Lancashire Walking Club: Looking Back 1942/43

We’re really chuffed to receive this intriguing historical piece from Ron Wallwork. Hopefully it’s the first of many!

Ron writes:

Lancashire Walking Club Looking Back – 1942/43

As something of interest to do during Lockdown I started to delve into Lancashire Walking Club’s history and most of what I’ve discovered and reproduced here has been from the “Race Walking Record” for which Sheffield’s Jim Hackwood was the Northern correspondent, and the scrapbooks of the late Brian Ficken kindly loaned to me by his wife Pam c934. Some of the photographs I have used from John Taylor’s book “A Pictorial History of Leigh Harriers” and I’m indebted to John for that.

I commenced my research from the initiation of the “RWR” in late 1941 at a time when the nation as it is presently, was strife-ridden and conditions far harsher and deadlier than we are experiencing today. This delving is a work in progress and I find it increasingly compelling to find out more about the people who were the Lancashire Walking Club during the years they were active. I welcome any further information that people may have, particularly Christian names, photographs, and of course recollections and corrections. –   Ron Wallwork November 2020

1942  In its July issue Race Walking Record [RWR] reported that walking was going strong in the south and that some provincial clubs were having difficulty carrying on and others like Lancashire WC, Sheffield UH and Coventry Godiva H found themselves up against it and having to wait for better times.

Bradford’s Lord Mayor  presents the Hammond Trophy to Alf McSweeney who launched the Race Walking Record in November 1941

40th Bradford & County Walk – 30th May

Wartime distance 15.5 miles

There were 39 starters for the race which was won by Alf McSweeney (Highgate H) in 2.21.15 from Leicester’s A.Cashmore 2.22.40 and another Highgate walker Charlie Megnin 2.26.20 and who four years later would win bronze medal at the European championships in Oslo (50km 4.57.04).

Jim O’Neill led home the club team which finished third behind Highgate H and Yorkshire Walking Club.   6th  Jim O’Neill 2.23.46   9th  Dick Smith 2.37.55 15th  John McCormick 2.41.27 18th  Frank O’Neill (CQMS) 2.43.50 19th  Cliff Royle 2.44.10.

Telegraph & Argus (& Yorkshire WC)  18th Annual Dick Hudson’s Walk 8.5 miles – July 18th 

Thirty-eight started and finished in the civilian race and 41 in the Military event. The club scored a one-two through John McCormick 78.42 and Jim O’Neill 80.32 with Cpl Smith (Dick I think) sixth in 82.28, to win the civilian team race from Sheffield UH and Yorkshire WC the promoting club.

From RWR: Several Stay at Home Holiday events have been held recently. At Halifax on 14th August a five miles was won by J.McCormick and another race over 12.5 miles at Rippon near Brighouse on 29th August was won by Walter Edmondson  by five seconds from J.McCormick  and Belgrave’s C.W.Redgrave 

Advertised in RWR: Messrs J.W.Foster of Deane Road, Bolton, Lancs. have shoes in stock, the price being 35/- and four coupons. They are able to make a limited number of pairs to measure but cannot promise delivery date – Joe Foster’s sons Jeff and Joe split from their father in the early 1960’s and founded ReeBok with a small workshop in nearby Bury. Jeff took part in the New Year’s Eve Novelty event in 1967. Norman Walsh another northern shoe maker also served his apprenticeship with Joe W.Foster before going it alone and successfully too. 

 Bradford & County Walk Assoc. 15.5 miles Open Walk – 3rd October

The two protagonists of the North over recent months; Walter Edmondson (Yorkshire WC) and John McCormick (Lancashire WC), fought out the issue in this race over the same route as the Whitsun (Wartime) Bradford Walk.

Edmonson led all the way and won in 2.15.35 the best time yet for this uphill down dale course. McCormick, short but with a very easy and palpably fair action, walked a finely judged race and just failed to hold the winner after challenging him near home finishing in 2.16.29 Frank Clay of Sheffield getting back to his best for was third in 2.18.23. Jim O’Neill 2.26.31 in 11th and Cpl Dick Smith 2.29.19 in 16th also took part, but Lancashire didn’t make the top three civilian teams. Over a hundred Forces men and some fifty civilians contested the race, the former including a Norwegian team, some of who were clad in brightly coloured long corduroy trousers!

19th Enfield Open 7 – 7th November 

Jim O’Neill is recorded as finishing 44th in 60.07 of the 85 starters in the Enfield Open Seven which was won by Revd.David Christie-Murray, a leading southern walker, who also organised well publicised Sportsman’s Religious Services in the capital.

There was a drive on to ensure the RWR’s future by increasing the number of subscribers and Club members certainly appreciated the publication and sent letters in to say so!

Zena Smith wrote from Salford on 28 September: Enclosed herewith P.O. 2/- to cover subscription for further period of ‘Race-Walking Record’ for Cpl. R.Smith 13083154.

May I take this opportunity, as wife of the above soldier, to tell you that your ‘Record’ is most appreciated and when I’m reading through the finishing lists, it brings back memories of places I was fortunate to visit during peace times with my husband during his walking activities. When he comes home on leave his first consideration is to take part in a road race.

