1891-1899 • Walking section improving ... runners take to 'street running'
Meanwhile, the walking section was improving, led by a fast improving newcomer, W.J. Sturgess, who finished 3rd in the A.A.A. ‘7’ of 1893. Unfortunately, he had decided to part company with Belgrave during the summer of 1893 to join Polytechnic Harriers. Sturgess became the best known track walker of the time, winning eight A.A.A. Championships over the next nine years, covering seven miles in 51:27 and eight miles 274 yards in the hour.
The loss of Sturgess was a blow to the Club. Only a few weeks before joining Polytechnic Harriers he had attended our Club Dinner, held at the St. Georges Conservative Club, Churton Street, Pimlico on 25th February 1893. "The Captain, Mr J.R. Mitchell, occupied the chair and was faced by W.J. Sturgess. After full justice had been done to the good things provided by Mr Uttley, the musical portion of the programme was proceeded with; amongst those that lent their assistance being Mr W.J. Sturgess who gave a ditty entitled 'The Maid Was Young And Pretty' and in response to a recall gave 'Ju Jah' ". But Sturgess did not resign his membership of Belgrave. He continued to attend the Club's Smoking concerts and dinners for several years and raced frequently in Club handicaps. He remained ever helpful to the Belgrave walkers after achieving world-wide fame and they would regularly attend the Stamford Bridge grounds to obtain his advice.
The proliferation of small clubs in the London area led to a rationalisation which was difficult to keep up with. Redesdale Harriers became Chelsea Harriers. Reindeer Harriers amalgamated with Clapham Harriers to become North Surrey Harriers and on 14th November 1890 Twickenham Harriers (founded 1887) became Thames Valley Harriers, a move which was clearly linked with the immediate defections of nine athletes from the famous Spartan Harriers to the new TVH club – an event which signalled the demise of Spartan. It was not long before Beaumont Harriers (1887), winners of the 1891 'Junior' race, decided to change their name to Essex Beagles; and with Herne Hill Harriers being founded in 1889 the shape of London's club structure was gradually being formed. Within a few years, Essex Beagles had won the Southern and National, TVH the Southern 'Junior' and Herne Hill Harriers the South of the Thames.
But instead of joining this great surge forward by the more adventurous second-class clubs, Belgrave lost their impetus. Their parochial outlook was leaving them behind in open competition. It is an attitude which modern members will recognise: the desire of some to channel all their efforts into rivalry with fellow members in domestic events. There is nothing against this of course, provided that a significant proportion of the club remain outward looking. This, Belgrave failed to do at a critical time, and for several seasons there was virtually no activity at all over the country.
Many other clubs like Belgrave took a preference to street running and the S.C.C.C.A. became so worried at the trend that in 1893 they imposed a ban on street running within a four mile radius of central London unless special permission was granted by the S.C.C.C.A. This resolution was supported by the traditional, old-established 'Senior' clubs. The ruling provoked an outburst of protest from the 'Junior' clubs who claimed they were being treated like small boys at school. Bitterness towards the 'Senior' clubs was expressed in several letters to the Press. The Secretary of Walworth Harriers wrote:-
"I think it rather hard lines on a club whose headquarters are inside the four mile radius, to have to 'bow the knee' to the Seniors, and first get permission before being allowed to run over a course that has been used by a club for three or four years without interference. I am of the opinion that the majority of clubs would rather resign the Association than leave comfortable headquarters should the said 'permission' be refused. I have only been present at one general meeting of the Association, and on that occasion I was surprised at the manner in which the Juniors were overruled on every subject appertaining to them, and the only conclusion I could arrive at was that owing to the Senior clubs in most cases having three votes to the Juniors' one, it was generally "Lombard Street to a China Orange" on the seniors in any balloting which took place. Alas, poor juniors! In concluding these few remarks, it is needless for me to say that I am strongly in favour of Mr Cottrell's and Mr Capel's suggestions, namely, "That the Juniors take over the management of their own affairs", and should a meeting be called to discuss same, no one would be more pleased to attend same than yours, &c.,"
G.A. Mullins, Hon. Sec. Walworth Harriers
Below: An early Belgrave Harriers handbook, listing Rules for the Season 1895-6. 48mm x 98mm with card cover