Blackheath Harriers in the 1930s
Author Rob Hadgraft is writing a book on Sydney Wooderson and sent a request for the first names of seven BH members from the 1930s. Their forenames did not appear in the Club History so all the 1930 Gazettes were trawled through. It is always a joy to have an excuse to do such research but there was only success with two names out of the seven. Ronald Philo who became Club Captain in 1937 and John Poole who was also a steeplechaser and. Cross Country man. Scoring twice in the National team and achieving a best of 58th place. The rest are only ever referred to by their surname or by their initials and surname. Such was the custom of those days. Membership lists only contain the initials, as do lists of those serving in the armed forces. Announcements of forthcoming weddings also only used initials. L D Butler was in the London Empire Games of 1934 (BH President at the time was Chair of the Entertainments Committee for those Games) at TJ and LJ but only the medallists from those Games are recorded. A mention is made of L D Butler’s election to the Stock Exchange AC committee. “Congratulations Butler” it says. Dark went to Palestine to join their Police. He wrote to the Treasurer, “Dear Woods”. But nothing apart from R H Dark ever appears in print. Similar for the others. Bliss was a 2nd Lt in the Army.
But what else do the 1930 Gazettes contain.
Came across an interesting 1936 letter from Sydney who wrote to the Club members thanking them for paying for his coach Albert Hill (himself a top International Athlete and double Olympic Gold Medallist) to go to Berlin where he managed to stay in the Athletes Village and was “very useful”. Sydney referred to this as a great oversight by the AAA. Also stated what a wonderful experience the Berlin Olympics were.
Albert Hill used to write in the Gazette on training. The bit that stood out was as follows: “One run a week, which is the amount undertaken by a big majority of the members, is hopeless and will get you nowhere”. In 1930, Track training for the Club under Albert took place at Battersea Park!
Sydney missed the 1938 Empire games which were in Australia. You had to sail there and back in those days which took about 6 weeks each way. Why did he miss them? He had his Law finals to sit. At that time he was anticipating doing the 800/1500 double at the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo.
His World Mile Record at Motspur Park was on the first day of the Football season. A lot of money had been put into staging this meeting and there was nervousness about the size of the crowd that would turn up. It all worked out OK with, at that time, the best ever attendance for a meeting at that venue. Legendary Past President, Tom Crafter, was there. He had also witnessed W G George’s World mile record in August 1886. He led the Club Cry after SW had broken the record with the words: “Gentlemen, this is an occasion…” Tom was founder of Kent County AAA and its first President. He was also VP of Surrey Walking Club. He kept the Club going during WW1.
The Walter Cups (presumably after Walter George) get a few mentions. Wonder where they are today. Another distinguished member was the Earl of Dartmouth who was one of the oldest members. He played Cricket for Eton and was President of the MCC.
There was also a meeting on Coronation Day in 1937 and a moving poem was written on the death of the King in the previous year. Regular requests are made for ‘artistes’ to perform at ‘smoking concerts’. And, would you believe, you could buy three different brands of cigarettes at the Club. Annual Dinners were held at the Waldorf Hotel and in 1929 a Diamond Jubilee Dinner was held there. Marriages and births were announced in the Gazette, the bride’s first name was always given but never the groom’s. Usually some humour was included at the expense of the Club member, ie the groom (we were all male then!).
The AGM in 1933 was attended by just 40 members. The editor was obviously disgusted and pointed out quite forcefully that the Club had 753 members. Nothing seems to have changed much in 80 years!
Indoor Athletics surprisingly featured in the 1930s and there is a record of the AAA Indoor Championships in 1936. And Veteran Athletics also gets a mention. A newspaper in India had a photo of a 70 year old Marathon runner from Blackheath Harriers.
In 1934 ‘Pole Jumping’ is referred to. League Athletics had started and we needed competitors for all events. This event’s inclusion was considered most unfair but it was hoped that the BH spirit would prevail and that there would be plenty of volunteers to take part in this novelty and somewhat precarious event.
There was also concern in the 1930s that taking part in Athletics would shorten your life! Much discussion in the 1930s about amateurism and professionalism and also the use of psychologists. BH was considered to be one of the Clubs that had money and could fund development of Athletics by a more professional approach and the establishment of Centres of Excellence.
The SLH HQ was bought and opened in the 1930s and there is mention of a visit to Hayes by Gordon’s Mum, Mrs Pirie. Two of the mob matches from that era against SLH had fields of 208 and 225. There were many passionate entreaties in the Gazette for people to turn out for mob matches and a note to members informing them that it was “their duty” to support the Club at The National Cross Country Championships. New President’s Granddad, George, features quite prominently as does another PP, Don Gillate.
The Club had moved to Hayes in 1927 from the Swan at West Wickham. The Club address was originally Station Road, Hayes, then Station Road, Hayes, Bromley. Then Station Road was changed to Bourne Way and finally number 56 was given to the Club. Incendiaries landed in the Club Car Park during the 2nd World War. Outside the Swan used to be a large tree. It was called the ‘Old Stocks Tree’ and had been there for over 100 years. The Village Stocks were beneath it. Sadly, it was cut down in the 1930s so that road improvements could be made. Hard to visualize this at such a busy junction in 2017!
Other odds and ends: The collection box for the Bromley and District Hospital was emptied and it contained £1.1/11d. The recipe for Punch for Punch Bowl evening is in the March 1933 edition. In 1932, congratulations were given to someone who escaped danger on the water. W W Davis was on board a pleasure steamer off Weymouth when it was rammed by a submarine! A Rugby match against Park House and Cricket against Addington.
Encouragement from a young spectator: “Daddy, they’re just starting the low jump”. Reference in 1939 to a “horrible blot on the landscape, the new Addington Building Estate”. Described as a “most distressing sight”. Different meaning from the Treasurer for PDQ: ‘Please donate quickly’. And going into WW2, we merged with SLH and London AC in order to fulfil fixtures and were referred to as TCC (The combined Clubs).
A real joy, looking at the 1940s next!