Eric W. Hall, 1932-2022
Sadly, we have had to say farewell to one of the most passionate and loyal members of Belgrave Harriers – Eric William Hall. He passed away on Sunday 20 March after a period of gradually declining health, and after 63 years of marriage leaves Mavis, children Sharon and Alistair, and granddaughters Brittany and Katelyn, to whom we offer our deepest sympathy. Eric was the Club’s longest serving member, having first stepped into Belgrave Hall over 73 years ago, and he was also our oldest member at 89.
Very many years ago Jack Crump, the Secretary of the British Amateur Athletic Board, found cause to say of Eric that he was “Gentlemanly, modest, temperamentally and technically a perfect walker.” Well over 60 years later we can not only confirm those qualities but add that Eric was generous in the extreme and a great friend to many, in all walks of our Club and sport.
Above: Double Olympian Eric Hall during his Belgrave Harriers Presidential year, 1999-2000.
Eric was born in 1932 in Oxshott, Surrey, the first child of Alfred and Naomi Hall; a sister, Sheila, was born six years later. Alfred was Head Gardener on the estate of Pinewood House. The house was the home of the shipping magnate Arnold A. Trinder, of Trinder, Anderson & Co. Ltd. The company’s fleet had been instrumental in breaking the German U-boat blockade during the First World War. Pinewood Estate was a wonderful countryside environment in those days, but the house itself might have been a foreign land as far as a little lad, son of the Head Gardener was concerned, his only incursion into the ‘big house’ being at Yuletide, suitably under escort, when a present bearing a label with the name ‘Eric Hall’ inscribed upon it would be found under the Christmas Tree.
Before long a second global conflict was in full swing. In 1943 Pinewood Estate was requisitioned for the War Effort. With Alfred away serving in the Royal Air Force, the gardens were no longer tended, and the house became the home of officers of the Canadian Forces. It was left to Naomi to find a new home, which she did at nearby Kingston upon Thames.
... thought he was joining a rambling club ...
A good pupil, Eric passed entrance exams for Tiffin Grammar School in Kingston. Since his very young days it had always been a family tradition that long walks would be taken of a Sunday afternoon. So, slim of figure, he gravitated towards cross-country running at school – but he didn’t really shine at it. Cricket was of interest too, but with only a modicum of hand-eye co-ordination, Eric found that he wasn’t really very good at that either. Father was at home again after the war, and now working for London Transport. The family rambles had continued and having got to the stage of timing himself when walking on his own from his home to his grandmother’s house, his father got to hear of it and took him along to meet a few like-minded walkers who also worked for London Transport, including one Wally Ives. “Why don’t you meet us outside Kingston Odeon on Saturday,” they offered. “We’re going up to our club at Wimbledon.” A naïve Eric thought he was going to join a rambling club. An added impetus was that it was the summer of the 1948 London Olympics. Eric and his school friends were avid autograph hunters and in nearby Richmond Park, not far from Ladderstile Gate, there were rows of barracks that were one of the sites of the ‘Olympic villages.’ So not only were exotic athletes to be spied in the park, but this club at Wimbledon had members who were Olympic competitors. Eric completed his application form and became a Belgrave Harrier on 1st November 1948. Who would have thought that those first steps in the company of Wally and the encouragement received from men like Fred Brunning were to set this sixteen-year-old off on a road that would lead to him competing for Great Britain in the Olympic Games?
Schooldays were coming to an end and with the need to bring home wages further education was not an option, but Eric successfully sat further examinations which would give him entry to the Civil Service; and while awaiting the call to start, his first experience of work was at the famous Kingston department store of Bentall’s. Life was now balanced between training for Race Walking, and a career which saw Eric become a Customs & Excise Officer, working in time at Waterloo, Victoria, Heathrow, and the London Docks.
Progress in his chosen sport was relentless. Eric soaked up the advice from older members and he grew stronger as he entered his mid-20s. The arrival in 1955 of novice walker Stanley Vickers, who was setting out on his own path to international recognition, gave Eric yet more impetus to improve. He was already making a name for himself in the longer events – but racing alongside Stan showed him that his basic speed could be improved, and that success could also come in the ‘sprints’ of 2 and 7 miles on the track.
The 1956 Melbourne Olympics
In 1955 third place was gained in the National R.W.A. 20 miles, held at Wimbledon, and with that encouragement he set his sights on the 50km event at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. At 24 years of age, he was thought to be a bit young for the longest Olympic event, but he overcame that prejudice, taking three weeks off work without pay to train for the trial – the National 50km – in which he placed second to Don Thompson. The selectors then wanted him to turn out again in a couple of weeks’ time to warrant his Olympic selection and asked him to tackle the Birmingham 25 mile race. Wise heads at the Club were adamant: “No, don't do it. You’ve done enough. Don’t mess it up by doing too much too soon.” He followed the advice given to him, stuck to his guns in avoiding the Birmingham race, and selection for Melbourne was achieved.
Above: Eric Hall (left) and Stanley Vickers. The two seemed almost inseparable during their careers, and led Belgrave to many National titles.
