Written by John M. Porter in approximately 1980
I’ve never heard of a cycling club in Grantham before the First World War (1914 — 18) but there easily may have been.
The first recorded club is the Grantham Road Club, formed in 1923 and it flourished exceedingly well up to the start of the Second World War (1939 — 45). A regular pattern of club runs and time trials was established, with annual highlights being the President’s opening run of the season, the Grantham — Skegness Race and the Annual Dinner. Other entertainments were devised, suppers with a ‘booze–up’ at the Plough Inn, Barkston (now closed) being very popular.
One of the top riders of this period was Andy Bone, Club Champion. He went to Nottingham in the early 30s and set up as cycle dealer and frame builder. He was a good builder and his ‘Paragon’ frames became very popular, many club members riding them. Andy is still alive (remember this was written in 1980) and attends VTTA functions when he can. Other riders of this time who are still around today are Fred Branston and Tom Page (Tandem Champions of Lincolnshire), Jock Money and Bill Bailey. Tom Page still rides one event a year, a Vets 10 in the Isle of Man and Bill raced regularly until a couple of seasons ago. During the war years 1939 — 45, the Club just ticked over and afterwards two fast men established themselves, Walter Watson and Jack O’Connor.
Jack, who had more bright ideas in his little finger than most of us have in our entire bodies, left the club in about 1948, after a disagreement over policy and formed the Kesteven Aces CC. This was at the height of the post–war cycling boom and for several years both clubs flourished. The chief event for the (Grantham) Road Club was the Grantham — Skegness Race (A Time Trial). This became a wonderful day out. A bus was hired to take the non–racing members, wives and friends and after the race the day was spent on the beach and among the other seaside delights. The fit among the racing men would then ride back while those, whose exertions during the day had been too vigorous, shamefacedly put bikes into the boot and returned on the bus. During the ‘50s’ the boom receded and both clubs suffered, although the (Kesteven) Aces weathered the storm the better. And then Jack O’Connor was off again.
But before coming to the birth of the Witham Wheelers, I must mention briefly another local club that I dare say no one else now remembers. This was the Grantham Section of the Lincolnshire DA (District Association) of the CTC (Cyclists Touring Club). Formed in 1951 by C. V. Glenn–Smith it never grew very large, although for several years regular Sunday club runs and holiday weekend tours were held. Perhaps its chief claim to fame occurred when a photograph of the club appeared on the dust–jacket of ‘Teach Yourself Cycling’, a cycling handbook published in 1953. The club had gone by the end of the 50s, although the Lincolnshire DA, itself in decline for a number of years, is now enjoying a revival.
In 1958 Jack O‘Connor fell out with the (Kesteven) Aces and, as I said, was off again. Like most men brimming over with ideas, Jack was a good ‘starter’ but a bad ‘consolidator’. The outcome was the Witham Wheelers (Cycling Club) and it grew and grew, so much so that in 1960 the (Grantham) Road Club and the (Kesteven) Aces amalgamated to become the Grantham and Kesteven Aces — but that didn’t last long closing down in 1965.
In 1959, owing to small numbers competing in club events, especially the longer distances, The Road club, the Aces, the Wheelers and the then Sleaford Wheelers formed the Grantham and District Cycling Association and joint events were held until 1963. By the way, I said the ‘then’ Sleaford Wheelers because this club folded in 1962. In 1965, principally due to the efforts of Nev Crane, Sleaford Wheelers restarted to become the club we know today.
So by the middle 60s the Witham Wheelers held the stage alone. Cycling was still in the doldrums and numbers in the club declined until there were only a few old stagers, notably Don Ray, keeping things going.
And then the rebirth, in 1976 John Newman, another ‘starter’, formed an ESCA (English Schools Cycling Association now BSCA — British Schools Cycling Association) group at the King’s School. For administrative reasons ESCA members had to join an established cycling club and an influx of new members resulted. Nor was this all, non–Kings friends of ESCA members wanted to join. Dads dusted off their old frames and Mums got down to the job of feeding and watering the multitude at club events and social functions.
Since then the club has settled down, become what it is now and here the story, by one who has been a member of every local club mentioned, ceases.
The start of Witham Wheelers CC as remembered by Brian Mallett, the retiring Chairman see the press report in Press Releases in Social.
