There was a serious drift of Belgravites (as they were then called) to Battersea Harriers in early 1890. The 'BATS' had been resurrected from the almost defunct Surrey Lane AC and had been strengthened by a group of Belgravites the previous year. These lads lived on the Battersea side of the river though they still retained their Belgrave membership. They operated from "The Rising Sun" in Battersea Park Road, but were more a successful training pack than a club. However, being south of the river they were eligible to compete in the first South of Thames race. This attracted two key Belgrave runners, Latham and Gilbert, to the ranks of the 'BATS' who duly won the South of Thames Championship event at Wandsworth with ridiculous ease, totalling a mere 47 points from their six scorers. The frequency of such incidents led the A.A.A. to introduce the 14 months first claim rule into their regulations, but this did not take effect until 30th September 1898.
Despite these obstacles, the activities of the club continued to expand and in their second winter fortnightly runs or paper-chases took place from "The Jolly Waggoners", York Road, Wandsworth. Looking at that area now it is hard to believe that the runners could step straight into countryside. Visitors were always welcome on these occasions and press notices conveyed open invitations. Camaraderie amongst the so-called second-class clubs was a feature of which they could be proud. Most interesting was the time at which these winter runs took place – 4.00 pm or even 4.30 pm. This was because many working men had difficulty getting away from work on time, even on a Saturday. It is also apparent that many of those men also had difficulty in finding their way back to "The Jolly Waggoners" in the dark at the end of the run!
The growth of minor clubs throughout London at this time was so marked that almost every public house seemed to have a club attached to it. Such proliferation led to much rivalry and clubs waxed, waned, amalgamated, died or were reborn under a new name with startling frequency. The capital was a veritable galaxy of clubs whose fortunes twinkled dramatically while those of the elite shone through steadily without threat. The elite included clubs such as Blackheath, South London Harriers, Ranelagh and Thames Hare and Hounds.
It was also a reflection of the age that the minor clubs should patronisingly be referred to by their bigger brethren as "Junior" or second-class clubs. Their entries would not be accepted for big inter-club events and certainly not for the Area or National Cross Country Championships. In fact in 1888, only eight teams ran in the "National". What was surprising is the way in which all of these clubs accepted their lowly status – "Although only a member of a junior club…." wrote one athlete to The Sporting Life. And Reindeer Harriers a club of no mean strength, was able to announce in that same newspaper that a special run consisting of two packs would be held from the "Freeman’s Hotel", Battersea Rise, to the "Southern" at Kempton Park to enable "Junior" club members to watch the Championships.
1888-1890 • 'Battersea Harriers' win the South of Thames Championship
The bemedalled A.P. Fletcher poses for the cameraman in 1890.
In was on 16th March 1889 that the first Southern Counties "Junior" Cross Country Championship was held from "The Lord Brooke", Walthamstow. This was for the second-class clubs of Southern England and Belgrave were one of only nineteen clubs to enter. With entries ranging from Cheltenham to Walthamstow and from North London to Southampton it is surprising that only nineteen clubs should have felt fit to enter. After all, the rapid growth of minor clubs had produced many times this number in the Southern Area.
The event was reported in some detail. The favourite was Alf Edwards, and The Sporting Life seemed to blame his failure to live up to expectations as being due to his lavish warm-up. "By no means a bashful young man is the said Edwards. What a wasteful expenditure of strength were those preliminary canters! Frittered away his chance thereby. However, like a great many other 'pots' his fairly boiled over, and he was beaten to smithereens in the actual race." Edwards had taken the lead in the early stages but paid for his impetuousness, not for the first time, and drifted back through the field to finish a disappointing 63rd out of 112 starters. Belgrave finished 9th in this their first important Championship race.