A Tribute to the ‘TOUGH MEN of the ROAD’
This title may appear a little misleading, but as you read on it will become apparent that it is about some men determined to achieve fitness and reward from participating in what for many past years *(and still is) a tough sport. I refer to those participants in Long Distance Race Walking. There are a number of ladies involved nowadays and to them I raise my hat. However, in the times of which I write the only ladies involved were our treasured supporters. Although what I write may be mostly my story, it is also intended to honour, in the main, those past active members and supporters of the Lancashire Walking Club (LWC), but also some others in the Race Walking Fraternity who supported us. It is not intended to be a history of the LWC but merely my personal
recollections of the years I was actively involved with the club.
My involvement started some 66 years ago. My LWC recollections cover a period of about twenty years, following which I give names of those I remember from that period: details of walking photos; I have a list of Centurions from 1936 to 1964 and some snippets of my later athletic activities. I do not think there were any before 1936, but I could be wrong. However, I raise my hat to all those chaps who took part in what I always felt was at that time a cheap working man’s sport, where guts, determination and a will to improve or win was required. I refer to it as a working man’s sport since my recollection is that many
participants in those early days fell into that category; though there were some who were white collar workers and a very small percentage of professional status. There was perhaps a fairly similar mix amongst club officials.
Why do I consider such people so special? Well they took part in a tough sport for although many participated in walking races up to twenty miles there were plenty who race over distances of anything up to 100 miles or more. Anyone who officially completed 100 miles in 24 hours became a “Centurion” and since records began in 1887 only about 1000 to this day have attained this honour. The Lancashire Walking Club was renowned for its prowess in the long distance field as becomes apparent if one looks at the list of members who qualified as Centurions during that time. Just under ten percent of those qualifying for Centurion status in the period 1936 to 1964 were members of the LWC Additionally
a) there was less time to train, for people worked longer hours than they do nowadays and all people worked ‘days’ had to work on Saturday mornings,
b) workers often only had a weeks holiday per year, two if they were lucky (some unpaid);
c) there was little money to spare for travelling, sports clothing, footwear, etc. so people had to make things last as best they could (it was not a throw-away society);
d) although people did train on the roads at night there was very little in many places outside towns, apart from the odd gas lamp, although I must admit there was little traffic on the roads;
e) for almost everyone there were no specialist people to give training advice and certainly no fitness centres as they are called today.
I should think that most amateur athletes never had the opportunity to get advice which in any case was not
even available at that time for example:
1) Circuit/speed training never seemed to be mentioned and neither were stretching exercises. LWC started such things in general, possibly in the late fifties;
2) There were no food or drink supplements, only a few so called energy tablets,
3) Sun cream protection was unheard of; hats or a hanky on the head or over the neck gave protection;
4) Information on drinking during long periods of exercise was, on today’s advice, quite wrong. I can remember being told and constantly reminded that during a race I should hold off drinking for as long as possible, since once having started drinking the desire would continue unabated. So one could find oneself walking ten or more miles at speed before getting even your first liquid refreshment even on a very hot day and on a long race with no personal attendant you could be in the lap of the gods.
Often in the longer races you would have to rely on refreshment stations and hope there were sufficient of them. I remember in one London to Brighton race with 20 miles to go I was absolutely drained. I had five shillings in my pocket and although a non-drinker I went into a pub and sat down for fifteen minutes or so with a pint of shandy. I reckoned had I had enough money to pay for a similar drink every seven miles or so (a pint cost about a shilling then) since I was determined to get to Brighton. I came out of the pub a new man and finished in fine style without another drink. Of course the best way to compete in distance races was to have a cyclist accompany you with sufficient food, drink and other possible needs. Those with such help were the lucky ones.
All these things meant that for long distance race walkers it was a tough world. I therefore have the greatest respect for all such people whether gentlemen or ladies, particularly those in earlier years when life was in many ways much harder than it is today.
THE LANCASHIRE WAKING CLUB AND ME
Well how and why did I become involved with the Lancashire Walking Club?
