History of the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club
The Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club is, indisputably, very well established. At the time of its conception and formation, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee was making news, Jack the Ripper was murderously active and at large, and the Statue of Liberty had just been gifted to America.
In September of Victoria’s Jubilee year (1887), Leslie Large of Lewisham, a keen cyclist and enthusiastic worker in the vegetarian movement, placed notices in a number of periodicals inviting other vegetarian cyclists to contact him with a view to forming a club. The objective was to provide a focal point for vegetarian cycling enthusiasts and to seek to prove, by the yardstick of athletic competition, that vegetarians could easily hold their own against their meat-eating counterparts.
The Club’s first formal meeting was held on October 9th, 1888 at the Central Vegetarian Restaurant, St. Bride Street, London and this was followed by a meeting on February 9th, 1889 at the Appletree Vegetarian Restaurant, 34 London Wall, where Leslie Large was elected the inaugural Secretary and Arnold F. Hills, a wealthy industrialist, became the first President. The name of the Club was confirmed as the Vegetarian Cycling Club. Reports from competitions in those early days are few, but it is evident that VCC racing cyclists performed competently and started to have the desired effect of being recognised as competitive; in spite of being non meat-eaters.
Henry Light, one of the founder member, was elected Captain in 1890 and soon became an inspirational driving force. Under his direction standards of performance of the VCC improved steadily and in 1896 the Club achieved its first outstanding success when Jim Parsley of Peckham won the prestigious Catford Hill Climb. At this time this was the country’s top event and not only did Jim win; he did so with a new record time. This victory was roundly agreed to be a major breakthrough and the VCC held a dinner in Parsley’s honour. At this event, in recognition of his drive and commitment, Henry Light was presented with nothing less than an iron-framed pianoforte!
1896 also saw the introduction of the (still current) green and gold triangular badge and the sad death of Leslie Large who, whilst on a visit to Edinburgh, succumbed to diptheria; it was a bitter-sweet year.
In the late 1890s momentum gathered and the VCC cyclists really began to make a mark. Riders such as the Nickel brothers, Wherlow, Sharp, Bryning, Wyatt, Parker, Walker, Newman and the Pfleiderer family achieved performances well beyond previous Club norms.
George Antony Olley, the VCC’s first long distance superstar, started his brilliant career by setting remarkable times in achieving the London-Portsmouth-London record, and went on to break many more place-to-place and distance records including London-Edinburgh, the 1000 mile record (1907), and the infamous Land’s End to John O’Groats grueller: twice! (1907 and 1908).
Early 20th century
In the early years of the 20th century the Club went from strength to strength with cyclists such as Ragan, Ratcliffe, Newman, Agnew, Paul, Newall, Pulman, Beurle, Pearce, Gibben, Heath, Carpender, Jarratt and Briault ensuring that the Club’s name figured prominently in results list. In Scotland, the redoubtable Jock Miller rallied support to form an active Scottish section whilst nationally; a flourishing ladies branch started its own active programme. The Club by this time was well organised socially and won several Best Attendance awards at Cyclists’ rallies. It was in competition, though, where the Club really excelled especially with Olley, and the emerging Fred Grubb – widely speculated to be the then fastest cyclist in the world – who proved to be a prolific winner and record breaker both on the track and the road; creating multiple national records in both disciplines.
In 1910 Charlie Davey joined the Club and rapidly rose to prominence both in his own right and as a team backer for Grubb. Davey broke seven Road Record Association (RRA) records between 1914 and 1926. He held the 24 hour tandem paced track record, and won open time trial events from 50 miles to 24 hours.
During the early century, cycling was not the VCC’s only forte; athletes from other disciplines were becoming prominent. The Bacon (yes, we know) brothers, six of them in total, each one a good all-round athlete of immense physique, gained many boxing and wrestling successes. Eustace Miles was ten times English tennis champion. Emil and Withers also figured prominently and George Allan, the ‘little Leicester shoemaker’, walked from Lands End to John O’Groats in 1904 and 1908. The Club was even large and prosperous enough to boast its own ladies swimming section with the (this time) appositely named secretary: Miss L Seal.
