Sunday 16 July 2017


The task of encapsulating 100 years of Beagles history was a challenge indeed. On the one hand there was an astonishing collection of historic records to go through, such as Club Minutes, scrap books and newspapers. On the other there was the severe limitation of time that any person can be expected to spend on such a project coupled with a very strict budget.

Tony Benton is to be thanked and congratulated in overcoming_all.this and producing a book telling the Beagles story in a compact form. It will be read_with great enthusiasm not only by Club members, past and present, but will also be of interest to a far wider audience.

It has been a difficult and time consuming task and there will be those who will disappointed, believing they should have got a mention, but the limitation

Stan Robins
Newham and Essex Beagles A.C.

The palace of delights...

In May 1887, just one month before her jubilee celebrations began, Queen Victoria performed the Grand Opening of the People's Palace in the Mile End Road. This "palace of leisure, arts and entertainment for working class people" was a typical product of the Victorian age of improvement. Although its foundation owed much to the vision of the author Sir Walter Besant, and to an earlier bequest from the Stepney philosopher Barber Beaumont, it was the organising abilities of Sir Edmund Hay Currie which made the Palace a reality.

By the autumn of 1887 a programme of technical and educational classes were under way and a wide range of clubs and societies were starting up for the active and inactive alike. The first edition of "The Palace Journal" - its weekly newspaper - appeared on 16 November 1887 and among numerous articles and notices was the following announcement which marks the earliest record of our club:

Five Shillings per annum, payable by two instalments. Already a goodly gathering have enrolled themselves as Members; and as soon as the Palace Harriers get into working order some of the better known clubs will have to look to their laurels; for a fine spirit exists amongst our fellows, and they are not going to let themselves be beaten by outsiders.
J. R. Deeley, Hon. Sec."

That same evening the club held its first general meeting where it was promptly resolved that the name "Beaumont Harriers" be adopted in preference to "Palace Harriers", taking the name from the Beaumont Trust which administered the People's Palace. At that first meeting the club rules were confirmed, and a committee of fourteen members was elected under the Presidency of Sir Edmund Hay Currie:

"Captain, Mr E C Tibbs; Vice Captain, Mr J W West; Handicapper, Mr E Bates; Secretary, Mr J R Deeley; Assistant Secretary, Mr E G Crowe; Committee, Messrs H Davis, A Greenwood, E J Taylor, A W Clews, H Marshall, J Hawkes, G Kitchener, J McGregor and E Robb."

It was later said that the club started up with seventeen members, and if this is true then only three of them did not serve on this first committee!

Junior champions...

In the 1880's athletic clubs were forming all over the area, as they were elsewhere in London. The Beaumont Harriers local rivals were Walthamstow Harriers, based at the "Lord Raglan" Whipps Cross, Tower A.C. another Walthamstow club based at the "Lord Brooke", whilst the Tate Institute at Silvertown was the home of the Havelock Harriers. The already successful Wood Green based club, the Spartan Harriers, founded 1870, also had a strong presence in the area.

Many clubs fell by the wayside in the fierce local rivalry of the day. The Beaumont Hariiers fared badly in their frrst winter season; on occasions the severe weather and other counter-attractions resulted in less than half-a-dozen members turning out for the regular Saturday runs. But the highlight of that first domestic season, the Flower Cup, met with a better response for twelve members started the five mile course across
country which "presented a very wintry appearance". W. Bates came home frrst and carried offthe honours - the gold cup presented by Mr Ernest Flower and a gold medal presented by the club.

In September 1888 a "capital programme" of fixtures was announced for the club's second winter season, comprising six races, along with a series of paper chases and other runs. It was soon obvious that the second season would be more successful than the first. High attendances encouraged the club to enter its frrst major competition - the North of Thames race for Junior clubs. In those days'Junior" clubs were those who had not yet proved their strength to compete against the established "senior" clubs. Extra training runs paid off and J P Leggatt, finishing seventh, led the team home to a frne second place. Four weeks later at Walthamstow, Leggatt was again the first Beaumont Harrier home in the inaugural southern Counties "Junior" Cross Country Championships, the team placing third. Not long after this the club seem to have severed all links with the People's Palace, making the Forest Gate Hotel their only base, affiliating to the Essex County Association at about the same time.

The 1890 winter brought even greater success. The first Essex County Cross Country Championship, run over an eight mile course at Forest Gate on 1 March 1890, was contested by three teams with the Walthamstow Harriers and the Havelock Harriers providing the opposition. Overcoming the terrible conditions Charles Willers (Walthamstow) easily carried off the individual prize, while the Beaumont Harriers
gained their first success by winning the team prize - a handsome trophy presented by Alderman Hay of West Ham, one of the Vice-Presidents of the Essex County Cycling and Athletic Association. In the Southern Counties race at Croydon the club ran second, one place better than 1889.

