Chelmsford Athletics Club

Chelmsford Athletics Club - Club History - Chapter 2

Chapter 2 – The Post-War Intake (1950 to 1956)

In 1951, so great was the reputation of Chelmsford AC that Essex turned the club Chairman – Ray Fullerton – to become Essex Secretary.  They also asked the club’s cross-country secretary – Arthur Alchin – to take up the same role for the county.  This coincided with their (and others of the pre-war generation) to retire from competitive running.  The loss of some of the club’s most revered winter runners was balanced, however, by their prowess in bringing about various innovations, and in laying the foundations for future success.

At the start of the 50’s, there were no regular inter-club meetings, but Ray recognised that this was the future, and convinced the Council to donate the Festival and Coronation Trophies.

Business-organised events still took place though, and many Chelmsford AC members were very much part of the organisation and management of these events:

  • Alec Spendlove – Essex 10 miles walking champion 1923 & 24 – was for two decades a committee member, and track marker

  • Ted Brown – Essex Cross Country champion 1945

  • Joe Radford – Wartime Secretary; Treasurer for 25 years; President in 1984

  • Harry Gratze – Club Timekeeper

  • Frank Holroyd – Club Shot record holder 1954


The Introduction of the 440 yards for Ladies

It was 1954 before ladies were allowed to run more than 220 yards, and that year saw the first running of the Ladies 440 yards, as part of the Club Championship.  The press report on the occasion noted:

“….the excellent turn-out of seven girls for the ladies 440 yards handicap, a tribute to the hard work of Miss Joan Falconer in reviving the ladies’ section.  The race was won by Diane Gray daughter of a former member of the Club, in a promising 67.8 secs, from a 6 yards start, with Pat Stock (12 yards) a close second, and another new member, Margaret Harrby, third.”

Joan taught at The County High School in the early fifties and despite poor facilities, vigorously developed an active Ladies Section.

She would bring Mrs Wenley’s dog with her for exercise and it appointed itself guard hound for the hut, falling upon other passing dogs with great fury, to Joan’s great embarrassment!


New Events and Innovations

Ray Fullerton launched the Sydney Taylor Memorial Relay in the early 1950’s, and the event quickly became the first big race in the South East Road Relay season.  The photo below shows a young Roy Meadowcroft receiving the baton from Mike Ranson:

Ray encouraged Roy Meadowcroft to found the S.E. Essex Cross Country League – one of the first in the country – and himself organised cross country matches against Cambridge University.  He also back the an initiative by Track Secretary Mike Ranson to arrange a Club Floodlit meeting at Rayleigh Stadium, and a successful club tour to Switzerland.

The main initiative in the mid 50’s was the launching of a Schools Cross Country Relay in 1955, followed by a Boys (U16) invitation race which later became a County Championship.  Such were the number of activities that the club organised for teenagers that the club won the Council’s 1955-56 award as the Youth Club of the Year.


Club Athletes of the Year

During this period, some of the club’s stars included:


Trevor Thorpe, Star Sprinter 1948-55       Jack Bowen MBE, Star Distance Runner 1949-56



Gordon Harris                                   Arthur Hogg                                    Norman Skingley

Distance Runner                               Veteran Marathon Runner             Club Captain 1956-66




In 1954, the club tragically lost one of its most promising young middle-distance runners.  Tony Johnson (age 20) was killed only a few months after his own father’s suicide.  On his way home from a club dance, he was knocked off of his bicycle in Baddow Road.  The hit-and-run driver was later arrested, charged and fined for dangerous driving.

In 1956 tragedy struck again. Pamela Little, the 18 year old daughter of Ted Little (who had joined the club in 1938) died suddenly, having suffered a brain haemorrhage. Not only had she caught the notice of the local press with her high jumping, but she was also the elected Junior representative on the Committee.

The club still presents a cup donated by her parents in her memory, to the most promising High Jumper of the year.


European Tour 1954

In September 1954, Mike Ranson organised a two week European Tour, that took in competitions against local teams in Schifflange (Luxembourg), Strasbourg (France), and Thun (Switzerland). 

In Chelmsford, ready to depart

Reports from the local papers recount:

“Members of Chelmsford AC, home from their two-week Continental tour, have quite a tale to tell.  Club coach Ernie Daley told me in rather wistful terms of the wonderful facilities athletes have abroad.  He also recalled the fine hospitality they enjoyed, and how English visitors to the European Championships (in Bern, in August) travelled to Thun to root for Chelmsford’s athletes.

