2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of my running club, Holme Pierrepont Running Club. In the course of my research into women’s running history in the UK, I’ve visited many athletics clubs’ and running clubs’ websites (see my blog post for Sporting Heritage). I am always pleased to find websites that feature extensive club histories. Most clubs only make a passing mention of their history. For example, my club’s website mentions the year the club was founded, 1982, but nothing else about its history, although some of the photos are from the early days of the club.
I thought I would see what I could find out about the history of Nottinghamshire’s running clubs from looking at their websites. I also looked for mentions of clubs in the British Newspaper Archive, searching Nottinghamshire publications, mainly prior to 19501.
Types of running clubs in the UK
The origins of the term Harriers goes back to the “Hare and Hounds” paper chase game played at boys’ public schools in the nineteenth century, and especially associated with Rugby School. The term Hare and Hounds relates to the hunting of hares with dogs. In the game, the “Hare” has a head start and drops pieces of paper as he runs forming a trail behind him. The “Hounds” or Harriers then set off to chase the Hare and the game ends when they catch up with him. This was cross country racing and is a precursor to cross country racing as we know it today2.
Men began to set up Hare and Hound or Harriers clubs from the mid-nineteenth century and these clubs were mainly cross country clubs focusing on distances of 5 to 10 miles. They might take part in “flat” races on grass in the summer months. These were often handicap races and over much shorter distances than their cross country runs.
There were several Harriers clubs in Nottinghamshire in the first half of the twentieth century and most of their racing seemed to be local inter-club fixtures. Most of the clubs closed or amalgamated with others, but two can be traced through to the clubs we have in Nottinghamshire today.
Men’s athletic clubs began to form in the 1860s3. The Amateur Athletic Association, the English governing body for men’s athletics, was formed in 1880 in Oxford, and the English Women’s AAA in 1922.
Athletic clubs’ focus was on cross country in the winter, track and field events in the summer and race walking.
Women’s athletic clubs
Harriers and Athletic Clubs were often only open to men. Some clubs set up their own Ladies Section or a separate Women’s Athletic Club (WAC) under the same name. For example, Notts WAC and Boots WAC. Nationally, there are examples of women setting up their own clubs because there was no other opportunity for them to train. Sometimes it was because women were dissatisfied with their lack of access to facilities and coaching at mixed clubs. I have not found any examples in Nottinghamshire in the twentieth century.
Large companies were keen to encourage their workers to take part in sport and provided facilities and clubs for many different sports. There were opportunities for competition too and companies often put on sports days which were sometimes open to competitors from outside the company. Examples in Nottingham of major employers that had an Athletic Club include Boots (chemist’s shops), Raleigh (bicycle manufacturer), Player’s (tobacco manufacturer).
Jogging and running clubs
Before the late 1970s there were very few clubs dedicated solely to road running in the UK. An exception is the Road Runners Club, formed in 1952, which did a great deal to promote distance running and ultrarunning (for men) in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Road running was not the mass participation sport it is today. For example, the Polytechnic Marathon, one of the most prestigious races in the UK and internationally, only had 102 finishers in 1964.
Women in the UK were excluded from most road races until late 1975. For most of the century, women were banned from distances longer than a few kilometres due to the belief that endurance sport would be harmful to their health, particularly their reproductive health. There were also rules preventing men and women from running together.
The interest in road running grew enormously in the late 1970s and early 1980. Jim Fixx’s book “The Complete Book of Running” was published in the USA in 1977 and in the UK in 1979. It was a huge bestseller and played a big part in creating the notion of jogging – distance running for the non-elite runner.
1980 probably marks the start of the marathon boom in the UK. The People’s Marathon in Birmingham took place for the first time on 11th May 1980 and made a point of attracting first timers and slower runners (marathoners with a recent time under 2 hours 50 minutes were not accepted). The inaugural 1981 London Marathon attracted enormous interest and the BBC commentary on the day made a point of describing it as “the people’s marathon”.