From a very early age I did a lot of walking as a result of a couple of things. Firstly I lived fairly well out in the country in a village called Flixton on the outskirts of Manchester and secondly I had to walk both to and from school a couple of times a day. Up to the age of eleven this was two round trips each of almost two miles and after that, until I was sixteen, a round trip of four miles (eight miles a day). These journeys were usually done in all weathers, although when it was very inclement I was given money to travel by bus. My father worked for the CWS at their margarine factory in Higher Irlam which was on the other side of the Manchester Ship Canal to where we lived. He played cricket for the work’s team and when they were playing at home, my brother Eric,
myself and my mother went there with dad; alas there was no option to do otherwise. This we must have done from being about twelve years of age.
The cricket field was situated at the side of the original Liverpool to Manchester Road and on one Saturday each year we would watch the race walkers going past as they competed in the Daily Dispatch race of thirty-six and a quarter miles. I well remember the leading walkers: Harold Whitlock (1936 Olympic 50km champion), his brother Rex, Lloyd Johnson, Joe Hopkins (LWC and not too far behind would be Joe’s club mates: Jim and Frank O’Neill, Dick and Joe Smith and George Birchall Snr. There would have been a few other LWC members, but I cannot recall their names.
I admired all these athletes who pushed on sometimes under the roasting sun with sticky tar bubbling up from the roads, not the kind we now have, or long stretches of granite setts in towns; at other times in pouring rain and still with eight miles or so to go. It was at that tender age that I decided that I would do it one day.
Early in 1939, just after I started work at the age of sixteen, I contacted Bob Eastwood, the secretary of the Lancashire Walking Club and in the spring went to meet members of the club for my first training session. At that time they met at the Maypole (?) pub which was near Pendleton Church and would set off from there perhaps about 7.30pm for a six to ten mile spin. (I think such sessions continued in the winter, but of this I am not certain). Everybody soon left me, but Jack Minogue kindly kept me company on a number of early occasions. I cannot remember the name of everyone who was on these jaunts, most coming from the Salford area, but the names of those closely connected with the club in my early days are listed elsewhere.
Training went on once a week and eventually we moved from the pub to a Labour Club on Langworthy Road, South, a mile or so from Pendleton. The only routes I clearly remember from those early days at the Maypole and the Langworthy Club were down to Cusson’s Soap works direction and back and out and back along the East Lancashire Road. No doubt one would think walking along such roads at that time would be dangerous, but there was little traffic on the roads at that time and some of it was still steam driven or horse-drawn - a far cry from today.
There would be the occasional race from the Club Headquarters at the Midland Hotel, West Didsbury and this could be anything from four to perhaps ten miles or so. It was planned that in the September of 1939 I would have my first real race in an event at Southport organised by Charlie Hulse. Alas, it was not to be, for war was declared a few days beforehand and the event was cancelled as were most activities during the early months of the war. Slowly over the following period life started to settle down and over the months and in some cases years, a little normality returned to our sport.
Gradually we started to have a few races at Disdbury, although the petrol limitations meant that judging was rather limited as was feeding on longer races, hence events were often over lap courses. Many of our officials stood by us at that time and assisted as well as they could; some would bring bicycles for marshalling. Later in the war, although there were some travel restrictions things became more settled and ‘stay at home holidays’ were encouraged. To aid this programme, local authorities organised carnivals and frequently small towns in West Yorkshire would incorporate walking races in their programmes. Our members would often go over to support these events travelling there by train after working Saturday morning as was usual in those days. Race
walkers from over the Yorkshire border often supported our normal events as did other clubs and individuals from not so far away. Members of the forces occasionally joined us when in the vicinity. There was also an annual track race held in conjunction with the Police Sports on the Fallowfield track (now long gone) in Manchester.
The other problem we had was that clothing and footwear were only supplied against a limited ration of coupons. So we had to mend and make do with anything available.
The war years however were very friendly times and there was always something to either laugh or cry about. When Peter Kitson, an unusual Yorkshire character, had finished a race he would walk fast in his bare feet around the finishing area for about five minutes or so. Why? We never knew. Our very own John MacCormick always took to races a spare carrier bag in which to carry home his prize. He was so good he usually won something. Prize values were however very restricted in those days, not the silly monies of today. Most athletes participated for pride not reward.
