The Early Years – Part 1

It was late in 1933 that I met Jim Austin when I fought him in a boxing match at the Catholic Boxing Club in Montacute Road, Morden. It was a friendly bout and we were evenly matched. After the fight we had a chat and soon became the best of friends. Turned out he was a cyclist and I had just bought a new bike a roadster with North Road semi-dropped handlebars. I was proud that they made the bike just that bit different from a ‘Sit up and Beg’ type. Jim was very enthusiastic on the joys of cycling and the’ Open Road’ and he was a member of a cycling club! He eventually enticed me to their clubroom a row of sheds in High Path near South Wimbledon Underground. The so-called clubroom was actually a Cafe with a backroom, which was the clubroom. It had a dartboard and the ceiling was so low that the darts often stuck in the rafters when throwing for double-top. I was not impressed and didn’t go back.

I continued with my boxing and my contact with Jim and it was around April 1934 that he eventually talked me into joining a Sunday run.  I went to Rose Hill for 9.30 and met Ron Bensley, his cousin Bill Tebbutt and Matt Merry. With Jim this made 5 and we enjoyed an easy tour through the lanes to Hindhead; a walk through the Punch Bowl; tea at the Commercial Tea Rooms in Dorking and home at 9.30 p.m. Their friendly acceptance of me as one of them impressed me greatly, as did in particular, Ron Bensley. He was about seventeen then, standing, some 6 feet tall with broad but not heavy build.  He was well educated and well spoken, seldom swore and his black hair was brushed straight back.  He rode a standard Raleigh sports bike with fully-dropped bars. His normal riding gear was 72″ fixed. Bill Tebbutt was altogether different being a slightly built nondescript sort of individual who nervously flicked his hair back at frequent intervals. He was not a strong cyclist. Matt Merry was a short, tough, thickset chap who could ride at a steady pace forever.  My mate Jim Austin was a medium built, rough and ready good-natured Cockney with a habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time!

The clubroom had now changed and was at Conroy’s Cafe a little teashop at the junction of Green Lane and Central Road. We met every Wednesday evening, drinking tea, playing cards and the pintable.  We also fixed the destination for the next Sunday Run.  The little band gradually grew with the addition of Ted Cotterell, Alfie Cleal, George Money, Chris Hatton and my cousin Jack Martin. Our subs were 8 old pennies per week and the Sunday tea about 1/6d per head. Six of us used our weeks annual holiday to go on a tour of Devon covering some 750 miles. Eventually we reached the magic number of 10 regular members for with this number we could affiliate to the National Cyclists Union as a registered cycling Club.  We decided we would apply and became the Redmon Cycling Club in Spring 1935.  We had always called ourselves ‘The Redmon’ the anagram of Morden and stuck with it as our name.

Now that we really were an official Cycling Club and not just a happy group of cyclists, we had to have an organisation to both run the club and deal with our increasing membership. We held our first elections and Ron Bensley became General Secretary and Club captain.  Bill Tebbutt was the Treasurer. Jim Austin, Matt Merry and myself were Committee Members. Ron laid out a set of rules as required by the NCU and then we had to find a President and Vice-Presidents.  By coincidence living next door to Chris Hatton was an ex-cyclist Jim Surman. Through Chris he took an interest in our activities and he hist01_01suggested a friend of his, Charlie Bowtle of track fame, brother-in-law of Phyllis Lambourne who had ridden with Ron Bensley and the others even before I had joined.  He, in turn, suggested Stan Forrest a well-known cycling promoter.  Eventually, Stan became our first President with Jim Surman and Charlie Bowtle as Vice-Presidents.  Now as the Redmon Cycling Club and the only club in the Morden area we went from strength-to-strength. Among the early recruits that come to mind were Horace Ireland, Les Brown, Frank Steadman, Bert Gauntlett. We had decided to accept lady members in 1935. We were joined by Joyce Clarke (who became my wife), with her friend Vera Ward.  Then came Matt’s sister Maureen, Kath Chambers and Jean Wright. The third member of the Merry family Patrick (Paddy) joined with Gordon Stewart. Our club colours were brown and beige but only displayed on our socks, which had brown and beige rings! We kept ourselves smart and tidy and were proud to present us as the cycling club for the area.