In 1891 the Forest Gate club made no mistake by winning both the Southern Counties and the North of Thames Junior races, and providing the individual winner. Latham in the latter race. So after just four winter seasons the Beaumont Harriers, the leading 'Junior" club in the South, were ready to launch their attack on the senior ranks.

Where it all began - the People's Palace, Mile End Road at the turn of the century. Now
part of Queen Mary College. (L.B. Tower Hamlets)

The decade of success..

At a special general meeting in July 1891 the-Beaumont Harriers "unanimously" resolved to alter the clubs name: in future it will be called the "Essex Beagles"." This name change was confirmed by the Amateur Athletic Association at their meeting on 31 July 1891 when "the committee saw no objection" to the proposed alteration.

Almost immediately the desired break with the Harrier tradition, and the club's entry into senior athletics in general, was realised. Within two weeks the club announced that several established local athletes had become "first claim" members. Three came from the Spartan Harriers: Swait, Bullen and the veteran Mancktelow; two came from Tower A.C., Griffin and Bryant; and Walthamstow Harriers lost their star Charles Willers to the Beagles. These recruits  were already well established athletes in their own right, on the ha|k and country, and the Essex Beagles were able to announce with some conviction that "these in addition to the team that won last years junior Southern should make a formidable opposition to the senior clubs in next years championships".

The following winter showed how well placed this optimism was. In their first major attack on senior competition in February 1892 the Beagles took second place in the Southern Counties Senior Cross Country Championship at Ockham. On the same course two weeks later the team faced seven of the leading clubs in the land competing for the National championships. Solid packing saw all six Birchfield men home within the first 17 of the 91 runners, while the Beagles had to look to Swait in22nd place for their sixth finisher. When the points were added both teams totalled 74 points and a tie was declared - a result that has only once been repeated in the history of the National, in 1892 when Salford Harriers and Manchester Harriers shared the honours.

Towards the end of 1891 two more of the Spartan Harriers squad -TW Meredith and the rising George Martin - defected to the Beagles, and the further loss to the Essex club of their top man James Kibblewhite, winner of the 1890 and 1891 Southern and the 1891 'National 'cross country race, was a major blow to the North London team which fell through a few years later.

With their side strengthened by these signings the Beagles were unbeatable on the country during the 1893 season. After winning the Southern title, the club made no mistake in the National this time easily beating Birchfield for the 1893 title at Redditch, despite the absence of Charles Willers, who proved his value by winning the Essex Championship a few weeks later. Kibblewhite finished third in both Southern and National events, while the 19 year-old George Martin was fourth in the Southern, sixth in the National and third in the Essex race'

The club maintained their outstanding presence in the major cross-country events during the next decade. In the Southern Counties they gained placings in every championship up until 1904, winning 5 times in all - in 1893, 1894, 1890, 1901 and 1902, backed up by five second places and three thirds. There was another National win in 1901, second placings in 1895, 1898 and 1902 and a third place in 1894.

George Martin was the backbone of the Beagles team throughout this period. Born in March 1873, he had started running in 1887. Southern champion in 1896 and 1897 with two other placings, his best National result was his third place in 1894. On the track he gained further success, twice winning the AAA steeplechase title in 1893 and 1902. Another Beagles' stalwart was Tommy Bartlett who was in the winning National teams of 1892,1893 and 1901 and was individual runner up twice in 1898 and 1899. He also took part in the first ever cross-country international in Paris on 20 March 1898, when he placed fourth in the English team which filled the first eight places in a challenge match with the French. W J Clark was another Beagle to achieve cross-country success and his third place in 1901 led the Beagles to their third and final National victory. The Beagles found these athletes difficult to replace with athletes of the same calibre.

A E (Eddie) Wood
Some limited success came with placings in the North of Thames races in 1905 and 1906, followed by a win the next year when G M Parkinson took the individual title for the Beagles. But it was the exploits of A E (Eddie) Wood which brought the most cheer to the Essex Beagles at this time. Wood started at the age of 24 in 1907 and in his first winter season won the 1908 North of Thames race, placed third in both the Southern and National championships and gained his first England cross-country vest in the team which won the International Cross-Country Championship.

