Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets Athletics Club

Friendly east London club for athletes of all abilities


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Victoria Park Harriers: The History of an East London Athletics Club, 1926-1976

By Gordon Everson

Chapter 2: The Thriving Thirties | Contents | Chapter 4: Years of Uncertainty (1961 - 1975)

Chapter 3: Revival and Happy Days (1946 - 1960)

Even during the war, some members in the Forces managed to seek out competition. Johnny Turner served with the 1st. Batt. Wiltshire Regiment and by 1942 found himself in East Bengal. The British soldier does not need an excuse to get up some sporting event and while the Old 62nd. was at Comilla, a regimental athletics championships gave Johnny the opportunity to win the 1 mile title from a field of some twenty ‘Tommies’. I daresay other V.P.H. lads enjoyed similarly reminders of the good old days at home while serving our Country all over the globe and one or two were lucky enough to keep on running here in the U.K. Les Lait went into the R.A.F.and was stationed at Uxbridge, a permanent establishment complete with a track of its own. This must have been a dream posting and Les seized every chance to compete. There was not a lot happening on the athletics front during the years 1940-43 but inter-service matches did attract attention. Someone on the "Evening News" spotted the frequency an Aircraftsman L. Lait was mentioned and the newspaper picked him out as ‘the most promising young runner of 1942.’ The track at Victoria Park stayed open, air raids permitting, though several bombs landed nearby. One fell on the grass in the centre but the dressing rooms were largely undamaged. Members too old to serve would get along there on Sundays and hope to meet friends of happier days who were on leave from the Forces.

There never arose any question of reviving the Club during the war years. George Hemsworth was a peacetime fireman with more than enough to occupy himself during the blitz and in 1944 someone had the idea of constructing a small cinder track in the shadow of Saint Pauls Cathedral. It was made with volunteer labour and intended for a one-day athletics meeting for members of the National Fire Service and their families and George played a part in this quite extraordinary enterprise. Areas of Victoria Park were given over to barrage balloons and massed batteries of anti-aircraft rockets. Much of the remaining open grass near St.Augustine’s Church Hall was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and turned into a camp for Italian prisoners of war. When the Allies began to fight their way up the boot of Italy, even supporters of Il Duce lost their eagerness to bomb London and before you could say ice cream, our enemies had somersaulted onto our side. After a while, the Government decided to ease restrictions here at home on our new found friends and we were treated to the sight of prisoners, in their distinctive clothing, strolling around the Park and chatting up the girls.

The war in Europe ended in May 1945 and before the year was out a trickle of discharged servicemen began to find their way to Victoria Park. Two of them, Jimmy Joyce and Stan Rawlings, had been P.O.W’s. They had had a thin time and were pulled down by poor health but they slowly got back to running and eventually to competition. By the early spring of 1946, George Hemsworth felt that with ever more demobbed members seeking him out, it was worth trying to resurrect the Club. It proved not too difficult. Eddie Sears, Charlie Fowles, and Freddie Plumm were enthusiastic and Fred, our Track Captain, did a wonderful job in signing on new young members. Being the sort of man he was, George Hemsworth had carefully preserved all Club property. It is easy to imagine that in the hands of another, our records could have perished or been lost and any post-war Victoria Park club would have had to repeat all the early struggles of the twenties. For the preservation of our silverware, we had to thank not only George, but a Trustee of the Club, Fred Smith. To protect it from the bombing, Fred had obtained permission from his employers to place our cups and trophies in the vaults of his firm and so they came safely through the war. Fortunately, so did Fred!

So assisted by Jack Hopkins, George arranged a couple of handicap meetings and by so doing, attracted a number of youngsters. Our first post-war match took place in June against Essex Beagles and Eton Manor, the Beagles winning by 3 points. Later in the month, we reversed the order in a return match but Woodford Green joined in and they beat us by one point.