Following the widening of athletic activities, the Club’s name was changed in 1909 to the – still current – Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club. The 1912 Olympic road race held at Stockholm saw no fewer than six Club members selected as representatives; three for England, two for Scotland and one for Ireland. Sadly, shortly afterwards, sporting activity took a nose-dive with the outbreak of the Great War. Virtually every able bodied man was conscripted and though the Club survived on a social basis, no formal athletic activity took place.
The aftermath of war
Following the armistice in 1918, the Club was slow to get into its stride again and Charlie Davy carried the vegetarian flag virtually alone -though very successfully – winning events, breaking records and by being selected twice as a world championships team member. Davey turned professional in 1923 and though he successfully broke several RRA records, adverse weather denied him his main goal of taking the Land’s End to John O’Groats record. In later years Charlie became much valued as a manager and mentor to a number of successful professional and amateur riders.
By the late 1920s the Club had once again developed a dominant status. Charlie Marshall, HTG Page, Len Cave, Harry and Sid Ferris, Ted and Bert Brumell, George Philips, Alf Oxbrow, and Sid Eaden were all well capable of national performances and during this period Marshall, Cave, the Ferrises, Philips, and Oxbrow all held RRA records at one time or another. Furthermore, Bill Ellis and EJ Doubleday dominated the 24-hour time trial scene.
Heyday – the 1930s
In 1930 the magazine ‘Cycling’ introduced the ‘British Best All Rounder’ (BBAR) competition based on time trial performances at 50 miles, 100 miles and 12 hours. The might of the VC&AC at that time ensured that we had half a dozen of the best riders in the country within our membership. The Club won the Best All Rounder Shield in 1930, 1931, and 1932 and our name was rarely out of the prize list in all the major events. The impact of these successes on the cycling world was tremendous and new members entered the Club’s ranks in a steady stream. Such were the membership numbers that sizeable semi-autonomous branches were formed in Lancashire, Yorkshire, the Midlands, and Scotland.
In 1934, Henry Light, the inspirational driving force, died; leaving a void that could never be filled.
By the mid ’30s, following an outstanding career as an amateur, during which he won the classic ‘North Road 24’ three times, the Club’s Sid Ferris turned professional and in 1937 and 1938 broke a number of RRA records, including Edinburgh to London, Land’s End to John O’Groats and the 1,000 miler. Sid also took the 24-hour record with 465.75 miles. Demonstrating vegetarian power for the ladies, Pearl Wellington took track racing, time trialling and record breaking in her stride. She broke no fewer than five RRA records between 1935 and 1938. Around these years the pilot and stoker team of Law Innes and Bill Thompson of the Yorkshire Branch were also prolific and broke a number of RRA records on their tandem, culminating in Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1938.
Outside of pure competition veggie-power was publicly demonstrated in other ways. Walter Greaves, a one-armed member of the Yorkshire Branch, set up an outstanding year’s mileage record of 45,385.75 miles – that’s an outrageous average of nearly 125 miles each and every day for a year.
Welshman Bert James joined the Club in 1934 and his winning ways soon elevated him to the ranks of yet another outstanding member. He scored many wins in prestigious events and finished third in the 1934 BBAR table, fifth in 1935 and second (by a whisker) in 1936. Joining Ferris in the professional ranks, he broke several RRA records including the 100 mile – in 3 hours 45 minutes 51 seconds, a record which was destined to stand until after the war. This was an outstanding time in an era of primitive machinery and absolutely no hi-tech nods towards aerodynamics.
Altogether the 1930s can truly be said to have been the Vegetarian C&AC’s heyday. The Club dominated the cycling scene in virtually every sphere. We were particularly prominent in 12 and 24 hour events and one correspondent felt compelled to write to the cycling press suggesting that vegetarians should be banned from long distance events; arguing their diet gave them an unfair advantage!
