By Eddie Cook
The Old Portlians was founded April 25th 1921as the â€œOld Portlians Athletic Associationâ€, which was formed by old members of the Portland Road School in South Norwood. The â€œAthleticsâ€ in the Association included Football, Cricket, Athletics and Cycling (Touring).
At the start in 1921 the Headmaster of Portland School was President C Watson 1921-1925 when H Chester took over. The first cycling name was Jimmy Steer 1927/8/9.
The cycling section was affiliated to the C.T.C. (Cyclist Touring Club). When some members wanted to go racing, there was a split and two members; Stan Harvey and Bill Wells went to see Charlie Davey of the Vegetarian CCAC who was in business as a cycle dealer. He had re-formed the Addiscombe C.C. A Club that was under this name and had been operational for some years (since about 1895) but had ceased activities. Davey reformed the Club, which is the present outfit this was about 1926/27.
The Old Ports was still mainly touring and camping, but did start racing in the very late 1920's and used a course near Hayes Common for Club events. The Club used to weekend at B & B's on the coast. There is a photo in the Club album of a group outside a house at Brighton. The story is told of skylarking and banisters being broken with a Â£20 cost involved!
The Old Portlians Annual Dinner started at the Greyhound Hotel, Croydon High Street in 1926. They later went on to the CafÃ© Royal in North End, Croydon and due to the 1926 start, instead of 1921; the Dinner was always quoted as the fifth or so, when it should have been the tenth. This was put right after the war and the Dinner became the number of years the Club had been going, not the actual number of Dinners promoted.
By the early 1930's the Cub was into racing and the first Club Champion was Bertie Dadson in 1933. Frank White took over in 1934/5/6. Frank was a useful rider and did have the occasional win in Open events. His proudest day was when he won the K.C.A. 50 at Headcorn on a very bad morning. Hi did his usual ride of 2 hours 16 minutes when everyone else went backwards.
The next rider of note was Charlie Rockhill. He could get in the first three in Open events and was Club Champion in 1938 and 39. Frank White rode after the war.
It was not all racing. The Old Ports ran a Bicycle Polo team before the war and the ground at the top of Westerham hill was a favourite venue. Stars of the team were Len Adams, Archie Allin (of Allins Cycles) and Len Butler. Tommy Kingshott (also of Allins Cycle shop) was referee.
Bicycle Polo was played during the War, as most cyclists left in Croydon joined George Brake (Captain) in the Home Guard forming a Cyclist Unit mounted on Polo bikes. The Old Ports had quite a few members in this outfit and the stories are many and varied. One story is told of George Brake leading the unit over a very steep bank at Beddington, on their bikes, to get behind the opposition on an exercise. The opposing officer did not think that cycles could ride down such a gradient, but then he did not know of such things as very low gears and fixed wheels.
Bicycle Polo was held at Duppas hill during the summer. It continued after the War at a recreation ground in Addiscombe (Ashburton Park) but did not attract enough support from the younger riders and when George Brake (Wren Wheelers) died, it lost a lot of its drive.
The Old Ports used to run a series of dances, pre-war, during the winter months at Unique Hall (Leathwoods) and Stanley Halls, alternating. All sorts of stunts were introduced â€“ Dance contests (which George and Win Deller, Howard's parents, used to stand a good chance of winning, and Win still has the cups to clean to prove it!) A two-band effort was another gag, a dance group at one end and a jazz group at the other end of the hall. One Band, name forgotten, made it's debut as a jazz group at the Unique Hall and went on to become quite well known.
Just prior to the war years around 1936/37, the Old Ports promoted a Tandem 50 on Southern Roads and World Record holders Mills and Paul of the Addiscombe CC were amongst the winners.
Around the late 1930's there was another good rider, John Blakeney, who came up with the Welsh movement to London (The Lord Mayor's of London scheme for the unemployed) He was capable of a fast 25 and broke Club records.
During the War, George Dent and Jack Evans kept the name of the Club to the fore and worked very hard both for the R.T.T.C. and the S.C.C.U.