The standard of athletics in those early post-war days was understandably on a low plane, competitors were either pre-war athletes attempting to make up for the years they had lost, or were inexperienced youngsters trying to follow training schedules long outdated but if the times were not fast, the competition was keen and particularly sporting; and you had to be a very good sport to race on the Victoria Park track. Years of neglect had left parts extremely loose and few people could manage personal bests on the home circuit. Track keeper Wally Sapsford, who had taken on the job in 1930, needed the aid of a stick to get around but did his best with the means available. The composition material was so poor, nothing could be done with it and after numerous complaints, London County Council decided to dig it up. Unhappily, the cinder they relaid left matters infuriatingly worse and in the mid-fifties parts of the bends were as unstable as sand. So bad was the track surface, members would travel as far as Ladywell Park to run time trials and it became difficult to persuade other clubs to accept invitations to the Park. Various binding agents were experimented with and over time there was a marked improvement.

However, we must return to the summer of 1946 when, as more ex-servicemen returned to their families, our numbers slowly increased. After a drawn match with the Irish Guards, we registered our first post-war win against Wigmore Harriers and Fairbairn & Mansfield A.C. Bert Field, Freddie Plumm, Tommy Whyman, Stan Smith, Bill Forder, Stan Rawlins, Bernard Yallop, Charlie Fowles and second-claim member Eddie Sears of Essex Beagles were among the earliest to re-don their spikes and represent the Club, but some were never to return. That Stan Cannell was killed on flying training with the R.A.F. was a blow impossible to calculate. He had already shown his aptitude as an official as well as his ability as an athlete and Stan must have played a prominent part in the affairs of V.P.H.

In August 1946 a South African, Mr. J. E. Sullivan appeared at the track one day and developed an interest in V.P.H. activities. About 55 years of age, he never said much about himself but the town of Kimberley sometimes cropped up in conversation. He asked if he might present a cup as a memorial to members who had made the supreme sacrifice during World War II and his generous offer was gratefully accepted. The handsome cup was established as a perpetual trophy to be awarded annually for the Most Meritorious Performance, and the ‘Sullivan Trophy’ became a fitting award dedicated to the memory of departed club members, the highest honour an active member could attain. The presentation was made informally on the track by the keepers hut. Some twenty members saw Bill Forder accept the cup on behalf of the club and in a short speech, Mr. Sullivan promised a replica to any member who might represent Great Britain. He also handed over a fine silver medal bearing the Coat of Arms of Kimberley which, at the end of the season, was presented to Dick Carpenter as the first recipient of the ’Sullivan Trophy’. Five years later, Geoff Iden earned his first international vest but by then Mr.Sullivan had gone as quietly as he had appeared. The trophy was awarded annually until the mid 1970’s when officials neglected to keep their eyes on it and the cup was lost to sight. A photograph shows George Hemsworth, Dick Everson and his sons, Stan Rawlins, Leslie West, Jimmy Joyce, Stan Smith, George Cox, Jimmy Saint, Ernie Dunster, Harry Johnson, Teddy Stone, and Bernard Yallop; beside of course Bill Forder, listening to Mr. Sullivan at the presentation.

The ‘Alex Meyer’ Shield was one of the first trophies to be revived and we shared the honours with Hampstead Harriers. V.P.H. also became close to becoming inaugural winners of the’Hackney Borough’ Trophy, but Eton Manor beat us on the last event with Woodford Green 3rd and Southgate 4th. Club championships were not put up for competition until 1947, nor were the Counties sufficiently re-organised to hold County Championships, but the London County Council stimulated athletics by reviving the London A.A. Championships which had not been staged since 1914. Four preliminary area meetings were held at Victoria Park, Parliament Hill, Tooting and Paddington and seven V.P.H. members went through to the finals. On a rain-sodden Parliament Hill track in September, Charlie Fowles took the 1 Mile and Gordon Everson the Junior 440 which brought us a little publicity and closed our first post-war season on a successful note.