I wish ‘Record’ every success and hope the time is not too far off when hostilities will cease and that members of respective Clubs will meet up together for their training spins and give the sport that enthusiastic and competitive spirit it rightly deserves.

John McCormick wrote from Stockport on 26th October:  .  .  .  .  . It is quite evident that the sweeping victory Highgate Harriers scored at the all-important Whit Week 15 and a half miles Bradford Walk stirred up Yorkshire officials, for they have done wonderful work this season. In all eight road races and one track event has been promoted compared with one Whit Week in 1941. “Carry on London with the grand job. The ‘Record will be eagerly awaited this winter’.

Reg Goodwin (1924 Paris Olympian. 10km silver 48.37) wrote from Leigh on 25th November: 

This ‘Race-Walking Record’ is the real thing.  .  .  . nowadays sporting papers seem only to be for horses and football!In fact any news except Amateur Athletics.

Cpl Dick Smith was 66th of 101 who started the London Fire Force S.A. 5 miles Open at Wimbledon on 12th December. Many of the country’s big names participated and Dick’s time was 46.59 and the race winner Eddie Staker (Highgate H) in 37.56.


1943 The tough times continued; On 17th January anti-aircraft shrapnel killed 38 people and injured another 60 during a 118-plane raid on London and three days later a bomb killed 38 children and six teachers at a school in Catford and abroad a further three days later, British forces captured Tripoli from the Nazis. Plans for the D Day landings a year hence commenced in March, so whilst some glimmer of hope existed the uncertainty, grief and hardship impinged heavily on daily life.

The RWR leader commented that with so many younger men away on Service it was natural that more seasoned men were coming to the fore and taking the opportunity to prove that they were not just a “has been”. Many a walker had thought his shoes were hung up for good only to find that he was out on the road again “just to help the Club”. And so, efforts to return to normality (where have I heard that recently?) continued.

Metropolitan Police Open 7 Miles on 30th January attracted 92 starters and was won by Surrey WC’s Jim Morris a future Olympian (1948 4th 10km 46.28) in 53.25. Corporal Smith was again in action finishing 48th/61.20.

 Letter to RWR from Charlie Heaney Lancs. W.C. (4th in the 1931 Bradford 50kms) is in training again with a view to regaining laurels.

Thanks to the great kindness of A.F.Spicer, who introduced me to “Race-Walking Record”  I find myself privileged to write and congratulate you on this fine journal. Efforts like this help to popularise Athletic Walking very much because being human, a chap likes to see his name occasionally if he has put up a fine performance. It is also a permanent history of the Sport.

12 miles Open Handicap – 12th June at Barnsley

John McCormick took the lead and of the 25 starters in the race was the only one to complete the correct course and therefore declared the winner in 1.40.00. Cliff Royle one of the also rans sent in a verse, a graphic description of the comic as well as the tragic side of the race that went wrong, entitled “It’s turned out nice again”. Since the eloquent effusion ran to 116 lines of verse it was unable to be printed in the RWR. 

Bradford & County Walk – 19th June (Wartime distance 15.5 miles)

Eight clubmen took part in the 41st edition of this event which was won by Sheffield’s Frank Clay who would by the time I appeared on the scene 15 years later be a major race walking official. His winning time of 2.15.03 set a new record. A week after the debacle at Barnsley, John McCormick was in action again to finish second as he had in the autumn race over the same course. Coventry Godiva’s V.H.Burr was third in 2.16.51 and won the sealed handicap. Fort-eight walkers finished and LWC finished third behind Godiva and Sheffield in the scratch team race with Jim O’Neill 10th/2.25.04, E.Royle 18th/2.34.13, Frank O’Neill 19th/2.34.57,  J.Smith* 24th/2.37.48, Cliff Royle 26th/2.41.12  and S.Whittingham 2.44.23. *Was this Dick’s brother or the Boltonian Joe Smith who through the Bolton Evening News used to support me.

12 miles Open Handicap – 26th June at Ripponden, Yorks.

John McCormick although finishing closer on this occasion, had to give best to Frank Clay again, their respective times being 2.07.45 and 2.08.37.  In third place only ten seconds behind was another Sheffield walker who would be a dominant Official figure in my era, Jim Hackwood. RWR only shows eight finishers and among them in Jim O’Neill 5th/10.22 and in 7th and 8th the Royle brothers; Cliff 2.11.52 and E. 2.14.10 – a reversal of the previous week’s outcome between the brothers.  

11.5 miles Open Handicap – 31st July at Sowerby Bridge, Yorks.

John McCormick finally got the better of Frank Clay in this race and did so emphatically with a sizeable margin; 1.41.18 to 1.45.33. Jim Hackwood again finished third in a time of 1.48.03. Jim O’Neill 4th/1.48.02, E.Royle 7th (3rd H’cap) in 1.51.14 and Cliff Royle 9th/ 2.52.13 were among the 23 of the 30 who survived to complete the full distance.

