1900-1902 • Sam Sherrington leads the cross country revival
A proud Belgrave team display their medals and cup, circa 1900. Standing:- 2nd from left is Albert Bool (Boxing Captain), 4th from left is Frank Bool (Hon. Secretary) and on the right is Sam Sherrington (Running Captain). Seated:- on the left A.P. Fletcher.
In 1871, the population of London was 3,890,000; at Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 the number had grown to 6,586,000; an explosion which did much to fuel membership of the capital's growing athletic clubs.
Belgrave acted positively in their intention to resume cross country running in 1900 by entering a team in the 12th Championship race of the South of the Thames C.C.A. at Bromley. It was a modest performance; the team finishing 15th of the nineteen clubs. The captain Sam Sherrington fought his way over the snow-covered plough to finish a creditable 30th. The misty freezing conditions must have made the Belgrave competitors doubt the wisdom of their Committee’s decision.
Training continued from The "King William IV" headquarters throughout each week. The Bridges circuit, a loop of the Albert and Chelsea bridges embracing Battersea Park, was as popular then as it is today.
In 1900 "The Railway Tavern" near Wandsworth Common was adopted as a cross country headquarters. The seven mile course used ran across the Common, over the "Cats Back" railway bridge, across fields to Mitcham Lane before returning to the Tavern. Hot baths were prepared by trainer Bill Harland and were particularly enjoyed by the best runners. As the water got thicker and colder it became less inviting for the tail-enders, particularly as Bill by then was massaging the better runners who began to queue by his bench. Edgar Good recalled, "Bill Harland soon got busy with the flesh gloves. Once up and down on the front, taking the legs in his stride, two on the back, and a smack on the rump, finished you for 2d each. We made our own oils and the smell of whisky, turps, vinegar and what-not made the place reek".
The switch of emphasis to cross-country was promoted with much fervour by Sherrington the Captain and Frank Bool the Honorary Secretary and there was much country to choose from. An indication of how much building has occurred since those days is illustrated by a description in The Sporting Life of the cross country course used for a paper chase in January 1902.
"Messrs A.J. Martin and J. Lumley selected a good line of country through Wandsworth to Wimbledon Park and Common, past Beverley Brook and Coombe Warren and back home through Southfields. The distance covered was about eleven miles. Thirteen members followed the trail paced by S.A. Sherrington."
The determination to get a good team together at this time was shown by a notice in the same newspaper.
"BELGRAVE HARRIERS – Likely team men should turn out tonight (Wed) for a training run of about six miles. Special runs will be held on Mondays for team men from "The King William IV" until the South of the Thames race."
The South of the Thames race was the major event as far as Belgrave runners were concerned but in 1902 the Club could only place 12th of the 14 teams with Captain Sam Sherrington leading the way in 16th place overall.
From the reminiscences of Edgar 'Ted' Good, an early member, who put pen to paper in 1951
My first interests were awakened by reading the inscription on the biscuit bowl that stood on the “chiffounier” at home - “Presented to A.J. Good (my father) Bloomsbury Rifles 1 Mile Championship 1880.
When I was about eight years old (1890) I remember being taken to the Scottish Highland Gathering. Highly coloured bills announced it was taking place at the Kennington Oval. I was much impressed by the brawny Scotsmen trying to upend a huge pole (tossing the caber). They reduced the length after all had failed, until one at last succeeded. The “slinging” the 56lb weight and the dancing to bagpipes must have taken my attention from the running events. This was my first meeting.
About 1898 I remember visiting Old Stamford Bridge. It may have been the Championships but I remember that W.J.Sturgess won the Walking race. I was then living at Chelsea and I often went to sports meetings at the “Bridge”.
In 1901 I was introduced to the Club by Frank Bool, the Hon. Sec. I should like to place on record that the “Bels” owed their existence to Frank and his Committee. How they managed to keep the right side of the financial fence only they know. I was elected to the Committee quite early on in my career and Frank’s persuasion to a possible prize donor or backward subs-dodger taught me all the approaches for when I took over with W.Mathewson the Co-Secretaryship. I am sure the present members are more regular in paying their subs.
When I joined perhaps 25% of our members were working long hours for small wages. Shop assistants working to 8 pm with an occasional let-off for our races on Saturdays when in the ordinary way they may be working until 10 pm.
We held our races according to the fixture card with prizes £1, 10/- and 5/-. We were supposed to start our evening races at 8 pm. sharp but seldom did - the late-comers entries and subs just managed to keep us solvent. Stop watch competitions only to members of course (don’t make me laugh!), raffles, etc. All brought grist to the mill.
Our evening training quarters was The "King William IV". This was about half a mile from where we started in 1887. I got the impression the landlord thought we burnt too much gas and did not drink enough beer.
The distance races were held around Battersea Park, 3¼ miles out and home - twice if you wanted to. The "King William IV" was open till midnight anyway! And they were open again for rum and coffee at 5.30 am. I was told that just prior to my joining the Club some of the members went round the course with an official "chain measurement". Three miles 400 yds. they said.
The 440 yds. started just above Grosvenor Road railway bridge - and what a lovely start down-hill for the short mark men! The 880 yds. and Boxing Day Sprint started in the opposite direction - the annual get-together of the old'uns.
Imagine a damp, murky night. Just an occasional hansom cab with bells ringing as you went on your way, perhaps startling a courting couple. They must have had a lot to talk about because they were still there the second time round.
I came back with my extremities (!) numb and frozen. Our trainer said he would soon put some life into it. My goodness he did! How was I to know he had just been rubbing his previous client's chest with Sloans Liniment. How I walked - or shuffled - home I do not recall but I was in agony for days. But for all that Bill Harland, our trainer, was very loyal to us all. Many a time he was been at our Saturday quarters, the "Railway Tavern", on Wandsworth Common, when only two have turned out. But always the hot tub when we returned.