The A.G.M. was held in October at the Eton Manor Club and some 70 people were present with our President Squire Yarrow in the chair. This was a somewhat extraordinary situation in that we had a President who was only a second claim member, but Squire Yarrow had connections with V.P.H. for many years and was an experienced chairman. Still active, he won the A.A.A. Marathon title in 1946 by only a yard and the Club presented him with a plaque for his splendid achievement. With a full complement of officials elected at this meeting, the Club was equipped to be launched into a full programme. For winter evening training, quarters were obtained at the Eton Mission Rowing Club, Hackney Wick, while on Saturdays, cross-country runs took place from Butlers Retreat, Chingford, a place which left much to be desired. The winter of 1946/47 was one of the most severe in living memory and fuel shortages made it a particularly grim time. Snow made the course so hazardous that it was necessary to postpone the Club 5 miles C.C.Championship, but before these "white out" conditions had been reached, V.P.H. had managed to finish 6th of 24 clubs in the North of the Thames Inter-team race. This was an encouraging start, but so badly did support fall away with the deteriorating weather, we could not make up a team for the Middlesex.

On May 10th 1947, the 4th Annual V.P.H. Dinner Dance was held at Slater's Restaurant in the Strand. With Bill Forder ably acting as M.C., the evening was the occasion for renewal of many old friendships and reminiscing of those seemingly far-off days of the Thirties. The good attendance augured well for the future and so it proved during the subsequent track season. A full fixture list incorporated a few traditional engagements and among them was entry to the old Southern League now organised on a regional basis. It never recaptured the pre-war popularity and, after limping along for a few seasons, eventually lapsed. In the early 1970’s, the conception was re-born, but on a more ambitious scale and flourishes as never before. All our Championships were put up for competition and well supported, so that when autumn arrived, it was clear that V.P.H. had thrived during a crucial time in our recovery.

For evening training during the winter of 1947/48 we were able to use the "Backyard Club" at Eastway, Hackney Wick. This facility was made available to us by our Patron, the Hon. Arthur Villiers, D.S.O., who did so much for the Eton Manor Club in particular, youth and sport in general and the elderly in the East End. The Backyard Club premises had once been a public house and, during the twenties, a haven for the unemployed to pass the time. It was not equipped with proper dressing rooms. Tin baths had to be filled and emptied by hand and hot water was boiled on a gas stove, but the costs were minimal and the premises could not have been better positioned for training on the Marshes around the "Triangle". Upstairs rooms were used for A.G.M's, Committee Meetings, Whist Drives and the like and the old "Backyard Club" will always have a place in the memories of those who went there during the 10 years that we used the building. Sadly, it was swept away by redevelopment.

At the 1947 A.G.M., it was decided to create a new office, that of Life Vice President, as a means of recognising long and exceptional service to V.P.H. Founder members Harry Peck and Ernie Wiseman immediately had the distinction conferred upon them and so became the first of very few to attain the office. On the same evening, Prebendary S.L.Sarel, a Vice President, consecrated the "Sullivan" Trophy and Dick Carpenter became the first holder of the cup following his fifth win in the Club 3 miles Championship and his third successful tilt at the 1 mile title in spite of the intervention of six years of war.

Prebendary Sarel was a great East End character. A former Rural Dean of Bethnal Green, he had finished 5th in the 1908 Olympic 3,500 metres walk and, even when into his seventies, he could still be seen trotting round Victoria Park with shorts to his knees and wearing his Olympic cap. When interviewed by the "Hackney Gazette", he said, "I consider myself a very fortunate third class man who has been able to be of use by being on the spot sometimes when wanted". Prebendary Sarel rated high the affections of all who knew him. He died in 1951 aged 78.

The following winter season brought us growing support, but little success. Geoff Iden, who had come to us from Queens Park Harriers set a new course record of 12m.55secs. in the "Triangle" mob match with Eton Manor, but the best team result was 2nd place behind Highgate Harriers in the Watford Road Relay. On the track, it was a different story and in thirteen matches, V.P.H. won no fewer than eleven including the Hackney Borough Trophy. It was appropriate that Deric Bareford, currently Middlesex 100 yards Champion, should receive the Shield on our behalf since he had won both the sprints - the 100 yards in 10.1 - and was second in the high jump. The finest individual performance during that summer of 1948 came from Les Lait who captured the Middlesex 880y title and went on to finish 5th in the A.A.A. final, but there were numerous less spectacular achievements which led Bill Earwaker to express the opinion at the Annual Dinner that the season had been the most successful in the history of the Club.

