suggests he ‘looked pale, and not in his usual fine condition.’ (3)

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He lost the race to Tom Maxfield, the North Star, who was to become one of the leading runners of the day.  The latter was a coal carrier based in Berkshire, but originally hailed from Sheffield.  Maxfield was the first runner to cover 20 miles in under 2 hours – in the impressive time of 1:58:30 in 1845.  This was a time only bettered bettered by 65 runners in 2015.

Maxfield won in 5 minutes 10 seconds, but could have gone faster, on what is largely a reverse of the the first mile of the London Marathon (4)

IMG_0844

It was a big event though with crowds of up to 8000 lining the route, the local punters had clearly backed the Star of Kent to win, but it was the ‘sporting gentry’ from London who seemed to have made the money. (5)

The strangest event of Gazley’s reported career was from the Hare and Billet in Blackheath in March 1843, it was to pick up ‘300 stones, a yard apart each, in a course of 51 miles 540 yards, for with each stone the party had to return to the place he started from, and they were to be picked up in four hours.’  The wager was a paltry 10 shillings for what would have been a superhuman feat.

The reported distance was clearly not possible within the timescales  – it would have required back to back marathons faster than current world record pace, plus the small matter of the stones…..Oddly, neither Gazley or his opponent, ‘the Veteran Townsend’ completed the task – the latter calling it a day after two hours and Gazley completing 30 miles but with 35 stones left.  As the report in The Tablet noted

They went home defeated, and will not speedily recover from the effects of the fatigue experienced.

 

Gazley was meant to have a re-match with the Greenwich Cowboy, over 10 miles from Dartford to Blackheath in April 1843 for 10 Sovereigns, but Cook had to forfeit (6). Whether Gazley would have been in any state to race after the stone lifting contest was probably debatable though.

In September 1843, he was to race Edward Wild, Merrylegs, a Mancunian runner who seems to have been locally based, from the Tigers Head at Lee Green for 20 sovereigns over 8 miles, although the outcome is unclear (7).

He competed at the Rosemary Branch in Peckham against another pedestrian called Dixon, it wasn’t a planned race, neither had trained for it but both were present to watch Merrylegs race Maxfield. It seems that they were both persuaded by ‘sporting gentlemen’ backers to race over 2.5 miles for 5 sovereigns. Gazley’s backers expected ‘easy pickings’ but Dixon took the lead from the off and it seems that Gazley threw in the towel with around half a mile to go.

‘The ignominious defeat has given to Gazley vaunting a severe damper, and he sporting world are not likely to hear from him again for some time to come.’ (8)

Gazley’s defeat at the Rosemary Branch, didn’t stop challenges coming in from other runners though.  The following week Thomas Birkhead of Sheffield offered 25 or 50 sovereigns to a number of named runners including Greenwich Cowboy and Gazley over 10 to 20 miles, it isn’t known if Gazley or any of the others took up the challenge (9).

However press reports of him actually racing don’t appear again until September 1845 when he tried his hand at hurdling over 440 yards in a race at the Tiger’s Head at Lee Green (10) already mentioned in the blog – he didn’t get through to the final which was won by Railway Jack.

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The final mention of his running career came in 1849 when he challenged Dan Williams of Bermondsey over a mile up Blackheath Hill – perhaps from around Deptford Bridge to the Green Man. Whether the race came off is unknown though.

So who was William Gazley? Newspaper reports often referred to Gazely as being from Blackheath, this means relatively little though – it could have been where he was then living, where his financial backers were based, or where he was born.  The 1841 census throws up a possible identification – a William Gazley living in Bennett Street (now Grove) just off Lewisham Road, close to Blackheath Hill.  It was a house that he and his wife Sarah, and daughter, also Sarah shared with two other households.   A generation later, Booth described the street as ‘2 storey houses, small, labouring people, rather rough’

The information in 1841 census was limited and the dates of adults in bands, however, the same William Gazley was living in King Street on the Greenwich/Lewisham borders in 1851 – he was listed as a 34 year old boiler maker. It is certainly roughly the right age – he would have been 25 when he raced Tom Cook on Shooters Hill Road.

King Street was close to the junction of Lewisham Road and Blackheath Hill, roughly where Sparta Street is now.  This was poor housing – six years after the census there was a death from dysentery there; by the time Booth visited around 40 years later, the street was coloured light blue – ‘Poor’ with an income of 18 to 21 shillings a week.  However, it was a step up from Bennett Street as it wasn’t a shared house.

