The Iain Robertson Interview

After 20+ years of coaching, Iain retired from the sport and is now living in Kirkcaldy.   He says retired – but he still acts as a consultant to  other coaches and gives advice when he is asked for it.   Coaches come from a variety of backgrounds – some are ex-athletes, some start as a parent who is dragged along by a child and ends up supervising then coaching, and some come from other sports.    Iain is in the latter category.

He started after being a good standard amateur football player.   He had been at school with Brian Scobie and they both played for the school team.   Brian found his way into athletics but Iain was mainly a footballer.   Like other young players of a good standard, there were times that he was playing three games at the weekend – for the school,  for the scouts, for a local amateur team and so on.   He joined the local Killermont Amateur Football Club for whom he played in most positions over the years.   When the team coach moved away to another club, Iain started taking training sessions, and became a player coach.   The high spot was probably when the team won the West of Scotland Amateur League Division One championship in 1963-64.   He was interested in coaching but was coming into it as a player with no real knowledge of training other than from his own experiences.   

In 1963 two Scottish football team managers, Jock Stein of Dunfermline and Willie Waddell of Kilmarnock, went to see how the great Helenio Herrera of Inter Milan went about training his squads.   Ahead of their time, they would probably be ahead of their time were they to do so today.   They came back and talked about what they had learned.   Iain was interested in their findings.   Herrera looked at training, saw how different players reacted to the same training, and understood them as individuals.   Iain took on board the lessons about working with individuals as well as groups and teams and this affected how he worked with the football players he was training.

But he then wanted to take things a bit further and this led him into athletics.   How did he get into athletics?   He had friends participating in the sport, he had done some sprinting at school and he had also been friends at school with Brian Scobie who went on to do great things in athletics.  So the contacts were there.  At that time, with the publicity being given to the upcoming 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh with all the pre-Games hype, he decided to give up football and took up athletics.   Friends encouraged him to  join Maryhill Ladies AC where he met Jimmy Campbell and started out with a few athletes and started on the coaching ladder.

If we stay with the facts we see that his coaching career started like many others but then as his abilities and attitude were recognised, progressed further and maybe faster than most.   At the time there were three grades of coach – Assistant Club Coach, Club Coach and Senior Coach.   He came into coaching in 1970 and in 1974 he took his Senior Coach examination and qualified with the highest mark ever awarded by Great Britain Chief Coach Bill Marlow.   

 It was a rapid rise through the various stages.   At that early point in his career he was already working with people in the club who were running in international fixtures.   There were not many internationals at that time but through the mid 70’s he was asked by Frank Dick to go with some Scottish teams to small international fixtures in Norway and other countries.   He was also working on the educational side of athletics with Frank and that also helped him to progress his coaching skills.    

The Coaching structure in Scotland at the time was a simple but effective pyramid system with the National coach at the top and Group Coaches for the event groups (sprints, endurance, throws and jumps) below and answerable to him.   Each group coach had Event Coaches for whom they were responsible.   Iain became Group Coach for the Sprints in 1981 and Staff Coach for all sprint events.   He held these posts until 1987.   There was a considerable responsibility in both these posts.

His worth was quickly recognised and from 1982 – 84 he was the UK National Event Coach for both Men and Women 400m and the 4 x 400m relay.   This was followed immediately by appointment as UK National Event Coach for Women’s 100m and 200m from 1984 to 1990.   It had been a meteoric rise and was rewarded when at the  National Coaches Conference in 1990 he was awarded the status of Master Coach.   

 With the GB Men’s and Women’s Sprint Squad: Iain is standing beside Linford Christie and in front of John Regis.

Having looked at the outline of his career as a coach, we should maybe look at his philosophy of coaching and what made him so successful.   

The coaching structure that he operated within, as outlined above, has changed irrevocably now but he has no doubts about its efficacy.   In his opinion, one of its main virtues was that good coaches came together and worked together.   They spoke to each other as coaches and learned from each other.   They read about their events, they attended courses and conventions and brought the information back.  It was a way of bringing all the knowledge together, assessing it and sharing it.    Iain is adamant that you have to listen to people all the way through, you don’t have to agree with them but you have to listen to them and the structure was good at ensuring a two way flow of information.   

The information exchange with everybody at all levels he sees as vital but who were the main influences on him?    Undoubtedly some seeds were sown by what he read of Helenio Herrera (above) and his thoughts on the sports person as an individual.    Given how early in Iain’s coaching career Herrera came along, we can have a quick look at what Wikipedia has to say about him.   It says:

“Herrera pioneered the use of psychological motivating skills – his pep-talk phrases are still quoted today, e.g. “he who doesn’t give it all, gives nothing”, and “Class + Preparation + Intelligence + Athleticism = Championships”. These slogans were often plastered on billboards around the ground and chanted by players during training sessions.

He also enforced a strict discipline code, for the first time forbidding players to drink or smoke and controlling their diet – once at Inter he suspended a player after telling the press “we came to play in Rome” instead of “we came to win in Rome”.   

It was about working with individuals – each individual reacts differently to the same training – and to do with motivation.   If you look at some of the comments on   this page   you will see how much of a motivator Iain was when working with Glasgow AC some decades later.

 When he joined up with Maryhill Ladies AC there was the influence of the livewire Jimmy Campbell – a wonderful coach with a lifetime of involvement in sport (football as well as athletics) and experience of working with athletes at all levels.   As a mentor, Jimmy (on the right above) was in the very top class.   A Scottish and British international coach he was always on the go, always keen to help other coaches – and always interested in the individual athlete or coach to whom he was talking or with whom he was working.   

When Iain was working through in Edinburgh he travelled through to Glasgow three and four times a week – but he also did some work with George Sinclair and his athletes – another source of information and ideas.   Add in Bill Walker at Meadowbank too.   But from the mid 70’s he was influenced by National Coach Frank Dick (above) whom he thinks was outstanding at bringing to Scotland what was happening in the whole world of athletics.   Iain found himself thrown into situations by Frank that challenged him and assisted him to develop even further.   When one of his athletes (Val Smith) won the WAAA’s Junior 100m, Iain was invited to make a presentation at the International Coaches Convention presenting immediately after David Hemery – pretty daunting as a young coach, facing an audience of hundreds of experienced coaches in a packed hall who had just heard from an Olympic champion.     

Then there was the trip to Bad Blankenberg in East Germany in 1989 as a member of the UK delegation to the XV Congress of the European Athletic Coaches Association in the middle of the cold war.   Even the journey to get there was educational in many ways – through the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, travelling thereafter in a coach with blacked out windows and so on.   Travelling with the top coaches, sharing information, techniques and knowledge was a tremendous experience for Iain and the information which he gained was shared with others back home in Scotland because he was not selfish with the knowledge.    Frank had him involved in coach education from early on and he was a regular speaker at the SAAA/SWAAA courses at Inverclyde.  

When  we look at the many successes Iain had with many athletes at international, Commonwealth, European, World Championships and Olympic Games, we really want to see how he went about his work, what his guiding principals were in practical terms..   

The attention to the individual athlete is always in any conversation with Iain about coaching.   He also says that it is not always the international standard athlete who is the highlight for the coach at any given time.   You succeed best when you help each individual performer to maximise what they can achieve with their own ability whatever their level.   Certainly those who have seen him coaching at club level know that the range of talents with which he worked was wide – he was not a coach who only operated in the upper echelons of athletics.   

As far as dealing with athletes is concerned, it is vital that the athlete understands what the session is seeking, what the session is teaching and/or what the activity is working to achieve.  The coach can see the movement patterns but only the athlete can sense/feel the kinaesthetic cues ie the feelings/sensations in their neuromuscular system.  Learning to ‘feel’ the movement patterns and report appropriately is where the athlete helps the coach.  This effective interaction is vital in getting technique precise, for that athlete, allowing the athlete to ‘feel’ the performance, and continually seek to replicate optimal sensation to underpin optimal performance outcomes. The old adage ‘if you can’t do it right slowly you won’t do it right at speed’ should advise the journey to optimal technique supporting optimal performance.

Coaches have athletes come to them at varying stages of their career and when you have been as successful a coach as Iain, sprinters of a high standard come looking for  whatever will give them a bit extra, lift them up to a higher level of competition.   In that case, the coach fulfils a different function.   He becomes an advisor or a consultant.   After all, he says, the coach does not necessarily know what it is like to step on to the track, in front of 1000’s of spectators at an Olympic Games – the athlete learns.   The coach wants the athlete to fulfil his ambition and they work together to do that.   Of course, that depends on the coach having the knowledge in the first place.   

Sandra and Iain at the Olympics in Los Angeles

That Iain had the skill and pedigree to assist any athlete in the country is shown in many ways but probably best by Sandra Whittaker’s career.    An extract from her own account of training with Iain (seen in its entirety at the link above) reads

“When I joined Glasgow Athletic Club I was fortunate enough to be placed in the sprints training group which Iain Robertson coached.   Within the first year Iain had quickly recognised my potential and approached my parents to ask if they could bring me to training more than once a week as he said he felt he could really make something of me.  After discussion, my parents committed to taking me out to Scotstoun three times a week and Bellahouston one day a week.  This was the start of great things to come.”    “Our training programmes were very challenging, but with Iain’s support and encouragement we got through them, sometimes on our knees by the end of a session.”

Early recognition, get the parents not just on-side but prepared to help in an active fashion, and being able to make the athlete work hard.   From these beginnings Sandra went on to perform at the very highest level.   Maybe her best performances were

(a)  in the World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 when she was eliminated in her Heat of the 200m by just one one-thousandth of a second in a talent packed race with Merlene Ottey, Florence Griffith, Angela Bailey and Marisa Masullo in front of her.   It was four to qualify regardless of times and she ran faster than 12 (twelve) of the 16 who qualified for the semi-finals.     It should also be noted that Sandra’s quarter-final was run into a -0.3 m/s headwind while the other three races benefited from wind assistance that was never less than +1.0 m/s.


(b) in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984.   She was third in her Heat in 23.22, fifth in the quarter final in 22.98 and failed to qualify for the semi-finals.   Runners in front of her were Bacoul (France) in 22.57, Brisco Hooks (USA and the ultimate winner) in 22.78, Bailey (Canada) and Davis (Bahamas) both in 22.97.    Another ferocious Heat, less than 2 tenths behind second and only 1 one hundredth behind third and fourth.   Faster than 7 of the sixteen who qualified for the semi-final. she was most unfortunate.   

She had been very carefully prepared, racing against the very best in the world there was no one better prepared physically and she certainly did not ‘blow it’ mentally.   It says a lot for her and for Iain’s preparation.   

It was a time of course when athletes from many countries were involved in drug abuse and the athletes from the Soviet bloc countries were particularly understood to be experimenting with various substances and combinations of substances.   When Sandra twice missed out on progressing by the narrowest of margins one has to wonder.   Iain is quite philosophical about it and none of his athletes were using anything illegal.   There was one regret though.    The Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986 saw Sandra come away with a bronze medal in the 200m behind Angela Issajenko of Canada and Kathy Cook of England.    After the Ben Johnson doping scandal and the Canadian Dubin inquiry in Canada, Issajenko confessed under oath to doping offences and gave chapter and verse on what she had been taking and when.   The period encompassed the ’86 Games.   Iain wrote to the governing body requesting that  the result of the Women’s 200m be looked at again in view of what had been admitted at the Dubin investigation but nothing was done about it.   In view of the fact that several such cases have resulted in athletes places in championship races being upgraded after doping offences were discovered, there is a clear case for the situation to be reviewed.  

None of this of course takes away from the remarkable coaching career of a remarkable man – or of the wonderful running of his athletes who all worked hard for him as well as for themselves.




The Iain Robertson File

..Iain, front right, with City of Glasgow AC group at Grangemouth

Like all coaches at the time, no matter how good or how much involved in athletics, Iain had a day job and had to work hard at it.   Nevertheless his time spent track side was considerable and it did not diminish as his responsibilities to coach education or his international duties increased.   Very few, if any, coaches in the 21st century realise how much time and effort was put in by their predecessors.   Some of the very best Russian coaches on a visit to the country were astonished at how much a Senior coach in the 1980’s was supposed to know and that they were all holding down ‘day-jobs’.     Iain’s load was much more than most coaches even then had to carry but it is worthwhile looking at just how much quality work he crammed in.

First on the Athletics Coaching front (remember he only started coaching in 1970):-

1973 – ’76: Scottish Schoolgirls Residential Course at Dunfermline College of Education.

1974:  As a delegate to the UK Sprints Conference: Iain was the Group Leader in a group researching into “increased leg speed” which involved the introductory talk and then leading the discussion involving some of the country’s very best sprints coaches.

Then at the International Coaching Convention in Edinburgh:-

1973: ‘Coaching the young girl athlete’;

1974: ‘Teaching and learning the skills of sprinting’;

1976/’82/’83: Group Seminar leader and Chairman of discussion on all Group feedbacks;

 1986: ‘Development of a Sprinter’. This paper was picked up by and published in ‘Track Technique’ the official technical journal of the Athletic Congress (TAC) of the USA, in the Fall 1987 issue.

On National Coaching:-

1983: At the National Athletic Coaches and National Event Coaches Conference at Crystal Palace, his presentation was on ‘The Work, Duties and Complexities of National Coaching’.

On Sponsorship:-

1988: He presented a paper entitled ‘A Case Study – Lessons for others’ dealing with club sponsorship.   This was at the Glasgow Sports Council’s Forum day at the Kelvin Hall .   (It was the result of his work with Glasgow AC where he had been instrumental in gaining sponsorship of £24,000 over three years from the McLaren Group.  This was not the only sponsorship activity undertaken by Iain – for instance, the photograph below was taken after a successful trip to the WAAA’s championship where as a result of his activities the group could fly to London, stay in the tower at the venue, have a night after the championships were over before flying back home.)

On International Events:-

1990:  He was the Director and Co-ordinator of the Third Workshop of  the European Coaches Association which was held in the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow in association with the European Indoor Championships.

As an organiser:-

1984 – ’93: Iain was a member of the Executive Organising Committee of the Glasgow Marathon, which became the Great Scottish Run,

Also for the same period of 11 years he was the Chairman of the Technical Committee and Primary Finish Controller of the Marathon/Great Scottish Run

1993 – ’98: Member of the Glasgow Marathon Board.

1988 – Manager of the Glasgow team to the Nuremberg Marathon, which won the team prize.   

1986 – ’98: Chairman of the Kelvin Hall Sports Arena Trust

1986 – 2007: Chairman of the Kelvin Hall Sports Education Trust (1986 – ’98), and after stepping down as Chairman of the Trust, he remained as a Trustee until 2007.

 Some other activities which impacted on athletics (and other sports).   

In 1993 Iain went to work at the Scottish Sports Council, which later rebranded to sportscotland, where his role as Director of Finance and Support Services gave him the opportunity to further impact across the broad spectrum of sport.

1993 – 2009: as director and Company Secretary of the Scottsh Sports Council Trust Company he contributed to the operations of the three National Sports Centres – Glenmore Lodge, Inverclyde and Cumbrae. 

1998 – 2009:  As Director of Finance and Support Services at sportscotland he was involved in creating and responsible for setting up the company structure for the Scottish Institute of Sport and acting as Company Secretary to the S.I.S. 

1993 – 2009:  Iain was Trustee and Treasurer of the Scottish Physical Recreation Fund which awarded grant assistance to sports participants, clubs and bodies.

1995 – 2009:  As Director of Finance and Support Services he was involved in the structuring of a new division, with separated accounting functions, when sportscotland was appointed the distributor of the Lottery Sports Fund in Scotland to the benefit of all sports bodies, facility providers and participants.

 2002:  Involved with the creation of the Scottish Sport Hall of Fame and at the inaugural induction ceremony Iain was liaison and host for the family of Eric Liddell, and for Allan Wells and Ian Stewart looking after them on the day of the ceremony.

Much of that might not have happened though.   We came close to losing his services on at least two occasions.   First of all, he applied in 1979-’80 for the post of Director of Coaching for New South Wales. He had family in Australia – his sister was living in the country.   He was interviewed in London for the post by the Executive Director of the New South Wales AAA.  Iain did not get the job but there was a follow up.   He was going to Australia in late 1980 and was asked to go and see the Executive Director again.   It was explained that the person who had been appointed had the same qualifications as Iain but he was Australian working in the country in education so had something to fall back on if the job didn’t go as planned.   However there was an immediate job for Iain – the Armed Forces Championships were being held the following day in Sydney.  Could Iain help?   He could and did and at the meeting he was Chief Track Judge on a searing hot day (he reckons that it was so hot that his leather belt absorbed so much sweat that he could have wrung it out at the end of the afternoon!)   The starter at that meeting had been appointed the chief starter for the Commonwealth Games to be held in Brisbane’s QE11 Stadium in 1982. Iain drank in all the information he could about the starter and his command timings and the challenges athletes faced in the Australian conditions.   He then travelled with his sister to see the facilities in Brisbane and photographed the stadium, the warm up track, alternative preparation areas, the living accommodation, the training facilities and as much detail as he could.   It all came in very useful in the lead-in to the Games, briefing this own and the Scottish Squad on what to expect and therefore prepare for before even leaving Scotland and for the team to use during the Games themselves.   The QE II Stadium is pictured below.  

The second time was in 1981 when Iain was interviewed for the post of BAAB Coach for the North of England West of the Pennines.   He was chosen to fill the post but after he had carefully weighed up the situation, he decided not to take up the offer.

It was a happy ending but his services could have been lost to Scottish athletics altogether.   

Cross Country or Harrier running prior to Clydesdale Harriers: i.e. before 1885

 The beginnings of harrier running in relation to Scotland are difficult to pin down. Much of the research and history seems to start rather abruptly at 1885 on the formation of Clydesdale Harriers.  Apart from fleeting references to a Towerhill AC in the north side of Glasgow prior to that and other references to hares and hounds activities of the universities (specifically in England), there is virtually nothing to guide us as to how the first clubs came to be formed in 1885. Runners simply could not have emerged spontaneously from the ether! What emerges is a complex of influences and traditions that at times stand alone, sometimes change and alter as a consequence of changes in civil society, and of course merge and diffuse.  Quite probably (although by no means certain) they arise from the following areas or sources of activities.

In the first instance, the societal groupings of the clan system and their running footmen and races between these footmen, plus the emergence later of Games and traditions associated with Fairs, contributed in the nineteenth century to a sense of ‘National Games’.  Highland regiments also played a key role in re-defining Scottish sporting traditions as a major part of the Scottish contribution abroad to the emerging Empire.

