1888 • Back to the Oval
"The Kings Arms" was not a large pub, but Nick Pethick was able to allocate a back room and a single tin bath for the use of the Harriers. The Wednesday night races ranged from 440 yards to 3 ¼ miles, all handicapped. In the winter they were run in almost total darkness. If there was no moon shining then the miserable yellow glow of the gas lamps barely penetrated the riverside gloom. The judges would cluster around a single oil lamp at the finish, which invariably blew out on a blustery night, and each would peer into the darkness for a sight of the runner he had to ‘claim’. As each competitor crossed the line he would be grabbed by a judge who would not let go until his name had been recorded.
Some races finished so late that by the time the last runners had had their turn in the bath and got dressed the bar was near closing time; and in those days public houses closed at midnight! Indeed, a publican had no life of his own and hardly any sleep for that matter. After closing at midnight he would open again at 5.30 am to serve rum and coffee to early morning workers and those returning from night work.
From "The Morning Post" of December 3rd, 1888:
... very interesting competitions were promised by the Spartan Harriers at their third autumn meeting at Tufnell-park on Saturday. ... a four miles inter-club contest, for which only second rate clubs were allowed to enter, and which proved so popular that no fewer than 30 associations sent teams to compete. This furnished an immense field of runners, and the judges had some difficulty in accurately placing the teams at the finish. The actual winner was A.H.N. Edwards, of the Belgrave Harriers who got home first in 21min. 40sec.; but his club was not placed ...
Membership grew steadily throughout 1888 as A.H.N. Edwards’s popularity and enthusiasm attracted new blood. His interests were not restricted to running. He had a keen interest in the music hall and his annual smoking concert at the nearby "King William the Fourth" public house had been held five times before the formation of Belgrave Harriers, and was always a sell-out. This interest in the social side of club life has remained entrenched in the philosophy of Belgrave’s management ever since.
There was much satisfaction to be had on 29th September 1888 when Edwards and his merry men returned to the Oval for the SLH Autumn Meeting. This time the group was comprised of spectators and competitors. Edwards, Watts and Richardson were amongst 107 starters for the 100 yards handicap but did not get beyond their heats. But W. Curtis achieved the Club’s first ever win in a walk by taking the 2 miles Walk handicap (off 250 yards) in 14:38.8.
Curtis’s win was a boost for Club morale and helped to engender an interest in walking. Until then much of Curtis’s training had been with the runners. He re-appeared at the Oval with much reduced marks for the next three years but did not repeat his success there. Edwards also tried his hand at a range of events from 100 yards to 4 miles but it was always the mile at which he excelled. At the 1890 meeting his mark was cut to 40 yards for the one-mile handicap yet he still managed to finish second. The Sporting Life referred to him as "A clipper that stands at the head of the Belgrave stall…," which one presumes was complimentary.
The first Annual General Meeting was held on 5th September 1888. No formal records survive, but H. Morton Carr, a generous contributor of prizes, was elected as President, Alf Edwards as Honorary Secretary and F.I. Dollery as Trainer. This last appointment meant the setting up of a pummelling bench at "The Kings Arms" where much of Dollery's 'training' would take the form of a good massage, for which the recipient would give two pence.
Two decisions would have been made at that first A.G.M. The first was to hold the first annual dinner at the Anchor Restaurant, Cheapside on Monday 15th October. The second was the donation by the President of the 'Morton Carr One Mile Challenge Cup'. This valuable trophy was to be competed for over a series of six monthly handicaps. Points would be awarded to the first six in each race and the Cup would go to the runner with most points. As was usual at that time, all races would be handicaps, but the maximum allowance was restricted to 300 yards.
The course for the new challenge cup race started on the Chelsea Embankment opposite Tite Street and ran due east alongside the river, straight across the approach to Chelsea Bridge (imagine that today!) and finished opposite Ranelagh Road. Eighty six entries were received from club members which is an indication of how much the club had grown in one year.