The history of Willesden Cycling Club
The first Willesden Cycling Club was formed in 1884, in the days of the old penny farthing bicycle, when Willesden and its environs, were not much more than a village. The club flourished as a non-racing social club and was famous for its Smoking Concerts, pantomimes and candle-lit runs to the wilds of Harrow and Stanmore. The club ceased to exist in 1914, when like so many of the early clubs its members were called away to do battle in the fields of Flanders during the Great War.
There does not appear to be any connection with the first Willesden Cycling Club and the present day club, which was formed in 1926. After the General Strike of that year, a group of socialists, decided to make use of the bicycle as a means of conveying the Labour Party Political Cause, to as a wide an audience as possible. The result was the formation in August 1926 of the Willesden Socialist Cycling Club, by Eric Macdonald.
The state of the bicycles or the competence of the riders were of no importance, as the object of each club run was to reach a village near London and hold a political meeting in the afternoon. One ingenious member designed a platform for the speaker, which could be dismantled into small sections. Each member on the club run could then carry a section of the platform, which would be assembled on reaching the venue for that day.
Members of the club soon began enjoying the cycling part of the club, as much as the politics. In 1927 the organisation of the club’s racing events began to take place. The first event was a 25 mile Time Trial on 11th September and was won by a J. Revill in 1 hour, twelve minutes and ten seconds a time that some of the current members would have trouble achieving.
The club rapidly grew in membership, until its sheer size caused considerable embarrassment to the tearooms, inns and other catering establishments, when over 100 members turned up at the club runs’ tea venues. From then on the club runs were split in three sections; Century hard riders, rambling and social section.
In 1928 the club held its first gymkana and field day. This event became a popular part of the West London cycling calendar and continued until the late 1950s. This also saw the club established as a major promoter of racing and social events.
1931 became one of the most important years in the club’s history; the members decided that politics and cycling did not mix. On the 16th of January, the club’s name was changed to the Willesden Cycling Club. Two months later on the 22nd of March, the club promoted the first of its famous open Low Gear 25 Mile Time Trials. The event was restricted to 61inch gears and was won by B.Bevan in 1 hour, seven minutes and nine seconds, a result that astounded the cycling world at the time. Later that year saw the introduction of the club magazine, which in its present form, “The Link,” has been issued ever since.
The 1930s saw the club again grow in membership and achievements. The members were always willing to try new ideas in both the social and racing spheres. The members may have taken their cycling seriously, but they still enjoyed getting up to mischief. A Ghost Run through Hadleigh Woods resulted in so many courting couples being frightened out of their wits, that the ride had to be called off. A boating event on Elstree Reservoir developed into the members having a mock sea battle and resulted in the club being barred from the reservoir.
The following weekend, the club secretary, unaware of the previous debacle, took his fiancée to Elstree for an afternoon out. Unfortunately he was wearing a club lapel badge and ended up catching the full weight of the boat keeper’s ire.
On the racing side, the club became involved in the growing interest in massed start racing and in 1939 promoted one of the first open events on the Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit.
The Second World War put an end to almost all the club’s activities and it was put into the hands of trustees for the duration. Limited events were held with members who were not called up. A forces’ newsletter replaced the club magazine. Three members gave their lives for King and Country; as a result, once the war had ended a fund was started for a suitable memorial.
In 1947 the fund had reached its target of £500.00, which in those days was an enormous sum and would be worth in real terms today of over £30,000. The plans for the new National Health Service were still on the drawing board, thus the fund was used to create a memorial bed in the children’s ward of the Willesden Cottage Hospital. Each subsequent year, the club made a donation to the hospital at Christmas to assist in the children’s festivities.
Despite the interruption caused by the war years, the club quickly recovered. By the late 1940s, the club was producing stars of National and International renown, particularly in the ten years between 1948 and 1958, which saw club members hit the headlines in all spheres of the sport. Although the early successes were on the track in pursuit racing, the Time Trial and Road Racing Teams quickly followed on the road to success.