One particular event in Yorkshire is worth mentioning. It was at Barnsley in 1943.The course was rather a twisting one in and around the town and proved difficult to follow that most competitors got completely lost, many entering the finishing circuit before the winner who was our John MacCormick. It was chaos and although scheduled to be re-run in the future, it never was. I was so annoyed by such an occurrence that I sat down and wrote a poem about it called “It’s Turned Out Nice Again” and sent a copy to the organiser. I thought it might upset him. On the contrary, he had it printed and sold copies for threepence each with all proceeds going to the Barnsley and District Harriers Club.
The LWC, as with other clubs, had very few active walkers during the war period since many were called up into the armed forces. My involvement during this period mainly evolved around the Smiths (principally Dick until he was called up) and the O’Neill’s, in particular Jim, as Frank was also called up to the army. Until Dick was called up, he worked at Urmston and once a week he would come to our cottage in Flixton after work and we would go out training again on the poorly lit roads in all kinds of weather. Then, in addition, we would meet on Sunday mornings and have a ten mile or so gentler, local stroll. At other times, the start and finish would be in Manchester where Werneth Low was the turning point. Occasionally, we would go out to Hayfield by train from
where our journey would take us over Jacob’s Ladder to Edale and back - a rugged walk.
At this point, I should mention that these were not hiking outings with all the gear. The wet weather clothing was usually an old gabardine ‘mac’ and a cap, possible second hand army boots and a few sandwiches and a bit of cake in a simple shoulder bag. It could be very uncomfortable when it rained. There was a café at Edale that occasionally we would visit for a quick cuppa.
I think here I should record my sincere thanks to Dick Smith for all he did for me in helping me with training and giving me advice and encouragement in my athletic ‘career’. To his wife Zena, I also feel indebted for her help and support. I attended evening classes at Salford Tech during the war and from about 9.30 in the evening would occasionally spend an hour at the Smith’s home, before walking to Central Station in Manchester to catch the last train home, which sometimes was during air-raids. My similar appreciation must also go to Jim and Frank O’Neill who in equally supportive manner encouraged and helped me on my way.
Dick Smith got myself and my younger brother Eric (who also raced a bit with the club) to join Salford Harriers with whom we started running cross country in the winter months. It should be noted that we ran in plimsolls, nothing fancy. Changing may have been in shed or barn, or even a pub if you were lucky, but there were no showers or hot water. In a few cases, you may even get a small bath of warm water which everyone shared, or you just changed and went home, often very dirty.
One year we both were awarded attendance medals for taking part in every event in the winter. I have many happy recollections of these runs; ploughed fields, hedges, ditches, mud, snow and fog. Not much like present day televised events. One particular event always comes to mind for Eric and I finished second and third to Sidney Wooderson a former world mile record holder. However, whilst this is true, there is a slight twist to the tale; Sidney was well ahead of the field when he started the fourth lap when a dense fog came down (and in those days fog tended to be really dense). The race was stopped and all the other runners compelled to finish after the third lap, but what they didn’t realise was, that Eric and I were at the rear and still out, so were not
stopped and did the fourth lap. The press reported us as second and third with no mention made of the mix-up and reason for our glory. Incidentally, at that time when we were, I think under 18 years of age, we were not allowed to run on the road anything over something like six miles. No such rule seems to apply today.
While Frank O’Neill and Dick Smith were away in the army, I trained regularly with Jim O’Neill when he lived near Whitefield, usually on a Saturday afternoon. The usual route was out and back via Simister covering various routes around Radcliffe and elsewhere. The roads of course were almost traffic free. At that time Jim and Grace had a daughter-in-arms, yet Grace always provided a good hefty snack for me before I departed for home. We also had some long, hard walks into the hills, principally in Derbyshire and did some long distance running together. One running race we did together was about 18 miles. It was from, I think, somewhere in Sale to Marple. Occasionally, Jim would come over to Flixton and at other times both of us would go to Stockport to have a training walk with John MacCormick. ‘Mac’ as he was known, was not very tall but was a very fast and strong walker with a perfect and easy style. He was really at home in the hills but kept to the shorter events up to ten miles.