The club was formed in Jan/Feb of 1958, by a group of about 20 who were interested in starting a new club in Grantham. The first steps were taken by Jack O’Conner, who had a cycle shop in Welby Street. Jack used to belong to the Kesteven Aces but had decided to leave them. We all met in one of the local pubs in the Market Place and decided at the beginning just to have touring runs on a Sunday, to see how it went. Racing was not the main thing at that time but Jack started to organise the league 10s, which is still very similar now. Racing started in the April of 1959 with the 10s starting on the Belton Straights by the turn off to Gonerby. The turn was at West Willoughby just before Ancaster. As time went on, more events followed and we had club events at 15, 25 and 30 miles. trophies were donated by different fathers, etc and a BAR was started in 1959. I think the qualifying events were a 25, 50 and 100 mile time trials. I must admit, I won the tropy for 5 years on the trot!!!!! Then it was decided to include a 12 hour, so I didn’t win it any more…
We started to organise the Open 25TT when, unfortunately, David Chantry, an up-and-coming junior, was killed on the A52 at Elton. This was about 1963/64, I’m not quite sure. We also organised the odd open race around the Croxton Kerrial area at about the same time. The largest Road Race we organised, was the Grantham Quincentenary event, basrd on Princess Drive, Harrowby Hall Hill and Londonthorpe. This was in in 1963 and Albert Hitchen and all the independents rode the event. I managed to finish last…
By this time, we had one or two juniors who were at national level. The main one being Paul Bennet, who rode for Lincolnshire and the National Team. Geoff Ellingworth was riding for Lincolnshire Juniors at that time.
We also had a rider who joined us from Romford RC, when he moved up to the area in 1962/63. This was Terry Law, who rode the then tour of Britain for the Lincs team. He finished, but I’m not sure which position, but he was good. I rode with him in many events to try and help him as much as I could. the events going to Romford for the Tour of Essex two day, which was a very good experience for me.
The club lost it’s way a bit in the late 60s, but along came Ian Wilkinson, John Edwards and a few other men, again under Jack O’Conner and the club started to get going again in the 1970s. At one time there were over 100 members.
A lot of new events were arranged and the Open 10 and 25 were well supported and the Road Races took off. Although the club had a lot of members, we were a family club concentrating on club events.
I must close but I will continue later.
Witham Wheelers History. Part 2.
In the mid 1970’s, the club began to start up again, when new members, such as John Edwards, Ian Wilkinson, John Newman and Janet and Alan East, joined up. John Newman, who was a teacher at the King’s School, started ESCA, (English Schools Cycling Association). This association encouraged cycling within schools and the members were also encouraged to join a local cycling club. Luckily for us, a lot did and we became a much stronger club. The Open 10 and 25 TT,s recommenced, organised by Don Ray and Pat Bradley at this time and later by myself and Dave Herd. Membership quickly grew to around 100, which was a complete turnaround for the club. A lot of hard work by Don, Ian and the two Johns, (Edwards and Newman) enabled this to happen. We also started the two Road Races, one for Juniors and 3rds and for Seniors, 1st and 2nd cats. Cups for these events were donated by Jeff Ellingworth’s father and Paul Bennett’s father. They are still ridden for today. In 1982, we were honoured to be asked to organise the National 100K Team Time Trial Championship for the then RTTC, now the CTT. Don Ray was the organiser and he had many problems sorting out a course, due to road works in the county. Eventually, a course on the A1 was designed and the event was won by the Manchester Wheelers, who more or less won everything in those days. Also, in the late ‘70‘s, a certain Dave Strickson burst onto the scene and started winning trophies from 10 miles to 12 hours. He was and still is, an extremely talented rider, not only racing but touring, but is restricted by his work commitments to race as much as he wants to. Talking to him the other day, I noticed that he was wearing a 300,000 mile badger, but he said that they do not do a 600,000 mile badger. Not sure whether he was joking or not!!!
In the early 1980’s, Jeff Ellingworth’s son, Rod, began to take an interest in cycling. He also showed a natural talent for cycling and as we know, became a professional member of the Ambrosia Cycling Team, which in the late ’80,s was the best in the country. When he retired from racing, after racing in France, he became the Manager of the Youth Academy for British Cycling. Based in Tuscany, Italy, he did an excellent job and his riders included Mark Cavendish, as well as many other cyclist who are now professionals. He is now Performance Manager for the Sky Professional Team and is doing very well for himself. We are proud to have him as a member of our club. Also in the ‘80,s, more members’ children become interested in cycling, either voluntary or involuntary, notably the East’s, Wilkinson’s and Edward’s children began racing and winning Juvenile and Junior awards. Alan East became the resident Cyclo Cross winner and our Open Cyclo Cross came into being and is now part of the Lincs Cyclo Cross League. More families joined the club and we are fortunate to have many in the club today.
In the 1990’s, Road racing became more popular in the club and Dave Ostler, Neil Sentance, Phil Etches and Graham Henson were racing most weekends. Phil Etches become a regular winner in age related events, nationally as well as locally.
In the late 1980’s, we had to find a new 10 course as the Manthorpe/West Willoughby road was now getting very busy. The Gorse Lane course became the best option and we were able to use the Grantham Cricket Club changing rooms every Tuesday night. This gave us a very good base and we have been able to extend the availability of the club room to include Thursdays and Sundays. If we need it any other time, we can providing the Cricket Club do not need it. It couldn’t really be better. The bar helps as well, thanks to Dave Becket.
