1887 • Belgrave's first race
The enthusiastic Edwards was determined that the Club would not be just another street running club and immediately arranged for the Club’s first event to be a paper-chase over Wimbledon Common. Wimbledon was well to the South of Pimlico, with much open country in between, but Edwards was clearly ambitious and headed straight for the hallowed territory of those cross country specialists Ranelagh Harriers and Thames Hare and Hounds.
The event took place on Saturday 22nd October 1887 and Belgrave’s first race was reported in The Sporting Life on the following Wednesday as follows:-
“Belgrave Harriers – This pack brought off their first paper chase on Saturday (22nd), in splendid weather, when a most enjoyable run of about seven miles was indulged in. Starting from The Castle, Wimbledon, the hares – Messrs. A.H.N. Edwards, hon. sec., and W.R. Weller – were allowed ten minutes start and laid the trail over a stiff course by way of Wimbledon Common, Kingston Vale, Roehampton and Putney. Mr. A. Hall sighted the hares 400 yards from home, and running in splendid style just managed to overtake Weller in the last fifty yards. Messrs. H.G. Carter, A. Kirby and T. Gee had a grand race over the last half mile for place honours, Kirby obtaining second place by ten yards, a dead heat between Carter and Gee for third place. Thirty five members ran.”
A turn-out of 35 members, only two weeks after the club’s formation must have given Edwards a great deal of encouragement.
At the A.A.A. General Committee meeting of 26th November 1887 the affiliation of Belgrave Harriers was formerly approved. Others to be affiliated at that meeting were Guildford Harriers, Guildford Cycling & A.C. and Luton A.A.C. Membership of the National body had risen to 185.
Most of the Club’s activities were handicap races, usually on the road, over a distance of 2¾ miles. Announcements were made in The Sporting Life twice a week, and entries were sent by post. This may seem an unnecessarily complicated way to handle club events but it should be remembered that the postal service in London in 1887 was quite exceptional. There were twelve deliveries daily in central London and six to eleven deliveries in the suburbs. The Post Office Guide for the year states “Letters should be delivered two to four hours after posting if within the London area”. It was quite common to get a card in the morning to make an afternoon engagement, so making an entry for a handicap race by post in the 19th century was little less convenient than using the telephone or e-mail in the 21st century.
The last club event of 1887 was a Boxing Day 120 yards handicap which was held on the Grosvenor Road along the Thames embankment. The distance was chosen to give every member a chance of participating, including the distance runners and walkers. The venue selected itself really. The embankment would be deserted of horse-drawn traffic on Boxing Day and the Grosvenor Road, although cobbled, was wide and flat. Furthermore, the start was no more than 200 yards from “The Kings Arms”. How many took part in that first Boxing Day meeting is not known but we do know that the event became very popular and that by 1896 eight heats were necessary with semi-finals. Programmes and photographs of this period illustrate the event’s popularity, and with three public houses lying within 200 yards of the course the spectators had refreshments close at hand too. The atmosphere of the occasion was such that in future years the event was also used as a re-union for older members.
Above: The traditional Boxing Day Handicap Meeting began in the Club's first year and was held on the Grosvenor Road Embankment adjacent to Chelsea Bridge with the finish at The King William IV pub. These pictures date from 1899 and while the start of one of the heats of the 120 yards handicap is watched by a knot of small boys, a policeman, a couple of spectators and what looks like a Jack Russell terrier, the finish of another is watched by a horde of onlookers.
Club announcements were made in "The Sporting Life" twice a week. The following from the publication of Saturday, 26 November 1887:
This club brought off their ordinary run on Wednesday in the presence of a large company of spectators. The feature of the run was the fine running of Walker, who beat his previous record by 13 sec. The following took part in the run (distance two miles and three-quarters):- J. Walker first; S. Spear second; Gee third; Death fourth.Higgins, Smith, A. Ward, W. Ward, Apted, Wood, Larner, Bowering, H. Jones, Davis, Wallenstein, D. Kirby, O. Hyde, Carter, C. Beedon, Holland, Spencer, Reynolds, McIntosh, Trussel, Ayres, Barker, and F. Edwards also ran. Walker made the running all the way and landed home 55 sec. before Spear; ten yards between second and third, five yards separating third and fourth.Time 14 min. 47 sec. Spear’s time 15 min. 42 sec. Members are reminded that the entries for the One Mile Handicap close to-day (Saturday) to the hon. sec. The ordinary run will take place today from head-quarters, King’s Arms, Ranelagh-road, Pimlico, at four o’clock.