The following two seasons saw him in exceptional form, winning both the North of Thames and Southern races, but perhaps his greatest success were his two consecutive victories in the international championship, where he beat the Frenchman, Jean Bouin. Wood also showed his talent by winning the 1909 AAA track 10 mile championship. His departure from the English sporting scene was sudden and came at the peak of his success. Rather than fall foul of the AAA he turned professional and, failing to find opponents in England, emigrated to Canada, where he ran a number of famous races against other top professionals. Eddie Wood joined the Canadian Pioneer Regiment during the Great War and was killed at Ypres in 1917.

For the Beagles the loss of Wood to the professional ranks in 1910 conclusively ended an era of cross- country success. Little could the members in those days have imagined that it would be many years before the club again tasted success at national level.

Track pioneers...

During the winter of 1892, while the club was coming to prominence on the country, plans were set in hand to promote an athletic meeting the next spring. These efforts were rewarded when four to five thousand spectators flocked to the London Athletic Club ground at Stamford Bridge on 7 May 1892 for the Essex Beagles meeting. Fort years later Herbert Pash, Vice President of the AAA and Chairman of the Essex County Association, looked back on that day when "as a very thin, pale and shy boy of 16 years and 10 months, I went to run at a very big Essex Beagles meeting at Stamford Bridge- There were 150 entries in the sprint and,240 in the mile." These successful Stamford Bridge meetings were pioneered by H W King, the club's Treasurer. The turnover, approaching a thousand pounds a year, almost made it a business, calling for extensive organising.

The programme of races at the 1892 meeting featured a two miles match where Beagles' new recruit James Kibblewhite was forced to concede defeat to Heath of the South London Harriers. But Kibblewhite made no mistake in the AAA championship four miles race two months later, winning in a fast time of 19 minutes 50.6 seconds. While this was the first championship success for a member of the Essex club, for Kibblewhite it was a sixth (and final) AAA title, following on from his hat-trick of victories in 1890 when he lifted the one, four and ten mile prizes, and his other mile wins both in 1889 and 1891.

James Kibblewhite, Wiltshire born in 1866, started a career spanning 10 seasons in 1884 - the last year as an amateur of his fellow Wiltshire athlete, Walter George, whose feats must have attracted the young Kibblewhite's attention. Kibblewhite burst on the scene in 1889 in the black vest of Spartan Harriers and on 31 August that year, running from scratch in a three miles handicap race at Stamford Bridge, he slashed 10 seconds off George's five-year old world best, coming home in 14 mins 29.6 seconds. Swindon based - where he worked at the Great Western Railway works - Kibblewhite reached the top by "persistent practice". During his long career he won prizes valued at £1200 and probably also pocketed a tidy sum in appearance money: there were few meetings where the star names were not paid the standard £5. Kibblewhite retired three years before the AAA's crackdown on his contemporaries in 1896, so he was able to end his career untainted by the tag 'professional'.

In Kibblewhite's final season of 1893 his club colleague, Charles Willers came to prominence. That summer, Willers took part in a series of fine races with Sid Thomas of Ranelagh, one of those later suspended for professionalism, and the Birchfield champion, Charles Pearce. Willers' place in the record books was gained at Paddington on 10 June 1893 when beating_ both Pearce and Thomas, the former Walthamstow Harrier beat Thomas'4 miles record with a 19 mins 33.8 seconds clocking. A month later at Northampton, Pearce beat Willers at the same distance in a famous race where the Birchfield man's supporters rushed onto the track impeding Willers. Such behaviour happened because the AAA were unable to prevent on-track betting, and partisan crowds sometimes interfered with the race if their favourite was under threat.

James Kibblewhite - the Beagles' first superstar (British Library)
Apart from these big names, other Beagles contributed to a successful track team. J H Pilmer was the victor in the 1897 AAA 100 yards race although it has to be admitted that the championships were sparsely attended that year following the AAA's blitz on professionals. At county level many frne wins were recorded in the Essex championships from the 1890's with four titles for E J Ottey in the quarter mile (1901-3) and 100 yards (1901), while club members dominated the mile event with 14 wins out of 19 between 1896 and 1914, with three victories apiece for J T Collins (1896-8), W G Collins (1903-5) and L D Drysdale (1906-8).

In 1895 three Beagles joined together on a notable occasion - the running of the first relay event in Britain - the "Flying Squadron" Relay race held at Stamford Bridge on 14 September 1895. Five clubs took part in the 2 mile race and the Beagles' team of Herbert Pash (440yds), A J C Watson (3/4 mile) and J T Collins (1 mile) placed fourth.

Winter quarters...

Each Tuesday evening the members of the Beaumont Harriers gathered at 8.30pm at the People's Palace for their runs down the gas-lit Mile End Road, up the Coborn Road and back again. While these spins helped to get the Harriers fit the main competitive challenges took place across the ploughed fields, ditches and other obstacles that made up the cross-country courses of the day. To prepare for the winter season the club needed easy access to the type of open countryside where the major events were fought out.