Below right: Eric (104) leads an elite group including fellow Olympian Ken Matthews (Royal Sutton Coldfield) 271. Ken took the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympic 20km Walk.
The Melbourne city experience was wonderful for Eric. He loved Australia and revisited many times throughout the rest of his life. But the race was not a happy one. After rainy and cool conditions which had the British prematurely rubbing their hands with glee, race day proved to be hot and very humid. Eric lost over 3 kg in weight during the event (he was only just over 61 kg to start with) and went through a very bad patch in the second half when it was all that he could do to focus on the blue line marking the route and aim for each next drinking station. Several competitors ahead of him collapsed and Britain’s no. 1, Don Thompson, was so far gone that he walked into the back of a parked car and, dazed, then set off again in the wrong direction. Of twenty-one competitors, six failed to finish and two were disqualified. Thompson was hospitalised for three days. Eric was 9th and remembered nothing about the finish – except for Stan’s comment, “I had to persuade them to keep the stadium gates open for you!”
A most satisfying victory came in 1957 when Eric became the first Belgravian to win the R.W.A. National 20 miles title, but disappointment followed in ’58 when he was controversially omitted from Britain’s European Championship 20km team. The race winner – by nearly two minutes – was Stan Vickers. The two good friends trained and raced regularly together, with Eric never more than a few seconds behind on race days. He surely would have placed 2nd in Stockholm, making it a Belgrave and GBR 1-2.
Club life was always a family affair. Past President Tom Morrell was involved in many Belgrave activities, be it looking after the Club House or buying prizes, race numbers and pins, or selling Belgrave racing kit. Tom was helped in much of this by daughter Mavis, a keen athlete herself and as well known in Belgrave circles as she was in her own club – Selsonia Ladies AC. Eric and Mavis got together in around 1957 when Eric first had to be accepted by her Belgrave ‘brothers’ Bob Taylor, George Flanagan and Bill Couzens, and ‘uncles’ Tom Carter and Charlie Jones. They were married in 1959.
A further chance at Olympic glory ...
A further chance at Olympic glory came in 1960 when the Games visited another sultry city – Rome in September. This time, when many British distance athletes found themselves unduly affected by the humidity, Eric was able to produce a 20km performance that he was very happy with, placing 10th. Other British walkers were successful too, with Stan Vickers taking the bronze in Eric’s race and the diminutive Don Thompson of Metropolitan Walking Club winning the gold medal in the 50km with Tom Mission, also of Met. WC, 5th. Thompson had learned a lot from his exploits at Melbourne four years earlier; he had prepared by exercising in his own hot-house – a steam filled bathroom at home with radiators on at full blast.
Under the leadership of ‘The General,’ Jack Goswell, the Belgrave walking team had become one of, if not, the strongest in the land. By the end of the ‘50s and into the ‘60s a visit to an ordinary inter-club track & field event at Battersea Park on a Wednesday evening could allow one to observe international standard competition when the 2 miles walkers lined up on the cinders and set winning times that sometimes were not so far behind long-standing British Records.
Eric’s career now took him away from London and what with the raising of a family and increasing seniority in the Civil Service, perhaps it was time to think about retiring from athletics. Nevertheless, a last-minute entry for the trial for the ‘64 Tokyo Olympic 50km saw him line up at Crystal Palace and with little preparation he placed 5th – a possible third Olympiad had been within his grasp.
Manchester, Leicester, Staines, Norwich: all at one time or another became home to the Hall family over the next two decades before, in retirement, they settled near Colchester – just about within striking distance of Belgrave Hall if the trains were on time. Having been unable to put as much as they’d have liked back into the Club during those working years, Eric and Mavis were now able to support the Harriers in all that they did, encouraging the team at British League matches, Road Relay and Cross-Country Races. And of course, at Race Walking events, where Eric competed as a veteran, there was always a crowd of familiar faces.
Eric was elected a Life Member of Belgrave Harriers way back in 1957, and in 1999 he was made President. But although the Club remained a huge part of his life, he had many other interests too: local history, genealogy, and study with the Open University to obtain several degrees. For some time, he was the Treasurer of the British Olympians Society, and was an avid collector of athletics memorabilia. Looking back over the years, as was often done when he met up with his many old athletics friends, he regretted the gradual loss of popularity of Race Walking – at one time as much a part of club life as any other branch of our sport. But he had no regrets about what athletics and Club life had given him: comradeship, travel, a family, and the chance to represent his country at two Olympic Games.
Above: On his way to his National 20 miles win at Colindale in 1957 - a victory that he savoured as the one that gave him most satisfaction. He was the first Belgravian to win this, the oldest, championship.
Major races in Eric's career
• 22 May, Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Motspur Pk, 2 miles, 3rd.
• 26 Feb., Surrey County Road Walking Champs, South Croydon, 10 miles, 2nd.
• 12 Mar., RWA National & Inter-Counties Road Walking Champs, Southport, 10 miles, 9th, 1:20:19.
• 14 May, RWA National 20 miles Champs, Wimbledon, 3rd, 2:45:47.