The club kept ticking over during the war in spite of there being few members, although we did receive a good deal of support from outside, particularly from Yorkshire Walking Club, Sheffield Harriers, Preston Harriers, Leyland AC, Stockport AC and Sutton (Macclesfield) lads. A few outsiders also supported us, and two I can remember were Flight Sergeant Herring (c191) serving locally with the RAF (although his home town was Brighton) and Ron West who was transferred up north to work at the shipyards in Barrow in Furness. Ron incidentally achieved Olympian status, representing GB at the 1948 Games.
During the war, I formed part of an ad-hoc Committee of the club which endeavoured to keep things going until better times came along. After the war, an official committee was formed which included me as vice-captain and club auditor, positions I held for several years. Meetings took place at the Headquarters in the Midland Hotel, Lapwing Lane, West Didsbury. There was a large LWC badge on the outside wall of the hotel near the main entrance which proudly displayed the club’s motto; “Health the First Wealth”. This motto, I understand, had been suggested by John Tempest the oldest active member of the club for many years. If I remember correctly, the publicans’ names were Mr and Mrs Budge. They did us proud by providing us with changing facilities and light refreshments for many years. Our association with the Midland had started pre-war and carried on for many years afterwards. The real problem with racing there became the volume of traffic.
Club clothing at that time comprised of a short sleeved cotton vest with a badge of the Lancashire Rose on the left breast and black shorts. Shoes and socks were anything you could get and afford. In my early years I raced in second-hand shoes (one was a snazzy brown and white) which had leather soles and rubber heels. After the war, one could get special race walking shoes made by Fosters of Bolton. I had one pair and although they were very light, they didn’t fit very well.
All courses used in those days were relatively traffic free. Shorter events from the pub were on nearby minor and major roads and longer ones would go out through Chorlton to Old Trafford to follow the main Manchester to Chester Road to Sale and then return to Didsbury. Even the club 20 mile championship went out through Cheadle and Wilmslow to turn at Alderley Edge and return along the same route. It is a hair raising experience even by car nowadays! Club races were organised from other venues such as Stockport, Flixton/Urmston, (my original home territory), Sutton (Macclesfield), Buxton, Leyland, St.Helens, Barrow in Furness, Swinton and Preston.
Prior to the war, there was the Moston Race. This was re-introduced and only staged once after hostilities had ceased. There were probably others in the surrounding area, but these do not readily come to mind.
One thing that really helped to kept the sport going during the war the “Race Walking Record” published by A.D. McSweeney in London. It was a godsend and ‘Mac’ fully deserves every acknowledgement for his efforts.
After the war things slowly started getting going again. We had a good committee who managed to arrange a good fixture list and things in Lancashire and elsewhere began to recover. However, some nationally well-known pre-war events seem to get lost forever, one of which was the Sunderland to Darlington.
Club training nights from a social style meeting place never seemed to be as popular after the war, although eventually such nights did take place from Frank O’Neill’s home in Swinton and occasionally there would be sessions at the new track built on the Sale/Stretford border.
For a few years we did manage to get back the Liverpool to Manchester Walk which was sponsored by the Daily Dispatch paper. They also sponsored and help re-start the Manchester to Blackpool Walk for some years until the demise of the paper, after which Blackpool Corporation took over sponsorship. Sadly, of course, this famous race has succumbed to the ravages of time and the motor vehicle. Most of our trophies and prizes were usually purchased from a business not far from Victoria Station in Manchester, the owners being keen supporters of ours.
One of my heroes in the Blackpool walks was Hew Neilson C145, now sadly deceased. He and his wife stayed with us a few times when he came up for the race. He was both a gentleman and superb walker, who I think still holds the 24 hour world record of 133 miles 21 yards. I have an autographed photograph of him during the record walk which I really cherish. One open walk that perhaps deserves mention was the Blackpool to Manchester and Back (100 miles) organised by LWC by our club chairman, Alf Scorer, in 1954. I will always remember that the event on a number of accounts. The weather was atrocious for a good deal of the time for it rained heavily; one walker was pulled out of the race for ‘lifting’ (he maintained that he was trying to avoid deep puddles) and although Alf Scorer was not a very popular man in some quarters, he did a fantastic job of organising the event. I saw his paperwork and you could guarantee that if it could even remotely be likely to affect a helper, he or she would receive a copy and a constantly updated one at that. I helped full time at that walk and learned a lot about the organisation of events.
