1913-1914 • New headquarters at Chelsea & Wimbledon
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With notice to quit Tom Sullivan’s, the cross country course that Belgrave had enjoyed for nine years – Putney Common, Barnes Common, up Sheen Lane and into Richmond Park – had to be given up. Headquarters were switched back to Thameside at “The Surprise” tavern, Christchurch Terrace, Chelsea, and for a spell, a room was also obtained in Flood Street. So mid-week training was on old ground again. The Boileau Arms, next to Hammersmith Bridge was taken for Saturday afternoons.
Track meetings were still held at Stamford Bridge and the Battersea Park cricket grounds. Meanwhile, the cross country runners and walkers adopted the Raynes Park Hotel for their winter quarters, and Wimbledon Common became their new territory.
Some forty years earlier the southern slopes of Wimbledon Hill were delineated by a narrow cart-track leading west from Wimbledon and known as Worple Lane. The track petered out after less than a mile but development in the area had resulted in the All-England Croquet Club leasing a field between the lane and the railway line. This club had added tennis to their activities and by the turn of the century permanent stands had been erected for spectators around the club’s centre court. It wasn’t until 1922 that this club moved to its now world famous present site in Church Road.
In 1877 the local authority had decided to extend the lane now known as Worple Road to the new district known as Raynes Park, turning it into a through route towards Kingston. By the
Above: "The Surprise" tavern, Christchurch Terrace, Chelsea, and The Raynes Park Hotel, near Wimbledon Common.
time Belgrave’s harriers had adopted the Raynes Park Hotel, that road had become widened to take trams, and side roads had been developed, leading up to Ridgway.
Battersea Park had been used by the Club’s runners and walkers since 1887. It was a natural place for track specialists to head for: just a short distance from headquarters. The park enjoyed three large cricket fields: two for practice one for matches. The match ground and its Spartan pavilion were located near the present athletics track. Permission had been sought from the London County Council for Belgrave to hold meetings in the Park, but this had at first been declined on the grounds that Park users would be deterred from visiting it and that ladies may well be offended by so many scantily clad men congregating on the cricket fields.
Permission was eventually granted and a few stalwarts had to spend hours marking out the track during the morning of a meeting. There were no hurdles or field event equipment for some years.
As the A.G.M. of 1913 approached, Belgrave were still in a fragile state, both financially and in terms of membership. Despite the gain in members
from the Chelsea and Westminster Harriers, promising athletes were being lost to more successful clubs. A “Southern Reader” wrote in a newspaper of the day “After the experiences they have had with Grant and Difford, I hear that they (Belgrave) have decided to keep the next 10.2 discovery on a chain”.
At the Annual General Meeting that year Oscar Horwood was elected Honorary Secretary. It was a move of great importance for Belgrave because for the first time in ten years there was real hope that the Club would overcome its problems. Horwood was a man of courage with tenacious fighting qualities, whether it was in competition or administration. He told the meeting that Belgrave were going through ‘trying times’ and appealed to members to ‘stick to the Club’. He prophesised that the time would come when Belgrave would have a full range of Club Championships, would enter all major competitions and attain honours such as had never been won before.
It was an inspiring address, and he lived to see his prophecies come true. He reported that the Club had accumulated a £48 debt (a large sum in those days) but hard work and generosity had reduced this to £22; which still had to be found by 31st December. Oscar Horwood’s rallying cry received the response it deserved. Whist drives were planned and a Christmas Draw organised. Teddy Gordon, who was organising a concert at Chelsea Town Hall later in the month, agreed to be responsible for the artists and printing.
Almost in anticipation of Horwood's appointment the walkers were having an excellent season. W.J. Hawker and A. Redgrave recorded ten wins between them in Open walking events, the best ever by Belgravians. Ten weeks after the 1913 A.G.M. Belgrave fielded three teams for the first time in the South of the Thames Junior at Byfleet. R.W. Best, the new captain, mustered a superb turn-out; though Frost, Carroll and Sexton were unavailable. The only thing Dick Best got wrong was to split the two newly joined Helm brothers into the wrong teams. John Helm, a novice running for the ‘B’ team, was the Club's first man home in 9th place! Fortunately it did not affect the team placing as the ‘A’ team finished six men between 15th and 24th positions. Belgrave were placed third, their first honour since the Championship race of 1904 where they were also third. Oscar had good reason to feel pleased with himself.
But storm clouds were forming over Europe and in August 1914 many Belgravians volunteered for service in World War I, some never to return.
Left: Belgrave Harriers place 3rd in the South of the Thames 'Junior' Race held at Byfleet in 1913. Left to right: R.W. Best (17th), J. Helm - 'B' team - (9th), H. Parker (15th), E. Musselbrook (18th) and O. Horwood (16th). Sadly, John Helm was to lose his life in action during The Great War.
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