• 23 Apr., Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Battersea Pk, 7 miles, 1st, 55:59.
• 4 Jun., Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Motspur Pk, 2 miles, 1st, 15:05.6.
• 25 Feb., Surrey County Road Walking Champs, Wimbledon, 10 miles, 1st.
• 10 Mar., RWA National & CAU Inter-Counties Road Walking Champs, Regents Pk., 10 miles, 9th, 1:19:25.
• 5 May, Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Tooting Bec, 7 miles, 1st, 56:05.8.
• 12 May, RWA National 20 miles Road Walking Champs, Sheffield, 7th 2:52:20.
• 2 Jun., Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Motspur Pk, 2 miles, 2nd, 14:51.2.
• 16 Jun, RWA National 50km Road Walking Champs, Enfield, 2nd, 4:31:41.
• 13 Jul., AAA Champs., White City, London, 7 miles, 5th, 54:18.8.
• 24 Nov., XVI Olympic Games, Melbourne, Australia, 50kms 9th 5:03:59.
• 23 Feb., Surrey County Road Walking Champs, Mitcham, 10 miles, 1st.
• 9 Mar., RWA National & CAU Inter-Counties Road Walking Champs, Coventry, 10 miles, 2nd, 1:17:07.
• 4 May, Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Battersea Pk, 7 miles, 1st 53:29.0.
• 11 May, RWA National 20 miles Road Walking Champs, Hendon, 1st 2:45:12.
• 25 May, Leicester Mercury 20 miles, 1st, 2:51.00.
• 1 Jun., Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Motspur Pk, 2 miles, 2nd, 14:55.6.
• 8 Jun., CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 7 miles, 3rd, 53:15.0.
• 10 Aug, AAA Champs., Watford, 7 miles, 2nd, 51:49.0.
• 13 Jun., AAA Champs., White City, London, 2 miles, 6th, 14:40.4.
• Oct., Highgate Harriers Open 7 miles, 1st, 51:42.
• 9 Nov., Enfield Harriers Open 7 miles, 1st, 51:28.
• Colchester to Ipswich, 1st, 2:23:49.
• 22 Feb., Surrey County Road Walking Champs, Walton, 10 miles, 1st.
• 15 Mar., RWA National & CAU Inter-Counties Road Walking Champs, Victoria Pk, London,10 miles, 2nd, 1:14:06.
• 19 Apr., AAA Champs., Hurlingham, 7 miles, 2nd, 52:14.3.
• 10 May, RWA National 20 miles Road Walking Champs, Birmingham, 5th 2:47:35.
• 31 May, Surrey County AAA T&F Champs, Motspur Pk, 2 miles, 1st, 14:24.0.
• 26 May, CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 7 miles, 3rd, 52:47.8.
• 21 Jun, RWA National 50km Road Walking Champs, Wimbledon, 3rd, 4:37:04.
• 12 Jul., AAA Champs., White City, London, 2 miles, 4th, 14:16.4.
• 28 Feb., Surrey County Road Walking Champs, Kingston, 10 miles, 1st.
• 21 Mar., RWA National & Inter-Counties Road Walking Champs, Sheffield, 10 miles, 3rd, 1:14:01.
• 4 Apr., AAA Champs., Hurlingham, 7 miles, 3rd, 53:04.2.
• 16 May, CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 7 miles, ? position and time.
• May 24, Switzerland v Great Britain & N. Ireland, Lugano, Switzerland, 20kms 6th 1:42:17.
• 19 Mar., RWA National 10 miles Champs, Hendon, 3rd, 1:14:59.
• 16 Apr., AAA Champs., Hurlingham, 7 miles, 5th, 51:52.0.
• 14 May, RWA National 20 miles Road Walking Champs, Gomershal, 4th 2:45:08.
• May 29, German Democratic Republic v Denmark v Great Britain & N. Ireland, Berlin, GDR, 25kms 5th 1:59:55.
• 4 Jun., CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 7 miles, 2nd, 53:11.4.
• 12 Jul., AAA Champs., White City, London, 2 miles, 4th, 13:51.8.
• Sep 2, XVII Olympic Games, Rome, Italy, 20kms 10th 1:38:54.0.
• Metropolitan Police Open 7 miles, =1st (with Stan Vickers), 51:20.
• 18 Mar., RWA National 10 miles Champs, Hendon, 2nd, 1:16:54.
• 13 May, RWA National 20 miles Road Walking Champs, Chiswick, 6th 2:54:21.
• 20 May, CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 7 miles, 4th, 53:39.6.
• 17 Mar, RWA National 10 miles Champs, Southgate, 14th 1:20:51.
• 3 Jun., CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 2 miles, 5th, 14:24.8.
• 18 Jun., CAU Inter-Counties T&F Champs, White City, London, 2 miles, 6th, 14:41.4.
• 20 Mar., CAU & RWA National 10 miles Champs, Leicester, 6th, 1:17:38.
• 27 Mar., AAA Champs., Hurlingham, 7 miles, 5th, 54:20.0.