A record for the founding father along the martyr’s walk
The life of J.R. Barnes Moss C.11
Recent coverage in “Track Stats” * of British athletes who won French national titles or set French records in the late 1890s and early 20th Century has led on to the discovery that one of the stalwart pioneering officials of British race-walking is himself credited with at least one French record, and his local newspaper in 1906 even claimed on his behalf that he was “the holder of several records on French soil”.
He is J.R. Barnes Moss, whose surnames are hyphenated in some press reports, and the references to his alleged exploits in France are tantalisingly vague. The one performance which was noted by the “Middlesex and Surrey Express” newspaper in April 1906 is 4min 24sec for 1000 metres, which was most likely achieved in 1897 when the “Sporting Life” had referred to him as the “’1km walking champion of France”. The French Athletics Federation (FFA) had been founded in 1888, but Barnes Moss’s title would have been won under the auspices of either of the two other legislative bodies in France which recognised walking records on the track and road for all conceivable events from 500 metres to 36 hours in the years up to 1914 and 1920 respectively. The FFA’s official list of records covers only events at one hour and two hours and at 20, 30 and 50 kilometres.
The detail of what John Reynolds Barnes Moss achieved in France is actually not of great importance because his time for the kilometre distance is by no means exceptional. Even allowing for what may be varying degrees of surveillance by judges, a time of 3min 51sec achieved by Hermann Müller, of Germany, in Berlin, on 17 October 1909, puts Barnes Moss’s mark into perspective. The Yorkshire-born Canadian Olympic champion for the 10,000 metres track walk in 1912, George Goulding, had recorded 2min 59sec for the 880 yards walk in Winnipeg on 17 July 1909, which works out at much the same pace as Müller’s.
Barnes Moss’s later achievements were rather more impressive the longer they lasted. His most notable performance was probably to break the London-to-Oxford record on Good Friday 13 April 1906 with a time of 9 hours 59 minutes 16 seconds from Marble Arch to Oxford’s Martyrs Memorial, which beat the previous best by almost two hours – but not without potentially serious incident. The “Middlesex and Surrey Express” laconically told the story: “About a dozen miles before reaching Oxford, Barnes-Moss was run into by a motor-cyclist, but beyond having the heel of his shoe nearly torn off and getting a stone in it, and having his arm grazed a bit near his elbow, he suffered no damage”.
The same newspaper reporter usefully told his readers that Barnes Moss was 35 years old (and so was born in 1870 or 1871) and that he stood 6ft (1.83m) tall and weighed 11st 6lb (72kg), which is the sort of physique one would expect of such an ardent ultra-distance walker. The article must have been written by someone who was familiar with race-walking or sought advice from an expert because it was particularly noted of Barnes Moss that “his mode of progression is scrupulously fair, and although he has competed for several years past in many races and won numerous prizes he has never been known to receive a caution”.
By now Barnes Moss was already involved in administrative duties as honorary secretary of the Middlesex Walking Club, and in July of 1907 he was one of seven representatives of various London area clubs who came together to form the Southern Counties Road Walking Association, and he was appointed its first secretary. This body very soon became the Road Walking Association and continues 113 years later as the Race Walking Association. Barnes Moss was also a member of Surrey Walking Club, which had been founded in 1899 and is reckoned to be the first club in Britain (and maybe the World) specialising in walking. A fellow founder of the RWA was Ernest Neville, who would be a member of Surrey WC for 70 years.
One of the other RWA founders was Tommy Hammond, the outstanding ultra-walker of that era whose record of 131 miles 580 yards in 24 hours to be set in 1908 would still be in existence when Hammond died 37 years later. Hammond had beaten Barnes Moss’s London-to-Oxford record in 1907 and the London-to-Brighton-and-back record the same year, with Barnes Moss also inside the previous best time, though more than an hour behind in 2nd place.
Another initiative taken by Barnes Moss in November of 1907 after the route for the next year’s London Olympic marathon had been published was to write a letter to the “Sporting Life”, as follows; “My club have, in order to enable probable competitors to become accustomed to the same, arranged to hold one of several strolls over the course. Those who do not care to cover the whole journey can find a tram at either Uxbridge or Wembley which will bring them back to London”. Whether or not his considerate offer was taken up was not reported, but as Britain’s competitors in the Olympic marathon all failed to live up to expectations, maybe a tram-ride might have proved tempting to them in the closing stages.
Barnes Moss knew the area well because he had lived in Acton and then Ealing and by 1917 he was an active member of Uxbridge Urban District Council and then helped to re-form and took on the secretary’s job for the Uxbridge and West Middlesex AC in 1919. His business life as an agent for knitted goods may have suffered because of his spare-time pursuits as bankruptcy proceedings were taken against him in 1921, but he clearly prospered again because he was president and secretary of the RWA and a judge and time-keeper throughout the 1920s until pressure of work curtailed his activities.
He was elected a vice-president of the RWA in 1932, and the last reference we have in the press is in August 1945 when Flying Officer J.D. Barnes-Moss was married and was described as a former professional golfer who was “the only son of Mrs J.R. Barnes-Moss, of 79 High Street, Langley, Bucks”. It can be assumed, therefore, that Mr Barnes-Moss had by then taken his last vigorous step along life’s road.
acknowledgments to John Powell and to the excellent Surrey Walking Club website for historical data..
Bob Phillips is the editor of "Track Stats", the quarterly journal of the National Union of Track Statisticians in the UK, see www.nuts.org.uk.
Website editorial note: John Reynold Barnes Moss quaified as a Centurion (11) at the London to Brighton and Back (104 miles) race in 1907. His time was 20 hours 23 mins 32 secs.