Formed in 1932, the Southborough & District Wheelers cycling club has seen many changes.
Clubnight with Warwick Dunford, standing and Lou Bathurst to his left, 1955
History through the decades by Les Hayman
The club was created in 1932 in Southborough. It consisted almost entirely of young people mainly men. Like the many new cycling clubs being created at the time it concentrated on the all day Sunday club run and tea at the end of it at a cafe or a specialist cycling caterer. One such was the room behind “Hillcott” at Speldhurst where Mr & Mrs Chambers supplied tea, sandwiches and cake for dozens of visiting clubs. It was here that Southborough Wheelers made their headquarters with one evening a week as clubnight.
Their racing activities were principally time trialling and track. They did have a very strong cycle polo team in the mid 1930s. The war took most of the membership in 1939 and unlike other clubs Southborough Wheelers folded completely.
Unlike many other cycling clubs, nobody from Southborough Wheelers made any effort to maintain evidence of their existence. It was not until 1947 that John Fuller, a pre-war member of considerable time trialling ability, met Les Horsefieldat their workplace in Tonbridge. Les had ridden pre-war with a London club, Velma C.C. Together, with Les’s administrative ability and John’s riding enthusiasm they scoured the area for members and records of the old club. Very few people wished to re-join and only a few books, trophies etc, could be retrieved.
Clubruns recommenced and long weekend tours were introduced at all the bank holidays. In 1949 Geoff Abraham and Ron Hayward (both still active in 2013) joined along with many other new riders. Most were still young people. Among them was “Lou” Bathurst who went on to dominate club organisation for over 25 years.
This decade was a boom for cyclists nationally. The club rode on a high with clubruns still dominating. Weekend YHA runs were introduced every few weeks. Time trialling was still the main racing activity and the club began promoting events – firstly a medium gear 25 whcih were held on Sunday mornings then many years of a hilly time trial, a 50 for a short while and then back to a 25 which continued at least until 2014. Ten mile TT's were not run.
Open events for our club were mainly in Kent, as travelling was not easy. We extended our horizons to the Crawley courses as you could ride out to them and in 1957 we affiliated to the East Sussex C.A
Tony West, Ron Hayward, Colin Gibb – 1951-2
Lou introduced a club touring competition in addition to the reliability rides already in existence. Southborough affiliated to the Kent and East Sussex Cycling Associations which dealt with time trialling. They also competed in Surrey events organised by the Southern Counties Cycling Union.
Warwick Dunford (“Spider”) and Les Hayman joined in the early years of the decade. Many ladies also came to ride and to race during these years.
Lou Bathurst time trialling in the 1950s. Catford Hill Climb TT left
Club ride, 1954. Warwick Dunford is second from right
Despite affordable motor cars attracting more people away from cycling and numbers generally decreasing, Southborough Wheelers bucked the trend and became the dominant social club in the area. The clubroom was still at Hillcot, Speldhurst where summer clubnights were alive with ballgames and indoor activities. Clubruns visited many places of interest and often took “off road” tracks. They produced a wealth of unusual events. Almost every run had some story to tell. Mike Daniels and Geoff Hayman were club captains (run leaders) during most of the time.
Club members often toured abroad, arranging their own trips and visits were made to most countries in Europe and Ireland.
On the racing side time trialling was still the main activity, concentrating on all distances to 12 hours. Road racing was just beginning but with very few events locally and car ownership still rare, Southborough had few enthusiasts.
This was a bad time for cyclists. The rise of the motor car and decline of riders led to cyclists being almost pushed off the roads. The club was no exception. Support for clubruns and racing declined in the first half of the decade. We vacated the Speldhurst clubroom when Mr & Mrs Chambers became too old. After a few temporary homes we built our own wooden clubroom on Council land in Powdermill Lane, Southborough. This was in 1973. In the same year Lou Bathurst died of a heart attack after 25 years of loyal service to the club and cycling generally. Warwick Dunford took over most of Lou’s duties.