Club race 3.5 miles – 2nd August at Salford

Jim O’Neill 1st/30.30, now Sgt Dick Smith 30.31, John McCormick 32.46, Joe Smith 32.46, E.Royle 33.35 and Cliff Royle 34.00 made up the field.  Sealed handicap: Sgt Smith (3.30), Joe Smith (4.40) and Jim O’Neill (2.02)

8.25 miles Open – 7th August at Dewsbury, Yorkshire

Winner Walter Edmonson (YWC) 68.25 was followed home by John McCormick 68.40, Jim O’Neill 70.40 and on the come-back trail Charlie Heaney 70.50. Others among the seventeen shown as finishing were in 9th and 10th the Royle brothers Cliff 75.30 and E. 76.36 and Joe Smith 76.59. Charlie and Cliff won 2nd and 3rd handicap prizes.

12.5 miles Open – 14th August at Elland, Yorkshire

Twenty-one started this race in which Frank Clay was back in form comfortably ahead of clubmate W.Stanley with Yorkshire’s Walter Edmondson third, their times respectively being 1.49.30, 1.52.08 and 1.52.58. Charlie Heaney after showing up front in the early part of the race was one of two people not to finish, whilst Frank O’Neill was 4th/1.57.34 and Joe Smith 10th/2.08.09.

Club race 6 miles – 28th August at Manchester

Jim O’Neill 50.10  [2.15]  47.55 E. Royle 55.35  [6.30]  49.05   H.Harwood 57.49

John McCormick 50.25 Joe Smith 56.30   H.Mumford 66.31

C.Heaney 51.10  [2.15]  48.55 Cliff Royle 56.40  [6.45]  49.55   W.Hayton 67.45

Reported in RWR by club member William Hoole

The death occurred recently, at the age of 76, of George Hesketh c58, the veteran Lancashire walker. He had been a member of the club for 34 years. In 1914, George won the veteran’s race promoted by “Health & Strength” from London to Brighton and back, completing the distance of 104 miles in 23.41.28 and by this performance became member 58 of the “Centurions”.

Hesketh was a popular figure in all the long distance races in the North and Midlands and won many prizes and medals in the Manchester to Blackpool, Nottingham to Birmingham and the Bradford County events. 

The Centurion Handbook shows George as Manchester WC and so his name doesn’t appear in the Lancashire Centurion List kindly provided by Sue Clements c950 the Centurion’s Hon.Secretary. I don’t know if such a club existed, but George was a LWC club member for over three decades and therefore in my opinion, it wouldn’t be unfair to add him to the LWC list as its fourth qualifier. The first three were Tommy Payne c18, A.Ormrod c20, both in the 1908 24 hour race at White City, London, where they covered 108m7334y and 107m644y respectively and E.G.Mitchell c47 23.32.50 a year later in 1909 at the same venue where times were taken at 100 miles.   

This issue RWR also marked the passing of J.E.Fowler Dixon c1, a giant in the sport of athletics but walking in particular. He was the first man to walk 100 miles in less than 24 hours in 1877 in (22.36.08)  who satisfied the exacting scrutiny of judging, timing and verification that is necessary, before a person’s name can be enrolled upon the time honoured books of the exclusive body known as the “Centurions”. 

Livingston Cup Inter- Cub Race 7 miles – 2nd October at Sheffield

(Coventry Godiva, LWC, Leics WC, Sheffield UH, & Northern Command) 

 All the leading provincial walkers competed among them Lloyd Johnson, Albert Staines, H.A.Cashmore of Leicester, V.H.Burr and G.Reeves of Coventry, John McCormick, Jim O’Neill, Sheffield’s  Frank Clay and Jim Hackwood.

Thirty-five faced the starter and the Army Team in army boots were allowed five minutes start before the civilians were sent off on their way. Straight from the start Burr, took the lead followed by the Sheffield pair, Staines and McCormick all bunched together. Burr continued to draw away until the halfway point where he had a 150 yard lead over Clay and Staines with McCormick, O’Neill and Reeves a further 50 yards behind. Burr faded towards the end, but Clay couldn’t catch the Godiva man and it was Reeves who took third spot. Fourth was Jim O’Neill 56.06, 7th John McCormick 56.43, 19th Joe Smith (who won the club h’cap) 62.17,  22nd E.Royle 63.10, 25th S.Whittingham 64.44, 30th Cliff Royle 65.45 and 32nd Frank O’Neill 68.17. With two in the first three Godiva won the team race easily

Livingston Cup Inter- Cub Race 7 miles – 

11th November at Leicester

A re-permutation of the first three in the October race with Frank Clay 53.15, Albert Staines second again in 53.22 and V.H.Burr 53.30 being the order, and for good measure John McCormick 53.33 and L.S.Farndon (Godiva) 53.35 which supported the RWR headline that the race was  the “Best Race of the War”. 

Coventry won the team race and the RWR result shows LWC in fourth team position but only lists John McCormick and Jim O’Neill 6th in 55.15.                  


Picture shows Jim and Frank O’Neill over half a century later on the Blackpool road out of Preston


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