At this time our membership stood at over 300 and it was not uncommon for us to turn out 'A' and 'B' teams at different venues on the same day, yet although V.P.H. was never stronger numerically than in the late forties and early fifties, we could rarely discover people of outstanding ability. For one reason or another, the most talented failed to realise their potential, but if we lost the national publicity which "stars" engender, it is certain that we did not suffer as a club.

Saturday winter training quarters were established at Riggs Retreat, Woodford and our first post-war taste of success over the country came in the 1948 North of the Thames Inter-team race when we were third of 28 clubs over familiar ground at Woodford. The scoring team was Dick Carpenter 8th, Freddie Plumm 11th, Wally Johnson 30th and Johnny Turner 38th. During the same winter, we came close to the medals in the Middlesex Youths C.C. by finishing fourth and, had we had a runner to finish near Ken Rouse and Harry Wright who were 9th and 10th, we could have won. In the senior race, V.P.H. came 6th, Geoff Iden winning his County colours by placing 12th. Wally Johnson came 28th, Stan Field 37th, Dick Carpenter 41st, Charlie Bryant 55th and Jimmy Saint 77th.

In 1949 Iden decided to take up the marathon. This encouraged other members to attempt the longer distances on the road and before long VPH could boast one of the most formidable teams in the country. The 1949 Poly Marathon saw us take 4th place in the team race with Iden 5th, Wally Johnson 9th, John Turner 42nd, Albert Abrahams 63rd, Frank Fuller 104th and from that moment, we went from strength to strength. Ted and Jack Flowers soon came into the scoring team and for several years we could guarantee to take a prize in races of 15 miles and over. Geoff Iden went on to represent Great Britain at the 1952 Helsinki Olympiad and those years in the early fifties are a golden page in Club history.

Nevertheless we could not make our mark over the country. Each season would start with high hopes and encouraging support, but both dwindled as the weeks went by until by Christmas we were invariably hard put to field a team. Yet at times there was reason to believe that V.P.H. had the basis of a strong cross-country section. After finishing 9th in the Southern Youths C.C.C. in 1951, we were inspired to send a team to the National Championships at Richmond, Yorkshire. Here we were 14th of 45 clubs - third home of those from the South - and Len Parsons was 6th. At Grafton's "Friendship Cup" race the same year, Parsons astonished everyone over a frost hardened course by beating a large field. Iden came 3rd, but Woodford prevented V.P.H. from taking the trophy.

1951 was Festival of Britain Year and we were invited to compete in a road relay from the Festival Gardens to Addlestone. We were expected to be make weights, but Billy Hill, Stan Field, Geoff Iden, Jack Flowers and Len Parsons combined magnificently to place 2nd to Surrey A.C. Among those in our wake were Herne Hill, Mitcham and Walton A.C. Here was the first sign of glories to come on the road.

Meanwhile, we continued to flourish on the track. The fact that National Service took most of the youngsters between the ages of 18 and 20 years was inconvenient and undoubtedly caused many people to lose their interest in the sport, but others benefited from the break. In those days, a junior stepped up to senior status on his 19th birthday and to be thrown into a much higher standard of competition overnight was a shock with which many could not cope. To cater for the increased demand, additional championships were staged and this policy continued over the years until we now have championships for almost every event. Although in the fifties a number of titles were put at stake on the same evening - for example, the 100 yards, 440 yards, and 1 mile nearly always clashed - championships attracted large entries.

Three heats in the 880 yards was not uncommon and it was this event in 1952 that had a dramatic outcome. Nine runners lined up for the final and it was seen as a race which could be won by almost any of them. In the dash to gain the pole position, those on the outside began to squeeze up competitors with a better draw - there was a collision and in a moment the track was strewn with bodies. A cloud of dust from loose cinders obscured the view, but as it cleared, it was seen that five runners were down, two more pulled up to help the fallen and two more dashed on - perhaps with the thought that it was their lucky day - but they were recalled and the race was postponed until a month later. Those who fell all required hospital treatment and some still carry the scars.

