To lump together those who were at their best running distances from 880 yards to the marathon may appear sweeping but how many half milers never tested themselves over 1 or 3 miles? Most of them raced over the country or on the road at some time or other and occasionally a man was such a good allrounder it was a moot point whether he could be classified so at risk of confusing the reader.....
The earliest club programme known to survive is a single sheet dated Wednesday, November 24, 1926. It lists 26 entries for a 2 1/2 mile road race handicap over the 'Triangle' course at Hackney Wick. The scratch man was Surrey AC international, Constable; other back markers were also second claim members but whether the prize winners fell into that category we cannot now be certain. The race was won by A.E. Jones (off 1:40) in 15:42, while E. Colville (also off 1:40) was 2nd with E.S. Harrington (off 1:00) in 3rd place. Harrington was second claim but A. Tomlinson and A. Merrington, both off 2:45 and the limit man must have been first claim members and most likely novices.
Membership turnover in those days was considerable for of the 26 who ran in that evening event, the names of only six appear in programmes three years later. The successes of Jones and Colville were insufficient encouragement to carry on and also-rans W.T. Fitten, G. Iverso, J. Carr, A. Blackman, and many others were early Victoria Park Harriers who passed through our membership book leaving us no more than their names.
Two young men running on that dark wintry and probably slightly foggy night were Jimmy Bell (off 2:20) and Frank Fuller (off 2:10). They came nowhere but 22 years and a war later, they stood among a group outside the Wilfred Lawson Hotel at Woodford for a group photograph to mark the opening cross country training run. They did leave imprints on our history. Jimmy, our then Treasurer, holds the distinction of winning the inaugural Club 1 mile Championship in 1928 and receiving the "Garro-Jones" Trophy. Frank came second. Jimmy's reign was brief but his tall, hunched figure appeared in VPH colours up to 1939 and after the war, for Jimmy returned in 1948. During the early fifties, he ran in several of our long distance road and marathon teams and was in touch with VPH for many years. Upon becoming a widower, and unknown to us, Jimmy went to live with his daughter in South Africa.
Our number one miler in the early thirties was Tommy Brooks who joined the Club in October 1928. He took the “Garro-Jones” Trophy the following year and beat off all challengers until 1935. Quick-striding and with arms held high, Tommy was also usually too good for the opposition in inter-club matches. His best time in winning the Club mile on six occasions was 4:43 but in pre-war days athletes were quite content to clock a mediocre time if it was sufficient to win a race. We knew Tommy could run much faster for in a match at the Henry Barrass Stadium he took the mile in a field of 24 with 4:39.8. He was almost as effective over the road and held the Club 5 MacDonald Memorial Cup in 1929, 1930, and 1931. This event was a road race championship until 1934 when it switched to a cross-country race.
The first man to win that trophy was Stan Holdstock in 1928, and after Tommy Brooks tenure, Ted Markwick held the '5' title three times in four years, once on the road and twice across country. In 1935, Ted was winner of the 3-mile track championship (the "Squire Yarrow" trophy) with a modest performance but he hadn't the liking for the track that he had for road and cross country where he was usually one of the earlier finishers. It was Harry Smith who spoiled Markwick's winning streak in 1933, the last year the '5' was staged on the road. Harry, a slightly built man, was always 'there abouts' in our distance races and he moved up to marathons with some success.
His namesake Don Smith was unrelated and most unlike Harry, being a burly fellow seemingly too heavy for distance running. In 1935, he won the Club Mile from Dick Carpenter and Tommy Brooks, equalling the championship best, but on the road he was better and over the country easily the best we had for several years. Strong and brave Don trained harder than most people of the day. He regularly ran on his own around the roads. This was uncommon since youths and even grown men would cat-call, jostle, and impede runners; they would even throw things all by the way of being a great joke! Consequently, runners preferred to run in packs and that Don ran alone is remembered by a contemporary as a bold thing to do in London's East End during the thirties. Don recorded a hat trick of wins in the Club 5 in 1936, 1937, and 1938 and took the "Coronation Cup" in its inaugural year of 1937. This was probably his best year for he became the first VPH man to win his cross country colours, representing Middlesex in the Inter Counties Championship and against the RAF.
Ted Murtell, Billy White, Billy and Alf Riddle, Bennie Pinchbeck, Johnny Turner, George Robertson, Albert Connor, Billy Pittman, Tommy Whyman, and Dick Carpenter were mainstays of our road and cross country teams but for Dick the track held priority where he dominated our running. Stylish, strong, and confident, he was for a while one of the few runners to wear a moustache ; at least the traces on his upper lip was said to be a 'tash.' He came into his own in 1936 when he took both the Club 1 and 3 mile titles, and from that year was never beaten in Club track championships at those distances. Before the war, he was twice mile champion and set a championship best performance of 4:36.4 in 1937. The 3 miles "Squire Yarrow" trophy fell to him for four years from 1936 and in 1937 he was pushed to a championship best performance of 15:24.4 by Don Smith. But he was not done yet. After war service, Dick returned to Victoria Park in 1947 and retained the trophy which he had first held 11 years before, beating in the process Charlie Fowles, the London AA mile champion. He did not defend it but in the 1949 championship, he clocked 15:30 to beat Johnny Turner by 10 yards after a memorable battle. Also in 1947, Dick found sufficient speed to notch his third Club 1 mile title. For these remarkable achievements, he was presented with the Sullivan Trophy for the most meritorious performance, the first man to hold the cup. Dick now turned to longer distances on the road. In 1950, he followed Geoff Iden home in the Club 10 miles road championship which had been inaugurated the previous year and ran for our team in the Poly Marathon but he wasn't suited for such events and his form was disappointing. He had been a member since 1931 and Dick decided enough was enough; what might he had achieved but for the war.
