Chapter 1 – The Early Years (1934 to 1950)
Chelmsford Athletics Club was formed in 1934, with its first Headquarters at The Cock & Bell pub in Writtle. At the inaugural meeting on 5th October 1934, the minutes include the following report on the inaugural speech made by the club’s founder – Arthur Beeton:
“Briefly, the latter said he felt the time had come when Chelmsford, as county town, should have its own open athletics club. He mentioned that there was no intention to poach runners who were already members of other athletics clubs*, but to band all local athletes together under one name, as he felt sure they had the talent and it was up to them to give those athletes a club worthy of the town that first brought Essex athletics to light.”
* Smaller local clubs had existed prior to the formation of Chelmsford AC – Marconi AC, Crompton AC and Hoffman AC.
The following club officers were elected at the meeting:
President: Sydney Taylor
Secretary: Arthur Beeton
Treasurer: Mr G.W. Skinner
Committee: A.D. Bickmore, L.J. Hemmings, J.H. Potham, H. Sweeting, G.A. Taylor
Ladies Sub-Committee: Miss R. Bailey, Miss R. Clapperton, Miss G.B. Moore
Captain, Men’s Section: G. Bothwell
Vice-Captain: C.C. Jackson
Captain, Walking Team: A.F.P. Spendlove
Ladies Captain: Miss M.A. Chipstone
Offers of help from W.B. Welham (Chelmsford City) as Trainer, and Alf Fulcher (Landlord, Cock & Bell, Writtle) of Cross-country Headquarters were accepted.
An “Inaugural Run” was held on 17th October 1934, and following photographs record this auspicious occasion:
* Arthur Beeton, club founder, can be see sitting front centre (5th from left), behind the sign.
Ten ladies are shown in the photograph, but they were present as spectators only. At the time, ladies were only permitted to run 100yds, or 80m low Hurdles – and were excluded from Triple Jump, Pole Vault and Hammer. There was also no provision made for them to change in the club hut.
Arthur Beeton – Club Founder
Records show that Arthur won the 1922 Essex CC Junior Championship in the colours of Marconi AC, and in 1924 took the Senior one mile title in a time of 4min 34.9secs. This suggests that he was born in around 1902.
After founding the club in 1934, he went on to his greatest achievement, in organising the Inter-counties Cross-Country and Southern Track Championships in 1936. He resigned as Secretary when war broke out, and was succeeded by Ernie Daley. He remained a member of the Committee, and donated the Beeton Cup for Cross-Country in 1946, before emigrating to Perth, Australia in 1949. He kept in occasional contact with the club, and wrote in September 1956 to report that he was entertaining several thousand children one Saturday in a central park in Perth.
Ernie Daley – 50 Years of Service
Ernie Daley, who took over the role of Club Secretary from Arthur Beeton, served the club for over 50 years. Remarkably, he ran in both the Inaugural Run in 1934 (coming second) AND the four mile anniversary run in 1984, fifty years later, at age of 80! He won a European Bronze medal in the 1500m for the Over 80’s.
For many years he was a fixture at the club, working as a coach. A number of comments recorded over the years indicate the esteem in which he was held:
“….on arriving was mentored by ……. good old Ernie Daley, who also gave a lot of encouragement to Bill when he arrived on the scene.”
“All coaches were volunteers….. An older gentleman called Ernie Daley…… watched over me at practice and gave me useful tips on technique, race strategy…….. We, the teenagers liked to tease Ernie, but we truly respected him and listened to him more than he realised.”
“The Club was very friendly and welcoming. I remember particularly the club coach, Ernie Daley’s infectious enthusiasm.”
“I was walking my dog in the fields behind the Melbourne athletic track one Sunday in September 1967. People were training on the track. I walked into the track area and was jumped on by one of the coaches and told ‘DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED’. I said Sorry, but would like to join the club. The coach said ‘OK! Get some running shoes and meet me here on Tuesday, 7pm’. I turned up and joined that coach’s group; that coach was Ernie Daley. He lived by himself in the high rise block of flats just down the road. Ernie lived for Athletics – lovely man”.
Sydney Taylor – Founding President
Sydney Taylor was the serving Mayor of Chelmsford when he took on the role of President at the founding of the club in 1934. He made several substantial financial contributions to the club during his involvement. His first donation was a contribution of £25 towards the building of the club’s Waterhouse Lane hut. Later, during the Second World War, he gave the club £65 to keep it afloat in a time of adversity. When he died in 1947, club members raised £176 in his memory – most of which was used to fund the creation of a trophy to support the Sydney Taylor Relay.
Lavinia Keene – Club Benefactress
Lavinia Keene was the daughter-in-law and heiress of the founder of the Pearl Insurance Company, and made a significant financial contribution to the club in its early years. She donated £100 (a massive sum at the time) towards the building of the Waterhouse hut:
The Southern Championships – July 1936
One of the club’s most notable early successes was the organising of the Southern Championships in July 1936, which took place at the Chelmsford cricket ground.
The star attraction at the event was due to be Jack Lovelock. Lovelock was from New Zealand, but had come to the UK to attend Oxford University in 1931, and had subsequently stayed in the country to qualify and work as a doctor. In 1933 he had set the World Mile record at Princeton. He came to Chelmsford with a considerable entourage, including Harold Abrahams (Chariots of Fire), Jerry Cornes (Olympic Silver Medallist), Sandy Duncan (later Secretary of the British Olympic Association), Bill Thomas (Oxford Trainer), and ‘Doc’ Porritt (New Zealand 100m Bronze Medallist in 1924 – and later to become The Queen’s Surgeon). Lovelock had also been treated personally by Alexander Fleming for a painful knee, as part of the latter’s research into penicillin!
