Chris Jones and England Athletics Board member and co-chair of London Regional Council Peter Crawshaw visited the club in Richmond to find out more about their current activities and history.
As well as a rich history the club also has a strong connection with significant developments in the sport.
Founded in 1881 Ranelagh Harriers is one of the oldest athletics clubs in the country and was one of the founder members of the English Cross Country Union in 1883. The club is one of only eleven of those founder members still in existence. In terms of more recent developments in running the founder of parkrun, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, is a member of Ranelagh and he was one of those there as part of the club night when Chris and Peter visited the club.
Chris commented, “It is inspiring to visit a club that has such a great history and heritage, and to see how this can sit so comfortably alongside new developments in the sport. It is great to see people such as Paul who have a real connection with the traditions of the sport at the heart of new developments, such as parkrun, that are so important for bringing more people into running and into clubs.”
But the club’s role in the development of the sport goes deeper. Another of the club’s connections with major developments in the sport is that it was conversations in the pub after training sessions that led to members Chris Brasher and John Disley founding the London Marathon. (Click here for more details). And the club connection has continued as Hugh Brasher, race director of the London marathon, is another to have pulled on the Ranelagh vest.
The club has seen and been part of many changes in the sport since its early days. But Ranelagh Harriers has seen its road and cross-country running extended across three centuries. Its clubhouse behind the Dysart Arms on Petersham Road in Richmond is right next to Richmond Park – a venue that is ideal for plenty of off-road distance running.
Chris and Peter arrived in time to watch about 30 members of the junior section of the club being put through their paces in a session at the top of the hill near to the Petersham Hotel. The junior session starts at 6pm with the seniors meeting an hour later. This meant Chris and Peter were able to speak to the senior club members, of whom there were over 100 present, before they headed off for their session. Chris and Peter were also presented with a history of the club.
After the session Chris and Peter headed up to the Roebuck, overlooking the Thames, where they were able to speak with more of those involved in the club including Steve Rowland who had written the club history. Other club members Chris met included Andrew Hayward and Michele Gibson who have perhaps taken their role as club social secretaries to the extreme in having recently set up Thameside Brewery.
Running and parks have always been part of Ranelagh’s history. Ranelagh’s first home was at the Green Man on Putney Heath, an area of Wimbledon Commons, with some of the earliest recorded club runs heading out to the Windmill on Wimbledon Common.
The club moved during the mid-1930s to its current location. Challenges around facilities and the need to meet the changing needs of a club are no new thing. In the mid-1950s Ranelagh started to look at improving its facilities. In 1967 a new pre-fabricated dressing room was built although ‘the old ramshackle bath-house was still in use’. After further fundraising a new purpose-built clubhouse was opened in 1988. In 1995 the club was able to buy the land on which the clubhouse stands.
Over the years Ranelagh has had representatives competing at international and county level and the club competes in the Surrey Cross Country League and Surrey Road League. The club contributes to organising league events as well as hosting its own events such as the Ranelagh Richmond 10K and half marathon.
There are also events on the Ranelagh club calendar that have been there for many years and which reflect its early origins and connections with other clubs which share some of its history. New formats of large participation events go back a long way for Ranelagh. The match against Blackheath and Bromley has a history that goes back to 1886. It was in 1907 that the ‘all to score’ basis of competition was adopted meaning high numbers of athletes from each club counting for the team scores. This first ‘mob match’ had 17 Ranelagh runners and 30 from Blackheath so was scored on a 17 athlete basis. Two years later it was agreed to move scoring to a system where the number of counters was set at the three less than the number running on the smaller team (so if the club with fewest runners had 40 athletes it would be 37 to score). This scoring system has been adopted across the matches since. There are still ‘mob matches’ against Thames Hare & Hounds, South London Harriers, Orion Harriers and Blackheath & Bromley. Ranelagh are currently on a 10 match winning streak and this weekend will be hoping to make it two consecutive seasons unbeaten.
Chris commented, “In many ways a lot has changed since clubs like Ranelagh were forming the very beginnings of club athletics. But still clubs and bringing people together to enjoy athletics remain at the very heart of our sport. “Ranelagh have been involved in providing a great mix of training, competing and socialising to many people over a great many years. Their achievements and role in running in their community, and further afield, are a real testimony to those people who are part of the club today and who have done in the past. The visit was a great reminder of all our sport has to offer.”
Honorary Secretary Wyn Williams said, "It was a pleasure to welcome Chris and Peter to Ranelagh Harriers this week. As one of the country's oldest and progressive clubs it was great to discuss how we can work with England Athletics to continue to provide a safe, welcoming and friendly experience for runners in the Richmond area, and maintain the affordability of the country's fastest growing and most accessible sports."