Towards the very end of the 1930s many riders, including: Henry Pickersgill, Frank Hill, George Logan, Harry Rosenberg, Arthur Laston, Ted Valey, Geoff Guy, Paul Rohr, Eric Wilkinson and BFC Gough saw to it that the Club’s name was rarely out of the headlines. George Logan in particular was making news and leading the BAR table in September 1939 when WWII broke out and the competition was abandoned. Most of the Club’s active membership was called for military service. Only Jack Seath, in a reserved occupation, kept the Club’s name in the headlines until his retirement from racing in 1944.
The post-war years
The end of the war in 1945 saw the Club in a debilitated condition. We had no outstanding rider, and no one of the motivational calibre of Henry Light to stir the Club into action. Around this time the Club was dealt a further blow when the Road Time Trials Council began to alienate riders with over-bearing regulations. Several members of the former Yorkshire Branch, led by Walter Greaves, felt compelled to show their contempt and joined the British League of Racing Cyclists – a then dissident body – and were effectively lost to the Club. Things remained at a low ebb until 1947 when Dave Keeler burst upon the scene and the Club once again had a veggie superstar. During that year Dave quickly established himself as a top short distance rider, and in the brilliant 20-year career that followed, he developed into one of the greatest all rounders ever known taking titles from 4,000 metres on the track, to the coveted End to End record.
In 1949 Dave represented the country in the World Student Games in Budapest, riding on both the track and road. In 1951 he lowered the 25-mile time trial record – twice! During the same year he also took the 30 mile competition record. In further outstanding achievements he was the first rider to beat the hour for 25 miles in Wales, became Scottish 25 mile champion (again breaking the competition record to boot), took the Welsh 50 mile championship and also, on the track, took the 4,000 metres pursuit title. In 1958, he broke the Southern RRA London-Southampton-Dover-London record, and the same year lowered Sid Ferris’s Land’s End to John O’Groats record. No distance or discipline fazed Dave and indeed in recent years he was named by a prominent magazine correspondent as cycling’s greatest ever all-rounder. During the ‘Keeler era’, assisted by team mates Jim Hanning and Peter Duncan (better known for his tricycle performances), the Club was once again recognised as a superior force in 12 and 24 hour events.
Subsequently, and perhaps unsurprisingly, no Club member has matched Dave’s efforts, though Malcolm Amey produced many superb performances in the 1960s, taking a top BBAR position. Graham West, a second claim member, was National 50 Mile Champion and like Amey also finished in the top 10 of the BBAR Competition. In that same decade Tom Smith was yet another VC&AC rider to achieve a top 10 BBAR placing.
Towards the twenty-first century
In the 1980s, Kathy Akoslovski (nee Bellingham) established herself as the Club’s most successful ever woman time triallist and record breaker. She famously lowered the Women’s RRA Birmingham to London record; the first time anyone had beaten a record set by the esteemed Eileen Sheridan. She gained four national RRA records in total, numerous regional RRA records, and she still currently holds every female Club record on a solo bike, solo tricycle and mixed tandem. During the same decade Ron Murgatroyd, Harvey Greenhalgh and Doug Griffiths also frequently figured prominently in veteran’s time trial results.
In the 1990s, with the growing popularity of road running and multisport events , the athletics section became the Club’s main area of activity. In terms of competitive success, one highlight was 1st place in the men’s team prize at the 1996 Chingford Orion 10 mile road race. Representing the winning VC&AC team on that occasion were David Armour, Richard Jordan and Pete Mann. Richard Jordan continued to win many local events, both as a senior and veteran, for several years and achieved a marathon best of 2:29. He also achieved a 1:10 for the half marathon.