Secondly, the new sports clubs were, in part, a consequence of rapid urbanisation and influenced by the new Public Schools and their subsequent development and invention of new ‘sporting forms and traditions’. In amongst this, the nineteenth century witnessed political and social shifts that came to be reflected in the various sporting forms.  From ideologies such as ‘athleticism’ and the ‘muscular Christian‘, to shifting values around ‘respectability’ such as drink and temperance, pleasure grounds and ‘acceptable’ sporting engagement. Clubs of all sorts (and belonging to them) became a hallmark of the Victorian young male.

Scottish running traditions are assumed to have their roots partly in the traditions of clan systems and running footmen. There is the reasonably well-known historical tradition of running footmen kept as retainers as message carriers with references as far back as Malcolm Ceann-Mor in the eleventh century and the hill race up Creag Choinneach race.  Changes in local traditions and the nature of local Games also changed with variations to events and structure reflecting local and eventually area variations. In this regard races on foot, although usually to a local well-known vantage point and back, also changed.  Societal changes, especially in the eighteenth century also meant changes in leisure time pursuits. Games of villages and the Games associated with Market and Fairs Days took on greater significance with races over ‘rough terrain’ for prizes of goods such as tea and cloth as well as (in some cases) money. Highland Regiments (deployed mainly abroad) also played a significant role in maintaining the notion of a Scottish ‘tradition’ through regimental Games, and competition was encouraged between regiments with running races over different distances a feature of inter-regimental competition.

(One fascinating piece of related history, although it is not connected to any particular Harriers Club, is the ‘Red Hose’ Cross-Country race, which claims to date from 1508! This takes place annually in Carnwath, Lanarkshire. The Guinness Book of Records recognised the event in 2006 as ‘The oldest road race in the world’. Well, it was certainly cross-country back in the 16th Century – and recent photos (do check for more details online) show runners starting on grass. This traditional 3 Miles race has a pair of long red socks (or hose) as the prize. It was originally held around the Feast of St John the Baptist in June, but has now been absorbed into the Carnwath Agricultural Show in July. This is a well-loved local event and organisers are keen to keep the tradition alive. 

James IV, King of Scots, in 1508 gave a Charter of the Lands of Carnwath to John, third Lord Somerville, in the following terms: “Paying thence yearly….one pair of hose containing half an all of English cloth at the feast of St John the Baptist, called Midsummer, upon the ground of the said barony, to the man running most quickly from the east end of the town of Carnwath to the Cross called Cawlo Cross…” There was probably a military reason for imposing this duty on the owners of Carnwath. A fast runner could bring news of any approaching invasion from the South to Edinburgh, and the Red Hose would be the insignia by which he would be recognized. In olden days the event was so prestigious that the name of the winner was cried from the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Although the lands of Carnwath have been sold down the years, the local Laird Angus Lockhart of the Lee must still provide a pair of red stockings as the prize.)

From the early to mid-nineteenth century, ‘Balmorality’, Highland Games and Highland regiments, alongside new urban forces, created greater leisure time and modified activities better suited to the new urban classes. The impact of Victoria and her fascination and regard for everything Highland was to encourage the continuation of old ‘traditions’ as well as the invention of new ones. Her visits to Scotland and the acquisition of the Balmoral Estate in 1842 marked a turning point in the visibility of Highland Games. Victoria and Albert attended the Braemar Gathering in 1843 and her subsequent visits gave an impetus for the invention of the ‘romantic’ landscape of Scotland as a place and site of physical endeavour in accord with the rugged landscape. The illustration below (of ‘The Laggan Games’), one of the earliest of its kind, is a good example of this new and often exaggerated activity.


(Illustration supplied by Hamish M Thomson)

  1. In 1847 Victoria and Albert stayed at Ardverickie House (the setting for the TV programme ‘Monarch of the Glen’) on the shore of Loch Laggan for 3 weeks as a guest of the Marquess of Abercorn who had leased the property. Abercorn was ‘Groom of the Stool’ to Prince Albert. There is no record of there ever being a ‘Laggan Games’ but it would have been reasonable to assume that the host would have put on some form of ‘traditional’ activities during their stay, of which ‘The Race’ would have been one. Victoria and Albert are depicted on the right of the picture.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was a growing leisure ‘industry’ based on the new work/leisure balance. Betting and wagering in sporting activities had become well established by the eighteenth century. Walking and running races (Pedestrianism) became popularised as part of this as sites of not only physical endeavour, but also speculation. The Games of Scotland attracted large crowds to local Games to see ‘names’ with the attendant ‘evils’ of betting and wagering (also by the competitors themselves).

At the same time, emerging from the ‘Enlightenment’, gentlemen’s clubs and other homosocial groups also contributed to a sense of sporting traditions. It is here that we start to get distinctions in the forms that races took.  Steeplechases were popular and took the form of short (sometimes very short) races from one point to another by any route (and also by return).  It is suggested that a distant local church steeple lent its name to the form.  Hares and Hounds also started to become popular sometimes called Paper-Chasing or Paper Hunt.

A few examples of these clubs are The St. Ronans Border Games at Innerleithen whose third meeting in 1829 featured a ‘Steeplechase ….. a race up The Curly and back’. The Ettrick Border Games also featured at this time in what appears to be a relatively rich cross border development and according to one source, ‘although cotters and the rustic population engaged in them, the large majority of competitors belonged to the upper classes, and the lairds were oftener prize takers than their tenants.’ Associated with the Ettrick Games is James Hogg (The Ettrick Shepherd) and both Christopher North (aka John Wilson – Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University).

A further final example of these emerging clubs and their interest in ‘Scottish Sporting Traditions’ and runs over open country, is that of the Edinburgh Six Foot Club. Founded in 1826, the club included many of the literary figures of the day (despite not being six foot tall). Members included Sir Walter Scott, Christopher North (again), James Hogg, Adam Wilson, Henry Glassford Bell and Lockhart (Scott’s biographer).  Its object was to ‘practice the national games of Scotland and gymnastics’. In addition to their town gymnasium first in East Thistle Street and then later at Malta Terrace, it also met at an Inn at Hunter’s Tryst some five miles outside of Edinburgh on the Oxgangs road to take part in field and outdoor events.


In 1828 there was a Steeplechase of one mile for a silver watch. Eight competitors took part and M. Wilkie won in a time of ‘three minutes and a half’ (sic). Apparently, there were many ladies present.

Some of the associated practices around the Six-Foot Club Club resonated later in the formation of the Harrier clubs. Firstly, there was a distinct class base which is unsurprising given the time constraints of ordinary working men of this period. Secondly, there is the fondness for trappings and trimmings of nineteenth century clubbable men. Medals and cups, membership levels of ordinary members and honorary members with meetings in club rooms and at the gymnasium. Also, there was the uniform of the club of ‘the finest dark green cloth coat, double breasted with special buttons and a velvet collar. The vest was of white Kerseymere. Trousers were black. On special occasions a tile hat was worn.’ The Six-Foot Club clearly had influence as they were appointed ‘Guard of Honour to the Hereditary Lord High Constable of Scotland’ in 1828. The Harriers clubs were to adopt Patrons with the same enthusiasm, vying to attract the great and the good in positioning their club within sport and civil society. The Six-Foot Club has been described as the ‘thinking man’s fitness club’!

The 19th century therefore began to see developments in sport alongside the growth in industrialisation. Increases in leisure time (for some), new class divisions with the attendant aspirational activities designed to allow ‘getting on in life’ and increasing mobility of population enabled new sporting forms to develop and flourish.  Pedestrianism was one such popular form and is well documented and was key activity in bringing feats of running prowess to a wider public through a growing interest in both the national and local press of the day.  Betting and gambling based on many of the emerging sporting forms included feats associated with endurance running and attention soon turned to combatting the ‘evils’ of gambling (associated with the lower classes) while wagering (more acceptable) was associated with the new middle classes.  The need to organise and manage these new sporting forms therefore became of critical importance for a variety of reasons and it was in 1850 that a key catalyst emerged in relation to running.

The expansion and formation of many sports and clubs occurred from 1850. Up until then the life of the ordinary person was such that they were unlikely to travel on any regular or semi-regular basis outside of an immediate radius of where they lived and worked. The expansion of the railway system and the eventual half day non work time every week (one hesitates to say half day ‘holiday’), were key drivers in the development of leisure time activities. The 1850s therefore, was probably the moment when the sports and pastimes of the middle and upper classes began to feel the interest of those with new leisure time. The tensions between those sporting forms based on the gentlemanly ethos of manliness, athleticism and the young male as a muscular Christian with service to Queen, country and Empire (ensuing largely from the Public Schools from the 1830s), started to attract the attention of those whose backgrounds were not as privileged. Steeplechasing, paper-chasing and hares and hounds all gathered interest from those new industrial classes. Sporting activities were to become codified and organised on a more formal basis in order to exercise greater control and ‘police’ developments. Sport was to serve a purpose.

The social context for sport in the nineteenth century emerged from a mix of political upheaval and the extension of voting rights and an emerging new class structure. The development of amateurism (mainly an ethos of both the old and new public schools) was seen as masculine, militaristic and patriotic.  Sport was a place that defined true heterosexual men; ‘making men’ in effect.  The influence of ‘traditional’ sports was declining. By the nineteenth century there was also a new nationalism sweeping across Europe which used athletic activities as a way of inter-twining sport and nationalism.  Britain was developing its ‘Games ethos’ while Germany had its Turnverein (Turnen) movement (overtly nationalist) of Guts Muths and Friedrich Ludvig Jahn (‘Turnvater Jahn’). In Sweden, a similar movement to restore Swedish culture and national pride was led by Per Henrik Ling with ‘exhibitions’ known as ‘Lingiads’. The Czech based Sokol movement was also part of the nationalist sporting movements of Europe. With new social conditions emerging from industrialisation and urbanisation, a new focus to produce men (not women) of the right calibre to serve the Empire refocused sports; leaving some behind, while other forms developed. George Roland’s fencing and gymnasium rooms in Edinburgh was one such example of absorbing different sporting forms.

Harrier activity as one of those sporting forms was, by the 1830s, embedded in most English Public Schools with versions of running races, variously Steeplechases or forms of Hares and Hounds. Shrewsbury by 1819 had a Hares and Hounds run known as The Hunt, Rugby had its Crick run by 1837 (hares and hounds) and Eton had a Steeplechase by 1847. At Wellington it was Charles Kingsley himself who instituted the run and the course. Other schools such as Winchester and Harrow also developed runs.  The evidence (so far) of Scottish Public School equivalent school runs at this time, is negligible.  The Scottish system differed, but there were schools of long standing such as the High School of Glasgow (pre 1124), the Royal High School Edinburgh (1128), Hutchesons Grammar School (1641) and both Edinburgh Academy (1824) and Glasgow Academy (1845). It may well be that further work is needed to establish whether these schools had their equivalent run.

Source: The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. March 1st, 1879 p57 


 Many of these young men took those traditions into the Colleges of the universities they attended and while the Crick run of Rugby School is associated with the earliest form of cross-country running, it is the students of Exeter College, Oxford who arguably get the credit for the modern version of Cross-country with a College ‘Chase in 1850.  While much of the foregoing is Anglo-centric, it allows for a certain understanding of the diffusion of the sport and given the relationships that existed in the structure and governance of the two countries at the time, there is substantial evidence to suggest that some diffusion occurred through university educated men teaching in schools in Scotland and contributing to the culture of the school by encouraging running.

More frequent reporting in the press and an increasingly literate 18-35 age group, meant that young men were able to engage with the new forms of ‘acceptable’ activities. There are examples emerging by the 1860s of sports days held by former pupils of Edinburgh schools. Edinburgh Academy then Merchiston Castle, followed in 1864 by the Royal High School all held Sports Days and some included ‘strangers’ races’. The schools themselves soon followed suit and by 1866 the first Edinburgh Inter-Scholastic Games were held, witnessed by ‘thousands of spectators’. Glasgow Academy soon followed and the Glasgow Academicals Club were formed in 1866. This was what would be termed today a multi-sport club which practised runs over the country and they held at least two ‘Paper Hunts’ early in 1870. Athletic events were held each spring by other schools and clubs on the banks of the Clyde.

St Andrews University held a paper-chase in 1870. In 1871, some 5 years after forming their University Athletic Club, Edinburgh University held a Spring Steeplechase and by 1872 had formed its own Harriers club.  Edinburgh University in particular had a tradition of games going back to the 15th century when Regents used to supervise students playing on the Borough Muir. There is also an account of RL Stevenson commenting on medical students running up Arthur’s Seat.

One detailed example of the influence of the Edinburgh schools in encouraging running activities comes from an account from George Watson’s College. The school itself did little to formally encourage such activities, most of the activities being pupil led. WL Carrie, a Master at the school (Head of English) seems to have been a particularly powerful influence at in the early 1870s. During the period of the 1870s to 1880s, the boys played games on the Meadows of Edinburgh where the recollection of John Patterson (winner of three successive cross-country titles from 1898 to 1900) is that of ‘sixty-a-side soccer with a threepenny rubber ball ….. and Hares and Hounds through the Grassmarket.’  Attire was eclectic; ‘Long stockings with tight garters above the knee, and our short breeks were puckered with another elastic round the knee’. There were at least eight public schools in Edinburgh at this time who may have adopted and practiced a form of hares and hounds from time to time. The influence of Tom Brown’s Schooldays and the proselytising Head Teachers such as HH Almond of Loretto near Edinburgh, made the case for the importance of certain sports in order to produce ‘a race of robust men, with active habits, brisk circulations, manly sympathies and exuberant spirits’ for purposes of Empire. To be part of these new, respectable sporting forms was aspirational for many young men.

Into this however, fed the Victorian obsession with vice. This was partly in response to what was seen as a need to control and civilise the new urban masses as much as it was about defining ‘respectable’ behaviour and activities. There was of course much debate about what constituted ‘respectable’ behaviour but the strong anti-vice campaigners of the day, mainly the new middle classes, were skilled in using movements such as the Nonconformist ‘conscience’, the Quaker movement (anti-gambling) and the temperance reformers. Sporting activity came under scrutiny and so gymnastics, games, rowing, swimming and eventually cycling all came under the gaze of respectability. Harrier activity, arising from the runs at public schools and subsequently universities, then became one of a number of ‘acceptable’ sports often attached to ‘Athletic’ Clubs (multi-sport clubs of today) or gymnastic, football, rowing, swimming, cricket and cycling clubs before taking off in their own right by the mid-1880s. A number of harriers by the 1880s came from gymnastic clubs who had harrier sections as well as from harriers sections of other sports such as football, rowing, cycling and cricket (the West of Scotland Cricket Club was a particular adherent of ‘athletic meetings’). The scene was set for the aspirant male of the late nineteenth century to see sport as one of the more respectable and acceptable ways of making one’s way in life.  Attachment to a sports club brought a cachet (if one could join) and meant connections to ‘get on’ in life which chimed with the ‘Self-help’ ethos of the time.

Harrier activity (or paper-chases, Hares and Hounds or Steeple-chasing) in Scotland was occasionally used as an alternative to a game in adverse weather or as an adjunct to expand the ‘portfolio’ of a club’s activities, it is clear from the reporting in local newspapers in Scotland that although certainly known, it was considered a peripheral activity.  Reporting in the press to satisfy public interest was intermittent and haphazard until the 1860s.  Newspapers largely relied on this kind of information being fed to them by an interested party and even then, usually attached to an identifiable organisation such as a school, university or club. The main sports encouraged were cricket, football (both codes) and Sports Meetings or ‘Athletic’ Meetings which were usually grand occasions, with large crowds and held under the patronage of some civic notable.

One of the earliest references is that of the Maryhill Grand National Games in 1866.  In the same year the Glasgow Academical Club was formed at a meeting in May. In 1867 there were ‘Athletic Games’ under the auspices of the Glasgow Athletic Club at the Stonefield Recreation Ground, south Wellington Street, Glasgow to which 800-900 attended. In 1866 there were references to the annual ‘athletic sports on the banks of the Clyde’ such as those at Abingdon House the home of Sir Thomas Edward Colebrooke MP. Athletes included ‘professionals’ as well as ‘amateurs from the surrounding parishes’ and ‘trained athletes’. The afternoon was rounded off with a 6 mile race.

In 1870 Queens Park FC had a harrier run between members in October of that year, while in the same year the Glasgow Academical Club held a paper-chase from Bishopbriggs and back to their Club HQ. The first overt mention of a ‘Hares and Hounds Club’ comes in 1872 with the Glasgow Hares and Hounds Club who held a run over 7 miles from Regents Park on the Dumbarton road and finishing the day with a tea courtesy of a Mr Matthew Wilkes.

Harrier running (or paper-chasing) was also popular with football clubs who were also ‘Athletic Clubs’ in name (to be an Athletic Club perhaps made more of a statement than a Football Club). Alexandra AC was set up to ‘practice athletic and field sports’ but was principally a football club. This was no bunch of lads coming for a kick around. They had enough behind them to be able to lease land adjacent to Alexandra Park in Dennistoun (then a leafy suburb of Glasgow), and also erect a ‘house’ for members for inclement weather. It had the patronage of the Earl of Glasgow. By 1877 they were engaged in Hares and Hounds with a 5 mile run on July 9th. Queens Park Football Club were still sufficiently involved in Harrier activity to earn the nomenclature of ‘Hampden Harriers’ in 1880. By 1879 Edinburgh University were inviting footballers to run with them (27th December, 1879).

Interest in Harrier running/Hares and Hounds was clearly filtering through the school systems in Scotland at this time too. In an address to the Stewartonians at their 10th annual reunion in the Albert Hall in Bath Street, Glasgow in 1875, Thomas Young (chair), a merchant in Stewarton, reminisced about his boyhood days and how he ‘played at ‘Hares and Hounds’ o’er Corsehill Braes, the Thornefa, the Merry Greens and Bessie’s Braes’. Herbertshire Castle School at Dunipace held ‘Sawdust Chases’ for a number of years after opening in 1877.  JW Reid teacher of classics, chemistry and mathematics at the school was also a ‘gymnastics gold medalist’ so may have been a key facilitator in ‘Sawdust-chases’. He was a vice-president of the Dunipace Temperance Association with another master of the school a trustee (Thomas R Wilson). Paper-chasing was one of the ‘traditional’ activities by now of a public school and was part of the active ideology of the day and therefore fitted the temperance principles. The fondness (or otherwise) for the activity was often caught in the form of poems by the boys. In one poem published in 1880 titled Adieu to School, the pupil is keen to appear wistful and in stanza three he says


Farewell my tops and peeries too

Whose whirring hum my fancy drew!

Adieu the nimble steps and bounds

That served me well at ‘hares and hounds’!

Near the end in stanza 7 there is the hope that

… On other ‘grounds’ perhaps we’ll meet

In life’s untrodden field.

