The Birth of C-C

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Last updated 22 August 2003
 

The following article appeared over 80 years ago and tells us of the origins of Paper-Chasing, or as we now know it to-day - cross-country running.

The article was written by Past President Tom Crafter.  Who, by the way, joined the Club on 15 February 1882.

 

BLACKHEATH HARRIERS' GAZETTE AND CLUB RECORD. No 349 May, 1929

Passing of the Father of Paper-Chasing.

It is with profound sympathy with his Club, the Thames Hare and Hounds, that we see the announcement of the death of their President, Walter Rye, which occurred at Norwich on Feb. 24 at the ripe age of 85. This gentleman was indubitably the originator of the idea of organising cross-country runs among men, although, of course, Hare and Hounds runs had taken place at schools and elsewhere previously. In his own words from the Badminton volume on Athletics: "At the end of 1867 a few members of the Thames Rowing Club at Putney conceived the idea of holding some cross-country steeplechases during the winter season, with the idea of keeping themselves more or less in condition until rowing began again. As may well be imagined, the arrangements of Thames Handicap Steeplechase No. 1, as it was called, were primitive in the extreme, and indeed the whole affair was treated more as a joke than anything else. The competitors were taken up to the starting-place on Wimbledon Common - the edge of the Beverley Brook by the bridge-in a bus, and had to dress how they could; and the race was run in the dark over about 2 1/4 miles of the roughest and boggiest part of the common, then very different indeed as to its surface from what it has now become after recent drainage. Still, there were a dozen starters out of twenty entries, and the affair being the first cross-country steeplechase (not being at a school) that had ever taken place attracted much attention in the athletic world, which was then getting fairly sure of its foundation after its five years of actual existence.

"The next race was made an open event and attracted over fifty entries and twenty-four starters, King beating Webster by a little over a yard; Chappell, 15 yards away, beating Hawtrey by half a yard for third place. The fine finish was no doubt due to the men not knowing how fast they could go and so massing together, for the winner took 12.55, which will not compare with present times.

"Next winter (1868) it was thought that as a good many men who were fond of cross-country running had been got together, there was no reason why they should not try whether paper-chasing proper would not succeed as well among men as among boys, hence the starting of the Thames Hare and Hounds Club.

"Our first run took place on Oct. 17, 1868, from the King's Head, Roehampton."

This finishes the interesting extract, but we feel impelled to remark that the T.H.H. have retained their headquarters all these years, whereas we, the next oldest club, have in turn run from Peckham Rye, Blackheath, West Wickham, and now our own Club House at Hayes.

In the dim distant past Walter Rye and our own founder, Fred H. Reed, occasionally "crossed swords," or rather "pens," with regard to the best mode of carrying on our fine athletic exercise, but as years grow upon us we rather think that although their views did not always coincide they were each imbued with an equal wish to further to the utmost extent of their powers the grand sport with which we are particularly identified.

The present active men will agree with our Veterans in joining in our tribute to the pioneers such as Walter Rye and our own Fred H. Reed (also, by the way, a Thames Rowing Club man), who did such great work in initiating such a magnificent thing as cross-country running; particularly when they remember that this happened before there was any National Cross-Country Union or even Amateur Athletic Association itself.

T.C.

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