In 1995 Danielle Sanderson joined as a second claim member and over the course of subsequent years won many races around the country; she also attained a clutch of course records. Such was her calibre that she was selected for the GB Athletics Team in 1997 and competed in the World Marathon Championship in Athens where she finished in 35th place (3rd GB athlete). In the 1998 commonwealth games marathon she again demonstrated her pedigree and finished 6th. Later, she moved to ultra distance running where she continued to be successful, winning the 2001 national 100K title at Moreton-in-Marsh, and in the world championships that followed, achieved an impressive 7th place. Daniells’s best ever time for the marathon was 2:39.
Gert Cowling, a ‘Vet 50’ by the mid 1990s, concentrated on the marathon distance and on more than one occasion ran full 26.2 mile events on successive weekends, her PB being 3:23. Over the ultra distance, Brian Bosher was successful, winning medals on many occasions up to the mid ’90s. Around the same era Job King, who was already successful as a junior, entered the senior ranks and immediately made his mark. His highlights for the Club were winning the tough Charnwood Hills 15 miles XC, and running a half marathon time of 1:10 in icy conditions to win the Pitsford event. At a young age, Job ran the London marathon in 2:37.
We celebrate with sheer awe the incredible and amazingly enduring VC&AC athlete, Ron Franklin, whose athletic career dates back to the 1950s. Ron has accumulated a total of 10 Welsh championship medals and his PB times for all distances – including a 2:25 marathon – have still not been surpassed by any other VC&AC member. Since turning a veteran in the mid 1970s, he has competed in both World and European Veterans Track Championships with a great deal of success. Ron is the most successful non-cycling athlete the Club has ever known.
The new millenium
Anna & Nick Berrill joined the Club in 1996 and a highlight for the Club was when Anna represented the GB age group team in the World Triathlon Championships in both 1997 & 98. A further outstanding achievement was when both Anna and Nick won their respective female and male races in the 2001 Bedford 6 mile event. For several seasons in running events they were both generally in, or close to, the podium positions. Similarly, another family team in the form of Peter & Suzanne Benyon also made an impact by repeated high level performances. Suzanne in particular was amongst the medals in most events she took part in with her main distances being between 3 and 10K. Suzanne’s best achievement for the Club was in 2006 when she was victorious in no fewer than four road races.
Duplicating Anna Berrill’s multisport GB age group team selection, Graham White also achieved selection (this time in the duathlon discipline), and recorded good results in many local triathlon and duathlon races, as well as pure running events.
Continuing the theme of international multisport, Lesley Cliff, who was a late starter to competitive sport, has been one of the Club’s most successful triathletes, recording numerous age group victories – and indeed for several years was simply unbeatable; even at world level. She was the World Standard Distance Triathlon Champion in the V55 age category in 2003 and 2004, and won further podium medals in National and European Triathlon & Duathlon Championships over the course of several seasons.
As well as achievements in athletics and multisport, the Club has also retained its link with strong cycling performances and in the late 1990s / early 2000s scored many successes. In mountain bike and cyclo-cross Judith Shakeshaft competed for Wales and won the Welsh Championships on a number of occasions. In the 1997 World Masters Cyclo Cross Championships in Belgium she won a silver medal, and in the World Masters Mountain Bike Championships in Switzerland finished in 19th place. Around this time Chris Stuttard was a competitive performer on the track and road racing whilst Matthew Smith, Tim Holmes, Phil Packwood and Nick Guy also featured in road-based event results.
Steve Wigglesworth joined in the late 1990s and recorded several open event time trial victories. Upon reaching vet status he targeted the prestigious national ‘Rudy Project’ time trial series and for two consecutive years in this competition finished in the top five overall, scoring several podium places along the way. Steve also regularly competed in medium gear (72″) events, continuing a long Club association with this racing format – a format which the infamous Dave Keeler (and other Club members) had previously excelled at – and twice finished fourth overall in the national series. In 2005 Steve turned his attention from pure cycle racing to triathlon. As a triathlete he has won events outright and continues to prolifically win age group races. He has competed internationally for the GB age group team and has placed in the top 10 in the world in sprint distance triathlons on two occasions.
Originally researched by P Simpson.