Forest Gate Hotel
Almost immediately they found an ideal home at the newly built Forest Gate Hotel in Godwin Road, Forest Gate, barely a short jog from the Wanstead Flats which remained as a welcome place of recreation for the people of the rapidly expanding East End. The new headquarters became the starting point for weekly runs and races held every Saturday throughout the winter, and it was not long before the Harriers made the Forest Gate Hotel the focal point for their Tuesday evening runs as well. The Forest Gate Hotel remained as the Beagles' winter quarters for much of the period up to the First World War, although the club used the nearby 'Holly Tree' in Danes Road for a few years at the start of the century.

During the period between the wars suburban London expanded rapidly and the club made frequent changes of headquarters in search of better country. The first winter quarters after the First War were the Green Man at Leytonstone, and the club also set up a Barking section with the HQ at the Red Lion in North Street, which the proprietor, Mr Hill, had placed at the club's disposal free of charge. The Red Lion gave access to plenty of good country including Barking Park which in those days took in ploughed fields.

For four winters from 1923 the Beagles again made the Forest Gate Hotel their base before moving to the Duke of Edinburgh on the edge of Wanstead Flats. For midweek runs the club settled at the Railway Hotel opposite Forest Gate station, where the club erected a boxing ring at the cost of £3.5s. in 1922. Many athletes would spar a few rounds after their evening runs; if there were any disturbances in the bar the guilty parties were asked to settle it in the ring. The possibility of affiliating to the ABA and holding a boxing tournament was considered during 1922.

Changing and bathing facilities were very basic. In 1923 Fred Bostridge, the Hon. Secretary, pointed out to the committee "that a great improvement could be attained in the bathing arrangements by the purchase of a suitable portable bath". This was duly agreed. While the runners were out on their training sessions it was the job of the "trainers" to warm the water and run the bath, and also to swing a storm lamp to show
the runners the way home through the settling dusk. As one member later put it: "Those lamps also did service to light up the tin baths of muddy lukewarm water which nobody seemed to mind very much - in fact with the rising steam and naked men in the half light it looked a bit like Dante's Inferno!".

By 1930, the club found that they were being hemmed in by houses and roads which made their access to cross country very difficult. This compelled a fresh move, this time to the Riggs Retreat at Brook Road, Buckhurst Hill. A variety of short lived venues were also used for mid-week runs, such as the United Services Club at Barking, the Forest Glen at Danes Road, Forest Gate, and the Aldersbrook Baptist Church.

Chigwell Row - official opening
It was in 1938, towards the end of this restless period, that one of the committee, Phil Everard, put forward the idea that the Beagles should one day be owners-of their own HQ - an idea that many felt was an impossible dream. Fund raising started but the war intervened and the plan had to be shelved until 1947, when the building fund was re-established. Through the efforts of many members the fund gradually grew, until in 1956 enough money had been raised to make the dream a reality. But the Beagles were by no means at the end of the road, for there were considerable difficulties in acquiring a site and in obtaining approval for the plans.

The Beagles had used the Retreat at Chigwell Row ls their winter quarters since 1943 (although they did return to the Riggs Retreat for a few years in the late 1940's), and it was here that the new clubhouse was to be erected. The various obstacles were overcome during late 1957 and from July 1958 club members, under the skilful direction of architect Harry Gibbard, put their backs into the digging, cementing and bricklaying needed to make the site ready for the-erection of the two pre-fabricated buildings, taken down from a site at Loughton, which formed the new clubhouse. A grant from the Playing Fields Association provided the funding for the finishing touches.

The Chigwell Row premises were formally opened by Chris Chataway on 26 September 1959 with "an excellent concise speech which really suited the occasion".

Between the wars...

Virtually all sporting activity was suspended in Britain during the 1914-18 war and the tragic loss of many athletes that most clubs and societies struggled to resume their operations in peacetime. It took until June 1920 for the efforts of Sparkes and PJB Cresswell to bear fruit and in that month the club meeting from the 20 or so former members who could be gathered. The first after the war. Cambray became the first post-war President and Cresswell the Secretary.

One of the early concerns of the club in those days was the attempt by Surrey AC to organise a section in Essex. As far as can be established, this was in part due to a man who-managed a shirt factory at Stratford. One of his team which would win the London Business Houses Championships, and in the process swell the ranks of the Surrey club. Vowles recruited staff nationwide and apparently gave priority to established runners. One product of this recruitment route was George Constable, a Somerset champion, who went on to run 10,000 yards for Britain in the Amsterdam Olympics. Constable and some of the others recruited by Vowles trained regularly with the Beagles and became second claim members of the club.