Dick Carpenter seems to have only rarely tested himself at 880y, though he was twice runner up in Club championships (1937 and 1947!) and he was aware that he could never hope to match the speedy Billy Bartholomew and, later, George Robertson. Billy has already been mentioned among our quarter milers but he was at his best over two laps. The "Social Committee" Cup was put up for a Club 880y Championship in 1933 and he took it home for four consecutive years. The best time he showed was only 2:03.2 but Billy 'Bart', as he was known, relied on his sprint finish unless pushed all the way. He was the idol of Victoria Park and 30 years later older members would speak of him in rapture mostly recalling a day when he gave the Essex Champion 20 yards in a 4x880y and beat him to the line. As has been said, competitions were only rarely clocked individually and it is doubtful if Billy ever knew what were his fastest times; ranking lists had not been thought of but his contemporaries accorded Bill the greatest respect and he must be placed with the finest of VPH runners.
His successor, George Robertson, was a good Club man who was ready for anything and anybody. He never betrayed any seriousness and would be cracking jokes until under starters orders. A small stride with low back lift belied the speed with which he could cover the ground but the technicalities of athletics occupied him not at all and he trained only when driven to such extremes. He made a point of despising tracksuit bottoms and ridiculed those who took care to be warmly clad. Getting properly warmed up seemed to George a sheer waste of time and effort. With his regular training companion Benny Pinchbeck, he would trot out of the changing room and set off steadily enough as though to cover six laps but after 100 yards or so the pace would pick up. The next 220y would take about 33 seconds and then things really hummed. If Benny or anyone else was still alongside at 660 yards it was as though a gauntlet had been thrown down. Rarely was it necessary for George to cover three laps before he was all alone and honour satisfied. Onlookers always reckoned that Benny ran faster in these warm-ups than he ever did in a race proper.
Undoubtedly, George Robertson was at his best over 880y. Twice Club Champion, he set a Championship best of 2:01.5 in 1937. On both occasions, his warming up victim Benny Pinchbeck took the bronze medal. In 1938, George held both the 440y and 800y Club trophies. George had taken 2nd place in 1935 when Billy Bart secured the third of his four Club 'quarter' championships. On the track, George usually avoided anything longer than two laps but during the winter season, George tackled road and cross country races with gusto. In a Corinthian League cross country race over 5 miles at Woodford in January 1938, it is recorded that he romped home 56 seconds ahead of Billy Riddle in second place. Twice he was runner up to Don Smith in the 'MacDonald' 5 mile Cross Country Club Championships, holding Don to 40 yards in 1936 and in 1938 George won the Club 7 1/2 mile 'Coronation' Cup. He had joined VPH in 1930 and was a regular member of our teams throughout the season but in 1939 new blood could not be denied and George had to surrender his track championships. Nevertheless, he returned to the Park after the war and was good enough to finish third in the Club 5 mile Cross Country Championship races of 1947 and 1948. For several seasons he was content to wind down as an also ran until he moved from Bow to Romford. Such a good athlete and club man deserved his quartet of club championship wins.
Commencing athletics while still at school, Les Lait showed early promise as a sprinter and after joining VPH in April 1937 at the age of 15, he stuck mainly to the dashes. Although placing 2nd in the 1938 Club Junior Long Jump Championship, he didn't improve with the sprints and began to try his hand (or legs) at the shorter middle distances, not, however, showing any exceptional ability. After the outbreak of WWII, athletics still carried on and Les ran his best half-mile up to that time when assisting VPH to gain 3rd place in the Middlesex Junior Medley relay. Joining the RAF soon afterwards, he naturally was unable to do much training during 1941 and 1942, but being posted to London the following year, soon began to make his name in various meetings and was placed in no fewer than 20 handicaps. In the "Holidays at Home Sports" (eventually becoming the London AA Championships), Les won the 880 yards in 2:02.2 and was hailed in the Evening News as the discovery of the year. When posted to Southern Rhodesia, he was fortunate to be able to continue with his running. Placed 3rd in the 1944 RAF Rhodesian Championships, he improved the next year to win the 440 yards in 53 seconds and to come 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Rhodesian 880 and 440 yards championships, clocking under 2:01 for the former. On the strength of this, he was chosen to represent Rhodesia against Transvaal. Returning to the Park in 1947, after demobilisation, Les soon struck form and won the club Senior championship for the first time. He was also 3rd in the London AA 880 yards. Opening the next season with a cracking race at Victoria Park against Hovell (of Finchley), Les was beaten by a yard in 1:58.6. This was the first time he had beaten 2 minutes. The 1948 Middlesex Championships were held in atrocious weather at Uxbridge and Les became our first ever Senior County champion when winning the 880 title in 2:01.2. In July, he then excelled himself by reaching the AAA 880 final and finishing 5th behind Parlett, Harris, Wint, and White (all internationals) and returning a time inside 1:57.0. In 1949, Les was three times chosen to represent the AAA. He was only beaten by inches in the 880 versus the UAU at White City and clocked 1:58.0. At Ipswich, he won the half mile in 1:57.4 and later accompanied a team to Huddersfield to run in the 440. At the end of this season, the London AA championships saw him set up new record figures when winning the 880 title in 1:57.2. Injury laid Les up for most of the 1950 season, but 1951 saw him once again winning the Club Championship, again representing the AAA and still capable of turning out a regular sub-2 minute half mile. Unassuming and a thorough sportsman, he was the idol of the cognoscenti lining the Park railings and a buzz would arise as they anticipated his customary swoop off the bend. It is safe to say that no Park member has been held in greater esteem.
Stan Field, another popular figure, hadn't the burden of crowd expectation; instead, his positive attitude found favour with the crowd who recognised that if he couldn't be first to the tape, it wasn't for the sake of trying. Ever a realist, he was his own severest critic; offer a "hard luck, Stan" and he would most likely snort, "No, I was rubbish." He was never that for he held Club titles from 880y to 3 miles besides four place medals in Club Cross Country Championships. Tarmac was not the surface of his choice; even so, he could perform well on the road and it was a shame he was lost to us before the advent of the Leyton to Southend Relay. A Civil Service Champion at 1 and 3 miles, his career took Stan away from London and then to America. His Club Championship bests at 1 and 3 miles do not do him fuller justice for he certainly ran much faster but as so often in those days individual performances were not taken. Even so, Stan Field left an indelible mark on our history.