Club numbers were swelled when many riders from South East London moved into the area. One was Alf Obbard who controlled and contributed to the clubroom construction. The work was carried out almost exclusively by club members. Another to join, was Pete Crofts who’s cycling record, before and since, has been remarkable. He began to lead clubruns and hostel trips at home and abroad. His encouragement of youngsters led to a great upturn in club fortunes. The club even played an annual football match against San Fairy Ann at the clubroom field.
This letter was written to Les Hayman in 1976 by Bill Underhill and explains the early years in the club's history.
Finally an upturn in cycling participation. The club developed a large and very fast time trial section with both men and women doing well, largely under Pete Croft’s guidance. The rising popularity of mountain bikes directed people towards off road riding, road racing was more common and Audax riding was a welcome form of clubrun.
Southborough Wheelers had always promoted open Time Trials and for many years one road race. The prestigious Kent C.A 12 hour time trial had been organised by a Southborough Wheelers almost e very year since 1968. This position was now transferred from Barbara Leyland to Esther Carpenter. Esther has continued to do this job for over 30 years.
The Clubroom had been under attack from vandals since it was built and in July 1989, they finally succeeded in burning it down. Club members, led by Pete Holland, removed and buried its remains
Ian Silvester, Paul Abraham, Dave Harding, Andy Verrall, Dave Abraham & Matt Miles. Photo taken by Peter Crofts just along from Sandown Court School - part of a club photo shoot in the early 80s
A new decade and a new beginning. Club headquarters was a weekly clubnight at the Borderers sports pavilion in Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells. It attracted many new members at a time when cycling was proving popular nationally. The Watson family joined at the end of the eighties. They were joined by the MacNays, Nightingales, Peter Fox and Doug Finch.
In 1992, the Club held a Sports Day at The White Rock, Underriver, which included many sports on bicycles for the Club’s 60th Birthday celebrations.
Amongst all the usual club time trials, open time trials, road races etc. the club held a Biathlon against the Tunbridge Wells Runners. From 1994 to 1997, a Kent CA Roller Racing competition was held. Five clubs took part, Medway Velo, Dartford Wheelers, San Fairy Ann CC, Wigmore CC and Southborough. Competition was fierce over 500m and 1500m and proved very popular.
The massed rides of cyclo-sportives attracted Southborough riders in greater numbers as the years passed. Support for club evening time trials grew. The “Wednesday Wobblers” rides (a countrywide weekly cycling get-together) had a club contingent. The Abrahams and the Smiths being early supporters.
Peter and David Watson, and also Jimmy George took part in the National GHS 10 mile Juvenile Championships and the National Junior 25 mile Championships in this decade.
Neil Quarmby did much for Southborough. He helped with racing administration and produced the club magazine. This was a publication that dates back to 1949, with continuous publication since, sometimes monthly, but latterly quarterly. It had often been edited by lady members.
Martin Yardley and Alan Oakley started much needed encouragement for young cyclists through the National “Go-Ride” Scheme.
Some long standing activities included the promotion of a 10 mile time trial in the Bethersden area on New Years day. This race was first run in the early 1970’s when 1st January first became a Public Holiday. Another ride for club members closer to home, was the festive Boxing Day ride. This and the annual Reliability Ride have continued since 1950.
The death of Warwick Dunford in 2012 was a great loss for the club. His tireless work, included controlling the entire time trial programme, officiating at every club function, time keeping and acting as Chairman. He held the keys for the clubroom and worked for Kent and the National cycling bodies.
Club time trials and cyclo sportive events continue to be the best supported competitive activities.
With new club kit designed by Paul Hiscock, the club has reached out to more members.
Peter Crofts, August 2013 – still going strong at 74 years old
Some further history written by Les Hayman
The clubrun was a pivot for members as it always included a tea stop at 5.0 pm and those not out all day would often cycle to tea to catch up on club news. A monthly magazine was produced by getting Mrs. Constable to type it and make copies for distribution (on a gestetner machine, Isuppose). She ran a typing school in Tonbridge. The first editor, Margaret Cavie, was the first of a long line of lady editors.