Just after the War, the Club returned to the Greyhound, and the Old Port's Dinner also had the best band (semi-professional) in England (The Melody Maker Champions) Bert Johnson's Croydon Metro Band â€“ complete with conductor!
In 1946 the Tandem 50 was again promoted and attracted 15 entrants. George Dent and Jack Evans rode and hoped to win and save the Club from a great loss, as they would not have taken the award. They were leading the field but got stopped at Crawley level crossing and had to dive under the underpass. They lost time and failed in their efforts to take first prize.
The event was dropped to a 30 and attracted a 100 entry on the Southern Roads around 1948, but the S.L.D.C. of the R.T.T.C. did not support us and we had to apply to West London for a date finishing up on the Altom course. Eventually, it finished in the 1950's with only 9 entries and that was it. Tandems had fallen out of favour; it was every man for himself.
Jack was Road Manager of the S.C.C.U. and he and Stan Butler (Norwood Paragon) used to promote events on a rota basis. Jack was a very good organiser and one of his efforts was, just after the War, a S.C.C.U. Dance at Seymour Hall, London with Victor Sylvester and his band. He also promoted the Croydon Empire Roller contest for some years. This was a roller contest put on at the Croydon Empire, North End, Croydon, after the pantomime season. It was a great show.
Around the late 1940's the Athletic Association was abandoned with the cycling section keeping its trophies.
Football did not survive the War, Cricket started again after the War years for a few seasons but the closed and nothing is known of Athletics. Cycling continued throughout the War years with Jack Evans and George Dent in charge.
The very late 40's and early 50's saw one or two promising youngsters come into the Club and we even had two, Eddie Gowers and Ron Smith, riding Tandem at the S.C.C.U. Good Friday meeting at Herne Hill against the best in the land.
Names in the news for the Old Ports were John Farrow, Peter White, Eddie Gowers, Ron Smith, Bill Heletine and Ron Borer in the late 40's, early 50's.
About 1952/53, a new intake of youngsters was started in order to try and raise the standard of the club, which was in a bit of a decline. This did not meet with everyone's approval and a letter was published in Cycling in later years decrying the youngsters in the clubroom, but they used to be sent home by 9pm.
The Old Ports were one of the first Clubs to take on schoolboys and they had to be 13 years old. This was later reduced for a certain Kevin Richards to 10 (He became Schoolboy Champion).
The first intake of schoolboys was Brian Potter, Tony Potter, Mike Borer, Keith Adams, Roger Parish and Howard Deller (Howard is still with us today).
Many of these youngsters did progress to become champions at schoolboy and junior level and eventually senior level as well as represent England.
The numbers grew and attracted many and varied boys. It took a long time for the first girl to join. The first group used to brew up at the side of the road; each had to bring some water to go into the Kettle. Eddie Cook used to bring the primus, kettle, milk and tea, also a football or cricket bat, depending on the season. The day arrived when the group now about a dozen or more strong each week, decided they had grown up and wanted to go in the cafÃ© â€“ a certain Mick Forbes was the spokesman.
The 1960's & Onwards
Others included Leo Murley, Paul Burgess, Barry Jones, Richard Mulberry, Bunny Stemp, then later Ken Cotman and Bob Percy. Many of these became international riders and then turned Pro.
Amongst the youngsters still coming in was a certain Ian Jewell who in his first race won the Kentish Wheelers Novices 25, open to first time riders only (1961). He went on to ride in our National Team Pursuit that took gold (Dave Bonner, Ian Jewell, Paul Burgess and Leo Murley). Ian also shone at Cyclo Cross and eventually left us to join the S. Western R.C. and then turned Pro.