We cycled on, a happy club, into the summer of 1936. During the hot weather we included a swim on the Sunday run. We enjoyed camping weekends at the Devil’s Punch Bowl or at Shere.  Sixteen of us went for a week camping on the banks of the Wye and we went swimming and canoeing every day in the fantastic weather.  Happy Days! I was now Social Secretary booking the Sunday Runs Teas.  Favourite venues were the Commercial Tea Rooms, Dorking, Mrs Curds at Godstone, Mrs Macks at Guildford, the Dog and Duck at Warnham, the Sunnyside Tea Rooms, Ripley and many others.  Many times after a day in the rain we would enjoy a sing-song round the piano at the Sunnyside.  Kath Chambers would be at the keyboard; Horace Ireland would render ‘Pennies from Heaven’ and not to be outdone, Jim Austin would ruin ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’.  All the time, a dozen pairs of brown and beige socks would be steaming around a log fire. A game of cards with small stakes would fill in a couple of hours before the ride home.  We did a couple of night rides leaving at midnight – one to Camber Sands and one Bath and back which we wearily completed at 11.30 Sunday night.

Winter interest was kept going with Rough Rides including a very popular Hare and Hounds.  On the ordinary Sunday runs we always took a football. No-one had much money in those pre-war days and this was also true of the Redmon.  However, I had call from a film company who had contacted the NCU, who were making a film that included a modern cycling club on a club run.  About 25 of us turned up to ride at about 15’s along the Leatherhead by-pass to the second roundabout where we took the second exit, giving the correct hand signals and in close formation.  The Club was paid £20 for our efforts – in 1936 that was a lot of money for us.  Six weeks later we did it all again for another £20!  This funded our very first Club Dance at the Fountain Hotel in Garrett Lane, Tooting.  A great success both socially and financially, with the Club now well established more members came along, Sid Wimble, Ted Barnett, Ernie Wood, George Gauntlett, Fred Hardy joining about this time.

Another and very important milestone in the Club’s history was our first 25. There was a lot of discussion about racing as many wanted the Club to remain a social club only. However, a majority vote in favour of racing was passed and our club event was on.  The start was at West Molesey joining the main road after 1½ miles, going through the Scilly Isles and along the A3 to turn a couple of miles short of Guildford. Favourite to win was Ron Bensley or myself.  I had just got a new Walkling in flamboyant gold with a fixed gear of 72″.  It should have been 78″ but I got my sums wrong.  There weren’t many gears about with most riders racing on 76″ and 84″.  Under regulations we had to wear long black tights and dark tops. Stan Forest was the timekeeper, Charlie Bowtle pushed off with Jim Surman at the turn. The ‘surprise’ result was Les Brown first, Alfie Cleal 2nd,and Matt Merry 3rd. Ron Bensley came 6th. I came nearly last suffering from stomach cramp. (Bad position) My time was given as 1.18.30.  Subsequently, this time gave me a 6 minute handicap in my next race and first Open the West Croydon Wheelers 25. I won first handicap recording 1.8.37 for 4th place overall.  So the Redmon took its place in mainstream cycling becoming both a racing and social club.

As the membership increased we had to change our clubroom from Conroy’s Cafe to first The Selkirk Arms, Tooting and then eventually to the British Legion Hall at St Mark’s Road, Mitcham where we stayed until Hitler drove us out with a bomb. However, this is to jump the gun in our history. Whilst we were still at Conroy’s we recruited a member who was to be become one of characters of the Club and part of its real backbone.  I came out of the Catholic Church at Bishopsford Road one Sunday morning to find a young man (sic) admiring my flamboyant gold bike. He said he wanted to join a club – it was Jim Burrow.  He is very much part of the history of the Club although his time was more post-war than pre-war. But, what an important day for the Club that turned out to be. Our clubroom at the Legion enabled us to run a darts team and we organised table tennis tournaments with tea and cakes being provided by our lady members. Club night was Friday, which remained so for several years after the war. Regular evening runs went to Chessington, Epsom etc. starting very orderly but finishing with disorderly and dangerous sprints up George Hill to end in Central Road. In the end and after several close calls we gave this practice up – there was enough danger just over the horizon for all of us.

Perhaps we were getting ‘respectable’ for in late ’36 we held our first Dinner.  It was held at The Queen’s Head, Cricket Green, Mitcham. Stan Forrest took the Chair and I distinctly remember the Menu was Roast Beef and all the trimmings. Later we held Annual Dinners at the Selkirk Arms and the Fountain. The last one in wartime 1941 had Sausage and Mash as the main (and only) dish!  I also ran Dances at The Fountain and the Lawrence Weaver Hall in Green Lane. Racing was taking more and more of the Club’s time and we tried long distances, tandem racing and then Massed-Start.

That’s another story and will be told in the next magazine.

By Ron Martin, Ex-President, Vice-President + Life Member

Previously Printed in the Redmon Review for February 2005.