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
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.