Before Lait and Field had run their course, possible successors began to emerge. Teddy Stone, a graceful relaxed runner, had been 2nd in the Club Junior 100y in 1947 and 3rd in the Senior sprint the following year. After National Service, he took the bronze medal in the Club Furlong (220y) but Ted hadn't the zip for sprinting and his coach Freddie Plumm persuaded him to move up to half miling. In 1953, he ran 2:01 and seemed to promise much more but his apprenticeship had not exposed him to the "eye balls out" experiences and it showed. Entering the Metropolitan Police appeared to offer advantages through the MPAC; if so, the Club didn't benefit. Teddy's sunny disposition was seen less and less at Victoria Park and then not at all.
Percy Ancell seemed a useful acquisition with useful runs on road and country as well as having the ability to collect place medals in the "Garro-Jones" Club Mile Championships of 1950 and 1951, but he slipped away.
Many people regarded Ernie Dunster as a young man with unlimited potential. He joined in 1946, a big lad with a thundering, hungry stride which carried him to the "Cornish" Junior mile title in 1947 and to 6th place in the Middlesex Junior Cross Country Championships during the following winter season. He returned from the Army bigger still and soon grew stronger, leaner, and able to perform on any surface. If employment with the Customs Service was not conducive to regular workouts, it didn't seem to bother Ernie for he came 2nd in the 1953 Club 5 miles Senior Cross Country Championship and over the next two years ran 2:03 over 880y, 4:28.6 for a mile, and 15:26 for three miles. Although not blessed with naked speed, few looked as impressive in full flight, but to everyone's bafflement, the big breakthrough failed to materialise. Two 3rd place medals in Club Cross Country Championships and a bronze in the 1952 "Squire Yarrow" Club 3 miles were the sum total of Ernie's rewards in Senior VPH Championships before he was posted to Scotland.
In 1953, Cliff Fowles followed in the footsteps of his brother by winning the MacDonald Memorial Cup Club 5 miles Cross Country Championship. He had joined the club in July 1953 when he was 18 years old and in his first winter season romped away from Len Parsons, holder of the "Victus" trophy to take the Club Junior 5 miles Cross Country Championships. He proved good enough to beat all but Geoff Iden in the Senior Club '5' during the same season besides finishing 28th in the Junior Southern and 38th in the Junior National Cross Country Championship. In 1952, his first full track season, Cliff pushed Iden to a Championship Best in the Club '3' and was set fair for the 1952-3 winter programme. As related, he emulated brother Charlie by taking the 'MacDonald' Cup but he had been shrugging off stomach pains until it would not be denied. Medical diagnosis for Cliff was devastating for Cliff and VPH; he had to give up running. For so enthusiastic and promising an athlete, it was a cruel blow; Cliff Fowles hadn't the elegance and pace of Charlie, he possessed endurance and unquenchable spirit. He might have been the backbone of our road and cross country teams for a decade; instead, Cliff and the club had to be content with less than two competitive seasons and, from 1955 to 1959, his services as Assistant General Secretary.
Winning the 'Victus' trophy in 1949 for the Club 3 1/2 mile Cross Country Championship and gathering a few place medals in both Senior and Junior Club Championships was not much for some five years of good steady running on track, road, and country, yet that was the lot of Billy Hill. Small, sturdy, and compact, he finished 12th in the 1949 North of the Thames Inter-team and was a regular member of our road and cross country teams; at his best, he beat the brilliant young Len Parsons and the formidable Stan Field. Being deferred from National Service by his studies was useful to us and Billy, but we never saw him in full maturity for he did not take up the threads after serving Her Majesty.
Though Ancell, Fowles, Dunster, and Hill could be visualised as milers and 3 milers above average ability equally capable of running well during the winter, they hadn't the speed for half miling. Fortunately, there were some swifter and they stepped forward almost together.
The 880y and 1 mile championships of 1952 heralded a new era and the former was memorable. Two heats sorted out eight finalists, among them the defending champion Les Lait. as he and Gordon Everson dashed away at the gun, their arms intertwined; down they went and, in a tangle of arms and legs, five of the octet sprawled across the dusty track. Ken Rouse tried to leap over the early fallers, but the spikes in an upturned foot ripped his shoe from toe to heel. All five were treated in Homerton Hospital for severe grazes and some still carry cinder stains in their skin. A few days later, three of them, bandaged and plastered, ran the 4 x 880y relay in the "Joe Louis" trophy meeting at Mayesbrook Park and were 2nd.
The club 880y championship final was rerun some weeks afterwards and Gordon Everson, who had been placed twice before, took the "Social Committee" Cup and equalled the Championship Best. Ken Rouse came 2nd but Fred Millward, who had outsprinted Field to win the "Garro Jones" mile, and seemed in with a chance for the double, was only 5th. He made up for it subsequently and only once in eight years did one or the other of this trio fail to win the 880y title. Their individual medal tally in this Championship was - Millward 1st 3 times, 3rd 2 times; Rouse 1st 2 times, 2nd 4 times; Everson 1st 2 times, 2nd 3 times, 3rd 1 time.