Two ex-members, Les Scales and Ken Mitchell eventually turned professional for Wearwell Cycles and achieved major success on the road.
|1948||J.Love*||Selected for the Olympic Track Team|
|1950||K.Mitchell||2nd Place in National Pursuit Championship|
|1951||D.Burgess||2nd Place in National Pursuit Championship|
|1952||D.Burgess||Olympic Team Pursuit Bronze Medal|
|1953||K.Mitchell||National Pursuit Champion|
|K.Mitchell||Selected for World Championship|
|L.Scales||(Now Professional) 2nd in “Tour of Britain.”|
|1954||J. Blunsdon||National 30 Miles Team Record 7th in B.B.A.R (British Best All Rounder) Competition|
|K.Mitchell||World Championship Pro Pursuit RepresentativeWorld Championship Pro Pursuit Representative|
|1955||P.Baulch||R.T.T.C. National 50 Mile Championship Team Winners. 3rd in B.B.AR|
|K.Mitchell||2nd in “Tour of Britain.”|
|K.Mitchell||Member of 1st British Team in the “Tour of France.”|
|1956||P.Baulch||R.T.T.C. National 50 Mile Championship Team Winners. 2nd in B.B.AR|
|J.Blunsdon||11th in B.B.A.R|
|1957||J.Penny||15th in B.B.A.R|
|1958||P.Baulch||11th in B.B.A.R.|
1958 also saw John Walker promote the first Lester Young memorial road race, an event that he continued to organise for the next seventeen years, thus making it one of the top events on the British Racing Calendar. 1959 saw the emergence of another young promising rider, by the name of Ken Daniels. He rode in the Tour of Britain and the Tour d’Avenir, but never seemed to produce his top form on the more important events.
The sixties and seventies proved to be a period of flux, with plenty of young talent joining the club, learning to ride and race and then turn their back on the club in favour of the more glamorous sponsored outfits. By 1974 a crisis point was reached with the number of active riders easily counted on one hand. A special meeting of Club Officers was convened, to discuss disbanding the club. The problem seemed to be that the youth contingent wanted to concentrate on riding and leave the organisation of the club’s activities to the older members, who themselves were growing tired of officiating for so many years with out seeing any sign of a successor. This is a situation that many clubs, even today would recognise.
Thankfully a decision was taken at the meeting to continue the club as long as possible, which in retrospect was a good result. This proved to be a turning point for the club. Many members for the first time seriously began to evaluate exactly what the club was about. Instead of trying to produce superstars and recapture the glory days of the fifties, members got back on their bikes and started to once again to enjoy the basic pleasure of cycling.
The arrival of the seventies now saw the start of the Audax events in this country, which attracted riders at all levels of ability, as they involved riding an event in a time determined by the riders themselves. The Willesden got involved in this side of the sport from the start, both as riders and event promoters. The club has been National Audax Club Champions in 1983-84, 89 91-92, 95-96, 98 & 2000. Since 1998 to the present day Liz Crease has been the National Individual Ladies Champion.
This has been developed further with the hard work and enthusiasm of senior members such as John (Rocco) Richardson and Ray Kelly, who have taken the club beyond the national borders. The crowning glory came in 1999, when the Willesden won the Overseas Club Cup in the prestigious 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris event. Sixteen members participated, making this the largest group of riders in one club, ever to have completed the event.
Mark Brooking is another Audax Star who deserves a mention. Mark was an AUK individual champion (tied with Ray Haswell)
All this pales into insignificance, when compared against the exploits of Jack Eason, one of Willesden’s oldest riders, who has competed in many international events right across the globe and as result was voted in the year 2000 as the “Randoneur of the Millennium.”
Apart from the Audax events, the club is foremost in developing the sport. The club now has seven approved coaches and often runs special training courses for our own riders and those of other clubs. We have “Improve” status, which is a standard that is vital when coaching youngsters. The racing side of the club is well supported with a number of riders verging on national recognition. The Clubroom is now crowded every week, with cyclists who enjoy their cycling and surely that’s what the sport is all about.
The “Old Timers” Section of the club is made up of older members, some of whom joined before the Second World War and have therefore been granted Life Member status. This honour is awarded to those who have had at least twenty-one years continuous membership.
Many members of the “Old Timers” attend the Veteran Cycle Rally at Lennon in Oxfordshire. Riders often dress in period costume to match their bicycle.
Based on notes provided by Brian Saunders – Club Vice President Dates up to 1996