From a tuck shop to national champions - Herne Hill Harriers celebrate 125 years
In 1889, Jack the Ripper still stalked the east end of London, and Queen Victoria ruled over a third of the globe.
Born into the world were Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler and Jean Cocteau, and, in a tuck shop on Milkwood Road, next door to Neville’s Bakery, Herne Hill Harriers came into being.
Now, 125 years later, the club, noted for its distance running, is arguably enjoying its greatest success – but at the Surrey League meetings last weekend, the Harriers were more concerned with celebrating the milestone.
To represent each year of existence, the club invited 125 members from past and present to don the red and black hoops in birthday cheer.
Faces from the club’s history turned out, including 79-year-old John Gebbels, international 1,500m runner David Glassborow, marathon runner Ben Whitby and cross-country stalwart Iain Lockett.
Marathon man: Ben Whitby turned out to join the Herne Hill Harriers celebrations
Club secretary Steve Bosley said: “I believe we are one of the oldest clubs in the country, especially in terms of being a sole club.
“A lot of clubs have amalgamated or merged with each other to remain sustainable, but not Herne Hill Harriers.
“Today the club still holds the traditions of distance running that held so true when it was formed.
“Back in the 1880s, people would meet in open spaces and run across commons.
“There were so many more open spaces back then, so it was literally trail-running or cross-country running.
“There were no coaches, and probably even not a network of races.”
He added: “Cross-country had to be the primary purpose of the club when it was formed because many of the club’s members played cricket in the summer for the Brixton Comets.”
The club was the brain child of two sets of brothers – Charles and Harry Otway, and Arthur and Ernest Davall – and they are commemorated to this day in the club’s Founder’s Cup.
Nowadays, there are about 400 members and the club is among the top 20 in the country, especially across the open spaces so loved at the club’s beginnings.
Bosley said: “Over the past 10 years we have been taking a large group to the National Championships, and in a short period of time we have progressed to winning titles.
“In the younger age groups, especially in the girls, we are pretty much the top cross-country side.”
“This is probably one of the most successful times in the club’s history.
“When you’re successful you wonder how you did it – but ultimately it is down the contacts we have within the community and the high quality of coaches we have.”
He added: “We have certainly come a very long way in 125 years.”
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