Ken Rouse was the youngest. A Crown & Manor product, he won one of our novice mile races before signing up in May 1947; he was 16 years old. Apparently geared to cross country, he placed 9th in the Middlesex Youths Cross Country Championships, but Ken had track ambitions. He knew that he was not born to sprint and persevered with developing strength and pace, being rewarded with five Junior Club Championships over two seasons. In 1949, he lined up the 440, 880, and 1 mile. Two years with the RAF Air Sea Rescue gave him time to think about his running and he returned with firm ideas on training and tactics. Experimenting with uneven pace paid dividends; by 1953, Ken had so developed the ability to punch in a scorching third furlong over 880y, or the third quarter of a mile, that he regularly beat reputable opponents who had run faster. He could be reeled in, but Ken's determination to hold on was formidable. "The Surge" won for him in 1953 the Club 880y and 1 mile; he had never raced 3 miles on the track and went cautiously for a few laps in the Club Championships. Everson and Millward were also enjoying their baptism over the distance and hoped to be revenged for the loss of their titles but Ken wore them down. He set championship bests at all three distances and was awarded the "Sullivan" trophy. Over six foot tall, he deliberately did not employ his full stride and noticeably clipped it the faster he went. Hands held high and with head slightly tilted, he was a prominent figure and sustained a heavy racing program. Attacks of blood poisoning had to be overcome before Ken took the Club 880y again, in 1959 and the mile twice more in 1954 and 1958. He represented Middlesex and the Shipping AA, he earned AAA standards, and recorded personal bests of 1:57 (half mile), 4:18.2 (mile), and 14:56 (3 miles). Undoubtedly he represented VPH at 880y, 1 mile, and 3 miles more often than anyone. Once he caught the road running bug, Ken booked his place in most of our major races and was usually entrusted with the short anchor legs into Southend and Brighton but his finest effort on the road may have been the 18:38 he clocked in the 1959 'Ilford' race. Ken never retired; for many years, he toiled for our teams on road and country, even completing a London Marathon. Besides his distinguished running, Ken was Track captain for three years and served on our Committee as an elected member or Vice President, almost continually. In 1967, Ken Rouse was elected as our President. In 2004, Ken was still a Life Member, 57 years after first setting foot on the Victoria Park track.
When athletes marry, some decide to call it a day; fortunately, a good number tailor their training to fit in with their new, increased responsibilities. When children come along, the position has to be re-assessed and by then most athletes are more than halfway through their sporting careers. Fred Millward bucked the trend; married young and wasted no time in building a family. Understandably, his training was often irregular and there were periods when the slimline Fred relied upon races to keep in shape. Had he ample time to train, who knows how far Fred could have progressed? Fred joined in July 1951 after National Service and within a year was Club 1 mile champion by surprisingly forcing his way past Field in the straight. In 1953, he astonished himself as well as us by clocking 1:56.5 on the opening leg of a 4x880y relay. He mostly trained during lunchtime at the Paddington track which was also used by Roger Bannister, then preparing for an attempt on the four-minute mile. Internationals and fellow varsity Blues Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher were Bannister's training companions and ultimately pacemakers in the successful attack on the World Mile Record at Iffley Road, Oxford. Fred joined them in fast-slow laps and the benefits were soon to be seen. Increasing speed and strength brought self-belief and even his arm action seemed a Bannister copy. After a good run in the Middlesex, Fred gained entry to the 1954 AAA Championship 880y where he finished 5th in the final clocking 1:54.5. In a match at Walton-on-Thames, he clashed with International star Gordon Pirie over 880y and held him to four yards in 1:54.0. In August, he was invited to run in the British Games 880y at White City. It was tougher than the AAA final and Fred was 6th in 1:53.7. At the popular London Fire Brigade meeting, again at White City, he ran in an invitation 1,000 yards and broke the English Native Record with 2:11.0; but he was 4th to Aylett (Blackheath Harriers and Great Britain) who was half a second faster. Before the year was out, Fred sprinted past Aylett to take the London AA 880 title. Representing Middlesex against Herts & Beds, Fred won the 880y in 1:56.8; in the same meeting, Ken Rouse was also a Middlesex winner when taking the mile in 4:22.8. At the end of the 1954 season, Fred was invited to compete in a special 3/4 mile race staged during the London and Moscow meeting. In a first class field, he went into the lead on the last bend and held on to win in 3:03.8. Three days later, a Northern Counties team met the Russians in Manchester. They were stiffened by a few Southern 'guests' and Fred took part in the 880y where he came third to Aylott and a Russian, one Ageyev, after a slow first lap. All this earned Fred the Sullivan Trophy and 1955 was eagerly awaited. After a disappointing 3rd in the Middlesex 880y, he tackled the Southern mile at Chiswick. Handily placed throughout, he burst to the front in the straight to win in 4:13.8. Nevertheless, his training was lacking quality. He undoubtedly had some fast running in him but his account was too often slipping into the red and just as the Big Time beckoned he found himself unable to respond. Club standard running was less testing and Fred was still capable of winning the Club championship in 1958. In all, he earned five Club titles; 440, 880 (thrice), and 1 mile, surprisingly few for a man so talented but he was unexpectedly vulnerable at times and had to be content with bronze medals that might have been gold. Fred was not a complete stranger to road and cross country; he was not overkeen on either but, as his career ran down, he would respond to appeals to get fit just for a shortish leg in the London to Brighton road relay. A popular figure, Fred Millward was the least boastful fellow one could meet and somewhat whimsical about his running. Wry comments as he prepared to go to his mark invariably amused his team mates and reduced the tension; if he was more subdued after being beaten, he sought no alibi.
It was in 1953 that Albert Pattison came to us from Loughton AC to boost our upwardly mobile middle to long distance contingent. Tall and lithesome, he had an insatiable appetite for interval running and his training programme was awesome; few of our members have been so naturally gifted. A stylish runner with a raking fluent stride, he brimmed with confidence. Within a year, he had been awarded his Middlesex colours for cross country (12th in the County Championships) and track (1st in the County 6 miles in a record-breaking 30:15.4). Selection by the AAA and impressive exposure in invitation meetings at White City placed 'Pat' on the crest of a wave. There was no distance he would not tackle from 880y and he steadily assembled a collection of Club Championship medals for track, road, and cross country. In 1956, he was awarded the Sullivan Trophy and, as his reputation grew, Pat invested in even greater feats of training. Emil Zatopek, Vladmir Kuts, and Gordon Pirie were the middle distance idols; more and more mileage, faster and faster strides, shorter and shorter intervals. Almost no one doubted the wisdom of the workload and the importance of sufficient rest to counter both the physical and mental stress was not recognised. In recent times, G.B. International Matthew Yates, a man similar to Albert Pattison in many ways, has spoken honestly on TV of the fear of failure. Few will admit that much but the need to overcome anxiety with pleas of colds, lack of training, or a multitude of other excuses will be recognised in others if not in themselves by every athlete. Sometimes, one must simply walk away from the sport.