“Derek Cole spoke of the stop at Luxembourg, where Olympic Champion Josy Barthel showed them round the town, and the match at Schifflange where they were presented with two drawings by a local artist.  He also told of the Strasbourg match, at the vast Stade Racing, where the home club gave them a painting as a souvenir, and generously met part of their hotel expenses.”

“At Thun they were kept fit by the long climb of 400 steps to their hotel, perched high up the mountain, overlooking the lake.  One evening the party joined the British team for the European Championships for tea and a cruise on Lake Thun.  They also paused in Paris where some met Dr. Roger Bannister, who was holidaying there.

“At the dinner the Thun Club threw for the tourists after the match, Len Garner presented Mike Ranson with a writing case for ‘his hard work and tireless enthusiasm’ throughout the tour.”

The newspaper reports that Chelmsford won the match against Thun, by 57 points to 42.  They excelled in the Track events, being placed first and second in every race, with the outstanding performers were reported as John Capers and Doug Minett, who both competed in four events.  Minett won both sprints, while Capers win the 400m.  Colbert won the 800m for Chelmsford in a Season’s Best time of 2m 2.3s, and K. Rogers won the 3000m in 9m 23.3s.  Chelmsford (Minett, Capers, Loft, Cole) won the 4x100m in 44.9s.

The Field events did not tell such a successful story, with the club failing to register a single victory, despite Frank Holroyd recording a new club record of 35ft in the Shot.

The club team with their hosts at Schifflange.

A film showing highlights from the tour can be viewed here.

Bill Cornell

The mid 1950’s saw the initial rise to prominence of Bill Cornell, who won many titles during his time with the club, before moving to the U.S. where he became a legendary figure in athletics coaching, being named Coach of the Year an amazing 18 times!

Bill was brought up in a council house in Eastern Crescent, on the Boarded Barns estate in Chelmsford.  During the 1950-51 football season he was playing for the Kings Road Junior School team, alongside England 1966 World Cup hero, Geoff Hurst – and in the Summer months he was regularly winning the 100m events at school sports days.

One day his father binned his football boots and cricket shoes, and presented him with spiked running shoes, running gear, and a membership card for Chelmsford AC, saying “I truly believe this is your sport son, give it a shot for me.”  His father must have known what he was talking about, because Bill went on to the following notable successes:

  • 1954 – Winner, Essex Boys High School Champs 400 yds

  • 1955 – Winner, Essex Boys High School Champs 880 yds

  • 1955 – Winner, Southern Counties Youth Champs 440 yds

  • 1956 – Winner, Essex Youth Cross Country Champs

  • 1956 – Winner, Essex Youth Champs 880 yds

  • 1956 – Winner, Southern Counties Champs 1 mile (4:21.8)

  • 1957 – Winner, Essex Youth Champs 220 yds

  • 1957 - Winner, Essex Youth Champs 880 yds

  • 1957 – Winner, Southern Counties Champs 1 mile

  • 1957 – Winner, Club meet against George Knight of Essex Beagles 1 mile (4:16.5)

  • 1957 – Winner, AAA Junior Champs 1 mile (4:15.4 – record)

  • 1957 – Winner, Intercounties Match at Eton Manor, 1 mile (4:14.6 – World Record 17 year olds!)

  • 1957 – Winner, GB v USSR Junior 880 yds (1:52.8 – Junior record U19)

  • 1958 – Winner, Essex Youth Cross Country Champs

  • 1958 – Winner, Essex Youth Champs 880 yds

  • 1958 – Winner, Southern Counties Junior Champs 1 mile

Bill was struck down by the Asian Flu epidemic in 1957, and thereafter suffered such intense nervousness before and during races that he was unable to return to his previous form, and hung up his spikes to return to football and cricket.

Out of the blue, however, he was offered a coveted athletics scholarship to Southern Illinois University (SIU), which he accepted.  The move caused a furore amongst the British Amateur Athletics Board, who were outraged that he and two other British milers had accepted the offers without consultation, and banned them all from racing in the U.S.  Chelmsford AC protested about the ban, and eventually the BAAB reversed their decision.  Bill regained his confidence and went on to become a three-time All-American, a US Track & Field Federation champion and in 1962 was hailed SIU’s Athlete of the Year.

After finally retiring as an athlete, Bill went on to even greater success as a coach in the US, coaching 11 Olympic, and 49 All-American athletes.

He was forced to retire in 2000, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1989.

In 2005, he was inducted in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  Not bad for a lad who started out in a council house in Chelmsford!