115 Years of the Catford
On April 12th 1886 C.P.Sisley and a small band of teenage enthusiasts formed the Catford Cycling Club - by 1897 it was probably the foremost track racing club in Britain with branches in Paris, Bristol, Cardiff and Nottingham; a membership of 434 and receipts of £1650 (now probably £250,000); a Limited Company owning a banked cement track in Sportsbank Street Catford said to be the fastest in Europe.
In the 1880's Catford was a very small town and Rushey Green a tiny hamlet. The roads were no more than mud tracks with perhaps a few flints and stones scattered on the main thoroughfares to take the weight of horse drawn carriages. However, cycle racing was big news in England and throughout Europe. Races took place on the streets in and around Catford drawing thousands of spectators. Hill climbs were particularly popular and Catford Cycling Club still holds its annual hill climb.
Catford however was a rather special place for cyclists, it had its own active club, and racing became so popular that the large crowds were often put at risk. To help ease the problem Catford Cycling Club aimed to build its own track. At last, in the winter of 1894/5 sufficient local financial backing was secured and the Catford Cycle Track was laid: "The best cycle track in Europe" said the press. The track, the first in England to be constructed with banking, was situated on undeveloped land to the side of the present Brownhill Road and this new sports centre, covered 9 acres with seating for 1,000 spectators. Although the vicinity slowly built up around the track, for a while the view from the grandstand was of undulating hills and countryside. At the time of construction it was the largest track in Europe, the surface was of special cement designed to give a perfectly smooth running plane whilst allowing the newly invented pneumatic tyres perfect adhesion.
In just one year the track was firmly established, however due to the growing unrest throughout the World and later The Boer War, interest in the club and its track waned. It was decided to sell off the track in 1900 to property developers although the grandstand frontage remained until the 1960's. Happily Catford Cycling Club did not suffer the same fate as its track and continues to this present day.
In that year of 1886 the hclub promoted the first ever 'Open' Road Race over 25 miles. Thirty-five entries were received and on vile roads the fastest two were North Road C.C. riders who returned 1hr.41m.32s and 1hr.41m.40s respectively, both riding solid tyred 'Old Ordinaries'. Start was on Keston Common via the Hastings road to Riverhead, turning just short of Westerham and retracing to Pratts Bottom and finishing at the foot of Rushmore Hill. 1894 saw the first of four world champions from the Catford - the paced 100kms by W.Henie in Antwerp. 1898 and A.J.(Gus) Cherry repeated the win in Vienna. In 1894 the championships were held in Glasgow and J.W.(Jack) Stocks won the professional version. Not until 1922 did the Catford produce another world champion, H.T. (Tiny) Johnson took the amateur sprint title at New Brighton Stadium. The growing popularity of the motor car hastening the decline of interest in track racing resulted in the demolition of the Catford track in 1900 (but the stand itself in Sprortsbank Street remained until early 1990) with devastating effect on membership which plummeted to an all time low; a decade of hard work by E.J.(Teddy) Southcott was required to restore the Club - not to its former heights - social changes prevented that (the cycle was no longer the fastest vehicle on the highway) and racing was of necessity focussed on individuals riding unpaced and alone 'against the clock' - time-trialling.
Many of those young enthusiasts became very successful business men in the infant motor industry; in shipping and on the Stock Exchange, but none lost their early enthusiasm for the club they had founded, some played a great part in shaping the structure and future of the sport both in this country and Europe becoming highly regarded international officials. The first World War curtailed activities somewhat but the Catford carried on, the end of that war saw a great deal of unemployment amongst members which those early members did their best to alleviate.
Gradually the Club flourished once more both on the track (Basil Talbot in 1935 recorded a time of 1m 14.75s for 1000 metres standing start T.T. placing him on the Olympic selection short list, unfortunately he broke his collar bone and was not selected) and in time-trials. During the second war a reasonable programme was possible despite having over 100 members in the Forces and it was not difficult to resume 'normal service' as members came home and the Club boomed - a large membership and a pent-up desire to race lead to considerable success.
Too many good riders to name here but George Laws was out-standing. His 1952 season highlights were 24 hours T.T. competition record of 463miles 589yds, 12 hours National Championship 250miles 572yds. Road Records Association London-Bath and Back record taking seventeen minutes off the time set by Kemps, a Belgian professional who had bettered the great Hubert Opperman's time by seven minutes. Seventeen days after the 24hours ride George set a new club track record for the one hour unpaced T.T. of 26miles 7yds - a record which still stands. He finished 8th in the British Best All-Rounder Competition.
Ever changing general life-styles called for changes in Catford objectives - now a greater emphasis on the encouragement of juvenile and junior riders. Off Road riding and competition on, closed circuit racing at Crystal Palace, time trialling, road and track racing with club runs and Good Fellowship a strong feature. No champions but a solid all-round facility furthering the enjoyment of cycling in all its phases.