With hindsight, it is possible that Pat was debilitated by training stress for he became increasingly reluctant to test the metal of opponents of quality. His performances lacked conviction; dropping out almost became a habit, yet against much inferior runners, he could still romp away to clock impressive times. It seemed capricious when he declined to turn out for various events and increasingly frustrated selectors opted for an easier life by not considering Pat for our road and cross country teams or relying upon his support on the track. When he might have had the universal respect and admiration which attaches to sporting heroes, Pat ran less and less. His few remaining appearances were inconsequential and a career once so promising simply petered out. Had athletic medicine been as advanced as it is today, the Pattison story might have been very different. Just the same, he left a record to be envied. In four years, Pat won 12 club titles; 880 (1957), 1 mile (1955-6-7), 3 miles (1954-6-7), 10 mile Road (1957), 5 miles cross country (1954-5-6), and 10 miles cross country (1956). Nearly all had been by forcing a pace no one else could sustain. His personal bests display his all round excellence: 880y - 1:56.8; 1 mile - 4:09.7; 2 miles - 8:54.4; 3 miles - 13:48.6; 6 miles - 29:54.4. Some of Pat's most stirring runs were in road relays where he revelled in being given someone to chase and in the course of which his name featured in fastest laps at several venues. The Chingford Relay always found Pat in good form; he set a record of 17:06 in 1955 and clocked 17:04 the following season. Our greatest road relay honours were earned without Albert Pattison but that he was not part of the Southend and Brighton relay teams was sad for both VPH and Pat himself.
A more precocious youth than Len Parsons was never seen at Victoria Park. Tall for his 15 years, with fair curly hair and a bounding stride which may not have been wholly to his advantage, he joined in 1949 and in the Junior Cross Country Championships held Billy Hill to a couple of yards. Promising, but there was no hint of what was to come. In the three post-war Mob Matches with Eton Manor, Geoff Iden had broken the Triangle course record on each occasion. Now, on a cold evening, he aimed for a 4th win and cut out the pace under the street lights. As the leaders loomed into view for the second time along Lee Conservancy Road, Parson was seen to be at Iden's shoulder and as they turned into Eastway, the youngster blazed away to win by 15 yards in 12:48. It was a remarkable run and the 1950 track season was eagerly awaited. In the event, there was no fireworks; Len won the Junior 'half' with ease but he seemed very ordinary on cinders, as though his mind was on the next winter season. When that came, he duly collected the Club Junior Cross Country Championships and then at Christmas came Grafton AC's "Friendship" Cup. The course was iron hard with frost and snow and Len picked his way among the leaders until in sight of the finish when he strode away to win. Iden was 3rd and so had now been beaten over road and country but if it was any consolation a field of over 100 senior runners had also failed to match a 16-year-old. Len went on to finish 12th in the Southern Youths Cross Country Championships and 6th in the National Youths Cross Country Championships; he also ran the fastest leg in the Ilford Youths Cross Country Relay and anchored our Senior team which did well to place 2nd in the Festival of Britain road relay from the Festival Gardens to Addlestone. All good runs but not what was looked for. Success had arrived quickly and easily; press exposure was flattering, and admirers got carried away. All pretty heady stuff for anyone. Len's confidence began to run away from him and it seemed that gambolling about was taking the place of serious training. He was working out with a group of youngsters advised by Tommy Whyman; among them was Dennis West. Len may have been the Star of the stable, but Den made obeyance to no man. He had no more of a sprint than Len, but he was capable of holding a fast stride over 440y.
In 1951, Len had no trouble in winning the 'Cornish' Mile Cup and he set about retaining the 'Charlotte Baker' 880y trophy as though it was all rather a yawn. Looking around and calling to spectators during the first lap was unwise; it simply fired up Dennis to unleash an irresistable burst to the tape. The manner of Len's defeat was deflating and his morale took a dive. He perked up for the winter season, but in the Club Junior Cross Country Championships, being run over 5 miles for the first time, he clashed with a newcomer. 'Chick' Fowles, like West, was no respector of reputation and on the second lap he romped away to win by 500 yards. The clobbering did not stop Len pulling off a good win in the Eton Manor Mob Match with 13:03, but he no longer was showing an appetite for running. He went for National Service and turned out in RAF cross country events but Len did not return and his capacity was never explored. It was a great shame; he was a likeable lad and his story could have had such a different ending.
Dennis West had to make shift with only a smidgeon of Parson's ability and relied upon grit and self belief. Upright, with his chest thrust out and arms and legs moving stiffly, he appeared to be running through treacle, but without a wasteful movement. His older brother Leslie had joined in 1946 and tried the sprints and quarter miling without distinction. Dennis arrived in 1949; he soon made his mark and over three seasons, harvested Club Junior titles at 440y, 880y, 1 mile, and 5 miles cross country as well as a cluster of place medals. He couldn't be called quick, agile, or strong, yet he won the Junior High Jump and was placed in the shot putt, discus, and javelin. As a Senior, he twice won the Club Javelin title but, although he came close, a Senior running championship always eluded Dennis. He was runner up in the Club 5 mile Cross Country Championship on two occasions, came 3rd in the 1 mile, 3rd in the 3 miles and, in 1954 and 1958, was 2nd to Deric Bareford in the Club Pentathlon. Over the country and on the road, Dennis was at his best. In 1953, he placed 20th in the Middlesex Junior Cross Country Championships and the following year came 25th in the County Senior 7 1/2 miles while still a Junior. Over the triangle course, he ran 12:44; in the Leyton to Southend relay of 1953, Dennis clocked the fastest time of the 7th stage and at the Watford Road Relay returned 14:49 for the approximate 3 mile course. On the track, he recorded 3:11.0 for the 3/4 mile, 4:27 for the mile, and 15:17 for 3 miles. Turning to steeplechasing for a while, he managed 4th in both the Middlesex and the Southern with a best of 9:55.6, a club record which lasted for a quarter of a century. A fine clubman, Dennis was a valued member of our teams all year round until in 1956, when he had his best years ahead, pleurisy struck him down. After many months confined to hospital, he made a good recovery but athletics was no longer an option. It was a bitter pill to swallow; his staunch running was sorely missed as were his trendy track suits.