The clubroom was a large hut at the back of a bungalow, “Hillside” on the hill to Speldhurst. It is still there though due for demolition soon. It served both before the war and for about 20 years after. Run by Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, it was a mecca as a tea stop for cyclists from clubs all over the south east.
Through this period, club organisation was dominated by “Lou” Bathurst and Warwick Dunford. Clubruns were held every week without fail. They lasted all day often visiting places of interest like castles, windmills etc and usually covered 60 to 80 miles. Weekend trips to Youth Hostels were popular once a month and longer trips at Bank Holidays went to the Isle of Wight, camping at the Cuckmere Haven and “round London” (Hertfordshire, Essex etc)
Several members took their annual holidays together, cycling on the continent, to the Alps and the Pyrennes, and to Ireland.
Grass track racing took place in the early post-war years and Geoff Abraham rode these. The circuits were round Southborough common and once a year at the County cricket ground in Warwick Park, Tunbridge Wells. These faded out about 1954 and time trialling was the only racing until Road Races (massed start then) began nearer to home in the early 1960s. The club were prominent in the Kent C.A Time Trial circles and did well at the distance events of 100 miles and 12 hour. Ron Hayward dominated the scene then and still rides (on a trike) today.
The decline in cycling generally through the 1970s was due to the roads being swamped by motor cars, making riding more dangerous. In the 1980’s, things began to change. Mountain bikes had arrived. Road Racing gained in popularity and people began to appreciate the healthier value of cycling. Several families moved out of the London area to settle in this part of Kent and Southborough Wheelers benefited. Alf Obbard (ex Bellingham Wheelers) was the prime mover in constructing the club’s own clubhouse in Powdermill Lane. Peter Baker also did much for the club. This was originally a superb looking building made from old builders huts, but vandals began to reduce its elegance. This is where we played football against San Fairy Ann for several years. One of our stars was John Harding (ex Eltham Paragon). We also played a cycle polo match at Croydon, where our star was Pete Wall (ex Norwood Paragon).
The greatest benefit to Southborough from the London overspill was Pete Crofts (ex East Surrey Road Club). He led many gentle clubruns, took Youth Hostel trips and led many tours for youngsters. Some trips took them to France. He was already a racing star on track, road racing and time trialling. He inspired our riders to reach great heights. In earlier years, Ron Hayward, Clive Ashby, the Orchard twins, Clive and Graham, and the Withers twins, Malcolm and Geoff had led the time triallists, but now Pete Crofts encouraged Paul and Dave Abraham, Dave Harding, Ian Silvester and Matthew Miles to faster times and club records.
The ladies had a more sketchy history. Dawn Chivers (later Hayward) was the first successful racer, then Pam Wells (later Manser) joined the club briefly and set new records. Carole Gandy had a short stint with Southborough and broke all the records again. In the 1980s, we saw great competition from the ladies, Jean Smith, Hazel Whitehouse, Val Peachey and Maureen Wall, all vied for fastest times. The Club was on a high.
Tonbridge by-pass had opened in 1971 and a fast 10 course was created. The 1970s and 1980s saw huge fields for open events. Some were promoted by the Club. Tony and Val Peachey were club members then and did a lot to see the success of so much time trialling.
Warwick continued to steer the club throughout this period with Ron Hayward, his wife Veronica and Robin Howard maintaining the clubroom. Ron and Veronica also did much catering for events both locally and at open time trials.
Change took place in 1989 when the vandals eventually managed to burn the clubroom to the ground. We moved once or twice and eventually settled on our present site at the Borderers clubroom. Phoenix had arisen from the ashes.
History of the Club Trophies
ALAN BATHURST Memorial Trophy. (1974) “Lou” Club member 1949 to 1974. Superb administrator for club, county and national cycling bodies. Acted as club captain racing secretary, chairman and president at various times. Raced regularly.
