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Ron Price
In recent years, British sport, seeking international success, has seen the super-club emerge; a contrast to the 1970s quest for dual use and borough squads; and when females were still considered too delicate for some activities. Much of this is driven by the Sports Council with the health authorities involved in Sport for All. Our Play Leader Scheme is no more, and employee-based or former pupil teams and their competitions are rarer. This article examines these trends for athletics and cycling, which in their early history worked together.

Recreational cycling became popular in the 1870s when two-wheel bicycles were enhanced.  Fifteen clubs affiliated when a county association was formed in 1883. Two years later it amended its title and allowed any amateur athletic club to join. In 1900 its AGM noted a membership in excess of 100 clubs. Local tracks were grass based alongside a few with cinders. In 1897 Dagenham CC organised a carnival from their headquarters at the Cross Keys to Rainham. In 1910 they donated more than £100 to four medical charities and are known to have operated into the 1920s. Barking CC, formed in 1891, became a section of South West Ham Rovers in 1905 when they changed their headquarters to the Bull. These clubs’ programmes comprised of outings and social activities.

In 1922 the National Cycling Union (NCU) introduced local autonomy.  Becontree Wheelers formed in 1925, affiliated. There may have been an earlier root?  Dr J. Prosser Evans, a founder and the club’s first president was a Romford magistrate.  In 1926 a memorial trophy, competed for ever since, was donated by the family of Romford butcher; also a vice president.  With the Becontree Estate in its infancy, the town name may have been influenced by potential use of the redundant trotting track in Parsloes Park. Another possibility is the separation of the cycling and athletic sections of the Essex Beagles. Competing as far afield as Devon, East Anglia and Wearside, the club enjoyed between-the-wars success. The social element included a 1934 a novelty sports match with Hornchurch Garage. Little is known about the 1930s Valence Wheelers who were publicised by the Tenants Association.
In 1949 Pedal Cycle Speedway became popular when the London County Council (LCC) allowed tracks in their parks. Essex became a hotbed with the Hawbush Hammers (Little Heath) and the pictured Wantz Wallabies (Oxlow Lane - Sterling Estate); the local clubs. In 1950 Becontree Wheelers membership was 160. George Fell dominated the national 25-mile time trials as Norman Fox, won medals in the Silent (Deaf and Dumb) Games. In the 1960s and 1970s local carnivals including the Dagenham Town Show (pictured) publicised the sport.


A ride between Lands End and John O’ Groats (920 miles), repeated in 2000, marked the club’s Golden Jubilee. In 1976 chairman Derek Jennings rode the Bike Centennial, which marked the 200th anniversary of American independence. His 41-days’ feat won the Barking Sports Council’s Personality of the Year with Beagle Daley Thompson’s Olympic debut as runner-up. He went on to win eight major championships in the decathlon.

Since the 1920s campaigns to designate paths in parks for cycling had met with resistance and in 1978 Wheelers’ plan for a circuit in Central Park was rejected by Barking Council, the club’s road racing championship was last run in 1986 although mainly using private land and country lanes the 90-mile Romford-Harlow event continued to 2002, its 19th staging. The club promoted a cross-borough festival in 2004 as their contribution to National Bike Week continuing a strong role in its governing body’s administration. It seeks to restore its involvement, as schemes, such as that operated by Transport for London, raise the sport’s profile.
Cycling safety and proficiency has been promoted in schools for several decades; Barking & Dagenham CC build on this at the Redbridge Cycling Centre at Hog Hill, Fairlop. Funded by the London Development Agency it opened in 2008 replacing the 1976 Eastway circuit in the Lea Valley Regional Park; lost to the velodrome provided for 2012. It provides four disciplines, one of which is BMx. This developed locally when tracks were opened at Old Dagenham Park and Castle Green in 2005. The Regional Park, established in 1963, with support by 18 local councils, includes cycle pathways.

Athletic club suffixes Harriers and Beagles derive from Hare and Hounds (a form of cross country). Essex Beagles were formed in 1887. The evidence suggests Beaumont CC; formed at People’s Palace (Mile End) split into separate clubs. As noted above sports clubs had their headquarters in public houses. Earlier, the landlord of the Ship & Shovel on Rippleside was among those who organised athletic meetings to boost their trade.