Regrettably until only recent years we have never had any active Lady race walkers in the club, but I think that has been remedied by Hazel Fairhurst c983 who covered 101 miles in 23 hours 31 minutes. It is nice to see the ladies nowadays, although regrettable that male interest and membership has declined. Alas , this happens in many fields these days. We have of course, always had some very ardent lady supporters, and perhaps the one who deserves the highest accolade is I think Zena Smith, wife of Dick, both of whom are now sadly deceased. Without the wholehearted support of Dick and Zena I do not think the club would have survived and been such a success for so many years.
My achievements in the world of athletics have been insignificant, but my involvements have had their rewards. Race walking and running helped me greatly during the problems that have to be endured during adolescence; it kept me from smoking and drinking, it made me genuine friends, it gave me interests I have had all my life and above all it has enabled me to stay healthy. To this day I am still active and I think in a good state if health. I will always cherish the club’s motto “Health the First Wealth”.
So what have I achieved? Financially nothing, for the value of the few prizes I won have negligible monetary value. I still have a pot ash tray I won for running and a bundle of medals for walking, running and cycling. But the most treasured possession is my Centurion Badge C148. What have I gained in health friendship and personal satisfaction far outweighs any monetary reward.
As soon as I started race walking it was obvious that I had a serious problem; I got unbearable shin soreness in the first hour of any race which slowed me up considerably and then I could go like a bomb., As there never seemed to be a cure for this I naturally directed my efforts to the longer distances where I felt very much happier. It was not until the middle of the 1980’s that I discovered what the problem could have been, but not the answer. It was during a research course at Chester College that I discovered that I had only about two thirds the lung capacity of other athletes and very low expiratory capacity. This was probably the result of having serious whooping cough when I was young. This I understood from my parents caused my growth to slow appreciably.
So what do I consider my athletic highlights?
First long distance race – Was a 50km at Eastleigh, (down south) in 1945 where I gained a Second Class Time standard.
Liverpool to Manchester Walks – Completed several of these 36.25 mile events in the late 1940’s with a best time of 6.36 in 1949 when part of the winning LWC team.
Bradford Walks – During the war the distance was 15 miles and I did a few of those. Post war the distance was 50km over a tough hilly course and I never clocked a time worth mentioning.
London to Brighton – I did a couple of this southern classic 53 miler in the late 1940’s and posted times just under ten hours.
Manchester to Blackpool – In the early 1950’s I managed a couple of performances in the northern 51 mile classic and like my efforts in the Brighton clocked times around the ten hour mark.
Six in the Hour Badge – I think I attained this in 1947 after a six mile warm-up to get rid of my shin soreness.
Twenty Miles – My best time for this distance was 3.30 and done on the day that Dick Smith became club champion. I was really proud of him that day.
Centurions 1911 – I became Centurion 148 in 1947, covering 100 miles in 21.41.23. This was on the track at Bradford, Yorkshire in a 24 hour race and was my finest hour. When I had done 101 miles I was lying third and my father who was looking after me (he did a great job) begged me not to carry on for the 24 hours. Apparently he had seen the sorry state of those who had ‘packed in’ earlier. I think I finished seventh. One person I had every admiration for was Eddie Blackmore of Yorkshire Walking Club who completed his 100 miles in 23.46.15 to become C152 and that with a clubbed foot which meant he had perhaps a three inch heel under one shoe. A fantastic achievement!
I attempted another 24 hour race in London in the early 1980’s but a foot problem caused my retirement at 60 miles.
Perhaps, here I may say how I trained for the 24 hour at Bradford by combining the usual training/racing programme with plenty of long walks. I walked five miles to work every day, other than when I walked ten miles both to and from work once or twice a week. At weekends I would walk (not racing) for anything up to about 50 miles in a day, wearing ordinary clothing, army boots with rubber heels and steel studs in the soles and carrying a few butties and some drink in an army knapsack and a shilling in my pocket. I wore just ordinary rainwear so if I got wet it was just too bad. A typical day was from 6am to about 9pm walking from Flixton to Buxton or Huddersfield and back. Blisters got popped with a needle and soon healed. Vaseline on the feet and under the crutch were always a must. Yes, everything was as simple as that!!!
