Category Archives: Sporting & Aviation Pioneers

Catford Southend – The Non-League Club that nearly took over Charlton Athletic – Part 2

In the first post on Catford Southend they were left at the outbreak of World War 1 as ‘a solid non-League team with a relatively new ground in early 20th century suburbia, in a similar position to many non-League teams that are still around almost 100 years later.’

Their story is picked up after hostilities ceased and football resumed in 1919, like a lot of sport, the Athenian League that The Kittens had played in before the war had been mothballed during the bloodshed of World War 1.  By the time the Athenian League was reformed for the 1919/20 season, Catford Southend had moved on – newcomers to the league that season were to include local non league stalwarts Kingstonian, Bromley and Wimbledon.

Catford returned to the London League after the War, it had been their ‘home’ for much of their existence.  On the field, the 1919/20 season was a struggle, had it not been for the abject performance of Islington Town, the Kittens would have been propping up the table.  Further up the Division, in second place, were Charlton Athletic – the Addicks had initially joined the league during Southend’s brief stint in the Athenian League.  It was probably the only time the first teams Charlton and Catford played in the same league – Charlton moved onto the expanded Southern League for the 1920/21 campaign.

Catford’s 1920/21 season (team photo above – see notes for credit) ended up with mid-table mediocrity – the brilliantly named Gnome Athletic (later the more prosaic Walthamstow Borough) propping up the table.  The following season saw the Kittens finish second, although some distance behind the runaway leaders, Grays.  The 1922/23 season, the last in the League saw Catford hovering above the relegation places.

Just outside the ground at the Dartmouth Arms on the corner of Laleham and Ringstead Roads.  A new landlord, Harry Issaacs, had arrived around 1921who was soon to develop big plans for Catford Southend, it isn’t clear whether he became the owner, but his impact became very clear in early 1923.

A proposal was made to Charlton Athletic in April 1923 for them to move to Catford,  play at what had become known as The Mount and merge to two teams under the Catford Southend name. The logic for the acceptance had been Charlton’s financial losses in the previous season and the hope that they would get more paying punters in through the turnstiles in Catford.

The Kittens had to give up London League status due to potential merger with Charlton as otherwise the merged team would have to play at Catford’s level in the football pyramid.

It seems that the orientation of the pitch was changed to allow a larger stand to be dismantled at the Valley and rebuilt at The Mount, Charlton seem to have paid for the move of the stand which would give the ground a capacity of 20-25,000 (other, less plausible, higher estimates are available). The map below (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland) from a couple of decades later shows the area covered by the enlarged ground.

1923/24 season that saw Charlton ground sharing at The Mount saw Catford playing in the Kent League.  As was covered in an earlier post of Charlton’s sojourn at the Mount, attendances were not as expected and at the end of the campaign the Addicks returned to the Valley. Running Past covered Charlton’s short stay a while ago – which included a stand sliding down the created terrace towards Laleham Road.  Charlton were heavily criticised at the London League AGM in June 1924 for causing the ‘demise’ of Catford.  While the report of club’s death was premature, The Kittens were in a perilous position (1).

The 1924/25 season saw the club turn professional in the Kent League, they weren’t allowed back into the London League due to their resignation 18 months before.  The decision to turn the Kittens into a professional outfit seemed ambitious at best.  There is much less information available about the Kent League, than those seasons that went before, Catford’s story having to be pieced together from very limited local press reports, often little more than scores and few tables.  Consequently there are frequent gaps in the narrative.  The manager was a former Spurs and Charlton forward Geoffrey Dodd, who had played for the latter at The Mount (2).

While there were some the early successes in the Kent League, they were not maintained.  The campaign started with a 3-2 home victory over Tunbridge Wells Rangers, with the Kittens coming from 2 down in the final quarter of an hour. The campaign continued well during September with a victory against Bexleyheath and draws against Margate and Gillingham (3).

dreamland

In mid-October there was a trip to Dreamland (above – source eBay July 2017), the new home of Margate; it proved to be a nightmare for the home team – the Kittens mauled the men of Margate 5-3.  Unusually, there was a team sheet in the Thanet Advertiser  Bransby, Champion, O’Connor, Shaw, Tolhurst, Wells, Hopper, Devonshire, Weston, Humphreys, Mills (4).

Results were more mixed during October and November and this became the pattern of things, while it hasn’t been possible to find an end of season table, by the end of March, Catford were mid table – 20 points adrift of the league leaders Chatham (5).

