Friday, 7 August 2015

Catford Cycling Club and its athletics origins

My running club, Kent Athletic Club, traces its origins back to an earlier club in this part of South East London - Lewisham Hare and Hounds, which merged with West Kent Harriers to form Kent AC in 1898. Lewisham Hare and Hounds also spawned another sporting body that exists to this day - Catford Cycling Club.

Geraldine Biddle-Perry has explored the history of CCC in an excellent article in The London Journal,  Fashioning Suburban Aspiration:Awheel with the Catford Cycling Club,1886–1900 (Vol. 39 No. 3, November, 2014, 187–204).

In the early months of 1886, a Special General Meeting of the ‘Lewisham Hare and Hounds’ athletic club was held for the purpose of forming of a cycling branch. In the Chair was the Reverend W. Hook Longsdon, a keen cyclist, master at local Colfe’s Grammar School and Minister at the Parish Church of St. Mary’s Lewisham. In attendance was a young athletic club member, nineteen-year-old Charles Sisley who was keen to start his own cycling club. After some discussion it was decided to join forces and independently form the Catford Cycling Club (CCC). The first meeting of the Club was held on 12 April 1886 at the Black Horse on Catford Hill where rooms were taken for the Catford CC’s exclusive use one night per week'. I believe that the Black Horse and Harrow, which is still open today, was also the base for Lewisham Hare and Hounds.

 A race at Catford in the 1890s

The author has made good use of material held in Lewisham archives to analyse the membership of the cycling club: 'Using Cross-referencing CCC membership lists between 1886 and 1900 with 1891 Census data reveal a social constituency drawn from a cross-section of middle- and lower-middle-class British suburban society at the turn of the twentieth century. Members were predominantly unmarried young men in their late teens and twenties living with their parents (or boarding) in larger villas and neat terraced houses, sometimes in the same roads in Lewisham, or in neighbouring South London boroughs. Most members were employed as mercantile, commercial and stockbrokers’ clerks, but there are also draughtsmen, commercial artists, travellers and agents, managers, journalists and engineers'. I would imagine that the associated athletic club had a similar membership.

While membership was not explicitly socially exclusive, there were financial barriers to joining it, including the cost of the club's uniform 'consisting of a grey check tunic and breeches in a cloth... this could be made by Messrs Clare & Son, of French Street London, priced at 42/- with an extra 2/- for the addition of a fleece lining.The suit would be worn with black stockings and a black cricket cap adorned with the Club badge (a wheel with the word ‘Catford’ inscribed across it)'.

CCC was ambitious to be much more than just a local club and to make its wider mark in the world of cycling: 'in its first season Catford held the first ‘open’ public road race—over 25 miles on a circuitous route (kept secret until the start of the event) around the adjacent Kentish countryside—a practice the National Cyclist Union described as ‘illegal, illegal as prize-fighting, cocking or any other tabooed sport’'. While the cycling world, like the Athletics world, agonised about the vagaries of amateurism, CCC members made  their living from the sport in various ways. Club founder Sisley became editor of the popular  magazine 'Cycling', while another member, 'T.C. Pullinger started a small manufacturing workshop in New Cross producing his own version of the new safety bicycle, ‘The Parade’. Other members belonging to the Argus Bicycle Club in neighbouring Brockley included a cycle salesman for Stanley bicycles, a self-employed cycle manufacturer producing their own machine ‘The Austen’, a cycle engineer and repairer, as well as a tailor and outfitter selling ‘Cycling, Cricketing and Tennis Suits made to order’. 

In 1894/95, the club - nicknamed the Kittens- was involved in the development of the first cycling track with banking in England. The Catford stadium also hosted athletics events before it was sold off to property developers in 1900 (I haven't yet found it on a map, but it was apparently on the south side of Brownhill Road).

CCC is still going strong today, though focusing on the Bromley and Sevenoaks area rather than its former Lewisham heartland.


  1. Hello I am working, here in France, on a book which treat about motor paced cycling sport. And I am searching the complete first name behind the initials "R.A" of a rider named R.A Lloys (Catford cycling team) who beat in 1890 the world hour record. Is there anibody who can hel me ? Of course, the name of one who will give me the "key" of the enigm will be notices in my book. Thank a lot Best regards