By taking the youngsters, we also attracted other young riders; a certain Eddie Stagg was 16 when he joined. Two members from Whyteleafe C.T.C. joined up, Dave Bonner and Derek Wigley. Dave Bonner started racing at 14, but retired when he was 15. He started again at 16 with a certain amount of success and went on the become National Champion at 25 miles in 1963 with a 55.52, beating Hugh Porter on the day. Old Ports also won the team race. Dave had previously broken the competition record for 25 miles in 1962 with a 54.28. His other honours include leading the Club to the National Team Pursuit title at Fallowfield, beating S.R.R.A. 25 record with a 56 something on the Crawley Course. He also won the Golden Wheel trophy on the track at Manchester. His exploits are too many to list but his first road race was interesting. It was, I think, the Dulwich Paragon event, which finished at the top of Ide Hill. Going down to watch it a marshal was asked near the finish how the race was going. He said some bloke had broken away and was miles in front of the pack. Soon the figure of Dave appeared and he rode up Ide Hill and was changed into his riding down kit before the next man crossed the line.
Bonner later turned Pro and rode for Condor-Mackeson. With Dave's success, the Old Ports attracted many names, including Alan and Anne Sturgess. (Alan went on to become an International with the GB team whilst with the Old Ports, but later went back to Norwood Paragon). Anne could Win Ladies events on her day.
On the road, some of our other youngsters started to show good form and Eddie Stagg, Bill Lindsay were good enough to win long distance time trial. John Emery joined them from the Belle Vue and we had a very good distance squad. In one year, Eddie Stagg won 3 twelve-hour events, the S.W.R.C. on the Bath Road and the S.E.R.C. and the S.C.C.U. events held on Southern roads. Eddie also won the Catford 24 Hour event in 1960 with 461.294 miles. Bill Lindsay won the W.L.C.A. 50 and the Eastern Counties 100 and won a third place in the S.W.R.C. 12 amongst other wins.
Gillean Proctor won the National Schoolboy Road Race Championship, when it was run by the Kentish Wheelers at the Crystal Palace.
Eddie Stagg attacked the S.R.R.A. 12 record and took this with a distance of 257Â¼ miles. He still holds this record.
Ed Donegan was a bit of a character and one year he road the Irish Tour. It was about a weeks racing in those days. He only had one Club jersey and his Sister rang up to ask for help. He was lent about another three or four â€“ but returned them as unused as he had to wash tem himself after each day's stage. He just kept to one for the duration of the tour. Ed also has a season in Europe, as a junior, and when he came home the Proctor twins got him to ride the Junior 25, and we won the team award.
Here is a list of Riders that did well for the Club, in no particular order, but as I remember them. Derek Parish was a good Schoolboy, being placed the local heat of the G.F.S.10. He was also capable of winning schoolboy cyclo cross events and carried this onto junior level. With Brian Tidey they got through to the Schoolboy Road Race final at Liverpool one year.
The following Old Port's turned Pro- Dave Bonner, Bob Percy (he was #1 on the B.C.F. list), Barry Jones, Ian Jewell, Roger Parish.
Kevin Richards won gold as a schoolboy with the O.P's on the track, but then V.C.D'Or poached him and he cleaned up everything one year, except the 25, he was 5th I think. He was as a junior by then, but we had him from when he was 10 years old.
The Easter Ralley on the Isle of Wight was an Old Portlian favourite. There used to be racing around the island, a Coventry pair were the stars in those days and the Club used to cycle down on the Good Friday and come back on the Monday. This went on for many years, until the â€˜yob' element in some Clubs helped to kill this off.
A certain lady in the O.P. can tell a story of riding a stray horse along the front at Ryde at midnight before taking the horse to the police station. Then she found her digs doors bolted and had to bed down for the night with the lads in their house.
Camping was another interest in the Club and many tales can be told of camps in Guernsey â€“ at Theale for the Bath Road 100 â€“ the Club Open 25 when it was held under W.L.R.T.T.C. â€“ Sussex Coast â€“ and earlier still, the Open Tandem 30.
Roller racing was another interest that resulted in another good Club effort.
The Clubroom winter programme was also big in its day. At darts in the London South Cyclist Dart League, we were tops winning the League and Belle Vue Cup many times.
The Clubroom winter programme meant a speaker every month and these included Vin Denson and our own Dave Bonner as well as England coaches. A certain Don Wake gave a two-hour show once, a slide show of his motoring down to Australia across Europe and Asia. I expect he could still do this if you asked him â€“ and provide a projector!