The only trophy won on the track was the "Hackney Borough" but our long distance runners took the Kent "20" and the South London "30" and our list of fixtures continued to expand. In his report the following year, Dick Everson the Track Secretary wrote that the Club had just completed the most intensive programme since V.P.H. had been formed. In addition to six handicap and championship meetings, we participated in 26 inter-club competitions, matches and trophy meetings, which was approximately two engagements per week throughout the track season, without taking into account district and county championships, 'opens' and the like. We emerged as winners of the "Alex Meyer" and the newer "Viney" trophy. This latter was promoted by the Aylesbury printing firm of Hazel, Watson and Viney on August Bank Holidays and, because of the lavish prizes given to the first six in the match events, was an extremely popular fixture. On this occasion, a V.P.H. vest was first through the tape on the grass track in all events but the medley relay.

A relay which we did win and which deserves mention was the 4 x 880 yards in the "J.Louis" Trophy. Whatever the strength of the Club in general had been, we had almost always been able to field above average half-milers, and in 1950, a team of Les Lait, Fred Millward, Ken Rouse and Gordon Everson obliterated the previous best on record with a time of 8:00. exactly. For the "J.Louis" race, everyone was keen to break even time and with junior Eddie Bell replacing Lait, the quartet won in 7:56.4. Essex Beagles and Woodford Green, both of whom possessed international runners in their teams, rather took umbrage at their defeat and in the 1954 meeting concentrated their strength into the 4 x 880 yards, but it made no difference except to push our fellows to a faster time. On this occasion, messrs. Millward, Rouse, Everson were joined by junior Johnny Medhurst and clocked 7:50.8. Fred Millward must rank as the greatest of our half-milers and in 1955 became the first member to win a Southern Counties title when he took the mile in 4:13.8.

Our long distance team was at its peak between 1953 and 1955. During those years, Geoff Iden won the Middlesex "20" title, finished 3rd in the A.A.A. Marathon and 6th in the European Marathon. V.P.H. took the Southern Counties Marathon Team Championship, the S.L.H. "30", Finchley "20", Kent "20", Belgrave "20" and the Sedgley 15 miles team races, twice we were runners-up in the Poly Marathon team race and once 3rd in the "Southern" as well as being regularly placed in other less notable events. But if Iden starred, he was backed up nobly by Ted and Jack Flowers as their 9th and 10th places in the 1953 A.A.A. Marathon showed.

These successes and the inauguration of the Leyton to Southend Road Relay in the Spring of 1953 caught the imagination of many of our track runners and encouraged more to turn to the road. Besides giving runners and supporters a taste of the excitement which accompanied the famous London to Brighton relay (sponsored by the "News of the World"), a win in the "Southend" ensured an invitation to the "Brighton". In the race of 1953, we made a gallant effort and with Dennis West clocking the fastest time on the 7th of the 8 stages, we finished as runners up to St.Albans A.C. The following year, we had high hopes and, although Geoff Iden and Gordon Everson set stage records, V.P.H. could finish only third, but in subsequent years we began to wonder if the race was jinxed. In five attempts, we were 2nd or 3rd all but once and enviously watched the winners go forward to the "Brighton" until 1958 when, at the sixth try, we finally led the way along the Southend Esplanade.

The mid-fifties were also good days for V.P.H. track teams. At various times we won our own "Trefgarne" and "Percy Fisher" Trophies, Grafton's "Alex Meyer", Chelmsford's "Coronation" Trophy, North London Harriers "Wilson" Shield, Southall's "Farringdon" Cup and the magnificent "Crompton Parkinson" Trophy sponsored by the Chelmsford electrical manufacturers. We also won the Southern A.A. League in 1953 and a team composed of Fred Millward, Alan Day, Ken Rouse and Deric Bareford came 2nd in the Middlesex Medley Relay Championship. Bareford was a very useful man to have around at any meeting for his all-round ability enabled him to garner points in almost any event and, over the years, he must have scored more match points for V.P.H. than any other athlete by quite a long way. His versatility enabled him to enjoy athletics all the more and brought him five Middlesex Pentathlon titles as well as two A.A.A. Decathlon place medals, a 2nd and a 3rd.