Lovelock and Cornes attracted most attention before the event, but also competing was Sydney Wooderson, nicknamed “The Mighty Atom” – who had won the Silver medal for the one mile event at the British Empire Games in 1934, and, after running in Chelmsford, went on to compete in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. In 1937 Wooderson set a world mile record of 4min 6.4secs, and in 1938 set world records in the 800m and 880 yards. He won European Championships Gold in the 1500m in 1938, and Gold again for the 5000m in the same Championships in 1946.
In the event, Lovelock avoided Wooderson by running the 880 yards, where he only narrowly beat Chelmsford’s Vice Captain, C.C. Jackson in the heats, and finished second in the final to Jack Powell, the English Champion.
Lovelock (9) and C.C. Jackson (13)
Wooderson was up against Cornes in the mile, and caused a sensation amongst the huge crowd by comprehensively beating the favourite (Cornes) and shattering Lovelock’s British record (despite the challenge of running on a grass track). It was a result that caused uproar amongst the selectors for the forthcoming Olympics in Berlin, where a Coe/Ovett type clash was foreseen in the 1500m between Lovelock and Wooderson. Unfortunately, in Berlin, Wooderson suffered a broken bone in his foot, and the showdown never materialised; Lovelock took the Gold medal.
The newly formed Chelmsford AC took on their first opponents - Essex Beagles, at Dagenham Old Park in May 1935 – and returned home victorious.
Amongst the notable performances recorded by club athletes on the day were:
Men’s Mile: C.C. Jackson in 1st place, by 70 yards, with a time of 4mins 48s
440 yard relay: 2nd place (J.H. Gray, R.W. Rotans, W.J. Andrews and W.D. Lodge)
880 yard relay: 1st place, in 1min 39s (J.H. Gray, W.D. Lodge, N.S. Parish, and H.H. Durrant)
Mile relay: 1st place, in 4mins 3s (E.G. Daley, R.G. Simmons, N.S. Parish and H.H. Durrant)
Two mile relay: 1st place, in 8 mins 38s (E.A. Parish, A.C. Alchin, R.R. Fullerton, C.C. Jackson)
The Ladies team took on a very strong Essex Ladies team at the same event. The 100 yards was won by F. Illiott of Essex AC in a time of 12secs. Chelmsford’s R. Bailey came third, and her club mate M.A Shipstone came fourth. In the team relay, the club were represented by M.A. Shipstone, D.G. Everard, M. Cox and R. Bailey), and finished second.
A year later, in May 1936, the archives record a victory against Southend AC and Epsom Harriers at the EKCO Sports Ground in Southend.
It was recorded that:
Johnson won the 100 yards, in 10.5secs, against a strong wind and a slight incline!
Joe Elvin won both the Javelin and Discus
Ray Fullerton won the half-mile in 2mins 8s – with 25 yards to spare
Wilsmore won the 440 yards
Chelmsford (Fullerton, Horrex, Atkins and Johnson) won the mile medley
After the meeting, Southend AC ‘entertained the visitors to tea’!
Founder member Ray Fullerton led the post-war revival of the club, assembling a team who became expert in organising home fixtures. During the war, Ray served with the Essex Yeomanry 104th Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, and went to Palestine, via Marseilles. He was in Palestine in 1940, and by 1942 was part of the Long Range Desert Group “fighting behind the lines”. In 1943 he was on special service in Syria, in the mountains above Beirut.
Later, when it was reported that Rommel was almost captured when roaming behind enemy lines and coming face to face with a British patrol, he commented “That’s interesting. I remember an incident like that.”
The club recorded its most outstanding result in its existence in the last race of 1949, when the cross-country team came only second to Woodford Green, in the Friendship Cup at Chingford, beating many leading London clubs. Jack Bowen, although still a junior, came home first for Chelmsford, in 10th place. Bowen went on to be the club’s leading distance runner for the next 6 years or more.
A group from the club during Ray Fullerton’s time. Roy Meadowcroft can be seen on the left in the back row.
The following week, seeing in the start of the 1950’s, Chelmsford athletes were in action again, at the Cross Country event held at Chigwell Road, Woodford Green – with the senior championship run over 7½ miles, and the junior race over 5 miles.
Chelmsford were apparently hampered by the absence of several runners – all victims of influenza. First home for the club was a newcomer – Laurie Durrant – who had been called out on an emergency building job the night before, and reportedly arrived only a few minutes before the race, minus both kit AND sleep. Running in borrowed vest, socks, shorts and shoes, he did well to finish in 24th place. Also competing for Chelmsford were Michael Ranson (25th), Ted Brown (31st), Ray Fullerton (35th), Geoff Crow (37th), Arthur Alchin (47th), Johnny Atkinson (79th) and D. Wright (81st).
In May 1950, Chelmsford were up against Finchley Harriers, Mitcham AC, Thames Valley Harriers, and Walton AC, in their first Summer fixture. The club’s athletes faced stiff competition from a number of athletes with international experience.
The best Chelmsford performance was by Gordon Orrin, in the half-mile, finishing second to Bill Nankeville, the AAA Champion, who recorded a time of 2mins 1.5s. Trevor Thorpe also acquitted himself well, finishing second in the 100 yards, in a time of 10.4secs. David Cox – a junior High Jumper, recorded a commendable clearance of 5ft 2in.
Geoff Rison finished third in the junior 440 yards in 53.6secs, while A. Johnson came fourth in the junior 880 yards, despite being badly spiked on the first bend. Jack Taylor came third in the junior 220 yards, in 24.6secs.