(A.M. in North British Advertiser and reprinted in The Fife Free Press, Saturday 31st July, 1880, p6)

Herbertshire Castle School

Of further interest are the various forms of hares and hounds that were part and parcel of other clubs such as the Ardgowan and Inverkip Hares and Hounds Hunt. In a series of detailed accounts from 1876 until at least 1883, there were a series of runs at Inverkip on the Clyde. The first race in 1876 was over 6 miles for a silver cup and was part of the New Year’s Day celebrations. Some two hundred people turned out to watch the race depart from the Old Kirk, the starter and judge being the owner of the Inverkip Hotel, Mr James French. There was also intimation of a further run the following week. The Ardgowan and Inverkip Hares and Hounds met the following year New Year’s Day and there is a detailed account of the race with attendant explanation as to what a Hares and Hounds race was since ‘this field sport is not indigenous to Scottish soil, being imported from the sister country’. The 1877 race benefitted by the attendance of the local estate owner, Sir Michael Robert Shaw Stewart and his wife Lady Octavia. By 1879 the race was clearly a major event as the prizes had grown from a cup and a handful of prizes to a silver lever watch, 3 monetary prizes, a woollen jacket, leather leggings, silk handkerchief and a silver mounted pocket knife. The recipients ranged from two gardeners, two quarrymen, a gamekeeper, saddler, stableman and a ‘second’ horseman all presumably employed by the Estate.

Such occasions however are seldom without local commentary and misunderstanding. It is recorded that in conversation with a friend on the Inverkip Road and old man was entreating his friend not to go further as ‘the lunatics had broken out of Smithton and were flying across the fields in a cluster … pursued by a man on horseback.’ He could not be persuaded that this was a race. The 1882 account of the race records the fact the many of the gentry and their wives accompanied the race on horseback and there were 19 ‘hounds’ who had been in training for the race. There was clearly a developing awareness in the district of paper-chasing since Aldergrove FC of Port Glasgow held a paper-chase in April, 1880 with the intention of a further race to which other clubs would be welcome.

While at first glance, there may seem a ‘head of steam’ in interest for paper-chasing, which might have resulted in more clubs being formed, paper-chasing was still generally an adjunct activity or at best a section of an Athletics or football club. By 1881, hares and hounds activity as part of the Alexandra FC club had died out. Contemporary commentary recounts that ‘Cross-country has never found favour north of the Tweed. It is essentially an amateur sport, and amateur athletes, until a very recent period, were a small minority of the population.’ It goes on to confirm that it is essentially a winter activity only indulged in to keep in condition as it ‘improves the wind.’  It also talks of ‘wheelmen’ who are precluded from their sport due to the heavy state of the roads who would benefit from the formation of a paper-chasing club. A further report in the press talks of getting up a club for ‘hares and hounds hunts’ which were ‘great fun’ in the public schools and mentions the influence of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. It goes on to make the case for the ‘ease of getting into the countryside around Glasgow’ such that ‘when the ground is too hard for football and the ice too thin for skating … it would amuse both spectators and those taking part.’

It was Towerhill AC however, a football club, that is most commonly mentioned immediately prior to the formation of Clydesdale Harriers in 1885. Towerhill, as has been mentioned in relation to other football clubs, staged hares and hounds runs from time to time from their ground at Hopeton Park, Springburn, Glasgow. Towerhill were one of the west of Scotland’s oldest football clubs and there is mention of them in relation to a match in 1874 having just recently formed as ‘adopting association rules’ and ‘a uniform of blue cowls, two-inch orange and blue ringed jerseys.’  There were other attempts in the 1880s to develop an ‘Athletics club’ for Glasgow with a meeting at the Athlone Hotel, Glasgow on 6TH October, 1882 signed by TG Connell, A McCorkindale and AD McGillivray and a further meeting on 13th October with ‘a membership of 30’ under the presidency of RC McKenzie (Glasgow Acad.). Nothing seems to have transpired from either of these attempts and they may well have been more related to Athletics Meetings than Hares and Hounds. In Edinburgh St George Football Club (Rugby) and the Northern Cycling Club both had runs of a hares and hounds nature in the early 1880s and it was the initiative of the St George club that ultimately led to the formation of Edinburgh Harriers in 1885. Peter Addison of both Edinburgh Harriers and Edinburgh Northern Harriers is known to have been a harrier member of St James FC (Edinburgh) one of a number of ‘football’ clubs practising other sports prior to the formation of the Edinburgh clubs.

In attempting to draw threads together to gain an insight as to the nature of harrier running prior to the formation of our oldest surviving club, Clydesdale Harriers, it has not just been an issue of investigating the clubs themselves, but also delving into the contexts too. There were not only societal influences, but also sporting forms changed to suit the new emerging social and political fabric of the day. Some further thoughts emerge. One of the reasons for a potential lack of development much earlier (along with other sports) could have been the lack of a fixed venue or home for the activity (by definition). Added to this is the large-scale betting industry of the nineteenth century which found pedestrianism attractive (often fixed venue, ability to advertise events and often very large crowds), but hares and hounds less so. Scottish soccer has been described as ‘a big business’ by the 1880s and spending on sport in late Victorian Britain was estimated to be about 3% of gross national product. Harrier running, by its very nature, over large tracts of land and therefore hidden from spectator view was perhaps less appealing and less under this new commercial leisure control compared to the track (athletic) meetings. From its historical roots through to its partial resurgence as one of the ‘Scottish Pastimes’ and into the public school era as a tool for moulding young men in the image of Empire and respectability, running over the countryside evolved by the 1860-70’s as a form of sporting engagement firstly as part of the ‘new’ athletic clubs and as an adjunct to existing sports clubs, to full view as a sporting activity in its own right.  By 1885, Harrier running was now part of the sporting cultural capital of aspiring young men.

Sources: The following is a list of some of the sources which were used and can be followed up for more detail.

Brander, M. (1992). The Essential Guide to Highland Games. Edinburgh, Canongate. (for brief history of development of Highland Games)

Collins, T (2013). Sport in Capitalist Society, Routledge, Abingdon p 41 taken from Marshall, F (ed) (1892). Football: The Rugby Union Game. London p55 (for the quote by HH Almond)

Collins, T. (2013). Sport in Capitalist Society. London, Routledge. (for a brief critique of changes to society in nineteenth century Britain and how they affected sport)

Gibson, J. (1903). The Lands and Lairds of Denny and Dunipace (for the illustration of Herbertshire Castle)

Huggins, M. (2004). The Victorians and Sport. London, Hambledon and London. (for attitudes and values associated with sport in nineteenth century Britain and the sports themselves)

Huggins M. (2016). Vice and the Victorians. London, Bloomsbury. (for the relationship between ‘respectability’ and sport)

Jarvie, G. (1991). Highland Games. The Making of the Myth. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. (for a more critical review of Highland Games)

Radford, P (2015) Six Feet Club, Edinburgh. An extended note (as pdf) in Athlos

Smith, CJ (1979). Historic South Edinburgh, Vol 2. Edinburgh, Charles Skilton. (for Six Foot Club)

Sports Quarterly Magazine No 15 for sources on Six-Foot Club and Sports Quarterly Magazine No11 for sources on the St Ronans Games and other Border Games. National Archives of Scotland G-D445/4/15

stronansgames/ (for information of St Ronans Games and Border Games)

Telfer, H (2006). The Origins, Governance and Social Structure of Club Cross Country Running in Scotland, 1885-1914. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Stirling.

Wilkinson, HF (1875) Modern Athletics 2nd edit. London, Warne. (for early Scottish athletic sports of 1860s and 70s)

Wilson, Alex. (2020) Profile of Peter Addison. Accessed at

I am indebted to The British Newspaper Archive for access to the following:

The Evening News; North British Daily Mail; Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette; The Greenock Advertiser; The Glasgow Daily Herald and The Glasgow Herald; Evening Citizen; The Hamilton Advertiser; The Daily Review; The Evening News and Star; Falkirk Herald and Linlithgow Journal; The Dundee Advertiser; The Fife Free Press; The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald; The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

Also indebted to sources provided by Hamish M Thomson (National Union of Track Statisticians) for first clubs and first runs as well pictorial material.



Peter Addison


Looking back to the beginnings of the Scottish Cross-Country Championship from its origins in 1886 to 1900, the name Addison keeps popping up.
This is the story of a stalwart club runner who co-founded two of Edinburgh’s seminal athletic clubs and still found the time to run his way into the Scottish athletics history books.   Back then, the careers of amateur athletes were short-lived and rarely lasted longer than a few years. These were among the earliest sporting idealists, zeitgeist surfers seeking self-fulfilment rather than self-enrichment. They were typically dynamic young men around the age of twenty. This of course made them prime husband material. After entering the safe haven of the marriage, the young runner would be gently but firmly advised to retire and devote himself to other more pressing commitments like work and family. In any case, competitive athletics was considered a young man’s game. Anyone over the age of 35 was a rare old bird whose efforts would elicit a mixture of concern and astonishment.
In comes Peter Addison, who was born at Aberlady in 1862 and made his debut with St. James F.C. in 1881. Reports describe him as the “little Edinburgh Harrier”, so it may be assumed that he was rather diminutive.   St. James F.C. was one of several harrier clubs operating in the Edinburgh area during the 1880s. This was before the formation, in 1885, of the Edinburgh Harriers, of which Addison was a founding member.
In 1889, feeling that there was room for another club in the city, Addison also co-founded the Edinburgh Northern Harriers.
Addison was the diametric opposite of a speed merchant. A habitual recipient of generous starts, he could do no better than 4:54 for the mile. But what he lacked in basic speed he made up for with sheer enthusiasm and work ethic.
I imagine he would have been an avid marathon runner had the event existed back then. The longest events at that time were the national cross-country championship and the 10 miles track championship, so there are no prizes for guessing what his preferences were.
When the going got tough, he nearly always came through. The name Addison graced every Scottish Cross-Country Championship from its inception in 1886 until 1899.

Scottish Cross-Country Championship

Date Venue Indiv placing
1886 27 Mar Lanark Muir 10
1887 18 Mar Hampden Park DNF
1888 10 Mar Hawkhill Recreation Grounds ?
1889 18 Mar Hamilton Park 8
1890 8 Mar Tynecastle 11
1891 14 Mar Cathkin Park 6
1892 12 Mar Tynecastle 10
1893 11 Mar Hampden Park 26
1894 10 Mar Musselburgh 21
1895 9 Mar Hampden Park 11
1896 14 Mar Inverleith Park 14
1897 6 Mar Paisley. 14
1898 5 Mar Musselburgh 35
1899 11 Mar Hampden Park 35

As can be seen from the table above, his best individual result was a 6th place finish in 1891. Three times he was on the winning team: in 1886, 1891 and 1892. In addition to this, he won a runners-up medal on three occasions: in 1889, 1890 and 1897.
Addison divided his affections evenly between Edinburgh Harriers, whom he represented from 1886 to 1892, and Edinburgh Northern Harriers, whom he represented from 1893 to 1899.

Edinburgh Harriers winning team in the inaugural Scottish Cross-Country Championship of 1886: 1 Tom Fraser, 2 David Colville Macmichael, 3 David Scott Duncan, 4 William Mabson Gabriel, 5 John William Lodowick Beck, 6 Peter Addison, 7 Robert Cochrane Buist, 8 John M. Bow

Even though cross-country was doubtless Addison’s first love, he was more successful individually on the track. He competed in the Scottish 10-mile championship four times and each time he was in the top three, thrice receiving the coveted standard medal for a time under 57 minutes. The absolute unequivocal highlight of his running career was winning the 1892 national championship at the Powderhall Ground in 56:06.4. Of course, the absence of the holder Andrew Hannah also played a part in this, but as they say, you have to be in it to win it.

Scottish 10-Mile Track Championship

Date Venue Placing Time
1888 7 Apr Powderhall 3rd 56:59.6
1889 12 Apr Hampden Park 3rd 56:55.8
1892 24 Mar Powderhall 1st 56:06.4
1896 4 Apr Powderhall 3rd 57:27.0

Addison was well liked for his pluck and spirit, as can be seen from this report on a meeting in Kilmarnock in 1897: “That old favourite, Peter Addison, the limit man in the mile and half-mile, was cheered loudly by the crowd to keep it up. Peter did his little best, and in the half-mile he had a good chance could he have sprinted.”
His performances tapered off towards the end of his career and by the late 1890s he was to be found among the stragglers but no less popular for it. During the 1898 national championship at Musselburgh the greatest ovations were reserved for Jack Paterson, who was first, and Addison, who I believe was last. That tells you more about the man than a thousand words.
In 1900, at the age of 38, Addison met Isabella and, presumably on her gentle but firm advice, he decided to hang up his racing shoes. The following year weddings bells were ringing and the Scottish Referee reported: “The veteran Peter Addison is to be testimonialised this week on the occasion of his marriage. Unassuming to a degree, the ten miles ex-champion has made friends of all, and thoroughly deserves recognition at the close of a long and honourable career, and on such an auspicious occasion. It is a far cry back to 1881, but that is the year in which Addison made his debut as a member of the long defunct St. James F.C. He ran year in year out for twenty successive seasons, and was in his 31st year when he won the ten miles championship at Powderhall in 1892.”
Addison lived in the Broughton district of Edinburgh and forged his trade as a blacksmith at a well-known printing firm on the north side of the town.
Following this retirement from competitive athletics, Addison continued to serve the Edinburgh Northern Harriers as a handicapper and starter for many years. His son Peter also competed for Edinburgh Northern Harriers in the 1920s and early 1930s.  As one of the few surviving founding members, Addison was a guest of honour at the dinner to commemorate 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Harriers.
Having led a healthy lifestyle, Addison lived to very respectable age of 84.

Willie Robertson


The Clydesdale Harriers’ Handbook for the season 1893-94 lists among its members a certain William Robertson, living at 2 Apsley Place in Glasgow District No. 4, the Gorbals.

It also enumerates the prizes each member won during the previous season. Robertson had 24: 15 firsts, 6 seconds and 3 thirds.

The story of Willie Robertson marks a watershed in the early history of Scottish amateur athletics.   Late in 1898, only months after winning a clutch of S.A.A.A. titles, he was banished from the amateur ranks for life.   This is the tale of an avid distance runner who aspired to become a star only to be sucked into a black hole.   But, fear not, it has a redemptive ending.

Robertson was born to Janet and William Robertson, a draper, in Greenock, Renfrewshire, in 1871.

His sporting career began in Motherwell, where the family were living at the time. People tended to move around quite a bit depending on work prospects. Robertson was an apprentice pattern maker. He made his first public appearance in the colours of Motherwell Harriers in 1891.

On 6 February 1892, only a few months after joining Motherwell Harriers, he gave early proof of his precocity by finishing 16th in the Scottish Junior Cross-Country Championship at Paisley.

By the start of the 1892/93 winter season he was showing all and sundry at Motherwell a clean pair of heels.


On 4 February 1893 Robertson took a second swing at the Scottish Junior Cross-Country Championship over a gruelling six-mile course across heavy plough and turf at Musselburgh. This time he showed what he was really made of by taking second place in of a field of 120 behind another outstanding young talent, Stewart Duffus from Arbroath.

The overlords of the Western Districts must have seen Robertson as a potential reinforcement for their team fronted by multiple Scottish champion Andrew Hannah. The Clydesdale Harriers had developed talent recruitment to a fine art. With their unrivalled training facilities and a well-organised network spanning the entire Glasgow area, it would have been hard for an aspiring young athlete to turn down their solicitations.

After a few minor races to build up his form, Robertson scored a half / mile double at the Maryhill Harriers’ Sports on 27 May. “He is a cleanly built fellow, with a nice lift and taking style”, wrote Scottish Referee, adding prophetically that “Robertson … will yet be heard of.”

Two weeks later, in a two-mile handicap in Hampden Park, Robertson fulfilled this prophecy by demolishing a first-class field from 45 yards in 9:49.8. The race report in Scottish Referee was titled “ROBERTSON CAUGHT THE EYE”. It read, “The Motherwell man strode out from among the crowd with a stride like Triton, made mincemeat of the field, and paralysed everybody – handicapper included. There was no catching of him, and in disgust Hannah gave up a lap from home, but Duffus persevered, and got second place.”

The author also lamented that Robertson had not entered for the national championships. He need not have worried. Robertson, emboldened by his success at Hampden Park, submitted a late entry for the four-mile event, where he faced, among others, none other than Andrew Hannah. The Scottish Referee was in no doubt. “Robertson, Motherwell, is a cracker. He will stick the best men in Scotland at present”, it wrote.

The author did not omit to mention, however, that Robertson’s armoury lacked one vital tool – finishing speed. A chink in his armour. A vulnerability.

In the S.A.A.A. championships at Hampden Park on 12 June Robertson, as had been expected, gave Hannah a good run for his money. After having already run, and won, the mile earlier in the afternoon, Hannah was no doubt keen to conserve his energy for he settled on a tactical race where he was the predator and Robertson his prey. Despite his best efforts, Robertson could not do a thing, and on the last lap Hannah sprinted away and won by 20 yards in 21:36.4, with Robertson taking silver in 21:40.0.

Having represented Motherwell Harriers at the Scottish championships, Robertson transferred to the Clydesdale Harriers. His younger brother Thomas, a fairly good half-miler, also joined the Clydesdale.

The rest of his season was less spectacular – the genie was out of the bottle – but at least it yielded a few more personal bests and benchmarks for future comparison. Robertson wore the Clydesdale colours for the first time in a three-mile team race at Tynecastle Park on 24 June but could only finish fourth in 15:36.1. On 22 July he covered the mile from scratch at Larkhall in 4:45.0, and then did 2:02.2 in the half mile off 30 yards. Finally, on 29 July he finished his track season by running second to Hannah in an inter-club three-mile race at Gateshead in an estimated 15:40.0.

It was around this time that the Robertson family moved from Motherwell to the Gorbals. The Apsley Place of the 1890s was a side street which cut a swathe between rows of tenements a short distance from the south bank of the Clyde.

Having been elected Vice-Captain under Hannah, Robertson kicked off 1894 by winning the first of the season’s classic events, the Scottish Junior Cross-Country Championship, at Hamilton Park Racecourse on 3 February.

A month later, he finished a creditable seventh in the Scottish Senior Cross-country Championship at Musselburgh, where his clubmate Hannah extended his dominance over the plough by winning the title for the fourth time in five years.