If, and it is a big “if”, this is the Star of Kent, he was born in Greenwich and seems to have lived around the Greenwich during most of his competitive career – his second youngest, also William, was born there in 1845 along with two older children.   By 1848 the family was living in Deptford where his youngest child Elizabeth was born, meaning that the move to King Street had been a recent one.  This Gazley was a single parent, presumably Sarah had died.  Sadly, there is no mention of this William Gazley in subsequent censuses.

Notes

  1. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, October 20, 1842; Issue 22388. 19th Century British Library Newspapers: Part II.
  2.  ibid
  3.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, December 18, 1842; Issue 221.
  4.  ibid
  5.  ibid
  6.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 9, 1843; Issue 237.
  7. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 27, 1843; Issue 257
  8. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 11, 1844; Issue 307.
  9. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 18, 1844; Issue 308.
  10. Picture from information board at Lee Green

 

W. G. Grace in South East London

WG Grace was born near Bristol and the vast majority of his career was spent playing for Gloucestershire and England. The blog touched on his final cricketing home a few months ago whilst exploring the route of the Little Quaggy in Mottingham and, with the centenary of his death approaching, it seem apposite to spend some time exploring the ‘swansong’ of his career in SE London.

Grace played his final Test in 1899 and severed his almost career long relationship with Gloucestershire the same year; the reason for the latter was that he had accepted an offer from the Crystal Palace Company to set up a new county team, the London County Club – Grace was secretary, manager and club captain of the new County club. He was given an annual salary of £600, probably very well paid for the time, and worth around £58,000 at 2015 prices, so quite moderate compared to the earnings of the current cricketing elite.

Grace was already 51 when the 1900 season started. The matches played by London County were given ‘first class’ status but were not part of the County Championship which had started ten years earlier – Grace had opened the batting with his brother Edward in the very first County Championship match against Yorkshire. The lack of involvement in the County Championship meant that Grace was able to attract various leading lights of the days to play for London County in what were effectively exhibition matches, whilst they retained their attachment to their counties. Notably amongst these was CB Fry, who retained his link to Sussex.

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WG Grace in London County colours – source Wikimedia Commons

The County had an inauspicious start losing to Surrey at the Oval by an innings in mid April 1900. The first home match at Crystal Palace was a draw against the same opposition three weeks later, both were the cricketing equivalents of pre-season friendlies.. The club played another eleven first class matches that initial season – although almost half were against teams other that counties – such as the Oxbridge Universities and the M.C.C.

Grace was the club’s big attraction though and he still averaged 37.09 with the bat in 1902, scoring 1187 runs; but as Grace’s form deteriorated with age, so did attendances and the London County lost its First Class status in 1904 and while it survived for another few seasons it folded in 1908.

One of Grace’s biographers, Robert Low, noted that

In truth, London County was never the serious cricketing project its backers had envisaged but more of a jolly swansong for the Champion in his twilight years.

The cricket ground was located roughly where the decaying 1970s athletics stadium is now located. It was also used for FA Cup finals, the 1905 final being the only surviving panorama picture (below) of the stadium. The stadium was taken over by Cristal Palace football club in 1905 who remained there until the park was requisitioned by the military in WW1, and slightly later by a speedway team that was later to become New Cross Rangers (covered in the blog in 2014).

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Whilst at Crystal Palace, Grace was also involved with lawn bowls persuading the Crystal Palace Company to turn some of the tennis courts into bowling greens and was instrumental in creating England’s first indoor bowling green under the glass within the Crystal Palace. He was also involved in some of the early internationals and governance of the sport.

Whilst playing for London County Grace lived in nearby Sydenham at 7 Lawrie Park Road, a house called St Andrews.  The house is no longer there is a new development there with a maroon plaque and the roads either side are named Cricketers Walk and Doctors Close.

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He then moved to Mottingham in 1909, living at Fairmount on Mottingham Lane, now a residential home.  The plaque was unveiled in 1966 by Stuart Chiesman, Chairman of Kent County Cricket Club, who was a son of one the founders of the Chiesman’s department store in Lewisham – which had been founded in 1884 – and was taken over by House of Fraser in 1972.