The 1925/26 campaign saw little improvement; early poor form saw Catford close to the bottom of the League at the end of October (6).  While results improved during December, including a 9-0 home thrashing of Ashford (7) , the mixed results continued, although another 9-0 victory against Sheppey will have brought cheer to the Catford faithful (8).

The Kittens were finally allowed back into the London League for the 1926/27 campaign but this seems to have been the final desperate throw of the dice to try to make their professional status work.  The Kittens struggled to resource running two teams and started to send ‘short’ teams to some matches – this led to a 13-1 humiliation being inflicted by Sittingbourne (9).

They started to not fulfil games in the Kent League, including a no show in Tunbridge Wells in December (10).  By the end of January 1927 the Kent League table showed a desperate position Catford had only managed to play 10 games, all of which were defeats, with just 5 goals scored and 49 conceded (11).

While the Kent League seem to have been inclined to leniency, once matches in the London League, were failing to be fulfilled, including one at Chelmsford, the London League acted, suspending Catford (12).  The Kent League did likewise but seems to have briefly lifted the suspension in an attempt to allow them to fulfil a game at Norfthfleet – which they were unable to do, leading  to a further suspension (13).

There was to be no comeback this time, by April the record of Catford Southend for the season had been expunged (14).  There doesn’t appear to be any evidence of either Isaacs going bankrupt or the winding up of the club, although it may well have been run through a holding company.

Ultimately, a successful London amateur non-League team was brought to extinction by over-ambition and trying to take a short-cut to Football League status which some of its nearest neighbours in Millwall, Crystal Palace and Charlton had all already obtained.

After the departure of The Kittens, the ground was re-absorbed back into the Park – certainly the Ordnance Survey map from 1949 (above) suggests that the stands had already disappeared by then and a new pitch created alongside.  The outline of the home of the Kittens is still clearly visible through the large flattened area’ pitch area.

Notes

  1. 9 June 1924 – Athletic News
  2. 11 August 1924 – Athletic News
  3. 5 September 1924 – Kent & Sussex Courier
  4. 11 October 1924 – Thanet Advertiser
  5. 28 March 1925 – Thanet Advertiser
  6. 24 October 1925 – Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald
  7. 12 December 1925 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  8. 27 February 1926 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  9. 8 January 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  10. 3 December 1926 – Kent & Sussex Courier
  11. 29 January 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald
  12. 4 February 1927 – Chelmsford Chronicle
  13. 4 February 1927 – Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser
  14. 23 April 1927 – Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald

Some of the information for the post has come from the fantastic non-League resource Non-League Matters, which, if you have a penchant for league tables past,  it could keep you occupied for days.

Sadly, the owner of the site looked as though they are planning to mothball the site in May 2017, if anyone reading this has any time on their hands and wants to take it over there are contact details on all the pages on the site other than the home page.

Picture credits – the team photograph is courtesy of the always helpful Lewisham Archives.

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Catford Southend – The  Non-League Club that nearly took over Charlton Athletic  – Part 1

Catford Southend have been mentioned once or twice in passing in Running Past, notably in relation to their almost takeover of Charlton Athletic and the latter’s brief stay at Southend’s then ground in Mountsfield Park, The Mount.  Their story is worth telling in its own right as it became a salutary lesson of what happens when there is over-ambition within football clubs.

The club seems to have had its roots in a forerunner club, Catford Rovers, which played from around the 1898/99 season against teams from around Deptford, Lewisham and Greenwich, including Greenwich Pupil Teachers (1).  The first reference to Catford Southend was at the beginning of the 1900/01 season with a newspaper report (2) inviting friendly opponents and a trial on playing fields on what is now Canadian Avenue – possibly a rear entrance to what are now St Dunstan’s School playing fields .  The secretary lived in a house built a few years before by the Catford builder James Watt.

The name Catford Southend suggests a specific location – Southend – around what is currently the junction of Whitefoot Lane and Bromley Road. Press reports for its early years often described their ground as ‘Bromley Road,’ while not absolutely certain this would suggest a ground within the estate of Park House which was at the southern end of what is now Conisborough Crescent.

Certainly it was a location used later as a sportsground by the fantastically named Waygood Athletic (sometimes called Waygood’s) who seem to have played in the long since defunct Southern Suburban League and Dulwich Amateur League along with running cricket teams. They were certainly there in 1914 when the Ordnance Survey  visited what was still a largely rural area. (Map image on a creative commons from the National Library of Scotland).  The main on-line press references for the Waygood’s are in the years from around 1905 to the outbreak of World War 1.  The name was almost certainly a reference to a business name rather than any suggestions of sporting excellence, probably R Waygood and Co Ltd  -Manufacturers of lifts, hoists and hydraulic presses who were based in Borough and later merged with Otis.

