Sunday, 16 July 2017

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.

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