A silk purse can't be made from a sow's ear; nor can a classical running action be grafted on an unsuitable frame, and all the world's coaches could not have made Eddie Keans into a Pattison look alike. Big, strong, and gangling, his feet crashed down heel first at best but he had courage galore. An amiable, uncomplicated soul, Eddie bore more than his share of chaff. His mouth organ playing was more admired than his running but he kept at it and in 1955, a contributor to our journal named him "Trier of the Year." Over six years, his loyalty and doggedness brought him respect; he never came within reach of a Club Championship medal but he ran regularly on the road and cross country and his Everest was a 4:36.8 mile in 1958, an achievement once beyond imagination. One wintry evening, Eddie was competing in a Club Yacht Handicap over 2.5 miles around the Triangle. Entering Lea Conservancy Road for the second time, he found himself out in front; on a darkened stretch, he heard footsteps rapidly closing. Eddie glanced over his shoulder .............. and smashed into a telephone pole. It is said that on a dark winter's night, the thud echoes still.
Jack Sunderland and Tommy Green were quiet fellows; useful runners and popular team mates, but whereas Keans did better than expected, Jack, a family man, and Tommy, a twinkling eyed Irishman, never fulfilled their promise. Tom once finished 35th in the Friendship Cup cross country race wearing plimsolls and twice came close to a Club place medal, being 4th in both the 1957 10 mile CCC and the 1958 Club 10 mile road championship. He earned a spot in our 1958 Brighton team and had pace enough to clock a 4:29.8 mile, 9:41.2 for 2 miles, and 15:27 for 3 miles on the track.
Derek Brittan was in a similar mould. Happy go lucky, he once went to watch the Middlesex CCC, found we were short on numbers, borrowed some kit and ran most creditably. His reaching heel-toe style was suited to distance running and he was a 'sticker'; in 1953, he ran 4:31 for the mile and 15:31 for 3 miles on the track; Derek was good company, if not greatly motivated and then Cupid's arrow struck.
Derek was with us for some five years, others ran longer for not much more than the fellowship, for the sheer pleasure of running. No one took more satisfaction from the activity than Henry Tabberer who joined in 1956. He was invariably well down the field yet Henry was always ready to turn out. Then, during the 1962 Ilford road relay, he was knocked down by a trolley bus. It ran over his leg and a horrified spectator said, "his calf muscle is laying out in the road." Eventually, the injury healed; Henry was left with severe scarring but he was determined to run again. Exercises, then short jogs, month after month. It took courage and patience; he came back and ran for another 20 years.
In our ranks during the mid-fifties were two young men well known within the Club but who made more indelible marks elsewhere. Alan Everson followed his father and brother into VPH in 1950 when 15 years old. Almost without notice, he came 2nd in the 1952 Club Junior 1 mile, 3rd in the 1953 Junior 880y, and 3rd in the 1954 Junior Cross Country Championships. He also tried the javelin and won the 1954 Club Junior title in 1954 before National Service. With the Army in Cyprus, he discovered it was possible to find challenges without running oneself into the ground. Even better, when rifle shooting as a civvie, the targets didn't fire back! So, the Rifle Shooting Association gained a recruit at our expense. With a .22 rifle, Alan won London, Middlesex, and Essex Championships, represented England eight times, and great Britain twice. Eventually, he was honoured with the Captaincy of the England team.
Following service with the RAF Air Traffic Control, Michael Nicholson went to university and then into television. The sound of gunfire became familiar to him also for Mike went from ITV news reader to war correspondent and public personality status. He joined us in July 1953 when 16 years of age and won an 880y Novices races in April 1954. Tall and slim, Mike ran comfortably, sedately even moulding himself upon his idol Roger Bannister. Contributions to the club magazine must have been his earliest steps towards journalism; if he was at times overly serious, there was nonetheless a foolish aspect to Mike and the truth is no one quite knew what to make of him. In 1954, he was 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Club Junior 880y and 1 mile and had bests of 2:08.2 and 4:50.4. He came 8th in the Essex Junior 880y championships. Not many will remember such detail but a Nicholsonian moment during a cross country race at Riggs Retreat does linger. After some 600 yards, the course crossed the river 'Ching'. "The carefree Mike," said the magazine, "came gaily down" to the river and leapt over by way of some concrete stepping stones. Ken Prevost had taken up a position there to obtain a few action photos and as Mike was close upon another runner, Ken called out that he had missed him. Mike promptly turned around, recrossed the Ching, and came over again!
The fifties threw up a number of good juniors most of whom also did not progress to the senior ranks. The most brilliant of them was Johnny Medhurst, a copybook stylist, who was a pleasure to watch. He joined us in February 1952 when he was showing his talent in schools cross country events. That summer, he relieved Dennis West of his Junior 880y Charlotte Baker Trophy but was sparing with his appearances, his school having prior claim. A Club Youth's 3 1/2 mile Cross Country Championship was inaugurated in 1952 and Johnny simply flowed away from the field to win by over two minutes. The Eton Manor Mob Match was run in fog on January 14th, 1953 and he caused some surprise by finishing 5th (13:20) in a field of 40 runners, just a couple of strides behind Dunster. To win the 1953 Junior Mile Cornish Cup, he only needed to coast along before showing what he could do by clocking 2:03.1 in an 880y at Edmonton. Then he was called up for National Service. Luckily, he managed to stay fit and was our second scorer in cross country matches at Whetsone and Eastcote. Duties allowed him few opportunities to run for us on the track but he retained his Club Junior Mile title after a memorable battle with Eddie Bell in 4:29.0, a time that in 1954 had only twice been beaten in the Senior Championship. In the J. Lewis September Relays, he stepped in at the last minute to make up our 4x880y Senior team. Running a magnificent first leg, he handed over with a three-yard lead in 1:58.1, five seconds faster than his previous best. Sadly, it was his swansong for Johnny never ran again; but what a way to sign off for VPH who won the relay in 7:50.8, still a club record half a century later.