Back to Catford Southend or the ‘Kittens’ as they were affectionately nicknamed, they played in the  Bromley & District League 1st Division in their first campaign – the season included home victories against Langdale (3); Bromley St Johns (4); and a 2-1 away victory in Kidbrooke against Anchor, with both goals scored by Boarer (5).

By November that season the seeming success meant that they were able to put out a 3rd team which trounced St Laurence 14-1 (6).

The Kittens first XI joined the London League for the 1903/04 season, although they kept their team in Bromley League.  The London League had been set up in 1896; it was made up of three divisions when Catford joined.  The Premier Division was mainly teams that were to become the leading teams of London football – Spurs, Arsenal, QPR, Fulham, Brentford, West Ham and Millwall, who won the League that year.  The First Division was in the main the reserve teams of those in the Premier League.  The Second Division was a mixture of teams, some still in existence, playing non-League football, others, lost over the years.  Catford won the Second Division comfortably – winning all but one of their games.  They seem to have had to play games behind closed doors for six weeks after a referee was surrounded and abused by fans (7).

Despite winning the League, there was no automatic promotion and the team (below – see notes for picture copyright) played elsewhere in 1904/05, seemingly just in in West Kent League.  There were problems with the ground measurement that season with Kent Senior Cup and London Cup matches against Tunbridge Wells and Dulwich Hamlet respectively having to be replayed (8)

By the 1905/06 campaign most of the Premier League clubs had moved on either to the Southern League or the newly extended Football League.  Catford entered at the equivalent level, now  Division 1, which they again won, ensuring that Chelsea’s reserves came second.  The Kittens lost away the away fixture to Chelsea in February 1906 – but won 1-0 at home.  The team sheet for the away game still survives.

 

The 1906/07 campaign was less successful finishing only 4th; the following year Catford Southend just lost out on winning the title on goal difference to another lost local club – Deptford Invicta.  The 1907/08 team (pictured below – see notes for picture credit) nearly saw the Kittens as Champions – losing out to local rivals Deptford Invicta by a single goal’s difference.  The next seasons though was were more of a struggle with a relegation battle in 1908/09.

The move to The Mount was seems to have been for the 1909/10 season; it isn’t entirely certain because both Bromley Road and The Mount were referred to as Catford in press reports.  The difference is that some games started to be referred to as being played at Ringstead Road (9).  The ground was in the far south east corner of the park (map image on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)’

It wasn’t the first time Catford Southend had played in Mountsfield Park, since around 1899 it had been home to Lewisham Montrose (Greenwich Montrose in 1899/1900) who seem to have continued in existence until at least 1907. Lewisham Montrose had an ‘interesting’ pricing policy which allowed the ‘ladies’ of Catford free entry but expected no girls, as the press cutting from September 1904 indicates (10).  This would have been about a year before the Park opened to the public after the acquisition of the former home and grounds of Henry Stainton in 1905.

Fortunes in the London League were little better with the move to Mountsfield Park (pictured below), finishing three from bottom in the first campaign there.  Rules were changed 1910/11 and allowed promotion to the Premier Division – it was more of a struggle for the amateur outfit playing against professional team’s reserve sides – including Millwall, Clapton Orient and West Ham – the Kittens were 7th from 8, with the bottom team Deptford Invicta. The Kittens only won 4/14 games.  The 1911/12 season was little better, but the 1912/13 campaign saw a splitting of the league into two smaller sections, with Catford 3rd from 6 teams.

The Kittens were founder members of the Athenian League, which was formed in 1912 and, for the next 70 years was one of the strongest amateur leagues in the South East.    Catford Southend won the league in its first season in 1912/13 winning eleven of the sixteen matches played, running teams in both Athenian and London Leagues.  Their form was less good in the following season with mid table mediocrity in a slightly expanded league (although no team was run in the London League)

They returned to the London League in 1914/15, finishing 3rd in the Amateur section,  but football was curtailed during the war.  This is where we will leave Catford Southend, for now, a solid non-League team with a relatively new ground in early 20th century suburbia, in a similar position to many non-League teams that are still around almost 100 years later.  Life was to change considerably for the Kittens when hostilities ceased and football resumed in 1919, we will return to their story in a future post.

