M.J. "Mike" Stearman, 1931-2022
The early stages of the Club's 3 miles Championship on September 15th, 1951, at Tooting athletic track. Mike Stearman (25) shares the pace with Ray Tooby (9).
Belgrave Harriers has always prided itself on its depth of what are often known as ‘engine-room’ men – those who are ever present, fighting hard to get into the championship team, possibly never quite getting to the pinnacle in their sport but always keeping the stars on their toes and ensuring that the teams are kept honest and come home with team medals that would not be won, but for their efforts. Just such a man was Michael or ‘Mike’ Stearman.
Mike joined Belgrave in April 1948 as a 16 year-old, and before the following month was out, he had started to get himself noticed by winning the Surrey County Youths 1 Mile at the Walton track at Stompond Lane. For the next six years all Belgravians were aware of the sterling work he did in working his way through the younger age groups under the tutelage of coach and Team Manager Micky Pyer, to become a stalwart of the senior teams on track, road and cross-country.
He was born on 4th December 1931, and came into the world at the old Charing Cross Hospital, just off the Strand, the first child of Frederick Stearman, later a Garage Superintendent, and his wife Dorothy May née Nelson; they had married in Sussex two years earlier. The family home was in Warriner Gardens, Battersea, just south of Battersea Park, a place that was to feature greatly in Mike’s young adult life.
The family, now including younger brother Keith, moved to Kilmington Road, Barnes, in 1936, which remained their home throughout the Second World War – although the boys spent time as evacuees on a farm near Dartmouth in Devon and later at Rugeley in Staffordshire, where Mike went to school briefly, but still managed to get a good report at the end of term. His youngest brother Martin came along in 1941.
Mike was ever an active lad and post-war was a member of the Sea Scouts. In 1947 he achieved the ‘Open Boats Under Oars’ certificate from The Boy Scouts Association, so he could now command a ‘whaler’ on the river Thames, which looped around their home territory in Barnes. He got his Coxswains & Oarsman’s Certificates in March 1948.
That oarsmanship provided a terrific foundation on which he built his prowess as a runner, for after that initial Surrey 1 Mile win, and still only 16, he picked up the Club Junior half mile championship for those up to 19 years old. Then, into his first winter, he ran to 3rd in the Surrey County Cross-Country Championships at Addington behind E.L. Brown of Mitcham AC and D.A.G. ‘Gordon’ Pirie of South London Harriers.
All this was achieved in spite of another family move in 1948, this time to The Black Bowl Café, North Road in Brighton. For a short time, Mike went back to Richmond every day for work and for the rest of his athletic career he regularly travelled to Battersea or Wimbledon for Club races. He also made the journey to Erith in Kent to see his future wife, Jean Allen. They had met through Belgrave Harriers and Albert Shaw, member of many championship winning teams from a decade or more earlier, was to become Michael’s brother-in-law. Some of these weekend trips involved him, on his push bike, riding up to Erith on a Friday, then riding back with Jean on her bike, and repeating the journey in reverse on the Sunday.
Athletic progression through the age groups went on. Mike represented the Club five times in the National Cross-Country Championships: in the Youths event at West Bromwich in 1949 he was the Club’s best performer; in the Junior age group in 1950 at Aylesbury he was Belgrave’s second man home, and he did the same again at Birmingham in 1952. In 1953 at Caversham Park near Reading he led the Belgrave squad to the finish, and as a Senior he ran at Birkenhead in 1954.
National Service beckoned in 1953, and in the same year, on his mother’s suggestion, he and Jean were married. The wedding took place on 27th April at St. Peters Church, Brighton, but only after he had participated in a 7 mile race that morning at Hove Stadium, all photographed and published in the local Argus newspaper. He served with the RAF until 3 May 1955.
1953 was also notable in that having won the handicap and placed 7th overall in the Club’s selection race, he was picked to run last leg for the Belgrave team into Brighton on the famous London to Brighton 'National' Road Relay. To run in this race was the aim of many a harrier; and he did somewhat more than simply ‘run’.
As a Brighton resident he was familiar with the course. The team were fourth on the day with Mike having picked up a place on his stint, bringing the Club into the medals (awards were given for the first four teams). Mike was the second fastest of all the competing runners on that last stage and he beat the time of the well-known International Bill Nankeville by half a minute. It was a close race, for after 50-odd miles of running, only a minute and a half covered the first four teams.
Mike did not bother too much with pursuing a formal accountancy qualification, but he worked as an Accounts Clerk for a local firm in the Erith area – Hall Burton & Haywood. On 19 June 1962, Michael and Jean’s son Nicolas Charles was born at the Dartford Hospital.
Around about this time the Club slowly lost touch with Mike, but we know that he and his family moved to Bexleyheath in 1975 where Michael joined Bexley Borough Council as a local government officer. It was a very demanding role which Michael tackled with great diligence, but possibly to his own detriment, as he had to retire early, following a stroke in 1989.
Devastatingly, Nick, their only child, died in the Morriston Hospital Swansea in 1990, after a climbing accident on the Gower Peninsula. It was then more than any other time that they both showed their grit and spirit for life against a tide of grief. The bicycles that he and Jean had used back in the 1950’s hung, nearly forgotten at the back of the garage. However, Michael, until his later days, could still trot out the detailed specification of the frames and parts, as he had built them up himself long ago.
Old Catton, Norwich, was Mike’s home from 1999 to 2018, but serious health issues were identified around 2020 and a move back to London, and the Whitely Village Care Home in Surrey, was necessary. On June 10th, 2022, at the Sam Beare Hospice in Woking, after several years of declining health, Michael J. Stearman, the rock around which Belgrave teams were built in the ‘50s, passed away.
1939 England and Wales Register, The National Archives, Kew, London, England.
Neil Browning and Martin Stearman.
General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England.
The Belgravian, 1948-1954.