In 1993, the club decided that we needed a sponsor in order to expand even more. We contacted McDonalds Restaurants and they agreed to sponsor us for 3 years. This enabled us to re-design our racing kit, first time since 1958, although we kept the same colours. Around this time, our long standing racing secretary, Tony Mendham, assisted by Gordon Cakebread, very efficiently organised the racing calendar and marshals for all events. Gordon very kindly, provided material for direction signs and metal stakes, among many other types of equipment that we needed to become one of the best organised clubs in the Midlands. Obviously, , the many events we organise, both open and club, would not be possible without the help of all the members. Also, the larger we get, the more help your committee needs and I am pleased to see that you are all enthusiastically helping out.
Into the 2000’s Strico was still winner a lot of the trophies. Dave Herd was chasing him, Tom Mendham was top junior and riding road races representing the East Midlands. Max Retberg won the GHS 10 tt Lincolnshire heat, twice in succession and Jim Coleman and Neil Sentence each won the Lincs Handicap Road Race League. Peter Cocker came onto the scene and took the club junior races by the scruff of the neck and won most club events. He started road racing and was soon selected to represent the East Midlands during the late 2000,s and early 2010,s.
Around the same time, Karl Baillie was also burning up the junior scene and the rivalry between the two, produced some very fast and close times. Karl started to concentrate more on track racing and is doing very well at Manchester Velodrome, with some good results and showing great enthusiasm for this type of racing.
In 2006, Richard Ellingworth, brother of Rod, generously offered to sponsor the club and still does to this day. His company, Echo Personnel, again enabled us to re-design our kit to what it is today. Colours are slightly different, mainly blue, black and white. With Richard’s help, we were able to start up a website which keeps all our members informed as to what is going on and also spreads our name throughout the UK, even the world. Our club’s IT expert and communications officer, Simon Cocker, keeps a close eye on the site and also any other technology that he feels we could use to our advantage. Simon not only does this, but he organises the open road races and the Pedelpushers Circuit Races at Barkston Heath. A busy man.
Through Tony Mendham, we have been able to use the Barkston Heath Aerodrome for closed circuit training for youngsters from 3 or 4 years up to 16 years. The RAF rent this facility to us fortnightly on a Wednesday, April to August, and a small circuit of 1km is used. Three or four training sessions are provided for different age groups and these are run by our own coaches and supported by British Cycling coaches. Starting this training brought on the possibility to become a member of the GoRide Organisation, which is for 7 to 16 year olds, not necessarily members of the club, to train them in handling their bikes, with the prospect of joining our club and racing. The Go Ride sessions are run by Tracey McAndrew, assisted by Frank Snyder. Many thanks to them.
For the last three or four years, our juniors have won the Lincs Team qualification event for the GHS National 10 TT Championship and have finished high up in the results in the final. With a bit of luck, they should eventually win. We are extremely lucky, as a club, to have a large number of juveniles and juniors in the club, which bears well for the continued expansion of the club. The number of members in 2013 was 156 in total, the highest we have ever had and the way it is going for 2014, we could even surpass this figure. It looks good.
I have waffled on long enough, but I should like to finish by mentioning the social side of the club. In the winter months, we hold turbo training and social evenings on a Tuesday night at the cricket club headquarters. Also, once a month on a Thursday, there is a 10 mile roller race, also at the cricket club. Tracey holds a Go Ride evening, weather permitting, on Tuesday nights at the headquarters under flood lights. In August, we have a BBQ after the League 10 tt, in aid of our charity Kidney Research. Dave Beckett puts on his apron and fires up the range and a good night is had by all. A raffle is held and money raised is passed onto the Kidney Research Foundation. In November, we hold our Annual Dinner and Prize Presentation at Belton Park Golf Club. This event has been held since the club was formed in 1958. Although the first two were at lunch time, at a cafe in Corby Glen and everybody rode out to it. There were not quiet so many of us then. The evening consists of a good meal and a guest speaker attends. We have been very fortunate to have had some well know cyclist come, including Beryl Burton, Sid Barras, Rob Hales, Bradley Wiggins, (before he won the Tour!!) , but he had won 4 of his Olympic Gold Medals, and on our 50th anniversary, Rod Ellingworth arranged for Mark Cavendish and his manager Bryan Holm to drop in. Two years ago, Barry Hoban was our guest and last year Brian Steele kept us entertained with a short history of his life. This year, who knows??
Finally!!! I should like to thank all members who have served on our committee for all the hard work that has been done over the last 55 years and especially our current committee, lead by our chairman Janet East. She has been chairman for the last 5 years and has been on the committee for 31 years. With the aid of the rest of the committee, she has kept the club on the straight and narrow and has worked extremely hard.
I am afraid I have left out a lot of hard working people in this history, but it is not for the want of trying. There is only so much space available and I’m sure Simon will edit this report as it is.
And really finally, keep riding your bikes and supporting our great club. Without you, it just would not exist.
Brian Mallett. March 2014.