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Grace played for the local team, Eltham, who were based at Chapel Farm, the current location of Coldharbour Leisure Centre – where he played his final game on 8 August 1914 although he neither batted nor bowled. The last match he had batted in was against Grove Park, where he had scored an unbeaten 69 a couple of weeks earlier.

Grace died on October 23 1915, following a major heart attack, and was buried in the family grave at Beckenham Crematorium and Cemetery in Elmer’s End, close to the resting place of Thomas Crapper.

Sprinting & Hurdling at Lee Green

A few weeks ago, in a post on the Greenwich Cowboy, distance running at the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee Green was covered in passing. The landlord there in the early 1840s, Charles Moreton, tried a number of different sports to try to get additional drinkers into the pub, offering prizes and, no doubt, facilitating gambling on the outcomes. Some of these other sports will be returned to in later posts.

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The original (Old) Tiger’s Head – prior to rebuilding in 1896

One of the events that were tried out was sprinting – both on the flat and over hurdles. The first recorded one was in August 1844. It was advertised as a ‘foot hurdle race’ over 12 equidistantly placed hurdles on a 350 yard course – presumably along what is now Eltham Road (the longer distance races run by the Greenwich Cowboy and others were that direction). In horse racing terms this first race would be described as a ‘maiden stakes’ as it was only open to men who had never won a hurdle race before. The prize was a silver cup (1) but there would have undoubtedly been some side bets on the outcome.

The race was reported in The Era, a newspaper that covered sports and theatre that was published between 1838 and 1939 – after a number of heats the final was between Railway Jack and Makepeace – who clipped the penultimate hurdle and fell leaving Railway Jack the winner (2).

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The following year, hurdling was over 440 yards, over 8 hurdles with several of the previous year’s competitors returning. William Gazeley, Ned Wild – Merrylegs, Greaves, Martin and the previous year’s winner Railway Jack all competed. The final was between Martin and Railway Jack who came from behind to win at the Tiger’s Head. Gambling which paid for these races was clearly in evidence, with the newspaper report noting – ‘There was a good deal of speculation on the race.’ (3)

Several of the sprinters also competed on the ‘flat’ over a 140 yard course in October 1844. The ‘A’ race for 5 sovereigns was between Edward Smith and Wild, ‘Merrylegs’, the latter who raced at a variety of distances, ‘won in gallant style’. The evening’s ‘B’ race saw Mitchell beat John Perch (Railway Jack) over the same distance for 2 sovereigns (4).

Sprinting on the streets, mirrors one of the more recent developments in athletics – taking sprinting into temporary tracks and ‘stadia’ in city centres – such as the Manchester City Games and its counterpart in Newcastle, the Great North City Games, a precursor to the following day’s Great North Run half marathon.

Notes

1. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 18, 1844; Issue 308

2. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 25, 1844; Issue 309

3. The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, September 04, 1845; Issue 22388

4. The Era (London, England), Sunday, October 27, 1844; Issue 318

Tom Cook, The Greenwich Cowboy – a Victorian Running ‘Pedestrian’

Tom Cook was one of the journeyman professionals of the running branch of pedestrianism in the 1840s.  Other than his nickname, ‘Greenwich Cowboy’ and the tales of his races, little is known about him.  There was a Thomas Cook from Norfolk who lived in East Greenwich in the 1851 census who would fall roughly in the right age group but his ‘trade’ was different, so it may well not be him. However, his name regularly appeared in the sporting pages of the 1840s and early 1850s with a career that seems to have started, although is not reported at the time, around 1839 and carried on until at least 1853.

Pedestrianism had developed in the 18th century – initially it seems as walking but one branch had evolved into professional running where the competitors offered challenges to one another over particular distances, sometimes with a handicap.

The amounts raced for were considerable – £20 in 1850, at current prices, this is worth in the region of £64,000, although much of the money would probably have been made by the wealthy backers of the pedestrians, rather than the athletes themselves.

The athletes themselves will have earned a fraction of the sums staked, and, without modern methods of training, shoes, clothing and physiotherapy it was probably a precarious occupation.  The pedestrians all seemed to have nicknames.

The first that is heard of Cook was in early 1843 whether another runner, Maxwell, forfeited his initial stake to the ‘Greenwich Cowboy’, presumably being unable to run (1).  The early reports were all notices of races rather than reports – he was meant to race Blackheath’s Gazeley over 10 miles from Dartford to Blackheath in April 1843 for 10 Sovereigns, but had to forfeit (2).