In the early 1980s, dozens of road running and jogging clubs were formed for adults. In Nottinghamshire, at least eight clubs were set up between 1982 and 19864.
Nottinghamshire running clubs and athletic clubs formed in the twentieth century
The information in this section is largely taken from the clubs’ websites with some additional information from my search of the British Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com.
I’m using the name that each club uses today. The clubs are listed in order of their formation year.
Sutton in Ashfield Harriers & Athletics Club was not the first Nottinghamshire club but it is the oldest one still to exist under the same name. I have taken the date from the club crest as its foundation date. The earliest press reference I found was from 19125.
Early twentieth century
Beeston Athletic Club has a long history as a works sports club associated with a succession of telecommunications companies that operated at a large site in Beeston, four miles south-west of Nottingham. The club was Ericsson AC first, then Plessey AC (from 1961) and finally Siemens AC. The earliest reference I could find to Ericsson AC in the British Newspaper Archive was in 19126. The exact formation date of the club under its current name is not given on the club’s website but there is some information and photographs about the works team.
Mansfield Harriers & Athletic Club started as a branch of now defunct Nottingham and Notts Harriers but quickly became a separate club, Mansfield Harriers. In 1958 it became Berry Hill Mansfield Athletic Club. In 1983, a new club, Mansfield Running Club, was formed. The two clubs merged in 1995. You can find more information and pictures on the club’s 100th anniversary page.
Notts Athletic Club. The British Newspaper Archive reveals that there were several clubs with Nottingham and/or Notts in their name before the current club was formed. A Nottingham and Notts Harriers Club is mentioned as early as 19077. It’s not clear if earlier clubs had any connection to the formation of Notts AC. On the history page on the club’s website you can view three programmes from sports days held in 1929, 1945 and 1946. The 1929 programme is for the Nottinghamshire Amateur Athletic Association Championship Sports held at the Raleigh AC Ground in Nottingham.
Newark Athletic Club was formed as the country was recovering from World War II (see my article on athletic clubs’ recovery post-WWII). The club welcomed both men and women, as well as pupils from local schools and local rugby club players who wished to keep active during the summer months. There is a detailed history on the Newark AC website.
Worksop Harriers & Athletic Club had 68 athletes join in its first month. Membership categories were Seniors (men), Juniors, Ladies and “Nursery”, presumably younger children. There is a detailed history of the club from its formation to 1976 on the club’s website. There are also photographs from the early days of the club in the photo gallery.
Rushcliffe Athletic Club started in Ruddington, a village a few miles south of Nottingham, and was called Ruddington and District Athletic Club. The club was based at the Jubilee Field in Ruddington. The Parish Council purchased Jubilee Field so that an athletics track could be laid but it was only big enough for a 300 metre track. The club was mainly for children in its early years but subsequently expanded to include adults. In the mid-1990s, the local authority, Rushcliffe Borough Council, wanted to apply for funding to lay a “tartan” track at Bingham Leisure. The club agreed to support the application and relocated to the new facilities at Bingham, where it is still based today. The club name changed to Rushcliffe Athletic Club around this time.
Holme Pierrepont Running Club was formed by a group of women and men who sometimes trained together. Some of them were members of the now defunct Carlton Forum Joggers, including Dot and Ernie Berry who were active in getting the new club set up. The group met at the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont to discuss the idea of setting up a club and the club is still based there today. It was called Holme Pierrepont Running and Jogging Club. In 1989, the decision to drop “jogging” from the name was hotly debated with many members opposing the idea.
Erewash Valley Running Club is now based in Sandiacre in Derbyshire but is included here as the club was formed in Nottinghamshire and competes in the Notts AAA leagues. It was formed as Chilwell Olympians by people who played badminton at Chilwell Olympia sports centre and were training together for Robin Hood Half Marathon. There is a bit about the early years of the club on the website.
Retford Athletic Club started primarily as a road running and cross country club for adults and later expanded to include track and field events training for children. There’s a bit about the club’s history on the website.
