1911 and the foundation of the Centurions
from the early years to now
Between 1902 and the Centurions foundation in 1911, walking as an (amateur) athletic sport had become established and some 50 people had qualified in six events by the then definition of race walking. Interesting to note that professional athletes still existed at this time! A fascination with long-distance walking in the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century contributed directly to the formation of the Centurions in 1911. (see Age of Pedestrianism)
The idea of forming the Brotherhood was conceived by E.R. Bob Gillespie, who had walked 106 miles non stop in a 24 hour race in 1908. The formation meeting was held at the Ship and Turtle, situated at 131, Leadenhall Street, London on 11 May.
Mr James Edward Fowler- Dixon, having walked 100 miles in a recorded time of 20 hours 36 minutes 8 seconds in a race at Lillie Bridge, Fulham, London in 1877, was elected President as he was designated as the senior and longest qualified person present, and so was given the auspicious membership number “1”.
The founding Centurions were in part the same small group of walkers – including Hammond, Neville, and Barnes-Moss - who in 1907 founded the Southern Counties RWA. [see below the signatures of those early Centurions taken from Minute Book One]
From the earliest events, 24 hour track races took their place alongside the epic road journeys which survived until road traffic pressures in the 1970s and 80s caused organisers to seek alternative courses. These courses were first around quiet rural lanes and then around parks and other “closed” spaces. One attraction of the track has always been the opportunity it presents to achieve fast times under conditions which allow for close judging and support. The roads too have inspired some outstanding times and performances, many walkers favouring the experience of the “journey race.”
From the early years of Centurion qualifying events, some excellent times were achieved.
Tommy Hammond’s 1907 time of 18.13.37 was for the full 104 miles Brighton double journey. However, for some years, the 100 miles times on the Brighton road were not always recorded.
Tommy Richardson (holder of the world 50 mile track record) was awarded Centurion number 100, in a time of 17.35.04 achieved in the 1936 Brighton event.
- The Brighton double journey was organised by Surrey Walking Club 17 times between 1902 and 1967.
Other point-to point events which took place in the 1950s:
- Bath to London Road (1952) - interesting question posted to the Daily Express 1st December 2018 requesting information about the race and H.J .Snook.
- Birmingham to London (1953)
- Blackpool to Manchester and back (1954), and
- Sheffield to Harrogate and back (1956)
These four races organised uniquely among 100 mile events by the RWA itself with sponsorship from the Sunday Dispatch newspaper.
Between 1958 and 1978, Leicester WC organised the Leicester to Skegness race 11 times.
In 1998, the chance to complete a scenic journey was presented by the Isle of Man 85 miles Parishes walk (during which the walkers touch the gate of each parish church on the island) to which was added 15 miles along Douglas promenade.
Events on shorter road courses, during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, included the Chigwell, Bristol, Ewhurst (six times,) and Leicester Congerstone and Hungarton courses (eight events.)
More recent events in public parks, sports grounds, and private spaces have included the Hendon, Battersea Park, Colchester, Newmarket, King’s Lynn and Douglas (Isle of Man)
events. The 1993 Battersea Park event, organised by Surrey Walking Club and the Metropolitan Police WC, was the only British event to host a 200 kms qualifying race for the Paris-Colmar classic.
Various tracks have provided venues for the 100 miles race, from Lillie Bridge in 1877 onwards. They include the tracks at White City and Woodford Green, London, Walton and Motspur Park, Surrey, and tracks in Bradford, Brighton, Leicester, Colchester, Ware, Blackpool, Southend and Milton Keynes.
Perhaps the most notable track event took place at Walton in 1960 where Hew Neilson (C145) set a new world record for 24 hours of 133 miles 21 yards. Hew completed 20 Centurion events, a feat only equalled by Sandra Brown (C735) in 2005. Since then, Martin Fisher (C788) and Chris Flint (C849) have also completed 20 100s (2008 and 2010 respectively).
Colin Young (C317) achieved his Centurion status at Walton, completing over 131 miles in 24 hours. He became the first British walker to complete the Paris-Strasbourg (later Paris-Colmar and now Paris -Alsace) the “Olympics of long distance walking” coming 3rd and 5th in his two participations. Since then Centurions, Richard Brown, Sandra Brown, Jill Green, Karen Lawrie and Suzanne Beardsmore have completed this event.
Centurion members have come from many countries around the world. The numerous Dutch and Belgian members of the Centurions 1911 have their own active organisation, the Centurion Vereniging Nederland (CVN) and each year the English and Dutch Centurions compete for a special trophy. Some other countries organise Centurion races and make their own awards. The other five Centurion organisations worldwide are: the Continental Centurions (based in The Netherlands,) and those of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. [read more on these organisations]
The Dutch and Belgian members of the Centurions 1911 are an enthusiastic and highly supportive group. Their number increased rapidly following the qualification of the first Dutch walker, Lieuwe Schol C291 in the 1959 London to Brighton and back. Including the Colchester 2012 qualifying event, Dutch and Belgian members of the Centurions 1911 number 317. Their many outstanding performances include the overall winners, other scorers and winning team in many events, Jaap Visser C944, the seven times winner of the Eddie McNeir trophy for the first man over 65, and other notable walkers such as Annie van der Meer C1055. The consistent support of our Dutch and Belgian friends is hugely appreciated, as walkers – many returning year after year, like Gerrit de Jong who completed 19 UK 100s – and in helping and supporting our events in many ways, including the compilation of race results and statistics on Centurion performances worldwide.