Robertson performed consistently, if not spectacularly, throughout the 1894 track season. At the Glasgow Merchants’ Sports at Celtic Park on May 19, he finished second behind Stewart Duffus in the four-mile handicap off 60 yards. Here he covered 4 miles less 90 yards in 20:41.4, which equates to about 21 minutes for the full distance. On 2 June he ran 15:33.2 in a three-mile inter-club match at Tynecastle, where he was outsprinted in the straight by the young Watsonian Hugh Welsh. In another three-mile handicap at the West of Scotland Harriers’ Meeting in Hampden Park on 11 June, he finished third and improved to 15:07.0 for 4 miles less 50 yards, or the equivalent of about 15:17 for the full 3 miles. He missed the 1894 S.A.A.A. track championships at Powderhall where Hannah won the 4 miles from Duffus, in 20:48.8. Twice he competed against the English champion Fred Bacon and on each occasion he was on the receiving end of a hefty defeat despite a sizable start. In a three-mile race at Powderhall on 21 July, Bacon set a new Scottish record of 14:27.4, while Robertson finished third off 270 yards. The same happened at Celtic F.C. Sports on August 11th, where Bacon covered the mile in 4:21.6, while Robertson finished second off 90 yards. Robertson ran his best mile that year on 18 August in Arbroath, where he won the mile handicap from 15 yards in 4:35.0.

Despite missing the S.A.A.A. championships, his overall haul for the year earned him the Clydesdale Harriers’ gold medal for the greatest number of prizes won during the athletic season – 27 in total.

Robertson opened the 1895 season by finishing fifth in the Scottish Cross-country Championship at Hampden Park, where 19-year-old Robert Hay of Edinburgh Harriers was a surprise winner, 100 yards ahead of Stewart Duffus.

The following month Robertson showed a marked improvement in the Scottish 10-mile championship at Hampden Park. Running with an easy, graceful action, he led at 3 miles in 15:31.6 and was able to stay with reigning champion Andrew Hannah through 4 miles in 20:47.8 before having to let go of his clubmate, who went on to shatter the Scottish record with a time of 53:26.0. Robertson held his form well and finished second in 54:07.0, just missing the old record.

In the run-up to the Scottish championships Robertson continued to show impressive form, winning a two-mile handicap off 30 yards at Paisley on 18 May in 9:43.0 and a mile handicap off scratch at Ibrox Park on 5 June in 4:33.6.

But something important had happened in the meantime. At the Vale of Leven Sports in Alexandria on 1 June, some eyebrows were raised when Robertson finished a close second in the half-mile handicap to Robert Langlands, Scotland’s #1 half miler at the time. His time of 2:00.0 for 880 yards less 24 yards is the equivalent of about 2:03 for the full distance, which was great running for a long-distance specialist. Three weeks later, Langlands would become the first Scottish amateur to break the two-minute barrier for the half. Not done yet, Robertson then lined up against Andrew Hannah in the mile handicap, both on scratch, and held his clubmate to a yard in 4:35.2. Athletic News reported that Robertson had been “cultivating a sprint” and that “at all events, there is more fire in his finish than was the case a year ago”.

The 1895 national athletics championships had been preceded by discord over whether professional cycle racing should still be allowed in conjunction with amateur athletics meetings. With revenue foremost in the minds of some, there were strong positions in favour and against the motion. The ensuing deadlock over this contentious issue resulted in several western district clubs in favour of allowing professional cyclists to compete at their meetings – notably Clydesdale Harriers – seceding from the S.A.A.A. and forming the Scottish Amateur Athletics Union (S.A.A.U.). This meant that athletes competing in events run under S.A.A.U. rules were automatically debarred from competing in meetings held under S.A.A.A. rules, and vice versa. The consequence of this impasse was that the national championships of 1895 and 1896 were held under the auspices of two separate bodies – much like in Ireland. Of course, it was to the detriment of the sport, for it also meant that Duffus, Hannah, Langlands, Robertson & co. would not get the chance to represent their country in the Scoto-Irish International instituted in 1895 under the auspices of the S.A.A.A. The depleted Scottish team only narrowly lost the first match but would probably have won it if they had been at full strength.

Despite the absence of competition due to the above-mentioned split, Robertson still faced a tough battle at the S.A.A.U. Championships at Hampden Park on 22 June. His opposition in the mile included John Milroy (West of Scotland Harriers), James Rodger (Carrick Harriers), Stewart Duffus (Arbroath Harriers) and Robert Langlands. Although a close race had been expected, Robertson left his opponents floundering in his wake and won by a full 70 yards from Langlands in 4:28.4. Without anyone pushing him, he missed the Scottish record set by David Scott Duncan in 1888 by only four tenths of a second. As to this, the Glasgow Herald commented: “If any man in Scotland is capable of this it is W. Robertson, whose consistent running has been one of the features of the season”.

Robertson continued his good run of form throughout the summer, even if he suffered two narrow defeats over two miles at the hands of Stewart Duffus, losing by a foot at Ibrox on 29 Jun in 9:58.1 and by inches at Dundee on 13 July in 9:57.5. On 17 July he won the mile handicap at Kirkcaldy in 4:28.0 off scratch. It equalled the Scottish record, but since the time was achieved on a grass track, it was not eligible for record purposes. Only three days later he produced another superb performance in the mile at the Falkirk F.C. Sports where he won easily off scratch in 4:29.2. At the Rangers FC Sports at Ibrox Park on 3 August, he again came agonisingly close to the mile record, winning in 4:28.4 from scratch. The Glasgow Herald attested Robertson a “magnificent race” and suggested that the record would have been broken without the “indiscreet pacing of his companions” Stewart Duffus and James Rodger running alongside him.

Andrew Hannah and Stewart Duffus were among William Robertson’s toughest opponents

To sum up, the 1895 season had marked Robertson’s entry into the vanguard of Scottish long-distance running. His versatility that year had been particularly impressive. Not even the great Andrew Hannah could boast such a range from the half mile to ten miles. He had also won his first S.A.A.U. championship with a performance which had left no doubt as to his supremacy in Scotland over the mile. Finally, he had come tantalisingly close to breaking the native mile record, which, it had to be assumed, was living on borrowed time.

After suffering a heavy defeat by Andrew Hannah in the Clydesdale Harriers’ seven-mile open handicap on 1 February 1896 Robertson was not among the hot favourites for the 11th running of the Ten Miles Cross-Country Championship of Scotland at Inverleith Park, Edinburgh, on 14 March. The week before the championship, Scottish Referee predicted he would only come seventh. In fact, he finished third behind Andrew Hannah, who won for the fifth time, and Stewart Duffus, who had moved to Glasgow with his brother and switched allegiance from Arbroath to Clydesdale. Disappointingly, there were only 24 participants and Clydesdale was the only club to finish a team.

The inaugural S.A.A.U. 10-Mile Championship at Hampden Park on 10 April looked to be following the script of the previous year’s event when it developed into a two-way battle between Hannah and Robertson. This time, however, the outcome was up in the air until the last mile, when Hannah broke away from Robertson and won by 15 seconds in 54:56.8. For Hannah, it was title #7, which we know in hindsight was a record that would never be surpassed. A new native record had been hoped for, but the weather gods had other plans. The runners had to battle not just with each other but also with the wind. The first mile was done in 5:03.6, the second in 10:20.6, third in 15:41.4, fourth 21:04.2, fifth 26:33.0, sixth 32:10.4, seventh 37:47.6, eighth 43:26.4 and ninth 49:16.2. The rival S.A.A.A. Championship, which was decided in Powderhall on 4 April, was won by Robert Hay (Edinburgh Harriers) in a slower time of 55:56.6, but Hay put in a very fast finish leaving a question mark over his true ability. A national championship ought ideally to provide a measure of transparency, but the divide within Scottish athletics had only muddied the waters and needed to be urgently addressed.

Robertson renewed his rivalry with Hannah and Duffus in the St. Mirren sports at Paisley on 25 April and finally turned the tables on his rivals by winning the three-mile handicap off scratch in 15:20.0. On 9 May, he faced his principal rivals again at Tynecastle. After winning the mile handicap off scratch in 4:34.6, he stripped again for the four-mile handicap. In a thrilling race which ended in a near blanket finish, Duffus (20:52.0) won from Hannah (20:52.3) and Robertson (20:52.4).

Robertson produced a string of good performances in the run-up to the season highlight. After winning a mile steeplechase at Celtic Park on 25 May in a fast 4:58.0, he also took the mile handicap at Hampden Park on 30 May in 4:35.4. In a three-mile inter-club race at Tynecastle on 6 June, he came home a close third behind Duffus and Hannah in 15:25. A 4:31.0 mile at Ibrox on 13 June showed that he was peaking just in time for the S.A.A.U. Championships at Hampden Park on 27 June.

Despite being the firm favourite, Robertson had great difficulty defending his title in the mile from Charlie McCracken. The young Carrick Harrier, winner of the Scottish Junior Cross-Country Championship, ran the race of his life and pushed Robertson to a new native record of 4:27.2. McCracken (4:27.6) was also inside the old figures that had stood to D.S. Duncan for eight long years.

His absence was not as noticeable at that year’s international match against Ireland in Dublin as it was in the previous year. In 1896, despite wins in the half mile and mile by the outstanding Hugh Welsh, as well as wins by Robert Hay (4 miles) Hugh Barr (long jump), the Scottish team was no match for the Irish in the sprints and technical events, and lost 7-4.

Not being able to represent his country, Robertson entered the Kirkcaldy F.C. Sports on 15 July and despite being heavily handicapped, won the mile from scratch in 4:34.0.

Even as the summer drew to a close, Robertson showed that he had husbanded his resources well, for he was not showing any of the typical signs of staleness one would expect of an athlete towards the end of the competitive season. On 10 August he lined up against the Irish champion Jack Mullen on the scratch mark in a two-mile handicap at the Celtic F.C. Sports. Keeping well together throughout, they overhauled the lesser runners in the field and made a race of it on home straight. Here, according to the Glasgow Herald, Mullen “shot to the front, and won amidst great enthusiasm by about five yards” in 9:44.6. Despite failing to win, Robertson had the satisfaction of improving his personal best to 9:45.5. Among the Scottish amateurs only Andrew Hannah (9:41.0) and Stewart Duffus (9:41.2) had ever gone faster over 2 miles at the time.

This was, incidentally, to be Mullen’s last race as an amateur. He was immediately suspended by the I.A.A.A. for competing at a meeting held under S.A.A.U. rules. Within a week he had accepted an offer from Celtic F.C. to train their players, while continuing to compete as a pro for a few more years.

Robertson concluded his track season on Monday 18 August by winning two-mile handicap at Hampden Park in 9:54.0. The gathering was for the benefit of Robert Hindle, the old pedestrian and latterly starter at most athletic meetings in the West of Scotland. In his heyday Hindle won Scottish and English championship at distances up to a mile. The great William Cummings, holder of professional world records at a mile and ten miles, was his protégé. Hindle, who was the groundsman and trainer to St. Mirren Football Club, died from bronchitis a few months later at his Paisley home at the age of 50.

1896 had again been another successful year for Robertson. He had achieved a third place in the S.C.C.U. Championship, a second place in the S.A.A.U. 10-Mile Championship and he had defended his one-mile title at the S.A.A.U. Championships. He had once again set several personal bests. After many heroic attempts, he had finally claimed the native mile record in the mile. What did the future hold for him? In 1897 he would be up against the prodigious young Watsonians Hugh Welsh and Jack Paterson; as well as Stewart Duffus, now the holder of the Scottish 4-mile record (20:10.8). On the other hand, Andrew Hannah had hung up his spikes for good. He was no longer an obstacle on the road to success, which was arguably more open than ever.

Robertson got his 1896/97 cross-country season off to a good start by winning the Clydesdale Harriers’ Open 7 Mile Scratch Handicap at Maryhill Barracks on 5 December 1896. This was the second running of the event, which incidentally was the first ever open cross-country race to be held in Scotland. Four months of twice weekly club runs later, and Robertson was being touted one of the favourites for the 1897 Senior Cross-Country Championship Underwood Park on 11 March. In fact, he finished second. In a gruelling battle of attrition over heavy terrain, Stewart Duffus was the first past the post in 1 hour 12 minutes, half a minute ahead of Robertson. However, the storyline behind the result is that Robertson had torn his “knickers” while crossing a barbed wire fence, forcing him to stop to change them and losing valuable time. In more fortunate circumstances the outcome may have been different.

The rift which had divided Scottish athletics for two seasons had been resolved during the winter, with the result that, once again, the Scottish amateur athletics clubs were unified under the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association.

The first track championship of the season was the 10 Miles Championship of Scotland for the £25 challenge cup at Hampden Park on 9 April. Both Robertson and Stewart Duffus were back in action with points to prove: Robertson keen to avenge his defeat in the cross-country championship, Duffus determined to validate his position. Robert Hay, the holder, was a notable absentee. The lack of entries suggested, according to Scottish Referee, “a paucity of long-distance men in Scotland”. The race practically resolved itself into a match between Duffus and Robertson, who alternated the lead at a moderate pace just inside standard time (57 min). On the last lap, Robertson showed his superior speed and pulled away from Duffus, who, seeing he had no chance, gave up with 220 yards to go. Robertson finished alone in 56:19.0 and celebrated his first national 10-mile title at third attempt. The splits were: 1 mile – 5:20.2; 2 miles – 10:53.2; 3 miles – 16:28.2; 4 miles – 22:15.6; 5 miles – 27:51.6; 6 miles – 33:39.6; 7 miles – 39:18.6; 8 miles – 44:56.0; 9 miles – 50:44.6.

A couple of low-key races set Robertson up nicely for an attack on the three-mile record in the Abercorn F.C. Sports at Underwood Park, Paisley, on 15 May. Starting at scratch alongside Stewart Duffus, Robertson romped home first in a native record of 14:57.2 and became the first Scottish amateur to run 3 miles in under 15 minutes. His arch-rival Duffus had not only fallen and retired but also lost both his official and unofficial records. In 1896 Duffus had run a 15:06.4 at the Rangers F.C. Sports on 1 August and an unratified 15:04.8 at Airdrie on 15 August.

On 12 June Robertson met the Watsonian Jack Paterson, one of the rising stars in Scottish athletics, for the first time in a 3-mile inter-club race at the Edinburgh Harriers Sports and won by 4 yards in 15:15.4 after outsprinting Paterson. Having previously been known as a staid front runner, he had somehow metamorphosed into a fast finisher.

Jack Paterson

A 2:01.6 p.b. off scratch in the half mile win at Parkhead on 22 June confirmed that Robertson was ready take on the dual champion Hugh Welsh in the S.A.A.A. mile championship at Celtic Park on 26 June. It was a tall order. The young Watsonian was a firm favourite after making an impressive debut at Cockermouth on 6 June, where he won the half mile in 1:58.0 off 10 yards and the mile in 4:24.0 off 15 yards. Scottish Referee reported that “W. Robertson is to do special training for championships, and may be seen in auld Ayr shortly.” Robertson knew he would need to do something special to beat Welsh. This, according to the Scotsman, is how the race went: “The S.A.A.U. champion went off at a brisk pace and for most of the way led Welsh by a few yards. At the bell, however, the Watsonian reduced the gap, and soon got ahead of his opponent. Entering the back straight he was in front, and gradually increasing the distance between himself and his only rival, he had the issue beyond all doubt coming into the straight for home. Robertson did not relax his efforts, but success was beyond his powers, and he was thoroughly beaten.” Welsh won by a clear 10 yards in a new Scottish record of 4:24.2 and Robertson also bettered the old figures with 4:26.0. The track had reportedly been showing signs of “lifting”, and it was reckoned that Welsh’s time was worth two seconds faster in perfect conditions. Having completely run himself out in the mile, Robertson was forced to make an early exit from the 4-mile event won by Jack Paterson in 21:10.0.

The brilliant Hugh Welsh, seen here winning the 1899 A.A.A. Mile Championship, was the finest miler Scotland had ever produced and the nemesis not only of Willie Robertson.

After defeating both Duffus and Paterson in a three-mile team race at Ibrox Park on 3 July, Robertson was selected to run the mile and four-mile events in the upcoming international match against Ireland at Powderhall on 17 July.

On his first international assignment he finished second in the mile behind Ireland’s James Finnegan in 4:34.0 but dropped out of the 4 miles after leading for the first 2 ½ miles. Without Hugh Welsh to carry the half mile and the mile, the Scottish team lost by 7 events to 4.

Despite losing his national mile title and record to Hugh Welsh in 1897, Robertson was still able to look back on his best season yet. Highlights included: second place in the Scottish Cross-Country Championship, first place in the S.A.A.A. 10 Mile Championship, second place over the mile in the match against Ireland and a Scottish three-mile record, as well as personal bests over the half mile and the mile.

Robertson began the 1898 season by taking another tilt at the national cross-country championship, which was held that year on 5 March at Musselburgh. It was his fifth try. He had improved from year to year – from seventh in 1894, fifth in 1895 and third in 1896 to second in 1897 – and was eager to win it. Taking the lead early on, he delivered another courageous performance, but once again had to settle for being runner-up, this time to Jack Paterson, who won by 60 yards. Thanks to good packing by, among others, the Duffus brothers, Jim and Stewart, and David Mill, the Clydesdale had no trouble retaining the team championship.

The months of winter training for the cross-country season naturally also stood him in good stead for the S.A.A.A. 10-Mile Championship at Powderhall on 15 April. Making light work of a wet and heavy track, Robertson turned his title defence into a procession and lapped the entire field, finishing in 55:10.8. One observer was of the opinion that he had never run better. His mile splits were: 5:02, 10:21.8, 15:53, 21:15.2, 26:49.4, 32:24, 38:02, 43:45.6 and 49:49.2, his last mile taking 5:21.6.

In the run-up to the national championships Robertson tested himself over various distances. In a meeting in Celtic Park on 16 May, he managed to get through no fewer than 42 runners to win the half mile handicap off scratch in 2:02.6.

Then he went over the mile in the Queen’s Park Sports at Hampden Park on 4 June. Scottish Referee reported, “The one mile flat invitation handicap brought out 17 competitors, including W. Robertson, Hamilton Yuille, les Freres Duffus, and J.C. McDonald. Robertson, off 20 yards, was actual scratch man, and, starting with his well-known stride, he gradually overcame the men in front of him, and long before the finish the race was his. His time was 4 min 25 3-5 sec, which, considering that he latterly had no one to pace him or shield him from the breeze, was excellent. Pity it was that Hugh Welsh could not accept the invite. He would have started off scratch, and the finish between him and Robertson would probably have been a rousing one.”

On 11 June he crossed swords with Jack Paterson in a two-mile scratch invitation race at Powderhall, but lost narrowly to the fast-finishing Watsonian in 9:50.4.