George Smith won the "Charlotte Baker" Junior 880y title in 1953 and looked to have the makings of a fine miler but he stayed little more than a year; Keith Bandy and Jimmy Butters were here today but not tomorrow and then came Ron Iron who lasted somewhat longer. Another Crown & Manor graduate, his feat of winning the Club Junior Cross Country Championship (CCC) in four successive years from 1956 has never been equalled. The same year, he was 6th in the Middlesex Junior CCC, 7th in the Southern CCC, and winner of both the London and National Federation of Boys Club Championships. The following winter, he took both the Junior and Senior Club CCC, an unmatched double, and was runner up in the Middlesex Junior CCC. Over a period of 10 years, he took the Club Senior '5' on six occasions, was twice 2nd, and once 3rd. His style was ideally suited to the longer distances, yet he built an impressive track record. Three Club Junior championships and his County colours as a Junior miler led to seven Club Senior Championships from, astonishingly 440y to 3 miles, and as many place medals besides. A fine judge of pace, his fastest mile of 4:13, run at Leyton, was split 64, 64, 63, and 62 seconds. In 1953, Ron ran 3 miles in 14:17.4, yet it is on the road that he was at his best. His finest years closely paralleled our memorable road relays. When we were doing well, he urged his team mates all the more; if we languished, his determination to improve matters was reflected in his expression. He had little sympathy with those he believed were giving less than their best; he was harder still on himself. In the Southend and Brighton relays, Ron, with Stuart Day, was entrusted with the longer stages. His 17:01 at Chingford, 17:55 at the 'Ilford' were the fastest ever run by a Victoria Park runner up to that time. Ron's idea of retiring was to make up the numbers when required and to run in the London Marathon. He was also Committee Chairman decades after originally signing his membership form.
Conrad Milton and Alan Rees gave good service to our Junior teams. Alan was quite pacey and was twice placed in the Junior 220y Championship. He might have been remembered among the speedsters but the wonderful Youth 880y Championship race of 1956, when Con won by a wafer, is too memorable to put him anywhere other than alongside Milton, his friend and rival. Con always appeared laboured but he trained hard; his tenacity earned two Club Youth titles and Junior place medals from 880y to 5 Miles Cross Country. He ran 2:02.3 (880y) and 4:37.3 (mile) as a Junior and when in the Senior ranks edged down to 2:01.8 and 4:31.6; then he moved South of the river and we lost not only a runner but also a future administrator. The most conscientious and enthusiastic of Junior Captains, Con still holds the distinction of being the youngest speaker at a VPH Dinner, having proposed the toast of "The Guests" in 1956 at the age of 17 years. Alan Rees tried the sprints for a while as a Senior until he elected to concentrate on business where his quick intelligence reputedly made his fortune.
Stuart Day started about the same time as Ron but there was some five years in age between them. Stuart only became hooked on running in the Army and was recommended to seek us out. He came, liked what he saw, and joined us even though he lived at Ilford. His relaxed style reflected a kindly personality. He would almost apologise to runners he had beaten and when friends got the better of him fair and square, he was genuinely pleased to see them in good form. An instrumentalist in the Salvation Army, Stuart never trained or raced on Sundays. Sport was not allowed to intrude upon his religious beliefs. Few men have reached his standard with less training. A fast stride had to make do for a sprint, so he usually needed to make a break to win. Nevertheless, he clocked 1:57 over two laps, ran a mile in 4:12.2, 2 miles in 9:09.4, and 3 miles in 14:04.0; excellence which placed him among the best three of our all round middle distance performers. He was as comfortable on the road or country, representing Essex in the 1961 Inter-Counties CCC. It was the year he touched peak form, and the year he entered the service of the Salvation Army full time. He moved to Wales and raced no more. Altogether Stuart mustered 16 club titles and as many place medals; in 1960, he held the 1 and 3 mile track, 5 and 10 mile CCC, and 10 mile Road Champs, an unmatched tally for a single year. Also that year, he finished 6th, and inside the course record, in the Hog's Back road race. In the Chingford road relay, he clocked 17:04 and at Ilford 17:59. He was also 3rd in the Essex mile and gained his County Track Colours. Collecting the Sullivan Trophy was simply a matter of course and when he retired, our rapid slide demonstrated how important he had been to VPH. Cross Country Captain for three years and Track Captain once, Stuart brought much more to the Park than athleticism.
Another stalwart of our road and cross country teams was Bob Curtis who, like Stuart, was introduced to our sport through the Army and joined VPH the same year - 1954. In his first winter season, he clocked 12:59 around the Triangle, came 37th in the North of the Thames Inter-Team, and made a place in our Leyton - Southend relay team. Head down and rolling from side to side, he scuttled along scarcely knowing where he was going for he had poor sight and refused to wear spectacles. As a van driver, he hadn't the most restful of jobs, but he was as gritty a runner as ever wore the blue sash. He earned his full share of the medals which fell to our road teams and three club medals over the country, the best being a silver runners-up in the 1959 "Jeffsue" 10. In the Club road 10, he had a good record, twice being 2nd and thrice 3rd, but on the track he hadn't much luck for his best 3 miles of 15:06 placed him only 5th in the 1957 championships.
Elected in the same month as Albert Pattison, Vic Potter slipped in almost unnoticed. In his only year as a Junior, he displayed little more than a cheerful willingness to make up the numbers but Vic, known for some obscure reason as Peter, applied himself and in January 1955 came 2nd to Eddie Bell in the Club Junior 5. He thought about athletics more than most of his fellows and contributed "The Layman's view on the Psychological aspects of running" to the Club Magazine. In his first year as a Senior on the track, Pete was named in the 'Mag' as the most improved Club runner. No one showed effort more in his face than Vic but studies won deferment from National Service and uninterrupted training paid off. In 1957, he ran a mile in 4:29.8, 9:40.5 for 2 miles, and 15:36 for 3 miles; splendid running for someone who once seemed unlikely to go under a 4:50 mile. The RAF then claimed him and although he ran for some years, Vic never again gave so much to the track. He had earned two club runner-up medals and then came the 1962 Club 10 mile CCC. Just three lined up. One was Vic Potter; the others, Con Milton and Rob Shaw were not noted for ten mile slogs and Vic had a lonely stroll. It was the slowest Club 10 of all time, but no one begrudged him his medal. The following year, he secured a place in our 'Brighton' team after finishing 5th in the trials race, but we had been on the slide for a couple of years and now came last. Vic was 'officer material' but not surprisingly he saw his future beyond the East End and Harlow's gain was yet another loss to VPH.