In June 1843 he had his first press report, a victory over Peter Murphy, over 10 miles from the (Old) Tiger’s Head at Lee, over a mile course on the main road – seemingly from Lee Green to around what is now Eltham Green along Eltham Road – winning comfortably.  Oddly his opponent had two names, depending on the report ‘Temperance’s Romani’ (3) or ‘Manchester Pet’ (4).

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During 1844 he was challenged, amongst others, by Richard Manks, the ‘Warwickshire Antelope’, over distances of 1 mile or more for 5 – 25 sovereigns in July 1844 (5). He beat Ned Wilde (Merrylegs) ‘with great ease’ for 10 sovereigns after being given a 40 seconds at the Rosemary Branch in Peckham (6).  The Rosemary Branch was a pub, which stayed open until 1971, and, like the Tiger’s Head at Lee Green promoted a wide variety of sports – more on that in the blog another day.

1845 saw bigger stakes – beating James Openshaw of Bury for £25 over both 4 and 10 miles, presumably in the same race; (7) there was heavy betting on the race in front of a large crowd at the Rosemary Branch (8).

While his career continued, there are fewer reports, 1846 saw his first reported defeat – over 2 miles at Lee Green to James Byron – losing by nearly 100 yards (9).  He was challenged over 2 miles by a Lewisham runner, ‘Pirrian’s Novice’, over a mile in 1848 (10) and beat a runner called Dawkins over 2 miles at Smitham Bottom in Purley in 1849 – being described as ‘the old boy’(11).

His career was probably on the wane though, defeats were much more common. He lost to Bull at the Rosemary Brach in 1850 for a massive £40 stake (12)

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By the 1850s age seems to have been catching up with him, while he still had his backers for wagers of up to £40 there were a lot more defeats reported – losing twice to Thomas Birkhead, before beating him over 10 miles in Sheffield in late 1852 (13).  Then losing to the ‘Warwickshire Antelope’ in Barking at Easter 1853 over 10 miles (14)

His last known race of what seems to have been a career spanning around 15 years was a failed attempt to run 20 miles in 2 hours in early August 1853 – he completed the first 5 miles in 28 minutes, but it appears he had gone off too quickly as while he was recorded at 59:07 for 10 miles he was slowing down and got into difficulties quite soon after and gave up during the 12th mile (15).

With the advantage of modern training methods and kit, only 81 British runners ran under 2 hours for 20 miles in 2014, and the time at 10 miles was only bettered by 350 in 2014.

As the identity of Cook is uncertain, we cannot be sure what happened to him after his athletic career was over.  If, and it is a big ‘if’, he was the Thomas Cook from the 1851 census, he  lived at 8 Enderby Cottages in East Greenwich and was listed as a ‘watchman.’ If it was him, he was having to take a second job to make ends meet as his career waned.  That Cook was married to Jemima who was originally from Gravesend, just down the river in Kent.  There is no record of either of them after 1851. According to the excellent Greenwich Peninsula History site, Enderby Cottages were at the end of Blackwall Lane, and had been built for rope makers at the Enderby Works; one of the other occupants of number 8 was indeed a ropemaker.

Notes

  1. The Era (London, England), Sunday, February 5, 1843; Issue 228.
  2. The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 9, 1843; Issue 237.
  3. The Era (London, England), Sunday, 11 June, 1843; Issue 246.
  4. The Morning Post (London, England), Saturday, June 10, 1843; pg. 5; Issue 22588, the picture of the Tiger’s Head is from the information board at Lee Green
  5. The Era (London, England), Sunday, July 14, 1844; Issue 303.
  6. The Era (London, England), Sunday, November 10, 1844; Issue 320
  7. Lloyd’s Weekly London Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, July 6, 1845; Issue 137.
  8. The Era (London, England), Sunday, July 6, 1845; Issue 354
  9. The Era (London, England), Sunday, January 18, 1846; Issue 382
  10. The Era (London, England), Sunday, March 12, 1848; Issue 494
  11. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, November 25, 1849; Issue 366.
  12. The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 28, 1850; Issue 605, the other picture is not of Cook but is illustrative and is another 19th century pedestrian – source
  13. The Era (London, England), Sunday, January 2, 1853; Issue 745
  14. The Era (London, England), Sunday, April 3, 1853; Issue 758
  15. The Era (London, England), Sunday, August 7, 1853; Issue 776