The year of 1956 was a landmark when a V.P.H. team travelled abroad. Les Williams, a great success as our Social Secretary and, for a couple of years, General Secretary, took charge of all tour arrangements. The trip embraced meetings at Bonn, West Germany and, in the following year, the local club K.T.V.Bonn paid us a return visit. Les arranged a full programme of competition and social events for them and several friendships were built up from the exchanges, some of which endured. These matches were not, in fact, Victoria Park Harriers' first experience of international competition. That had occurred in 1952 when a Swedish club, I.F.K.Helsingborg, had been hosted by Ilford A.C. and we were invited to compete against them at Cricklefields. Pennants and other mementoes presented to V.P.H. on those occasions are displayed in the Committee Room at our Headquarters.

Over the country, we continued to cruise along, ever hopeful, but rather resigned to the feeling that a club located so far from natural country as we were could not hope to match runners who trained regularly over ground with which one had to contend in a race. Riggs Retreat, our winter quarters, was a long way short of being luxurious, but an open fire in the grate could make things quite cosy. Heating water in old fashioned coppers and emptying the tin baths down an open drain was laborious, but luckily, we had a few older members willing to give up their Saturday afternoons.

The amiable and self-effacing Harry Marshall took it upon himself to be responsible for these chores and people were appreciative of his help. Most that was, but alas, not all. Harry, then in his late sixties, used to tell wryly of the fellow who, when asked to lend his strength into raising the end of a bath so that the contents could be poured away, replied, "What are you paid for then?".

The most regular officials at our cross-country events in support of Section Secretary, Frank Fuller, were timekeeper Dick Everson, Albert Abrahams and Les Williams. They could usually be relied upon regardless of the weather, but our active elements were less hardy. Nevertheless, some members were not only hardy, but also resourceful and willing as was shown in the Middlesex C.C.Championships of 1953. We finished in our highest ever position of 5th but were only able to close in at all when Derek Brittan, who had gone along to watch the race, borrowed togs from various people who carried spare gear and turned out to run the 7.5 miles. The following week we repeated the performance behind the big guns of T.V.H., Shaftesbury, Poly and Finchley, but in regular trophy races such as Queens Park's "Liddiard", we rarely had much luck. The popularity of road relays encouraged some of our track runners to become less inhibited about cross-country running and this was reflected in our victory in the 1955 North of the Thames inter-team race.

Success had been threatened by our 4th place 12 months earlier and with Albert Pattison 6th, Dennis West 11th, Stuart Day 16th and Bob Curtis 43rd, scoring 76 points, we beat Woodford Green (82 points) and Queens Park (83 points). No less creditable, since of compulsion it had to be accomplished with an entirely new team, was our 3rd place in 1956. The same season, V.P.H. was well to the fore in Hampstead's "Fraternity" Cup and Grafton's "Friendship" Cup finishing 4th in both races.

The A.G.M. in October 1957 marked the end of an era by changes in four of the major executive offices. George Hemsworth sought retirement from the job of General Secretary, little dreaming that he was being allowed but a respite. Dick Everson relinquished the position of Track Secretary after 10 years in office, and Frank Fuller, Cross-Country Secretary since the war also handed over the reins. All three continued to work for V.P.H. in less onerous positions, but one other very familiar face was lost to us entirely for our Treasurer, Arthur Lait, passed away after several years of indifferent health. With such regular old faithfuls as Handicapper Arthur Slade who, during his active days, had run for Woodford Green, Harry Marshall, Eugy Murnane and starter Ernie Wiseman, the Club had a core of officials thoroughly to be relied upon and as this team began to break up, it was not the best of moments for us to be faced with a momentous decision - that of acquiring our own premises. No other move could have had such a far-reaching effect on the future of the Club and, when we were at a low ebb in the late sixties, it might have been that the desire to hold what we had, enabled us wisely to resist calls for amalgamation. But the steps which led V.P.H. to become property owners have a special chapter devoted to the subject and here we must return to other notable matters.