But this local competition and the establishment of Ilford Athletic Club in 1923 did nothing to- stop the Beagles' membership climbing to around the 200 mark by 1928. One factor in this growth was the setting up in IOZS of a branch to cater for the interest in Dagenham and other local areas. This was a wise move. The building of the London County Council Becontree housing estate was already underway and this was substantially completed by the late 1930's.

Many young people growing up on the estate could not afford to travel to the Stratford/Forest Gate area for training a few times a week, so there was a steady flow of new members into the club during the inter-war years. Perhaps the most famous Dagenham recruit during these years was a certain James Peters, the London Federation of Boys Clubs champion. The 17 year old former Grafton school boy was invited to join the Beagles by Sam Filer, a Beagles committee man, who was impressed by Peters' success in winning the Boys Clubs' mile championship in 1936. The following year Peters won the Essex county junior mile title; but more of him later!

Some Beagles officials from between the wars. From left to right: Harry Sigston, Percy Morris, Fred Bostridge, A. F. Clarke and Joe Bissell

During the 1920's the Beagles achieved some limited successes. The junior team (still using the old definition of junior based on ability) won the junior cross-country championships in 1922, and again the next year when Fred Almond came home first with other Beagles second, third and fourth. There were also placings in the county senior race and again in 1933 and other placings in the North of Thames junior race. J C Dixon, a second claim Beagle whose first loyalty was to Finchley, won the 1921 Essex senior cross country championship and on the track he had carried off both the county half-mile and one mile titles the previous year.

The period may have been one of little success but it was one of high activity. Membership continued to be buoyant around 200 and the club offered an interesting fixture list to cater for members’ needs. In the 1930's, the club took part in the Southern Amateur Athletic League Division III, winning in 1933, and a few years later participated in the Essex league. The emphasis of these leagues bears little resemblance to what we are now used to. There were no field events and all the track events were team competitions, the 4 by 200 yards relay, 4 by 880 yards, 4by 440 yards, the one mile medley relay and the one mile team race making up the programme.

The outstanding clubman during this period was Eddie Sears who joined the Beagles from the Forest Gate Harriers at the end of the 1929 track season. He was the county half-mile champion five times, winning in 1934, 1935 and 1937 to 1939, before the suspension of the championships during the Second World War halted his run of success. Sears returned after the war to carry off the 1948 London mile championship at the age of 38. He still runs today after 57 years of membership.

The inter-war years were significant for the number of talented individuals who passed through into [he administrative ranks, foremost of whom were Fred Fullalove and Arthur Dove. Fred, a former club Chairman who is sadly now confined to hospital, joined the club in June 1923 and is the longest serving club member. He has also given - excellent service to the Essex County AAA. Arthur Dove, a more recent recruit who did not sign up until October L926, has given the Beagles many many years of loyal and efficient service.

Overall the twenties and thirties were an unproductive period for the Beagles, who were trying unsuccessfully to regain their former glory. As a past President, the late Ted Copley noted "only by the inclusion of very inexperienced new members was it possible to enter teams in the various championships. Unfortunately we lacked in numbers and many races were lost because we had four or five good chaps, without the essential backing to ensure victory".

Opening run October 1928:
Bach row: Bill Holmes, A. M. Lutterham, ?, George Johnson, ?, ?, Arthur Gray, Harold Rainbird, ?, ?, ?. A. H. Hunt, Jeck Penney, Cecil Hallett

Next row: 2nd left, J. Dockerill, 7th left W. Lindon, 9th left Albert Dean

Middle row: Mr. Johnson, Alf Copley, A. L. Hoad, ?, ?, Frank Vernon, Frank Day, B. C. Holland, Sam Double, Ted Sandy, ?, Fred Almond, George Constable, Mr. Raines (Manager of Duke of Edinburgh).

Seated: ?, H. Turner, George Halden, Jack Hillyard, Ted Copley, Fred Boitridge, Bert Cairns, Dan Gum, Harry Callow, Alf Ball, Fred Fullalove, ?

Front: Frank Sigston, Gordon Utton, ?, Harry Green, f. Reynolds, ?, Bert Whyte, Johnny Pocock, R. Bruck, Alf James.

The annual club dinners were often marked by speeches from the older members harking back to those^ early days. After three years of such talk George Deer of neighbouring Ilford A.C._stung those present at the 1932 annual dinner by saying that he was "getting a bit fed up with listening to this. The words may have been badly received but they were well placed: only by looking to the future could the club regain the prominence it had previously known.