Despite his feat against Paterson, Robertson went into S.A.A.A. Championships at Hampden Park on 26 June full of confidence. He had entered the half mile, the mile and the four miles! Could he seriously have been considering the fabled, never-before-seen “triple”? It looked plausible at least. The biggest stumbling block, Hugh Welsh, was absent readying himself for the A.A.A. championships the following weekend. The biggest hurdle was the ever-dangerous Paterson in the four miles, the last event. After winning the half mile (2:02.0) and the mile (4:38.8) without much trouble, he toed the line again for the four miles. However, it was not to be, a sore foot forcing him to retire and relinquish the title once again to Paterson.

On 9 July Robertson competed again over the half mile in Kilmarnock. Starting from scratch, he won a close race from W.C. Gudgeon, Ayr, who pushed him to an outstanding time of 1:59.8, just two tenths of a second outside the native record held by Robert Langlands. He was only the second Scottish amateur ever to have broken the two minute barrier for the half mile. It wasn’t the only sub-two half mile in Scotland that day, though. The Englishman Alf Tysoe also achieved the feat in Edinburgh, where he lowered the Scottish record to 1:57.8.

In the International match against Ireland in Dublin on 16 July, Robertson, despite his sub-two credentials, had to settle for third in the 800 yards behind Hugh Welsh and Ireland’s Cyril Dickinson in 2:05.0. In the mile he allowed himself to be lapped by Welsh and paced the latter to a new Irish record of 4:21.6. It was a generous, if not dubious, gesture on Robertson’s part as Ireland’s Faussett was still in the race, albeit at least 50 yards behind.

This group photo was taken during the 1898 Scotland v. Ireland match at the Ball’s Bridge Ground in Dublin. William Robertson is possibly the figure on the far left of the second seated row.


After winning a three-mile inter-club race at Berwick by a yard from the Duffus brothers in 15:12.4, Robertson finished his season with a string of indifferent performances suggesting staleness had set it. His last race of the year was at the Cliftonville Sports in Belfast on 13 August where he was unplaced in the mile handicap. However, this was to be a meeting that would come back to haunt him.

Shortly after the start of the winter cross-country season it transpired that the S.A.A.A. had set up a special subcommittee to investigate alleged professional activities by several well-known athletes. Following deliberations, it was announced on 28 December 1898 that Robertson as well as John and Stewart Duffus were to be suspended permanently for being implicated in the, quote, “personation of two amateurs by professionals at Belfast, and for betting”. Several other famous Scottish athletes, including the five-time S.A.A.A. half-mile champion Robert Mitchell (Clydesdale H.) and the 1894 S.A.A.A. mile champion James Rodger (Carrick H.), were likewise suspended for betting in conjunction with the meeting at Belfast.

The suspensions sent shockwaves through Scottish athletics. Particularly hard hit were the Clydesdale Harriers, who lost a number of high-calibre runners in one fell swoop. “Pace”, the athletics columnist for the Scottish Referee, wrote the following almost apologetic eulogy: “No matter what the Brothers Duffus and Willie Robertson have done on the track, and for which they have now suffered, they were shining lights in the world of cross-country running, and the determination shown by either of the trio has nerved young ‘uns to deeds over field and fen. Robertson was one of the best C.C. pedestrians I have known, and the manner in which he got over the ground in his awkward style was indeed marvellous. I should like to have seen Willie matched against Sid Robinson over a distance of ten miles, either over country or on the track.”

It was a harsh penalty for what many would have considered a minor infraction of the rules. Betting was, after all, a national sport. Scottish officialdom, however, saw otherwise.

Appeals were lodged and heard in May 1899 at a special meeting of the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association in Glasgow. It was reported that, “Mr. D. S. Duncan, secretary, read a report of the subcommittee giving the evidence which the appellants were suspended. The brothers Duffus and Robertson were called, and all admitted having taken part in the Cliftonville sports, where James McDermott (alias “Darwen”), of East Calder, a professional, who personated a Glasgow amateur named Stewart, was also a competitor. J.S. Duffus further admitted having congratulated Darwen on winning one of the events. The sports were held under amateur rules, but the appellants stated that betting was permitted to take place on the quiet.”

In the meantime, several papers had reported the arrest of McDermott for his role in the affair. “It is alleged,” the report read, “that McDermott did, on the 2nd August, 1898, at the sports of the Cliftonville Club, pretend that he was amateur, and did thereby obtain a gold watch and umbrella offered prizes by the club to bona-fide amateurs.”

Given such incriminating evidence, it goes without saying that all appeals were dismissed and the suspensions upheld. The banned athletes could not hold any office and could not coach or have any involvement in the sport thereafter. A permanent suspension was the death knell for an amateur sporting career. The Duffus brothers turned professional and spent the next years “making hay” at Highland gatherings. In 1912 Stewart Duffus emigrated to the USA to begin a new life. Robertson did not take the professional route like the Duffus brothers, although this would no doubt have been the easiest and most tempting one. As persona non grata in amateur circles, he could not be associated in any way whatsoever with the Clydesdale Harriers. There was, however, a loophole allowing him to lay the paper trail for the club’s pack runs during the winter months. Again and again he lodged appeals with the S.A.A.A.: again and again they were dismissed. Then, in early 1903, after four years in sporting oblivion, he was reinstated.

On 21 March 1903 the Scottish Referee reported: “Willie Robertson, the ex-distance champion of Scotland, who was suspended a few years ago, along with the Brothers Duffus, has been reinstated, and will represent his country in the forthcoming international. During the time he was suspended Robertson never took part in any professional races. The brothers Duffus did, and it is hardly likely they would be reinstated if wished.”

Robertson’s re-instatement came too late for him to run in the “national”. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when he was included in the Scottish team for the inaugural International Cross-Country Championship at Hamilton Park Racecourse on 28 March 1903. The Scottish Referee attempted to shed some light on this matter: “THE INCLUSION OF WILLIAM ROBERTSON will surprise not a few. He passed his re-instatement, however at the last committee meeting of the S.A.A.A., and has been in regular and well-worked training for some time past, and is said to be quite up to, if not, indeed, better, than his old form.”

What spoke for Robertson was certainly his successful track record in cross-country. However, his selection may also have had to do with the decision of the Scottish Cross-Country Champion Peter McCafferty to represent his home country Ireland, with the result that Scottish team was even more lacking in quality and depth than it already was. In the twilight of his career Robertson would once again have the chance to shine. Unfortunately, it was not to be. The strength-sapping eight-mile race was dominated by the English team led home by the indomitable Alf Shrubb. The home team only managed to finish third out of the four teams competing. James Crosbie was the first Scot home in 10th, followed by John Ranken 14th, James Ure 17th, Tom Hughes 21st, James Reston 22nd and Tom Mulrine 23rd. The Scottish champion McCafferty wound up 20th and was only the sixth counter for the Irish team. After four years in the wilderness and having been called up at short notice, it was perhaps no surprise that Robertson was a non-finisher.

The group photo was taken 15 minutes before the start of the inaugural I.C.C.U. championship at Hamilton Park Racecourse. The winner, Alf Shrubb, is seated at the front wearing #9. Most of the Scottish team is seated on the front right. Only three Scots are wearing race numbers. The yellow arrow indicates Willie Robertson, wearing #38.

The S.A.A.A. 10-mile championship was held just six days later at Ibrox Park. Of the 5 competitors, including Robertson, only Peter McCafferty made it to the finish. His winning time of 57:07.2 was one of the slowest since the inception of the championship in 1886 and not even enough for a standard medal. Another week of recuperation would certainly not have been a bad thing.

The remainder of the track season did not go particularly well for Robertson either, despite the fact that he was receiving starts. His best run of the season was probably his third-place finish in the mile handicap at Celtic Park on 13 June, where he posted a 4:25.0 for a mile less 76 yards. The scratch man in that race, Alf Shrubb, gave up but returned two days later to set a Scottish 4-mile record of 19:32.2. Robertson also figured prominently in the early stages of the S.A.A.A. 4-mile championship at Ibrox Park on 20 June but broke down and finished unplaced. New stars were in the ascendency now, most notably John McGough of the Bellahouston Harriers, who achieved the half mile, mile and 4 miles “triple” that had eluded Robertson five years earlier.

In the 1904 the Scottish Cross-Country Championship over the Glasgow Agricultural Showgrounds at Whiteinch, Robertson showed signs of a return to form by finishing 10th in a race won by the Watsonian John Ranken. This performance saw him nominated for the second running of the International Cross-Country Championship at Trent Bridge Ground, Nottingham, on 30 April. Again, the English team led by Alf Shrubb dominated the proceedings with all six counters finishing inside the first nine. The Scottish team led by John Ranken in 11th again had to settle for third place with Robertson outside the scoring six in 39th place.

Owing to his diminishing returns on the track, cross-country was where Robertson’s attention necessarily lay at this late stage in his career. In 1905 however he could only muster a 38th place in the Scottish Championships at the Scotstoun Show Grounds in Glasgow and was not nominated for the I.C.C.U. Championship in Dublin. Here the Scottish team took the second place thanks to good packing behind a sixth-place finish by Sam Stevenson.

A new generation of Scottish long-distance runners was now emerging as the old growth thinned out. The baton would be carried forth by John McGough, Tom Jack, John Ranken and Sam Stevenson et al.

The 1906 Scottish Cross-Country Championships at Scotstoun were to be Robertson’s last. The Clydesdale Harriers, led home by Sam Stevenson in first place, won the team championship for the first time in four years. In a fitting finale to a chequered career, Robertson finished 23rd and closed in the winning team.

That brings to a close the story of Willie Robertson, one of the prime movers in Scottish distance running during the 1890s. One could also call it the rise, fall and redemption of Willie Robertson. At the time of his retirement he one of only two men to have won national track titles at distances from the half mile to 10 miles. To this can be added two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish in the Scottish Cross-Country Championship. With six S.A.A.A. titles and two Scottish records to his name, he stands alongside Jack Paterson, Stewart Duffus and Hugh Welsh and Andrew Hannah as one of the pivotal figures of his day. The only blemish on his career, albeit a big one, was his permanent suspension for betting on a dodgy race in Belfast. Fortunately for his persistence he was able to make a comeback in 1903 and represent his country in the historic inaugural running of what is today known as the World Athletics Cross Country Championships.


Main accomplishments:

Scottish Junior Cross Country Champion, 1894.

Scottish mile record holder, 1896-1897.

Scottish three-mile record holder, 1897-1904.

Half-mile Champion of Scotland, 1898.

One-mile Champion of Scotland, 1895, 1896 (S.A.A.U.) & 1898.

Ten-mile Champion of Scotland, 1897 & 1898.


6x the bridesmaid!

Robertson was also 2nd in the Scottish Senior Cross Country Championship in 1897 and 1898, and 3rd in 1896. He also finished 2nd in the S.A.A.A. 1-mile championship in 1897, 2nd in the S.A.A.A. 4-mile championship in 1893, and 2nd in the S.A.A.A. 10-mile championship in 1895 and 1896.


Personal bests

Half mile 1:59.8 Kilmarnock 09.07.1898
Mile 4:26.01) Celtic Park, Glasgow, 26.06.1897
2 miles 9:45.51) Celtic Park, Glasgow, 10.08.1896
3 miles 14:57.2 Underwood Park, Paisley, 15.05.1897
4 miles 20:47.81) Hampden Park, Glasgow, 12.04.1895
10 miles 54:07.0 Hampden Park, Glasgow, 12.04.1895
  • estimate

Thanks to Kevin Kelly and Hamish Thompson

Jack Paterson


By the standards of the day, Jack Paterson was a latecomer to amateur athletics. Born at Musselburgh on 22 May 1873 to Alison and William Paterson, a grocer and spirit merchant, both his grandfather, Willie Currie, and his elder sibling, also Willie, were noted golfers. Proving that the apple never falls far from the tree, young Jack was drawn to the venerable Musselburgh Links like a moth to a flame. Eventually he would play alongside David Duncan, a fellow townsman of Musselburgh and amateur golfer, and the first Scottish amateur one-mile champion and holder of the Scottish mile record. Paterson was also, among others, a contemporary of David Jamieson, a doyen of Scottish athletics journalism whose seminal history of Scottish professional athletics, Powderhall and Pedestrianism, hit the shelves in 1943.

Paterson was educated at Edinburgh’s prestigious George Watson’s College, where academic and physical education traditionally went hand in hand. In 1857 William Turner, of the University of Edinburgh, postulated in An Atlas of Human Anatomy, that “it would greatly tend to prevent sickness, and to promote soundness of body and mind, were the elements of Physiology, in its application to the preservation of health, made part of general education.” In a world in which survival of the fittest was the mantra of the day, the public-school philosophy reflected this opinion. George Watson’s College had various sports clubs, one of the oldest being the Watson’s College Athletic Club. However, it was through the Watsonian Cross-Country Club, formed in 1893, that Paterson discovered and nurtured his gift for running. During his time at George Watson’s he had mostly played golf and taken no interest in the annual athletic sports. Former pupils of George Watson’s being known as Watsonians and eligible to compete for the school after graduation, Paterson was a mainstay of the Watsonian Golf Club and winner in 1895 of their scratch gold medal. However, as snowbound winters were not conducive to playing golf, Paterson laid down his clubs during the 1895/1896 season and joined the school cross-country club. The rest, it is said, is history.

Even before Paterson arrived on the scene the Watsonians were a rising force in the world of “field and fen”, having in 1896 supplied the winning team at the Scottish junior cross-county championship. And few Watsonian stars shone brighter than that of Hugh Welsh, who lit up the tracks of Scotland during a very short but highly successful career culminating in a brace of British one-mile titles and Scottish records.

On 27 May 1896 Paterson made a memorable debut for W.C.A.C. “Paterson,” wrote The Scotsman, “led the field a merry dance” and won by 10 yards from the 65 yard mark in a time of 4:28.0. “This” Scottish Referee reported, “was Paterson’s first essay on the track, and although he was known to be the second best of the Watsonian cross-country runners, he was not fancied much outside his club because he had done no training. If he sticks in, he will one of the best stayers Scotland has yet produced. His first love, however, is golf and he recently played for the Monks of the Braids in the final for the Edinburgh Despatch Trophy.”

Two weeks later, during the Edinburgh Harriers Sports at Powderhall, Paterson ran another 4:28 mile, albeit off 40 yards, prompting Scottish Referee already to speculate that he “might easily be another Welsh for all the data we have to go on so far”.

Paterson was not yet ready to vie for honours at the 1896 S.A.A.A. championships held at Powderhall on 26 June. Instead ran he ran in the fringe mile handicap and finished 4th from scratch in about 4:40. The spotlight was, of course, on his Watson’s College alumnus Hugh Welsh, who with consummate ease scored a double in the half-mile and one-mile events.

Eager to get back to golfing, Paterson concluded his first season with a flourish at the St. Bernard’s F.C. Sports at Powderhall a fortnight later. It was a two-part meeting. On the Saturday he ran 3rd in the mile handicap off 30 yards in 4:27.0 (worth 4:32 for the mile) and on the Monday evening he won the 3-mile handicap off 80 yards in 15:02.8. On the back of these performances, Paterson was already garnering accolades from the local sporting cognoscenti and being tipped as a champion in the making.

The 1896/97 cross-country season traditionally got under way in November with an Opening Run of the combined harrier clubs of Edinburgh – some 200 runners took part – at the Portobello Baths. This was followed every Saturday afternoon by smaller pack runs of 6-8 miles from various venues across the city, such as the salubrious Braid Hills Hotel.

On 13 February 1897 Paterson came of age by winning the Scottish junior cross country championship at Musselburgh after a good race with Hamilton Yuille from Motherwell. He also led the Watsonians to victory in the team championship, thanks especially to top-10 finishes from Lewis Jack (6th) and Alex Gibb (8th).

A few months later Paterson got his 1897 track season off to a good start by winning the 2-mile steeplechase at the obligatory fixture for Watsonians – the Watson’s College A.C. Sports at Myreside on 1 May. However, he continued to lead a double life, for that same weekend he shot a 77 from scratch over 18 holes at Musselburgh. On 27 May he won a mile handicap at Powderhall in 4:34.4 off 15 yards and then on 5 June he took the honours in a 3-mile inter-club race at Tynecastle in 15:28.8. The weekend after that he wrapped up his preparations for the 1897 S.A.A.A. Championships at Celtic Park on 26 June by finishing second to Willie Robertson, Clydesdale Harriers, in another inter-club 3-miler at Powderhall 15:16.2. The Watsonians had entered Hugh Welsh for the half-mile and the mile, while Paterson and Alex Gibb were to run the four miles. Needless to say, Welsh had no trouble retaining his titles, notably winning the mile in a Scottish native record of 4:24.2. It had been expected that Willie Robertson and Stewart Duffus would take the honours for Clydesdale Harriers in the 4-mile championship, but the crowd’s excitement turned to dismay when both favourites dropped out, paving the way for a shock Watsonian 1-2 with Paterson striding home 150 yards ahead of Gibb in 21:10.0. “The surprise of the day,” the Glasgow Herald wrote, “was the defeat of W. Robertson and S. Duffus in the 4-mile event by J. Paterson, of Watsonians.” Paterson’s S.A.A.A. championship triumph gave him automatic selection for the 4-mile event in the international match against Ireland. Before that, he had one final outing at the St. Bernard’s F.C. Sports at Powderhall, where he showed a good turn of speed to win the half-mile handicap off 15 yards in 2:00.6.

The Scotland v Ireland match was decided at Powderhall on 17 July in “magnificent weather” in front of 2500 spectators. In the four miles Willie Robertson set the pace for 2 ½ miles, when he, Bob Hay and Ireland’s Barren and Faussett retired, leaving the race to Paterson and Ireland’s Mick O’Neill. Paterson took the lead and made all the running but was unable to shake off O’Neill and had nothing left when the Irishman flashed past on the home straight to win by 3 yards in 20:37.2. Despite failing to win, Paterson had acquitted himself well by finishing 2nd in a new personal best of 20:37.8. Overall though, there was nothing that year for the Scots to write home about. With only the winner to count, the Irish équipe made it three wins out of three since the inauguration of the contest in 1895. The vanquished Scots would therefore have to wait another year for their next chance to turn the tables on their Celtic rivals.

As in the previous year, the “International” concluded Paterson’s track season. He was the consummate amateur, a puritan, or whatever you want to call it, not in the least tempted to take part in the “games” or to run for money, let alone compete alongside professionals. He was, it was reported, also a non-smoker and teetotaller. It goes without saying these days that athletes would be clean-living, but tidbits such as that were worth a line of newsprint back in the days when sports meetings were followed by smoking concerts. 1897 had been a good second year full of promise for Paterson with two Scottish titles and a cap against Ireland.