The track at Bradford was either cinder or shale, not like the springy track of today. To get used to walking on a similar quarter mile track I used to go out one evening a week on the cinder track at Boggart Hole Clough and clock a few lonely miles. The problem was avoiding getting grit in the shoes. This was done by wearing ‘spats’ which gentlemen wore in the earlier part of the century. They held fairly tightly round the ankle and the top of the shoe, being held in place with a strap which went round the instep. I kept track of the lap covered by using a knitting needle row counter.
One regret that I have is that I never took part in the Nijmegen Marches.
I was the instigator and early organiser of the Filixton/Urmston races which must have gone on for about twenty years.
In 1951 I got married and of course my involvement with the LWC diminished somewhat. Then in 1960 as I departed to Cumbria I was made a Life Member of the club and living so far away my association with the LWC reduced considerably.
In Cumbria I took up fell walking rather seriously, completing in the Ramblers Four Peaks Walk on a number of occasions. This is a walk of about 50 miles climbing Skiddaw, Scawfell Pike, Scawfell and Helvelyn as well as walking between these tops. I managed to finish each time in about 22 hours.
I also walked a couple of long walks with Frank and Jim O’Neill; the Lyke Wake walk which was about 40 miles and in 1969 the Fellsman’s Hike in Yorkshire which was 50 miles and included 10,000 feet of climbing over rough terrain. I have never gone through such rough conditions. There was a snow storm in the night which made route finding extremely difficult and tiring. Out of 291 starters only 167 finished. I walked for almost 29 hours finishing 159th and then had to drive 50 miles home. Unfortunately, both Frank and Jim suffered terribly with the intense cold and packed in at daybreak with perhaps 15 miles to go.
After my return to Cheshire in 1970 I organised a race from Kingsley, but until recent years my involvement with LWC has been minimal.
At this stage I must acknowledge the support given over many years by my parents, Harold and Bessie Royle and my wife Margaret. Without their support, well where would I have been?
Cliff Royle C148
Lancashire walking Club Members and Supporters from the Past
To the best of my recollections. I apologise for any omissions or errors. Memories have to go a long way back and some names are rather hazy.
Active Walkers: Officials:
Dick Smith Alf Scorer (Presiden/Chairman)
Jim O’Neill Bob Eastwood (Hon Secretary)
Frank O’Neill Eddie Holmes (Hon Treasurer)
Jack Minogue Harold Wilxox (Wythenshawe)
Charlie Hatch (Southport Teacher) Reg Goodwin (Olympic Silver medal 1932 with Surrey
Frank Birchall, (Warrington) WC
Frank Chadwick, (Pendleton) Alf Pearson (Manchester)
Tommy ?? (Pendleton) Zena Smith
Joe Lambert (CS not much involved during the war) Man from Manchester who a rode a bike
Jack (John) Tempest (Oldest active member competed
in the 60’s when 82 years old)
????? Aldred (Salford)
There were others.
Others involved in the 50’s and 60’s
Harry Harwood (Preston) Ronnie Marsden Sam Shoebottom
Sid Smith (Stockport) Ron Wallwork Joe Barraclough
John Grocott (Manchester) John MacCormack Dick Ditchfield
Eric Royle Vic Murray Harry Ellicott
George Birchall Jnr. John Malone
Don Warren, his brother, Albert Rigby Alex McCann (Zena’s brother)
And others from Sutton Macclesfield John Todd
Harry Mumford Harry Tetlow
Chris Bolton Tom Daly (Liverpool)
Fred Pearce Snr Trevor Owens
Fred Pearce Jnr Alf Taylor (Leigh) !
Other I recall who helped and supported not mentions above:
Mr.Frost (a blind man from Didsbury)
Mrs.Lambert and daughter Joan
Mary (Frank’s wife and Grace O’Neill)