Robert William "Bob" Ricketts, 1881-1927
The Annual General Meeting of 1922 saw Bob Ricketts elected as Club President and among his early actions in that role was the instigation of a Club Walking Championship of 20 Miles for which he would present a shield. In 1924 he donated a silver cup for the Club’s Junior (under 18) 220 yards Championship, and a year later he donated a shield which came to be known as the “Doris Shield” for competition between Ashcombe A.C., Thames Valley H, and Belgrave H.
It was customary for the Club’s track events to be held on the fields of Battersea Park and Bob approached the London County Council to ensure that the area used for the track was to be reserved for athletics and not to be used for the setting up of cricket pitches. Then followed his battle with the L.C.C. for the setting up of a cinder track, and when that was achieved, adequate dressing room accommodation to allow it to be used with advantage.
Bob continued to give of himself unceasingly, raising money to put the Club on a stable footing, identifying the talents and abilities of other members and encouraging them to take on responsibility. He was an example to all and a dearly loved leader, being re-elected President four times in an era when it was normal for a President to remain in office for just one year.
As his fifth term in office drew to a close in 1927 it was noted at the June Committee that Bob was absent because of ill-health, and in July it was reported that he was to undergo an operation at Westminster Hospital. It was likely that blood transfusions would be required during and after the operation, and immediately this was known, thirteen club members stepped forward to offer themselves as donors.
One donor was on standby as the operation commenced but as soon as the surgeons began their work they realised that poor Bob was beyond their help.
At an extraordinary committee meeting on 21st July Harry Hare was elected chairman for the evening and after asking the meeting to stand with him in silence for two minutes, the following resolution was passed:
“That the Committee deplore the great loss of their President the late Robert William Ricketts who passed away on July 9th, and their desire to place on record their high appreciation of his life-long work in the best interests of the club and raising it to its present successful position, and furthermore that a copy of this resolution shall be sent to Mrs Ricketts as a token of the esteem and regard which the members of the club have always had for her late husband”.
It was a subdued but increasingly successful Club that now moved towards the end of the 1920s and into the astonishingly successful decade of the 1930s.
Bob Ricketts was, perhaps, the greatest personality our club has seen, a man under whose influence Belgrave Harriers gradually changed from an unimportant group of ordinary sportsmen to an athletic club with a future. Sadly, he died at the early age of 46, in 1927, just about to complete his fifth consecutive year as President, and destined never to see the truly great days of the club.
He has been described as a:
“dominant personality – in the pleasantest possible way. He had that great asset of being able to get others to share and work for his enthusiasms; and he was able to impress his personality on everyone he met.”
Bob was born in Clerkenwell, in 1881, to a silversmith William Charles Ricketts and his wife Amelia Ann.
He showed early talent as an athlete, for at just sixteen years of age, on 15th July 1897, he ran in the Belgrave Harriers Annual Evening Meeting held at Stamford Bridge and was the back marker in his heat of the 100 yards. Despite giving away as much as 6½ yards to the front man, he came through to win his race, the second of six heats, and thus qualify for the final; and taking up his mark for that final, with just one man a yard behind him, he showed a good turn of speed, to take 4th place. It was quite normal in those days to have a go at everything, and in the one-mile walking handicap, where among an entered field of thirty men he was placed with six others on the 165-yard mark with only four behind them, he got up to third place. Bob was also entered for the half mile steeplechase but whether he took part is unknown; he certainly didn’t place in the first three.
Six months later, on the Chelsea Embankment at the Club’s Annual Boxing Day 120 yards handicap, Bob Ricketts went better still, winning his heat, placing second in the semi-final to J. Baly, and then turning the tables in the final to beat Baly by “a foot”.
Bob settled into regular competition, probably being most successful in the sprints where he found himself gradually being pulled back to the “scratch” mark, and taking part in the 1899 Evening Meeting “level race” for out and out sprinters. Walking success came too, for in 1900 (“scratch” in the 100 yards sprint) he was off only 5 yards in the one-mile walk but was among the prizes by the time the tape had been reached.
By 1908 he was among the Club’s finest, taking a prize in the 100 yards, winning the “points” prize for the year, and on a wet track, inches deep in water, took the Club’s quarter-mile championship. Bob was far from being regarded only as a fine athlete, however, for having been a committee member for some years, he was elected a Life Member of Belgrave Harriers at the age of 27.
By now he was a family man living in Fulham and earning his living as a gas and hot water fitter for the London County Council, but along-side looking after his family and his training, he still found time to help administer Belgrave’s affairs.
As early as 1909 Bob felt that the Club should have a junior section with members being taken up to the age of 14 years with the intention that at the age of 16 they should be transferred into the seniors. When the finances of the boxing section turned sour it was to R.W. Ricketts, a boxer of some repute himself, that the Club turned, asking him to approach the section’s secretary to straighten things out. In 1911 the club’s annual boxing competitions were held at Latchmere Baths, the organiser – Bob Ricketts. In late 1914, with Europe now in conflict, Bob proposed that a special club Christmas card be sent to all members serving with His Majesty’s forces.
A certain amount of competition took place during the First World War – with Bob winning an inter-club walking race over six miles at Worcester Park – and as the world returned to something like normality in 1919, he was placed 5th in the A.A.A. 7 Miles Walking Championship at Stamford Bridge in 58 mins. 51 secs., and in 1920 he was the fastest man in the country over 7 miles on the road with 51 mins. 20 secs. At some stage he won the R.W.A. 15 miles race.
In 1920, at the age of 39, Bob’s name was still to be found in the programme of the Club’s Evening Meeting, held at the sports ground of Price’s Candle Factory in Earlsfield, not only in the 100 yards and one-mile handicaps, but as donor of the R.W. Rickett’s Challenge Cup for the boys’ 100 yards; and among the entries for the girls’ 80 yards was D. Ricketts – his daughter Doris. With Club committees regularly being chaired by Bob, the meetings were now occasionally held at 11 Cambridge Buildings – by kind permission of Mrs Ricketts – and among the items noted in the minutes for September 17th, 1920: “Mrs Ricketts then interrupted with steaming hot cocoa for the Committee, with biscuits, which they greatly appreciated”. It was very much a family affair.
Bob Ricketts, circa 1900 and aged about 19.
The Christmas card produced at Bob Ricketts' instigation and sent to members serving with His Majesty's forces in the Great War in 1914.
Belgravian, The, 1925-1927.
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881. (Also 1891 and 1911).
Minutes of the Committee Meetings of Belgrave Harriers, 1908-1927.
Harley, A.A., the writings of, 1969.
Pepper, W.J., the writings of, 1927.
Powell, John, & Matthews, Peter, Walks Historical Series Booklet No. 16, NUTS (2014).