Paterson kicked off the 1898 season by winning the Scottish senior cross-country championship on 5 March at Musselburgh after a great race with the 1894 champion Willie Robertson. Despite his victory and a 3rd-place finish from Lewis Jack, the Watsonians failed to defend the team championship against the might of the Clydesdale Harriers.

Paterson and Robertson would cross swords several more times that year: in a 3-mile inter-club team race at Powderhall on 28 May Robertson had the upper hand and won by 5 yards from Paterson in 15:14.2, but Paterson returned the favour two weeks later at the Edinburgh Harriers’ Sports when he won the 2-mile invitational flat race by inches from Robertson in 9:50.2. This set the scene for the Scottish championships at Hampden Park on 25 June, where both Paterson and Robertson were to face off again in the four miles. However, Robertson, still weary from winning the mile championship earlier in the afternoon, gave up in the third mile. Even so, Paterson still had his work cut out to defend his title and only just managed to hold off Robertson’s club mate James Duffus for victory in 20:47.2. Paterson and Duffus renewed their rivalry on 9 July in the mile handicap at the St. Bernard’s F.C. Sports at Powderhall, where the 5000-strong crowd had already witnessed Alf Tysoe set a Scottish half-mile record of 1:57.8 in the colours of Salford Harriers. Tysoe, the 1897 A.A.A. 10-mile champion and a future Olympic gold medallist in the 800 metres, also turned out for the mile race, but was understandably running on tired legs and retired with a lap to go. Paterson took advantage of a 25-yard start to win by eight yards from Duffus (60) in a fast time of 4:25.0 (equivalent to 4:29 for the full distance). Unfortunately he was unable to reproduce this form in the Scoto-Irish match at Ballsbridge a week later and trailed home a disappointing 5th in the 4-mile event behind Ireland’s Mick O’Neill (20:19.8) and anglo-Scot Dr. H.A. Munro (20:30). Both himself and Duffus, wrote the Glasgow Herald, were, quote, “run off their feet”. Paterson concluded his athletics season with this and returned to his first love – golf. Despite having fallen at the last hurdle, he had enjoyed another sterling year, winning Scottish titles on and off the track and showing that he was capable of running the mile in under 4:30.

In 11 March 1899 Paterson added the next title to his resumé at Hampden Park when he annexed the Scottish senior cross-country championship from Dave Mill of Clydesdale Harriers. In addition to retaining the individual title, he captained the Watsonians to their first-ever win in the senior team championship, with club mates Alex. Gibb (4th) and Lewis Jack (6th) also finishing in the top 10.

Paterson is shown here in 1899 with the Watsonian club’s silverware.

The season-opening Watson’s College sports at Myreside on 6 May were, as usual, a colourful occasion – one of the highlights of the social calendar. Here Paterson demonstrated his speed and stamina by keeping the scratch man Hugh Welsh at bay to win the half-mile from the 25-yard mark in 2:02.8. Performances in a handicap race on a grass track in cold and windy conditions are hard to quantify, but Welsh was now the British Mile Champion and holder of the Scottish mile record (4:17.2). Two weeks later, he faced Welsh again in a mile handicap at Clydesdale Harriers Sports at Hampden Park. Having received a miserly start of only 20 yards on the British Champion at scratch, the best Paterson could do was finish 2nd to his club mate in 4:30.8. Later in the afternoon, Paterson showed his powers of recuperation in the half-mile handicap by getting through a large field to win off 18 yards in 2:03.0. It was reported that he accomplished this feat by running the entire race in the second lane where the track was firmer. Only three days later, on 27 May, he was back at Powderhall to contest the main event at the Watson’s College Athletic Sports – the invitation mile handicap. Running in glorious weather, he managed to keep Hugh Welsh in check but still settle for 2nd to Alex Gibb (60) in 4:24.4 having been allowed 30 yards. Welsh was timed at 4:25.8 off scratch. Paterson appeared not to take the Edinburgh Harriers Sports at Powderhall on 27 May too seriously, as it was reported that he had spent the whole morning playing golf. His performances in the half mile and two miles were accordingly poor. The weekend after, however, he was back in action at a Scottish Cyclists meeting at Powderhall and won the mile in 4:26.4 off 30 yards. The S.A.A.A. championships on 24 June at Hampden Park, where he was once again entered for the four miles, was a fixture he did of course take seriously. In a race dominated by tactics he sprinted to victory, his third in a row, by 20 yards over Alex Gibb in 21:33.6. All he had to do now was to conserve his form for the international meeting against Ireland. On Monday 3 July Paterson showed further improvement over the mile at the Edinburgh Northern Harriers Sports at Powderhall where he came within a yard of catching Clement Paton (105) of Edinburgh Harriers. His time of 4:21.8 from the 35-yard mark works out at 4:27 for the full 1760 yards, if not better. A week before the Ireland match, on 8 July, he tested himself over 880 yards at the St. Bernard’s F.C. Sports at Powderhall, where he finished 2nd to Bob Hay (22) and just ahead of Alf Tysoe (scratch). His time of 1:59.9 from 18 yards was equivalent to 2:02 for the full 880 yards. Fast for a long-distance specialist. Would his basic speed come to his aid in the “International”? Each country had been taking it in turns to host the event, and to enjoy home advantage. The fifth annual Scoto-Irish contest was held at Powderhall on 17 July and once again, therefore, a home affair. By the end of the afternoon it too close to call. With only one event left to be decided, the four miles, both teams were locked in an intense battle with 5 points apiece. In the early stages the runners shared the pace-making duties and were all bunched up but then started dropping off until only the Irish champion Frank Curtis and Paterson were left. When the bell rang for the last lap, Paterson, according to Scottish Referee, “went right away from” Curtis and brought the house down by winning “in great style by 40 yards” in a personal best of 20:34.0. His victory also secured, by the narrowest of margins, Scotland’s first ever win in this contest. Now would have been as good a time as any to end his season, but he extended it for another week so he could run in a 3-mile inter-club race at Berwick, which he duly won in 15:40.2. He had improved in every year so far, and 1899 was no different in that respect. Like in previous years, he won a brace of national titles, but by winning the individual senior cross-country title he also led the Watsonians to their first ever victory in the team championship. That year, for the first time in the International match against Ireland, he achieved the highest distinction available at the time to a Scottish athlete aside from winning a coveted A.A.A. title. Unlike Hugh Welsh, who twice became British champion over the mile, Paterson had never made the trip south to London to compete at the A.A.A. Championships. His track times had improved to equivalents of 2:02 for the half mile and 4:27 for the mile, and to 20:34.0 for 4 miles. His one-mile and 4-mile performances put him just outside the world’s top 10 for 1899. He was a winner by nature and he would have been keenly aware of the difficulty of emulating the successes of his George Watson’s College alumnus. However, the stage was set for further improvement in 1900.

The winter preparations for the 1899/1900 season obviously went well, with Paterson winning the S.C.C.U. championship with ease at Musselburgh ahead of Dave Mill and Alex Gibb. His third win in a row. The Watsonians were also emphatic winners of the team championship thanks to some excellent packing, Watsonians taking five of the top seven places. Having dominated the national cross-country championships for three straight years, Paterson took the next logical step and entered the 10 mile S.A.A.A. championship at Powderhall the following month. In the past the championship had suffered from indifference among Scotland’s long-distance elite, and on three occasions already since its inauguration in 1886 only one competitor had finished. Not so the 1900 championship, which saw no fewer than four runners charging up the home straight shoulder to shoulder. Needless to say, this scenario played into the hands of Paterson, who won by a clear 4 yards from Dave Mill in 57:32.2, having run the last mile in 5:07.2 and the last lap in 1:06.2.

While the indications were that he may move up in distance, Paterson did the exact opposite, and moved down! After annexing the half-mile handicap off scratch at the W.C.A.C. Sports in 2:07.4, he won the mile, again off scratch, in the Stewart’s College Sports at Inverleith Park in 4:38.0. Then on 22 May he took 3rd place off scratch in the mile at the Edinburgh Pharmacy Sports, where he posted a promising 4:34.0 on a soft track in windy conditions. The handicapper had of course taken note, and four days later at the Watsonian Club meeting at Powderhall Paterson only had a 15-yard start on the British half-mile champion Alf Tysoe in the mile handicap. Scottish Referee recounts what happened next: “The mile proved the event of the day, with Tysoe essaying to concede 15 yards to our long-distance champion, J. Paterson. The Englishman ran well for three laps, “clocking” 1 min. for the first quarter, 2mins. 7secs. for half distance, and 3min. 20secs. for threequarters. But Paterson had gone equally well so Tysoe turned it up at this juncture. In the back straight Paterson strode to the front, and, holding J. Ranken, W.C.A.C. (70), and G. Hume (120) at bay in the straight, won by three yards; same between second and third, while W. Laing, E.H. (130). and J. Bartleman. W.C.A.C. (140), were close up fourth and fifth. Time, 4min. 25 1-2secs. This is the second time Paterson has shown himself a sound 4min. 28secs. man, and we need look no further than him for the one mile champion now that H. Welsh has retired.”

When Hugh Welsh retired after the 1899 season to pursue a career as a factor of estates, he left a void nigh on impossible to fill, completely changing the Scottish competitive topography. The search for a successor was now in full swing, but it remained to be seen who would step up to fill Welsh’s boots. Apart from Paterson there were James Macdonald, Bob Hay and John Rankin, all of whom came from Edinburgh. On the west coast, on the other hand, things looked rather grim and remained that way until the emergence of John McGough a couple of years later. Another mile handicap followed a week later in the Queen’s Park F.C. Sports at Hampden Park, where 4:28.6 from 20 yards was enough to win. The Edinburgh Harriers’ Sports at Powderhall on 9 June saw Paterson in action in the half-mile handicap, where he was starting from scratch for the first time at a big meeting. Only two Scottish amateurs had beaten the two-minute barrier so far: Robert Langlands, 1:59.6 in 1895; and Hugh Welsh, the record holder with 1:59.4 from the previous year. Could Paterson get anywhere near these times? That was the question. This, according to Scottish Referee, was the answer: “The event of the day was the half-mile handicap which produced a Scottish record, compiled by a brilliant performance on the part of Jack Paterson. Moving grandly from the start he reeled off the first quarter in 57 secs., and was amongst his men on entering the second and last lap. Coming through the field he lost a bit in cutting in and out of the twenty-five others, but getting clear, he pursued the veteran, Geo. Hume, on the bend, and getting him on the straight, he overtook and passed his man, winning with ease in 1 min. 59 sec. This knocks 2-5 secs. off the record made by Hugh Welsh at the same meeting a year ago. Undoubtedly Paterson was helped by the keenness of the track, but he still can do better. The time was sensational, Jack, although deservedly popular, hardly being thought quite so good in a half-mile.” It was hard to believe but true. Today it would be difficult to imagine a three-time Scottish cross-country champion setting a native record in the half mile, but in these early days of Scottish amateur athletics some of the records were still “soft” enough, relatively speaking, to be accessible to such versatile a runner as Paterson. The S.A.A.A. Championships were still two weeks away but Paterson was in demand. On Saturday 16 June he competed again over the half mile in the Clydesdale Harriers’ Sports at Ibrox Park. He started again from scratch but this time he was unable to weave his way through the big field and had to settle for 4th place in 2:01.8. After an interval of four years, Powderhall Grounds had once more been selected for the big event of the athletic year. Paterson entered both the half mile and the mile, but elected not to defend his four-mile crown. First up was the mile, and here he did no more than was necessary to win by 2 yards from James Macdonald in 4:37.4. He was clearly saving himself for the half mile, where he was up against fellow Edinburgh runners Clement Paton and Bob Hay. Soon after the start he took the lead and reeled off the first quarter in 60 sec. Hay stuck with him until 200 yards from home, but then he opened up and powered to an impressive win in 1:59.6, equalling the championship record of Robert Langlands. By winning the half mile Paterson brought  his total tally of S.A.A.A. titles to three – a feat only Andrew Hannah and Willie Robertson among distance runners had accomplished so far. The match against Ireland took place a week later at Belfast in wet and miserable weather. The 385y cinder track at Cliftonville Park was accordingly heavy. In the mile Paterson was no match for the Irish champion James Finnegan and had to settle for 2nd place in 4:38. His best chance for victory was in the half mile but here he made the mistake of following Bob Hay’s injudiciously fast pace during the first lap. As a consequence, he tied up on the home straight and was relegated from 1st to 3rd behind Ireland’s James Mackenzie (2:00.8) and James Finnegan (2:01.2) in 2:01.4. According to the athletics aficionados, the times were worth at least 2 to 3 seconds faster in ideal conditions, so it wasn’t that bad a run after all.

As was his custom, Paterson concluded his season at this juncture and returned to playing golf. He had achieved much in his athletic career so far, having won every national title from half-mile to 10 miles, as well as setting a native record for the half mile. Scottish Referee described him as “perhaps the finest all-round distance runner from a half to ten miles Scotland has yet produced”.

At the end of 1900 Paterson intimated that the 1901 season would be his last. He skipped the “National” and the 10-mile championship, thus reliniquishing both titles without a fight, and waited until May before making his first competitive appearance of the year. Far from being rusty, however, he immediately showed himself to be in good shape. At the Watson’s College A.C. Sports on 4 May, running in ideal weather, he finished 3rd from scratch in the half mile in 2:02.6 – impressive running on the grass track at Myreside. The following week, he entered the mile handicap in the Stewart’s College Sports at Inverleith Park where he, according to Scottish Referee, “veritably ran a great race from scratch just failed to get placed” in a time of around 4:35 – again, a good time on turf still heavy from April rainfall. Then on 1 June he competed in the mile handicap in front of 2000 spectators at the Queen’s Park F.C. Sports, which were held that year in Gilmorehill in conjunction with the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition. The excellent quarter-mile cinder track was one of the features of the Exhibition Sports Ground, which had already been nicknamed the “X”. In spite of strong winds, Paterson gave an outstanding performance, ploughing his way through a big field from scratch to take 3rd in a personal best of 4:28.3. At the Edinburgh Harriers Sports on June 8, he competed over the half mile, just like in the previous year when he had set a Scottish native record. Could he deliver another record performance? 1000 spectators had gathered at the Powderhall Ground to find out. Paterson started at scratch and covered the first quarter in 59 seconds. A trifle too slow. A great second lap brought him to the fore but it was still not quite enough to catch his fellow Watsonian George Black (18 yards) who clocked a superb 1:58.5 (worth 2:01 for the full 880y). Paterson’s time of 1:59.5 was maybe not a record but it was the third sub-2-minute half mile of his career and the third fastest ever by a Scottish amateur. He was once again a strong favourite to win the half mile and the mile at the upcoming Scottish Championships at the Powderhall Ground on 22 June. In the mile Paterson had no problems defending his title, romping home 20 yards ahead of W.R. McCreath (Berwick) in 4:44.4. In the half mile, however, there was upset when he only managed to finish 2nd after being pipped at the post by John McAusland (W.S.H.) in 2:02.8 with James Cormack (London A.C.) just half a yard behind. Paterson was of course selected for both the half mile and the mile at the annual Scoto-Irish match at Gilmorehill the following weekend, but there was now a question mark over his form. It tuned out to be just a blip, a temporary malfunction. In the half mile he was beaten by the Irish champion James Finnegan, but this was expected and he only lost narrowly in 2:02.2. In the mile however he finally showed his true colours by running his Irish opponents Horan, McCreath and Finnegan into the ground and winning in a personal best of 4:25.0. Among Scots, only Hugh Welsh had run faster. It was also a very important win, as it helped Scotland to a narrow victory over Ireland by a single point. A near carbon copy of the 1899 match when he won the 4 miles and helped Scotland to their first win, the scoreline being identical on both occasions (6-5). Contrary to his usual custom, he competed twice more after the Ireland match. At the Queen’s Rifle Volunteer Brigade Sports at Powderhall on 6 July he ran the mile from scratch. J. Paterson was unquestionably the outstanding personality, Scottish Referee reported. He won the mile with the greatest of ease in 4 min. 30 4-5 seconds. Finally on 17 July he turned out for a mile handicap at the Watson’s College Sports at Powderhall and finished 3rd from scratch behind C. Jones (400) and George Black (55) in about 4:31. It was to be his track and field swansong.

On 19 July Scottish Referee eulogised: “It is with a distinct feeling of regret that we learn of the intended retiral of athlete J. Paterson from the athletic arena he has so long adorned. Overshadowed for some years by the brilliance of his club mate, Hugh Welsh, “Jacky ” (as he is familiarly styled), on the retiral of Hugh, came, as it were, out of his shell both in the half-mile and mile, the championship of which he won a year ago, and one of which—the mile—he still holds. At the recent international v. Ireland he ran a great mile—in fact, his very best—doing the distance in 4 min. 25 secs. In view of this performance, we think it a pity he has resolved to retire and leave the “paths to glory” to other and, we fear, less capable feet. However, if Mr Paterson carries out his present resolution, we are certain he will have with him the heartiest good wishes for his success in life, for he was a pleasing and popular pedestrian.”

After retiring from athletics, Paterson continued to excel in golf, playing for Scotland against England and Ireland. In 1907, in the first round of the British Amateur Championship, he had the distinction of defeating the U.S. amateur champion, Eben Byers.

He holed in one on four courses: Gleneagles, Kilspindie, Musselburgh and St. Andrews.

His younger brother Charles was killed during the First World War, as was his fellow Watsonian John Ranken, Scottish Cross-country Champion of 1904 and 1905.

In 1925 Paterson was appointed to the board of directors of the firm of Messrs Thomas & James Bernard. Listed on the Edinburgh Stock Exchange, T&J Bernard Limited operated the Edinburgh Brewery at Gorgie, with 10 affiliated pubs in Edinburgh. They were acquired in 1960 by Scottish Brewers Ltd. who that year merged with Newcastle Breweries Ltd. to form Scottish & Newcastle Breweries Ltd., whose UK operations are now owned by Heineken.

In 1949, as the long-serving President of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Watsonian Clubs, he donated one of his trophies to George Watson’s College. It was named the Jack Paterson Bowl for the Half-Mile in his honour.

A lifelong bachelor, Paterson died in Glasgow on 15 August 1950 at the age of 77 of cardiovascular degeneration.


His record as an athlete can be best summarised in tabulated form:

Event Years
Scottish Junior cross-country champion 1897.
Scottish National cross-country champion 18981899 and 1900.
Scottish half-mile record holder (1:59.0) 1900 to 1905.
Half-mile Champion of Scotland 1900.
One-mile Champion of Scotland 1900 and 1901.
Four-mile Champion of Scotland 18981898 and 1899.
Ten-mile Champion of Scotland 1900.
Winner of Scoto-Irish International four miles 1899.
Winner of Scoto-Irish International one mile 1901.