Kimberley & District Striders was founded in March 1985 by a small group of ‘slow but steady’ running enthusiasts led by Bob Terry, working on advice from a former co-director of the Robin Hood Marathon, the late Mike Thornhill. There is a brief history of the club on its Facebook page.
Redhill Road Runners was formed as a road running club for men and women and based at Redhill Leisure Centre. The club took part in cross country and introduced a juniors’ section for cross country. There are some photographs from the club’s early years and couple of newspaper articles on the website.
Southwell Running Club was formed by Bill Johnson and a group of keen runners following a meeting in a local pub. The website lists the chairpersons since the club’s inception. The logo used on the club shirts is an apple because Southwell is the place where the Bramley apple was first grown.
Notfast Running Club, based in Newark, was founded as a veterans’ club (at the time women aged 35 and over and men aged 40 and over were classed as veterans or masters athletes.) Notfast remained a veterans’ club for 30 years until it opened its membership to anyone over 18 in 2016.
Formula One Circuit Crew was formed by a group of friends who trained and took part in a circuit class in Nottingham together. The club’s logo includes a tiger and the club vest is orange with black slashes. There’s a bit about the formation of the club and its inclusive ethos on the website.
Which is the oldest running club in Nottinghamshire?
Three clubs might reasonably lay claim to being the oldest surviving club in Nottinghamshire: Beeston AC8, Sutton-in-Ashfield Harriers and AC, and Notts AC. Further research might provide the answer.
Which was the first running club in Nottinghamshire?
It’s possible that none of these three clubs was the first running club. Retford Speedwell Harriers is mentioned in 19009, Mapperley Hare and Hounds in 190810 and Bulwell and District Harriers in 191011. These clubs have all vanished but their enthusiastic members probably went on to form other clubs.
Nottinghamshire running clubs formed after 2000
Woodthorpe Huffers and Puffers was formed in 2008.
Newark Striders was formed in 2013.
Notts Women Runners was formed in 2014 and has running groups across the county.
With thanks to the clubs that sent me their logos and clubs that supplied additional information, including Rushcliffe AC and Holme Pierrepont Running Club.
I would be interested to learn more about individual clubs’ history. Please do comment below or contact me with further information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The British Newspaper Archive is a good place to search for information prior to 1950. It has far fewer publications after 1950.
- The English National Cross Country Championships, http://www.national.crosscountrychampionship.uk/index.html
- Athlos website, History of athletics from 1860 to 1920, http://www.athletics-archive.com/historyofathletics/18601920/default.htm
- The seven clubs listed plus Mansfield Running Club.
- A report that the annual meeting of the Sutton-in-Ashfield Harriers and Cycling Club had been held at the Old Blue Bell Inn the previous night, Nottingham Evening Post, Friday 23rd August 1912. It is hard to ascertain when the earliest reference is. Sutton-in-Ashfield Harriers was often shortened to Sutton Harriers in race results in the press but there was also a Sutton Harriers club in St. Helens which enjoyed considerable success in the early years of the century, winning the National Cross Country Championships in 1906.
- Report of a cross country race between Rolls-Royce and Ericsson AC, Nottingham Journal, 25th November 1912.
- A report of the New Mills and Newton annual sports where F. Brown of Nottinghamshire and Nottingham Harriers won the half mile race. The Guardian, 27th July 1907.
- There was a telephony factory in Beeston from 1901 and there may have been a company athletic club in the early years of the century. “Industry in Beeston – telecommunications”, Exploring Beeston’s History website, http://www.beeston-notts.co.uk/industry_ericsson.shtml.
- “Annual Worksop time run”, Retford and Worksop Herald and North Notts Advertiser, 17th February 1900.
- A fixture between Mapperley Hare and Hounds Club and Notts Harriers, Nottingham Journal, 19th December 1908.
- Report of an 8 mile training run by Bulwell and District Harriers in advance of a meeting with Notts Harriers, Football News (Nottingham), 29th October 1910.
Banner photograph, East Midlands Cross Country League race at Bramcote Hills Park, 2019, courtesy of John Oldfield.