With the retirement of Geoff Iden and Albert Pattison, the most naturally talented distance runner we ever had, our prospects in the road relays were regarded somewhat gloomily, but as the club magazine put it, "Now everyone wants to be King" and the all-round standard rose dramatically. During the spring of 1958, we came second in the Chingford road relay and then a team of Everson, Rouse, Iron, Curtis and Day carried off the newly inaugurated trophy at Ponders End.

This build up put the Club in a positive mood for the Leyton-Southend relay and, at last, we took the Leytonstone Echo Trophy. Ken Rouse and Robbie Cornell both ran fastest times on their stages and the rest of the team was Bob Long, Bob Curtis, Ron Iron, Alan Howlett, Gordon Everson and Stuart Day. This success brought us the long desired invitation from the "News of the World" to run from Westminster Bridge to Brighton Aquarium and, ultimately, we had cause to bless the fact that we were under-rated. The race took place in October and being unfamiliar with the twelve stages was a drawback to V.P.H. without doubt, but we battled through to 13th place of 20 clubs. This so surprised the organising committee that we were selected to receive the "Most Meritorious Performance" award and it was a happy team that went up to collect their medals. Our runners were Bob Long, Robbie Cornell, Gordon Everson, Bob Curtis, Dennis Boston, Fred Millward, Alan Howlett, Stuart Day, Ron Iron, Ken Rouse, Tommy Green and John Esson. In the trials for the "Brighton" we were 3rd in the Highgate Road Relay and when March brought the main road relay season along, we were raring to go. In the 10-stage Ilford relay, we were 5th and such was our strength in depth that the V.P.H. "B" team placed 2nd of the "B" combinations.

At the Cambridge Harriers' relay, both our "A" and "B" teams were 3rd, the Ponders End saw our "A" team 2nd, the "B" side took the 1st "B" awards and, in the popular Chingford relay, we completely swept the board by taking 1st place medals for "A", "B" and "C" teams. This latter performance was a remarkable club effort that can have been matched by few clubs in any comparable event.

In the 1959 Brighton, we were hit by last minute injuries and had to field reserves, but at one point V.P.H. lay 8th and eventually closed in 11th. It was a peak impossible to maintain with a club of our size and, although during the next few years, our road teams won medals at Hornchurch, Chelmsford, Chingford and Walthamstow (in the Wadham Road relay), we were on the downgrade. Four more times, we were invited to run in the "Brighton", each time slipping further down the field until in 1963 we trailed ignominously in last place, but the writing was on the wall too for the race itself and the worsening traffic congestion soon brought about the abandonment of that famous event. The few years in which V.P.H. had participated were exciting for runners and spectators alike and, for the club athlete, there were few thrills to equal winning a place in the "Brighton" team and pounding out the miles on that ancient road.

To complete the narrative of the Fifties we must return to 1956 where we left our track men competing internationally. At home the name Victoria Park Harriers went on five inter-club trophies, one more than the previous year. All were retained in 1957, which pointed not only to a continuing good level of performance within V.P.H., but an excellent team spirit. To remind those who were less than selfless and there is always a few, the Club magazine regularly bore a quotation of the Olympian H.B.Stallard - "The first duty of an athlete towards his club is that of selflessness in its service ... and if necessity arise, he must sacrifice his own interests for the sake of the whole."

In 1958 we slipped a little. Chelmsford's 'Parkinson Trophy was retained and we acquired a new 'pot' by winning North London Harriers' 'Wilson' Trophy, but although we gave a good account of ourselves everywhere, the effort was insufficient to keep a hold on the other trophies. The annual report was sanguine and reflected that although "organisation of our meetings is now the last word in efficiency, we certainly stage them more competently than the majority of our rivals". This was no less than the truth; it was a comfortable state and continued at least for another decade. Those who witnessed the decline witnessed a sad, sad spectacle. The two 'foreign' trophies were held again in 1959, but our post-war peak had passed.

Chapter 2: The Thriving Thirties | Contents | Chapter 4: Years of Uncertainty (1961 - 1975)