In the final stage of the 1963 'Brighton' was Herbie Joseph and so he holds the distinction of being the last VPH man to run in that historic race! Under nine stone when wringing wet, Herbie joined when only 14-years-old. He was a plucky chap who loved to knock out the miles and turned out regularly for some ten years or more. In 1959, he ran brilliantly to come 2nd in the Barnet Shield Junior CC race and a good 4th behind Day, Howlett, and Curtis in the 1960 Club 10 Road Championship pointed to an exciting future but Herbie became hooked on pushing up the mileage in training. It did nothing for him and he became content with minor positioning.
At Poplar Grammar School sports in 1954, a boy entered a variety of events to earn house points and proceeded to run 120 yards hurdles and throwing the cricket ball. He also came 2nd in both the javelin and discus, and 3rd in the 1-mile walk! One might imagine another Bareford in the making but in reality the slight, bespectacled figure of Alan Howlett was an apparently unlikely Victor Ludorum. The young hero was not himself deceived and when he signed for us, it was with the intention of developing his running talent. Alan made his debut one winter's evening in an impromptu 880 yards staged to try out the 1948 Olympic Games track surface, taken up at White City and relaid at the Wilderness. He clocked a promising 2:07 and confirmed his ability in January 1955 by going around the Triangle course in 13:13. In our 3.75 mile trial for the road relays, he was 4th of 14 competitors but during that short season, he suffered the lapse of form which made him so unpredictable. During the track season, he displayed a fair turn of speed and in the winter season of 1956/7, reduced his Triangle mark to 12:54. In the North of the Thames Inter-Team race, he was 14th, our second scorer, and shared the bronze medals. Second to Ron Iron in the Club 5M CCC, Alan came 38th in the Southern Junior CCC and was 4th in the 3 3/4 mile trial, showing 19:59 and becoming only the fourth runner to beat 20 minutes for the course. Then, for year after year, he soldiered on, sometimes running very well, sometime poorly, and often indifferently. On the track, he occasionally picked up a 3rd place championship medal; over the country and in our road '10', he did somewhat better with some 2nds as well as 3rd. He could not always be sure of a spot in our road relay teams and then in 1966, his 11th year in VPH, Alan made a startling breakthrough. In the "Garro-Jones" mile, he stormed home in 4:19.7 and he took the "Squire Yarrow" Cup from holder Mike Quanne in 14:16.4. Iin matches, he was full of running and won a mile at Harlow in 4:19.1. Quite rightly, he earned the Sullivan Trophy but this wonderful form evaporated almost as quickly as it had appeared. He carried on for a couple of seasons and then decided to ease out of serious competition. Alan had a splendid innings; his loyalty was exceptional and he was invariably available, regardless of his condition. Not too many members have represented the Club on all surfaces as often. Nor did he then vanish from the scene for Alan ran our Football Pontoon for many years besides serving as an official.
Len Williams joined the club in 1956 as a 14-year-old and took little time to make himself known at the club as reported in the club magazine in April 1957 concerning his leg of the VPH Boys Road Relay 5x1.5M "Len Williams was a surprise packet on the 3rd leg. Running like a machine, he looked no different over the final 100 yards to the first 100 yards." Two years later. he broke the 5-minute mile for the first time and the following year, he had the distinction of being on the first-ever VPH Youth team to win a cross-country trophy. Len followed that up with his first club championship title when he won the 3.5M Youth Club XC Champs at Chingford, breaking the club record by 75 seconds and beating reknown runners, Danny Callaghan and Pete Jones. Len continued his climb in 1960 by finishing 38th in the National Youth XC Champs at West Bromwich and later in the year he set a Club Junior Record for 3 miles running 15:00.4. He improved his time in the mile to 4:30.8 and, as an 18-year-old, won his first Senior race, the Barnet Shield, and was just one second outside the record. 1961 continued unabated for Len. He won the Club Junior Mile title in 4:29.4, just 0.4 from the record and was timed at 4:25.8 later that year. That fall, Len ran a club record of the 9th stage of the London to Brighton Relay. This was followed by a 3rd place in the North of the Thames Inter-Team Champs and his first club Senior title, the 5M Cross Country Championship. In 1961, Len also represented Essex Juniors over cross country. The following month, in January 1962, he won the Club Junior 5 mile Cross Country Championship, beating 4:17.8 miler Danny Callaghan. Three months later, Len won the Club Senior 10 mile Road Championship race by 3:24. He had a successful track season and ranked 1st in the club over 3 miles with 14:41.6. His 1962/3 winter season was highly successful, starting with a silver medal in the Essex County Junior Cross Country Championships, followed by selection to represent Essex in Junior Inter Counties for the third year in a row, and finishing up with a win in the Club Junior 5M XC Championships (by 2:32!) and also the Senior 10M Road Championships. By now, Len was focusing moving away from the track and focusing on the road and cross country. In the Fall of '63, Len set a club record over the Victoria Park Chingford League 5M. His time of 24:16 was still ranked 3rd all-time in the club some 42 years later. The following Spring, Len won both the Club 10M Cross Country Championship race and the Club 10M Road Championships, the latter in 50:20. The winter of 64/65 was Len's last sustained push for athletics excellence. He started off with a win in the Club 5M Cross Country Championship race and finished off the season by beating up-and-coming Mike Quanne over the Club 10M Road Championship. In between, Len was a significant point-scoring contributor towards the first VPH team ever to win the Chingford League. That summer, he recorded his fastest ever mile time of 4:21.3. Len's star had shone brightly for almost 10 years and even then he wasn't finished as he managed to win the Club 5M Cross Country Championships two more times in 1968 and again in 1971. Although resigning from the Club in 1981, Len returned to run at The Dome in the Assembly League in 2003 at the age of 61 and became the only member ever to represent the Club as a Boy, Youth, Junior, Senior, and Vet.