This picture of Jack Paterson appeared in Fifty Years of Athletics commemorating the 50th anniversary of the S.A.A.A. in 1933.

The First Scottish Harrier Clubs

Part 1

Popular recreations are part and parcel of the social fabric of communities through history. Harrier running stems in part from this culture. What follows is the context which delivers us to the mid to late 1880s when sport, in all its forms, became organised and codified. The new Harriers clubs of 1885-86 (only occasionally known as ‘Athletic Clubs’) are part of this sporting boom.
There has always been some form of running ‘culture’ both as part of popular recreation as well as a more functional form of societal service. One of the earliest descriptions we have is of a race between the running footmen of feudal lords and also of a race in the early years of the nineteenth century at Carnwath (The Red Hose Race) which has its roots of existence going back to 1456. With Fairs and Festivals as part of rural life of Scotland, many of the festivities were the only sources of release from everyday life and recreations of various sorts including foot races featured. There were however various ‘gatekeepers’ to enjoyment, from feudal lords to the Church. Thus, the journey of leisure time activities was often regulated and defined over many centuries as to what was acceptable and what was not. By the time we get to the nineteenth century influences were changing yet again. The context from which modern day Harrier club and athletic activity emerged was subject to a number of important factors which shaped the way the clubs emerging in the mid 1880s conducted their affairs. In amongst what follows may be some mongrel myths but bear with it and you’ll emerge with an insight into these new clubs.
The social and political changes of the nineteenth century played significant roles on popular recreations. There were of course some sports that we would recognise such as golf, the beginnings of cricket, horse racing, hunting ‘sports’ and the games and activities associated with village celebrations around the natural rhythm of countryside life. However, with rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, recreation also adjusted to the new and emergent stratifications in society. A ‘romantic view’ of the countryside was emerging as part of a longing for a way of life changed, thus shifting the way in which we not only viewed the countryside, but also engaged with it. Thus, going out into the countryside was an important antidote to the new, challenging city conditions and new forms of engagement in countryside activities emerged. The ‘view’ of the countryside changed considerably by the mid nineteenth century with organisations such as the church actively taking children out to the countryside and seaside from cities.
By the early nineteenth century betting and wagering on sporting activities became immensely and overtly popular as were the new and often inventive activities on which one could wager and place a bet. Pedestrianism was part of this as a new form of physical ‘challenge’ and from the mid to late eighteenth century into the nineteenth century, ‘Peds’ (most famously perhaps Capt. Barclay Allardyce) became household names bringing physical recreations such as running into the popular sphere. At the same time, ideas of nationhood and ‘patriotic’ games were much to the fore mainly as a popular narrative by such as Sir Walter Scott whose involvement in the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 set loose a new notion of traditional Scottish sports and pastimes and was especially important in reinventing a new narrative of the countryside and engagement with it. Scott was one of the Edinburgh Six Foot Club whose aim it was to celebrate ancient sports and pastimes, and their activities in the 1820s and 30s listed ‘steeplechasing’ which, in essence, was a cross country race. The St Ronans Border Games of 1829 also listed a ‘steeplechase’ as did a number of other local Games. Cross border influences may also be at work here as the north of England had a rich heritage of local Games not least in the Lake District.
However, not all agencies saw popular recreations as a ‘good thing’. As cities grew at ever faster rates, the great fear of city fathers and the great and good of society was that the devil may make work for the idle hands of the ordinary workers and so recreation was made ‘rational’ with the intention of ‘improving’ the life of the ordinary (mainly) man. This idea of ‘Rational Recreation’ was to strongly influence the new Harriers clubs of the mid 1880s. Popular sports and pastimes were rationalised with an ideology of usefulness while new forms emerged and became popular. The new interest in physical forms of popular and acceptable recreations saw a burgeoning of various tracts on health, fitness and new gymnasiums became popular as did swimming baths. The press also started reporting on physical recreation activities thus bringing them to a larger audience (eg. the Scottish Athletic Journal had a circulation of 15,000 plus at its height).
By the mid 1880s the need to promote recreation as ‘rational’ had changed to the need to organise it. Railways were beginning to open up opportunities for movement, and within cities transport was becoming organised, thus meetings, matches and contests between others was opened up.
As is so often the case however, some of what developed was accidental. In 1850 students at Exeter College, Oxford despairing of the horses available to them to ride over the adjacent countryside hit upon the idea of replicating the idea of a ‘chase but on foot (called a College Grind). Preceding this was the Crick run of Rugby School and the various runs of other Public Schools. Thus modern cross country running comes from various forms and influences and by the mid 1880s these young men were firmly in the grip of the new ethos of the muscular Christian that ‘manliness was next to godliness’ and so physical recreation had become a necessary marker of this manliness. Not only athletic contests but other sports emerged and by the 1860s national organisations had been formed (The Football Association, 1863; Amateur Swimming Association, 1869; Amateur Athletic Club, 1866 became the Amateur Athletic Association in 1880 and The Amateur Rowing Association in 1882 from the Metropolitan Rowing Club 1879).
Scotland was part and parcel of this new vogue for rational and acceptable physical activities. The diffusion of these activities was partly (although not exclusively) through the universities and public schools. Early athletic contests existed between the universities of Edinburgh and Dublin and as many students became school masters, sporting forms were diffused and popularised. By the early 1880s swimming, rowing, gymnastics, cycling, rugby, cricket and football were all firmly established as acceptable forms of manly physical activity (Queens Park FC the earliest club formed in 1867). The formation of the new Harriers clubs emerging from 1885 onwards owe much if not all their existence to the men involved in those other sports forming not only Harriers sections, but new Harriers Clubs. These new clubs in character and conduct epitomised the idea of the gentlemen’s sporting club as part and parcel of a marker of respectability. To ‘belong’ was much valued and set you apart in society generally and was part of ‘getting on’ which was an emerging hallmark of Scottish civil society.
This notion of the Victorian men’s club is an important factor in the emergence of the new Harriers Clubs. This period epitomised the nature of  belonging to a club as a marker of getting on and belonging in civil society. Numerous male clubs were already in existence from the earlier part of the century and new ones were always springing up, some with dubious and obscure provenance. Just some examples of the, at times, highly improbable contexts in which clubs were formed are: The Hodge Podge Club (Tobacco lords), Pig Club (Sugar), What you Please Club (Theatrical) and the wonderfully named The Wet Radical Wednesday of the West Club (Waterloo Radical Movement). Sports clubs were relatively late into this framework of male homosocial activity but as will be seen in Part 2 of this article, they became no less important not only for members but also in recruiting patrons. The new Harriers clubs also embraced the norms and functions of other male clubs with the acquisition of ‘Rooms’ and associated male club activities (developed in a further article). One of the reasons that Harriers clubs were later in their formation was perhaps to do with the fact that by their very nature they visited various parts of the country for their activity thus one central place of ‘home’ such as other sports was more difficult to reconcile. They did however overcome this factor by adopting hotels and key venues in which to change in various parts of the country that they visited for runs as well as (usually) a hotel for main meetings.
By the 1880s, the scene was set for the emergence of Harriers clubs as both sporting and male social clubs in their own right.

Part 2

Being the ‘oldest’ or being the ‘first’ in anything always brings with it a status. Being the first Harriers club is no different. However, the sporting landscape of Scotland had been changing rapidly in the 20 years preceding the first Harriers clubs. It is important to keep in mind not only the ‘new’ clubs in gymnastics, swimming, cycling and the team sports but also Scotland’s rich tradition of local Games such as the various Highland Games. Influences from abroad were also part and parcel of the formation of the Harrier clubs. In 1883 the USA held its first NYAC cross country Championships and Ireland had also held its first cross-country championship by 1881 with the inaugural French cross country championship in 1889 (Canada had a governing body by 1884 and also New Zealand by 1888). This diffusion was undoubtably led by emigration. Our next door neighbours in England were ahead by about a decade. Influences therefore were many and varied including changing societal attitudes and values in relation to acceptable activities.
The prevailing view that Clydesdale Harriers was the first Harriers club (formed in 1885) is widely accepted. However, this may not be the case. We know of the presence of a club preceding this called Towerhill AC (AC at this time denoted a club that had a broad involvement in more than one sporting form). We also know of ‘sections’ of existing sports clubs in 1885 devoted to Harrier running such as that of the Lanarkshire Bicycle Club and Langside Bicycle Club. It is probably accurate to accord Clydesdale Harriers the position of being the first bespoke Harriers Club that also managed to stay in existence (others came and went). Clydesdale’s club history records the club being formed of men from football, rowing, cycling and cricket clubs (indeed the history records Clydesdale beating Celtic FC in a cup tie in 1889).
Prior to 1885 the central athletic activity recorded is mainly around other sporting clubs holding athletic sports in the summer months as a means of making money. These were given the nomenclature of ‘Sports holding clubs’ and they often vied with each other in attracting the leading athletes of the day which subsequently boosted gate money. While most were football clubs some gymnastic, rugby, cricket and cycling clubs also held sports days. Some of the better known sports days were that of Queens Park FC, Abercorn FC, Vale of Leven FC and Rangers FC. In the face of creeping professionalism, some clubs in the east of Scotland made a move to set up a governing body to establish rules and in February 1883, the Scottish Amateur Athletics Association was formed.
The new SAAAs however was almost exclusively run by men from other sports, mainly rugby, football and the universities and the setting up of the governing body met with almost instant disapproval from sports clubs in the west of Scotland. It was clear that there was an emerging sporting ‘aristocracy’ vying with themselves for control of a sporting activity that gave influence and not a little financial support for other sports clubs through Sports Days. Athletics (in the sense of both track and field and cross-country running) became a battleground of control and resistance for some years to come. The story of this is worth developing as a separate piece. It is in part therefore, due to a number of catalysts, that we find ourselves by 1885 with the formation of new clubs. Three clubs now take centre stage. Clydesdale Harriers, Edinburgh Harriers and The West of Scotland Harriers. Clydesdale Harriers were formed on Monday 4th May, 1885; Edinburgh Harriers on 30th September, 1885 and the West of Scotland Harriers on 14th September, 1886. These clubs almost certainly recruited men who had experience of Harrier running as it would be unlikely to join a club without such prior knowledge and experience of the activity. This suggests that many of the clubs that these men were already in membership of, either had Harriers sections or had put on runs perhaps as part of training or in place of activities in winter months

Clydesdale Harriers

At its meeting on 4th May, 1885 Allan Kirkwood was elected President, A.M. Campbell as Treasurer and Alex McNab as secretary. Given that it was now the summer months they set about organising a track meeting on the south side of Glasgow. The club were formed by the partial influence of the McNeill brothers of Glasgow Rangers FC and their choice of name may in some way be connected with an area of Lanarkshire where one of the McNeill brothers lived for a period of time. The club also had connections with Partick Thistle FC.  Members of Linside Rowing Club were also members as well as members of the Victoria and Caledonian Bicycle Club of Paisley and the club developed extensive links with other football clubs around the west of Scotland. Clydesdale Harriers carried the flag for Harrier activity and athletics generally for the next year which saw the sport develop its own marque mainly through cross-country running, as this form of activity was sufficiently set apart from those members of the SAAAs such that it was relatively non-threatening. Clydesdale was therefore able to set about establishing the boundaries of the sport and its social structures. It also had to deal with betting rings such as the ‘Co-partnery’ but the club in some respects was also a function of the inactivity of the new SAAAs.
Clydesdale’s membership initially was wide and varied and perhaps just three examples serves the purpose of illustrating the draw Clydesdale had in attracting members from other sports wishing to ‘specialise’ or add running to their list of accomplishments.

A former pupil of Glasgow High School, Pettigrew played football while at school. He also sailed lugsail boats and swam (member of Queen’s Amateur Swimming Club). An initial member of Clydesdale Harriers he was also a member of Clyde Amateur Rowing Club and excelled both as a sculler and single oarsman. James ‘Teuch’ Campbell won the second Scottish cross-country championship in 1887 and had a successful career as a doctor in Helensburgh. George T Ward is best known as an excellent sprinter. A founder member of the club in 1885, he took part in Clydesdale’s first track meeting in May 1885. He and Tom Blair of Queens Park FC were, more famously, involved in 1887 in challenge matches over 220 and 440 yards.
Clydesdale duly set about arranging track events for the summer while preparing for a winter of cross-country running and successfully put on a number of meetings, which not only attracted attention, but also new members. It also sent the first signal to the new SAAAs that there was now a club whose central focus was both track and field as well as cross-country. However, from the start there was to be controversy in relation to the influence of betting from book makers at meetings, arising in part not just as a threat to the amateur ideal, but also linked to the handicapping of athletes. This was a problem that was to affect clubs and the sport for some years to come.

Edinburgh Harriers

This club was a distinct mix of interested parties. Formed on 30th September, 1885 at the Richmond Hotel in Edinburgh, the meeting was conceived by St George’s Football Club who wished to form a harriers section of the club. However, one David Scott Duncan (later to be thought of as the ‘Father of Scottish Athletics’) had convened a meeting the evening before between friends and colleagues from the university in Edinburgh where he had been a student (law) and from Edinburgh schools. He wished to form not a section but a separate club in Edinburgh given over to Harrier running. While no decision was taken at the meeting of the 29th, he attended the meeting on the 30th and spoke eloquently about the need to ‘form one (club) on a more liberal basis’ rather than as a section of another club. The motion was carried and Edinburgh Harriers was formed. They wasted little time.
Their first run was from the Harp Hotel in Corstorphine on 17th October, 1885 over 6 miles and is the first run of any Harrier club of the ‘modern era’. Walter Gabriel a well known Edinburgh University member was pace along with David Scott Duncan as whip, and a further 14 runners completed the course including JN Bow who was to become President after Walter Gabriel. They subsequently used a number of venues around Edinburgh as bases for running such as the Volunteer Arms, Morningside; Mrs Crosbie’s Inn, Levenhall; Sheephead Inn, Duddingston and Justinlees Inn, Eskbank. By 1887 the club had a membership of just over 300 in a matter of two years.
The initial membership of the club spanning the inaugural meeting and their first run included RH Morrison, TED Ritchie, DS Duncan, W Rodger, J Caw, J Heron, WA McLaren, JH Allen, WH Wilson, WP Grant, JG Grant, G Beattie, Webster Brown, R Paton, WP Arnot and JC Clarkson, JN Bow, JHA Laing, J Luke, Walter Gabriel, AM Luke, J Meek, EJ Keith, FW White, J Macrae, G Weir, JWL Beck, W Williamson and J Menzies.

The influence of David Scott Duncan would have been significant. He was a singularly well connected man. He was appointed secretary of the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association just the year before in 1885 while still in his mid twenties. By this time he had also made his mark as a scholar at Royal High School (winning the India Prize) and at the University of Edinburgh studying law. He would go on to initiate an athletic contest with Ireland; become a scratch golfer (Captain of the Royal Musselburgh Club); run in over 300 races winning over 150 prizes and also become editor of the Golfing Annual and also become the correspondent for ‘The Field’ in Scotland. He was a man of both influence and charm who had the abilty to ‘take people with him’ in discussions and arguments, a skill that would become much needed of the next few years as the cross-country running wrestled with various assaults on its path to an autonomous sport.
The occupational status of other Edinburgh Harriers was interesting. The limited amount of research so far indicates that initial membership included 2 Writers to the Signet (Bow and Duncan) with significant numbers drawn from former pupils of Royal High School, Edinburgh and the University. However by 1887 with membership at some 300, it is clear that the membership of Edinburgh attracted men of some social position. The issue of the social status of members of Harriers clubs is the subject of another article.
Edinburgh Harriers and Clydesdale Harriers held the first inter-club run in February 1886 at Govan with the first Cross-country Championships being held shortly after in March (AP Findlay of Clydesdale Harriers won from DS Duncan of Edinburgh Harriers but Edinburgh winning the team race).

There then followed a brief pause in the formation of clubs. In reviewing the sources the issue of ‘local politics’, control, suspect handicapping at sports meetings and social mobility all played their part. One of the first inklings that all was not well with athletics more broadly in the first year comes from an observation in the Scottish Athletic Journal of August 5th, 1885 some 3 months after the formation of Clydesdale Harriers. The author, signing himself as ‘Utilitarian’ observes that ‘Clydesdale harriers will soon tire of private runs. Why should not the Queens Park form a harrier section to the club for non-football playing members?’ He then goes on to state that ‘The men of the Clydesdale burn to meet foemen worthy of their steel, and none are to be found. It is a capital sport, and will soon become popular. Moreover, it is splendid winter training.’ It is clear that the two main sporting newspapers of the day took opposing sides. The ‘Scottish Umpire’ was strongly supportive of Clydesdale Harriers while the ‘Scottish Athletic Journal’ promoted the idea of setting up of more harriers clubs. Why these relative positions should have been adopted is not clear except that over the next few weeks and months a war of words broke out in relation to a new club culminating in the summer on 1886, when it became clear that there had been many approaches and discussions in relation to setting up another club. This was duly announced in the Scottish Athletic Journal in August and September of 1886.
In September 1886, the West of Scotland Harriers were formed. However, other events were shaping the landscape of track athletics which in part led to the formation of the new club. There was a growing number of Sports Days put on by clubs of other sports by 1885 and handicapping became a source of contention and at times outright hostility. There existed a group known as the ‘Co-Partnery Ring’ which although shadowy is thought to have been an unholy alliance between handicappers of the day and those involved in betting and gambling thus leading to races being ‘fixed’. There were numerous attempts to solve this, but due to the often obscure membership of the Co Partnery, little progress was made. Accusation followed counter accusation and the SAAAs also appeared powerless to deal with it. The result was that a number of individuals took matters into their own hands. Unfortunately for Clydesdale Harriers, being the only ‘athletics’ club many of their members were at the sharp end of the ensuing civil war. Some officials (of which a Mr Tait was one) tried to ensure the status quo held.
The athletes themselves tired of the unfair handicapping system they were forced to endure and in the period of the winter cross-country season of October 1885 and March 1886 there was clearly a move to break the hold that some viewed the existing clubs and organisations to have on the sport. Part of this early debate also centred around the objective of Clydesdale Harriers to support the growth of ‘sections’ of the club around the west of Scotland. By 1886 they were successful in promoting the sport through these means although in the first year of its existence it had only managed to take its club runs to a small number of limited venues as well of course as hosting the first inter-club with Edinburgh Harriers. However it was clear that Clydesdale Harriers had aspirations and viewed the growing discontent and the prospect of new clubs with some concern. Newspaper sources then pick up what was to become a recurrent theme as to the motives and background of individuals who were, by summer 1886, openly talking of starting a new harriers club. Those involved in the early discussions to set up this new club were seen as ‘elite’ and snobbish. The gauntlet was laid down on September 7th, 1886 with a circular reprinted in the Scottish Athletic Journal of an invitation to all athletic and football clubs in the west of Scotland to form a Harriers club in Glasgow. The response in the The Scottish Umpire was immediate. It condemned the circular as ‘conspicuous for its ignorance or disregard for contemporary history’ It went on to say that the reason for promoting another Harriers club in Glasgow would not be accepted by the general body of western athletes. They viewed the new club as ‘opposition’ and as an ‘unfriendly rival’. With gloves off, the new harriers club was formed a week later.