The Beagles staged track and cycling championships in 1892 respectively at Stamford Bridge and Herne Hill, and then used local recreation grounds including Barking which straddled the border with Ilford. By 1902 Beagles had won three national (sharing one) and five regional cross-country championships.  In 1910, the definition of an amateur saw the two sports take separate paths. Beagles remained with the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) Beaumont went with the NCU.  A boxing section operated in at least 1913 and 1914. Both clubs to 1920 had their headquarters at the Forest Gate Hotel whose grounds incorporated a cross country track.
Old Dagenham Park, with a track and a grandstand opened in May 1932. It cost £21,000, including work by the Council’s direct labour force. The Dagenham Football League and reformed town cricket club used the area within the track.

North Essex clubs were not enamoured with the decision to stage the Association’s Golden Jubilee championships at Dagenham in 1935. Soon after, ending a nomadic existence, it became the headquarters of the Beagles. In 1936 the clubs established an eight strong Essex Athletics League. Events were team-based with the Beagles and Fords AC two of the six metropolitan clubs. Fords sports ground was at Kents Avenue and many East London companies provided sports and social facilities for their employees in the immediate area. The formation of Dagenham FC in 1949 sparked discontent between Dagenham Council and the Beagles.  It was not the first time in East London that primacy of use caused difficulty.
In 1934 land was given to Barking Council by the (LCC) to complement the quiet use of Parsloes Park. Barking Council sold land at the junction of Longbridge Road and Wood Lane, to the Essex County Council for vocational education. The South-East Essex College of Technology opened in November 1936 having also secured funding for sporting facilities. In February 1939 the South West Essex College of Technology opened at Walthamstow promoting collegiate rivalry. They and a site in Redbridge combined in 1970. This path through polytechnic status to a university has seen these sites close.

The LCC provided £10,000 for development of Mayesbrook Park in 1937. Twelve years later a plan was drawn up including track and field facilities. Unsurprisingly the Beagles expressed an interest, as road runner Jim Peters (pictured), who participated in Woolworths’ plimsolls, emerged. He was soon to set world records for the marathon. The inaugural meeting in September 1951 included an attempt by Essex Ladies AC on the 4 x 220 yards world record. Peters is remembered for his failure at the 1954 Empire Games. He believed to his death in 1999 that the distance, in error, was set at 27 miles. The Mayesbrook Arena has been renamed in his honour.  It is more than three decades since the Beagles were tenants. And a further three decades since they crossed the then boundary to Barking. Dagenham FC (to Victoria Road) and Dagenham CC (to The Leys) clubs relocated in 1955.   The track was then used by a newly formed Dagenham Athletics Club also staging county championships for cycle speedway.  It has been suggested the Dagenham councillors never forgave the Beagles for their desertion.

It is more than three decades since the Beagles were tenants and more than six decades since they crossed the then boundary between Dagenham and Barking. Dagenham’s football (to Victoria Road) and cricket (to The Leys) clubs relocated in 1955.   It has been suggested the Dagenham councillors never forgave the Beagles for their desertion.

As the 1970s dawned Beagles were in the third division of the Southern League. By 1979 almost successive promotions elevated them to the British League Division 1 where despite the occasional relegation they remain. Throughout the 1970s Beagles pursued facilities compatible with its on-track ambition; a tartan track and six lanes, then the AAA’s standard, which were not favoured by the Council.

In January 1983 Beagles agreed a merger with Newham AC, retaining their black and gold colours, at the Terence Macmillan Stadium. Built in 1966 on the Beckton Dumps Newham Council underwrote meetings for quality athletes. The merger negotiation provided Beagles with an eight-lane track at a cost in excess of £0.5m. Newham Council rejected approaches by Clapton for regular football use before, in the late 1990s, the All Peoples Sports Association were given a tenancy.  Subsequently the Mayesbrook track was used by Barking & Dagenham AC and Havering AC who suffixed Mayesbrook, before becoming part of a training centre for 2012; now the SportsHouse.
The Beagles secured a hat trick of Division One titles between 2008 and 2010. Their desire of staging a home meeting unfulfilled. In 2017 they began use of the warm-up facility next to the Olympic Stadium; now the six-lane London Marathon Community Track. The 2012 legacy plan was changed to overcome match-day constraints around the Boleyn Ground. However, I suspect if the 25,000 capacity national athletics stadium had come to fruition the Beagles would have met the challenge it presented.
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