Mens 10 Mile Championship (VAL PEACHEY–1982) Val Peachey cycled for many years, from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, she was editor of our club magazine (the period of her Southborough membership). She raced often in time trials.
Mens 25 Mile Championship (G. ABRAHAM–1982) Geoff Abraham joined Southborough in 1948. After a period away (1955 –1975), he came back and has cycled ever since. He raced in his early days and has held several committee posts.
BRYAN Jubilee 50 Mile Trophy (1935)
A Surname, I presume. Neither Geoff Abraham, Ron Hayward or me (Les Hayman) know anything about him.
B. LEYLAND 100 mile Trophy (1935)
Father of Brian Leyland who was a club member for a few years about 1960. His father never cycled.
G. CHEESEMAN 12 hour Trophy (1971) George was a club member 1952 to 1993. Some racing and clubruns etc, but mainly a useful handyman. A carpenter by trade.
L. HORSEFIELD Senior BAR Trophy (1957) Club member 1947 to about 1960. Very energetic in restarting Southborough Wheelers after the war. Very competent administrator acting as secretary, treasurer, chairman and president. A pre-war cyclist with the Velma C.C (a London Club) and occasional potterer with Southborough.S&DW
Veterans Trophy (replacing the former ANN & DAVID JOYCE Trophy) Dave and Ann Joyce were club members when they lived in this area briefly in the 1970s.
W. JAY Ladies 10 mile Trophy (1953) W. Jay Club member 1930, 40s and 50s. Cycled pre-war and occasional potters with Southborough’s “Potterers” runs in the 1940s and 50s.
MAJOR RUFFELL Junior Championship Trophy (1932)
Major Ruffell was never a cyclist, but was a jeweller in Tunbridge Wells. His shop was near the Opera House (Wetherspoons) in the 1930s. He sponsored many sports organisations.
DON ROBB Boys Trophy (1971) Don Robb was an active cyclist with the club from about 1970 to 1993. He promoted some time trials.
A. HAYWARD Memorial Trophy (1958) Tony Hayward was the younger brother of Ron Hayward (long term member and president) Tony rode with the club for one year, but was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the Pembury Road, Tunbridge Wells. He was cycling home after visiting his sister.
E. MASKELL Merit Trophy (1950) “Eric” Maskell was never a cyclist. He was editor of the “Tonbridge Free Press”, a local paper for many years.
S&DW Road Race Trophy (P. BAKER-1974)
Peter Baker cycled regularly from the 1940s to at least 2012. Between 1970 and 1980, he was a Southborough member. He was secretary for many years and President for three. He was largely instrumental in the construction of the club hut in Powdermill Lane (1973 to 1989).
“Hythe” Cup (R&V HAYWARD–25 years of Time Trialling with Southborough 1975-1992) Scratch points winner (from 2002). Ron Hayward was an ace racing man from 1949 til 1978 when ill health reduced his activities. Despite multiple sclerosis, he continued to ride (on a tricycle) at least until 2012, when he was still a club member. With his wife, Veronica, he ran many, many tea and refreshment canteens for riders after events.
The SPEARTH Challenge. Lantern Rouge (1994) Introduced for the slowest of the “old Boys” still racing, Maurice SPEAR and Graham SEATH were active in the club in the 1980s and 1990s. Graham had cycled with the club regularly in his young days (1960s) Both eventually moved away from the district, although we often see Graham at Doug Finch’s Open 10.
WARWICK DUNFORD Trophy (2012) “Spider” was a club member 1952 –2012, brilliant administrator, club captain, racing secretary, treasurer, chairman and president. Served in County and national posts on time trial matters. Raced occasionally.
There was an E. ROBBINS Tourist Trophy. Ernie Robbins did not cycle but ran a cycle shop in St. Johns throughout the 1950s
If any members or past members can provide any further detailed history of the club, particularly through the 1980s to the present day, then please send content to the Website contact on the Contact us page. Thanks.