Notes

  1. Kentish Mercury 27 January 1899
  2. Kentish Mercury 24 August 1900
  3. Kentish Mercury 26 October 1900
  4. Kentish Mercury 21 December 1900
  5. Kentish Mercury 23 November 1900
  6. Kentish Mercury 9 November 1900
  7. Sporting Life 14 January 1903
  8. Kent & Sussex Courier 24 February 1905
  9. South London Press 22 October 1909
  10. Kentish Mercury 09 September 1904

Much of the information for the post has come from the fantastic non-League resource Non-League Matters, which, if you have a penchant for league tables past, could keep you occupied for days.

Sadly, the owner of the site looked as though they are planning to mothball the site in May 2017, if anyone reading this has any time on their hands and wants to take it over there are contact details on all the pages on the site other than the home page.

Picture credits – the team photographs are courtesy of the always helpful Lewisham Archives.

Britain’s First Cycling Stage Race Which Almost Started in Catford in 1944 

One of the now seemingly permanent features of the national and international cycling calendar is the Tour of Britain. It is an event that can trace its roots back to a race that was planned to start from Catford – the first ever British stage race.

Cycling stage racing has been common on the continent with races such as Le Tour de France and Giro D’Italia having their origins in the early 20th century. In Britain road racing had been effectively banned since the end of the 19th century.  Time trials  (where riders start on their own and race against the clock) were eventually tacitly allowed often in remote locations with ‘code-named’ courses to avoid any police interest.’ (1)   Mass start races were only ever allowed on tracks, such as the short-lived one on Catford’s Sportsbank Street or Herne Hill, or later on airfields or motor racing circuits – some of the earliest racing at Brands Hatch was cycling, as well as more notably at the Brooklands Circuit (2).

The first road race with a mass start had been organised in 1942 by Percy Stallard, (picture source) it was a single stage race from Llangollen to Wolverhampton.  He and the other organisers and riders were all banned by the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU) as a result.  Stallard set up the rival British League of Racing Cyclists (BLRC) to promote racing rather than time trialing.

With Midlands roots, it was perhaps surprising that a war-torn London was to be the location for the (not so) Grand Départ of the first English Cycling stage race.  Perhaps using it as a fundraiser for the Red Cross helped and perhaps it was seen as a morale booster for those suffering at home.

Source ebay March 2016

The race was due to start in Catford outside the then Town Hall (above) on Saurday 5 August 1944, – the beginning of what was then the August Bank Holiday Weekend.  The planned route of the first stage is not clear but the second and third stages were the same –  starting at The Fantail (now Chapter 1) at Locksbottom and looping 60 miles out to Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and Pembury before returning to Locksbottom – see below (3).  Just 40 riders were to start the race which received some media interest – the BBC planned to cover the first stage (4)

Presumably when the organisers had agree the route with the authorities, London seemed a relatively safe location – there had been a lull in attacks following the end of the Blitz.  But from June 1944 London was again targeted by the Germans.  The first V1 rockets hit Lewisham on 16 June, including attacks on Lewisham Park and the areas around George Lane and Davenport Road.  Around a 100 more were to hit Lewisham  in the 7 weeks before the planned start, so it was probably understandable that the  Ministry of War Transport wanted the start moved (5).

The race was moved to Farnborough, where, in the end, all three stages started  outside the Fantail Restuarant, almost opposite the Ye Olde Whyte Lyon pub, pictured from around three decades before (6).

As for the race, the first stage was won by the organiser of the initial Llangollen-Wolverhampton race, Percy Stallard.  The second stage saw Les Plume from Manchester triumph, despite the seemingly safe location in the Kent countryside, during the race the RAF shot down another London bound doodlebug very close to the peloton. With shrapnel coming down around the cyclists, the eventual winner wondered whether they should be in an air raid shelter rather than racing.

The final stage saw a lone breakaway, won by Ron Baker with a sprint for the rest of the podium places of the stage won by Stallard, over ten minutes behind the winner.  Les Plume took the overall victory by just a second from Len Hook who had placed well on each of the stages.  Baker took the King of the Hills competition.

The following year there was the Victory Cycling Marathon from Brighton to Glasgow and a similar national stage race has been almost ever present (there was a five year hiatus from 2000).

Notes

1 William Fotheringham (2005) Roule Britannia: A History of Britons in the Tour de France p8

2 ibid p8

3 Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 21 July 1944

4 The People, 30 July 1944

5 The People,  6 August 1944

6 Postcard via eBay February 2016

 

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).

GL Hillier 7

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.

image

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.

image

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).

image

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)

image

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)

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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