The West of Scotland Harriers

At a meeting at the Langholm Hotel on 14th September, 1886 the West of Scotland Harriers was formed. From the outset, the signatories to the original circular and those present at the meeting included some big hitters on the sporting landscape. The original circular was signed by AS Pettigew clearly disaffected by Clydesdale Harriers and wishing to move clubs; footballer AD Finlayson of Queens Park FC, cyclist CC Calder of Royal Scottish Bicycle Club, cricketer AJ Young of Dennistoun Cricket Club and rower WM Walker of Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club.
At the meeting of 14th there were reputedly 50 gentlemen present. Although MP Fraser of Glasgow University Athletic Club had been asked to chair, it was CC Calder from the Royal Scottish Bicycle Club that took the chair. Both MP Fraser and DS Duncan had sent letters of support which were read out. Also present was a Mr Lawson from Clydesdale Harriers but withdrew from the meeting at the early stages. The meeting went well. John Meikle of Bellahouston Bicycle Club proposed the motion to form a Harriers club for the west of Scotland; WH Walker of Clydesdale Rowing club seconded the motion and it was carried by acclamation. The West of Scotland Harriers became the third club to be formed. T Skinner proposed the name the West of Scotland Harriers Club.

The office bearers make interesting reading. Elected to President of the club was Stewart Lawrie of Queens Park FC and one of the dynasty of Lawrie brothers who played for the club. Stewart Lawrie was to become one the key figures in Scottish sport also becoming president of Queens Park FC (having joined in August, 1880 aged 21) as well as president of the Scottish Gymnastic Association, Scottish Cross Country Association and the SAAAs. Lawrie had been a member of Langside Bicycle Club and may well have been a member of their ‘Harriers section’ prior to the formation of any bespoke Harrier club. T Skinner (Western Bicycle Club) was elected as Vice President, treasurer was AJ Young (Dennistoun Cricket Club), John Meikle (Bellahouston Bicycle club) as Secretary and WM Walker (Clydesdale Amateur Rowing Club) was elected club captain. Vice-Captain was JD Finlayson (Queens Park FC) and the committee consisted of DC Brown (Queens Park FC), GW Brown (SGBC), AS Pettigrew (Clyde Amateur Rowing Club), CC Calder (Royal Scottish Bicycle Club) and AC Symington (Glasgow Academicals).

Support was received from cycling clubs, rowing clubs, the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteer Athletic Club and Glasgow University Athletic Club as well as various rugby clubs such as Glasgow Academicals, West of Scotland, Kelvinside AC, Queens Park FC and Battlefield FC. Membership was drawn from a wide range of social groupings and interests including not only the above but also former pupil clubs of Glasgow schools such as Glasgow High School and even one member from Airedale Harriers in Yorkshire, WH Higgins.

West of Scotland Harriers 1886

This is believed to be the oldest club photograph of any of the three clubs. Long sleeved jerseys were obligatory (wool) and clearly visible are the trail makers. The footwear is varied but of course they would be wearing what they would normally wear for the previous main sport. Clearly visible is Stewart Lawrie (5th from the left back row) and DC Brown (3rd from the left back row). Also clearly visible are the horizontal black and white stripes of a Queens Park FC strip. It is not known what function the dog went on to serve!
The scene was now set for a fuller cross country season for 1886/87.


It is always difficult to infer from sources that are scarce but the job of anybody recounting history is to deal with the facts when they are clear and to ‘suggest’ when they are less clear. Nearly all of the above has been gleaned from club histories where they exist and from contemporary newspaper sources who have their own camps that they support and indeed contributors who may be partial. Further work is needed on those years that preceded 1885 in order to establish just how young men came to enthuse about Harrier or cross-country running. It clearly was a sport that had been sampled but with whom and when and how often? A deeper understanding of both Edinburgh Harriers and the West of Scotland Harriers is also needed since neither have been researched properly unlike Clydesdale Harriers whose club history was undertaken by Brian McAusland. Biographies are also needed of those ‘movers and shakers’ who guided, cajoled and drove the sport in the various directions they thought appropriate. While some attempt has been made to fill in some biographical information in this short initial history, the real understanding of what happened and why often lies with the personal ambitions and trajectories of key individuals.
This short history of the beginning of Scottish Athletics and their clubs also needs to be understood in the context of governance and the ensuing battle for control. Over the following years from 1885 there was some 7 attempts to exercise governance over organisations, clubs and individuals and this will be the subject of a further piece. However, no history of the initial days of the sport would be complete without the more human and ‘ordinary’ face of the sport. There is ample evidence to suggest that these new Harriers clubs were havens for the personal and social aspirations of their members. Gentlemen’s clubs were still part of social mobility for aspiring young men. The enthusiasm that the original clubs also set about in gathering Patrons, is testament to the way they viewed themselves and their position in Scottish sport as well as setting down a marker as to the type of member it wished to attract. ‘Belonging’ was everything in Victorian male civil society! This will be subject of a further piece of work showing the homosocial, liminal and at times disgraceful behaviour of club members.
Further contributions and corrections to this article are more than welcome.

Scottish Veteran Harriers Club: from 1970-1992; then celebrating 50 years in 2020.


Walter Ross


In 2020, the SVHC celebrates 50 years of lively existence. Long may Masters Athletics continue to flourish!

In the 1970s, the Club was almost completely organised by and for Men over the age of 40. Nevertheless, Dale Greig (a Scottish cross-country champion who, in 1967, had set the first Women’s world marathon record) did a tremendous amount of work helping the founder, Walter Ross, not only by typing up the first decade’s Newsletters, which were either a single sheet of paper, printed on both sides, or a couple of sheets stapled together. This Newsletter was posted out to members three or four times a year. DALE HAS SINCE BEEN INDUCTED INTO THE SCOTTISH ATHLETICS HALL OF FAME.

By the mid-1970s, Dale Greig and her friend [former Scottish track and cross-country champion Aileen Lusk (nee Drummond)] took part in at least two Scottish Veteran Women’s XC championships and raced as guests in Club events. However, these championships may not have been restarted until 1984, when the SWCCU accepted a W35 category in the Women’s Senior National XC.

Between 1980 and 1985, competing in W50 and W55 age groups, Aileen won four bronze medals for road running in World Veteran Championships. Alastair Wood, Bill Stoddart and Donald Macgregor had been World Veteran Champions, as well as Emmet Farrell, Gordon Porteous and David Morrison. A key moment had been in late 1982, when the SVHC accepted Veteran Women as full members; and shortly afterwards, Aileen Lusk and Molly Wilmoth joined the Club committee. From then on, the number of Female SVHC runners grew steadily. From 1993, the Scottish Veteran XC Championships included races on the same day at the same venue for both sexes. Nowadays, of course, there are almost as many Female runners as Men in most events. When it comes to International Masters Championships, it seems that Scottish Women usually gain more medals than the Men.

How has the fixture list changed? Well, less than might be imagined. From 1972 until 1984, the annual Scottish Veteran Harriers Open XC (for Men) was the Scottish Vets Championship; thereafter the SCCU took over. The list included: at least two other club cross-country races, a hill race; road races over 10 miles, half marathon and marathon; a road relay; the Christmas Handicap (over a distance of four and two-thirds of a mile), the Glasgow 800 road race; and Outdoor Track and Field championships. British Veteran events featured: XC (for Women too) and Track and Field (including 10,000m). Both European and World Veterans Championships had Track, Field, 10,000m, and Marathon.

In 1988, the first Home Countries Veteran/Masters XC International took place; and this has developed into perhaps the most important race of the year for the fastest Scottish distance athletes. Certainly by 1989, the Kelvin Hall Indoor Track and Field allowed Scottish Vets to race on the boards, throw or jump, while sheltered from the elements.

The 2019 fixture list contained: Christmas Handicap; Snowball Race; Cairnpapple Hill Race; SVHC 5k, 10 miles, half marathon, marathon, 10,000m; SAL Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field, Masters XC; BMAF road relays, 10k, ten miles, half marathon, marathon, XC; British and Irish Masters XC International; European Masters Outdoor Track and Field; World Masters etc etc. As I suggested above: FLOURISHING.

But let us not forget so many SVHC members, not only the champions but all the hard-working officials and everyone who trained and raced as well as they could, were as fit as possible in several age groups and who loved the ups and downs of a tough, rewarding sport. In another 50 years, I am optimistic that the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club, by this or a revised name, can reach its centenary!

N.B. Please note the following websites for a wealth of statistics and detailed reading: Scottish Distance Running History (especially The Veterans section); Anent Scottish Running; the Archive of the Scottish Road Running and Cross Country Commission; and the Scottish Athletics Archive (or Scottish Association of Track Statisticians).

                                                                                             THE BEGINNINGS

A veteran movement had been started in Germany to cater for long distance runners in the older age bracket, named IGAL for short.   Its idea was to foster the love of distance running for its own sake over path, road and field but even masters or veterans have not entirely lost their competitive urge and inevitably it was mandatory to promote annual road races at 10 kilometres (six and a quarter miles) and 25 kilometres (fifteen and five eighth miles) and in alternate years 10 kilometres and the full marathon distance.   A few years later a world veteran movement was formed, the WAVA, setting up a programme involving all athletic track and field events like a minor Olympic Games for older athletes to be held every two years.   The age categories  were over forty for men and thirty-five for women. Eventually it was agreed that groupings should be in five year periods.  Even five-year groupings are arbitrary but perhaps as practical as possible.

In 1970 Walter Ross was instrumental in starting and developing a Scottish veteran movement.   At first it was almost like a family gathering of older runners but later it spread in numbers and in competitive intensity. 

John Emmet Farrell

Perhaps the best account of the club’s origins comes from the late Jack MacLean, a real stalwart and a founder member of SVHC. There follows an excerpt of his profile (by Brian McAusland) from the website Anent Scottish Running. 

The club in which Jack has been most active is the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club, of which he (used to be) the only surviving founder member.   The other members of the group were Walter Ross of Garscube Harriers, Jimmy Geddes of Monkland Harriers, George Pickering, Roddy Devon of Motherwell and Johnny Girvan of Garscube.  How did that come about?

After the Midland District Cross-Country Championship at Stirling University in 1970, Walter Ross spoke to me.   He wanted to form a Veterans club with a minimum age of 40 years, and paid me the compliment of being one of the enthusiasts of the game.   The committee was formed of Walter and six others, and we held our meetings in Reid’s Tea Room in Gordon Street with a regular starting time of 7:00pm.   We all put forward our ideas and Walter drew up a constitution.   In the beginning the age groups went up in ten-year intervals.

 I organised the very first Veterans race: the SVHC (Club Members only) Cross Country Championships.   It was in Pollock Estate on Saturday 20th March, 1971 (i.e. in the 1970-71 season).   We had very few officials at that point: Davie Corbet of Bellahouston started the race and shouted the times to George Pickering of Renfrew YMCA.   I had laid the trail in the morning with markers of wee pegs with paper attached.   33 runners started and 32 finished.   As I worked in the “Daily Record”, I arranged for a reporter and a photographer to attend.   There was a wee piece in the Daily Record about it.     

The race was run over about 5 miles and the winner was Willie Russell of Shettleston.   He was followed by Hugh Mitchell, Willie Marshall, Tommy Stevenson, Willie Armour, Chic Forbes, Jack McLean and Andy Forbes in that order.  Andy Forbes won the Over 50 title from Tommy Harrison and Walter Ross. John Emmet Farrell was first Over 60, in front of Harry Haughie and Roddy Devon. Shettleston Harriers won the Team Award.  

Within a year we had 1000 members from the whole of Scotland.   Internationally we had great success as a small country. 

  •   In Cologne 1972 I ran the World Masters marathon, Bill Stoddart ran in the 10,000m.   The Australians were boasting that they had the certain winner in Dave Power, double gold medallist (six miles and marathon) in the Empire Games in Cardiff.   Bill Stoddart beat Power in just over 30 minutes.  
  • Walter organised a large group to go to Paris for the World Masters Marathon in 1974.  There were between 600 and 700 runners.  On a day that was great for the spectators with a temperature of 88 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, Alastair Wood won the men’s marathon in 2:28:40 and Dale Greig won the Ladies marathon (Dale went on to compete in 10 IGAL Championships and three European Championships: and is now in the Scottish Athletics Hall of Fame.)
    Charlie Greenlees of Aberdeen was 23rd and I was 33rd. We won the team race and I was 7th British runner to finish. 
  •                                                                                        Left to Right: Dale Greig and Aileen Lusk 
  • In 1980 the Scottish Vets staged the World Championships for 10,000m and the marathon.   I, along with Willie Armour set out the course: Willie in his car with the clipboard, me walking with a surveyor’s wheel measuring the course.   On the day, the whole thing went off very well with the Glasgow Corporation giving a great meal to the competitors in the City Chambers. Donald Macgregor won the M40 Marathon title.

                                                                                                                 Donald Macgregor

Having been one of the founding members of the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club, I served on the Committee for 10 years before giving it up.   One of the unsung pillars of the organisation was Dale Greig. She worked for Walter in his printing business and, as well as typing the newsletters, she did a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes.   (Walter and Dale certainly produced many Newsletters – although others contributed a lot –  and subsequent editors includedOwen Flaherty, Henry Muchamore, Jack Newbigging, Kay Dodson, David Fairweather, Colin Youngson and Paul Thompson.)

Jack (in an SVHC vest) with 200 yards to go in the 1980 New York Marathon where at the age of 51 he ran a time of 2:55


                                                         SCOTTISH VETERANS CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS

                                                                                   THE FIRST OFFICIAL RACE

Bill Stoddart with the British Veterans Cross Country Trophy. He defeated England’s Arthur Walsham by thirty seconds. In 1972 he became the first Scot to win a World Veteran Championship: 10,000m in Cologne.

The second Championship (i.e. in the 1971-72 season), this time officially recognised by the Scottish Cross Country Union, was on 4th March 1972, at Clydebank, Dunbartonshire. The course was five miles (or eight kilometres) long. The SVHC organised the event, assisted by Clydesdale Harriers.

Bill Stoddart (Greenock Wellpark H) won easily, from Hugh Mitchell (Shettleston H) and Moir Logie (East Kilbride AAC). M50 champion was Andy Forbes (Victoria Park AAC), in front of Tommy Harrison (Maryhill H) and Walter Ross (Garscube H). Emmet Farrell (Maryhill H) retained his M60 title from Ron Smith (SVHC) and George Taylor (Shettleston H). Greenock Wellpark Harriers won the Team Award.

In the programme, Walter Ross, the SVHC Secretary, and a very important figure in the development of Scottish Veteran Athletics, published a poem (written many years earlier by an anonymous Clydesdale Harrier). Walter suggested it could be retitled ‘To a Veteran’.

To a Harrier

Some fellow men seem lucky, yet

I yearn to change with few,

But from my heart this afternoon,

I needs must envy you,

Mud-splattered runners, light of foot,

Who on this dismal day

With rhythmic stride and heads upheld

Go swinging on your way.

A dismal day? A foolish word;

I would not, years ago,

Despite the drizzle and the chill,

Have ever thought it so;

For then I might have been with you

Your rich reward to gain:

That glow beneath the freshened skin,

O runners through the rain.

All weather is a friend to you:

Rain, sunshine, snow or sleet.

The changing course – road, grass or plough –

You pass on flying feet.

No crowds you need to urge you on;

No cheers your efforts wake.

Yours is the sportsman’s purest joy –

you run for running’s sake.

O games are good – manoeuvres shared

To make the team’s success,

The practised skill, the guiding brain,

The trained unselfishness.

But there’s no game men ever played

That gives the zest you find

In using limbs and heart and lungs

To leave long miles behind.

I’ll dream that I am with you now

To win my second wind,

To feel my fitness like a flame,

The pack already thinned.

The turf is soft beneath my feet,

The drizzle’s in my face,

And in my spirit there is pride,

for I can stand the pace.

(Brian McAusland adds: a romantic view of cross-country, no doubt, but perhaps how we all feel, briefly, on a very good day! The first SVHC Cross Country Championship took place in 1971. We owe those pioneers a great deal.)

The ‘anonymous Clydesdale Harrier was Thomas Millar who had been club secretary for many years and contributed to the local Press under the pen name ‘Excelsior’.   After being a member for decades he moved to the English Midlands which was where he sought work as an accountant.   His son Gavin is a film director, BBC programme producer, director, actor and has been responsible for many excellent programmes.


(In the July 1992 SVHC Newsletter, the founder Walter J. Ross wrote the following, which makes clear how several important club members had been honoured for their invaluable services to running.)


History moves on – and in the name of progress or otherwise there are bound to be changes. Whatever one’s views are of the reorganisation into one single Scottish Athletics Federation and the demise of the long-established ‘Governing Bodies’, there has to be some tinge of sadness at the winding up of the latter.

The Scottish Amateur Athletic Association and the Scottish Cross-Country Union have completed their centenaries.

However, on a nice note relating to the SVHC, it was pleasing that Danny Wilmoth, in the last year of the SCCU, was honoured as President (in 1996, for many years of excellent work for the SVHC, Danny was – unanimously – made an Honorary Life Member); and that John Emmet Farrell and Gordon Porteous were elected SCCU Honorary Life Members and presented with Scrolls. It is understood that there were only thirteen such elected persons in the 100 years of the SCCU and that includes our two Past Presidents Roddy Devon and George Pickering and also W.J. Ross. Ian Clifton, who has been a member of the Scottish Vets for some years, also gave great service to the SCCU as Hon. General Secretary.

It should also be acknowledged that in the Women’s movement, Molly Wilmoth has been a President of the Scottish Women’s Cross-Country Association; and Aileen Lusk was a past Secretary. Dale Greig – a behind-the-scenes activist for the Scottish Vets, had been Secretary, Treasurer, President and Life Vice-President.

We have also officials and members – too numerous to mention – who have given, and continue to give, much time and service to the whole sport.

Walter Ross was a wonderful man – friendly, gentle and a real enthusiast for the sport of athletics, in particular distance running.   The articles and obituaries below will testify to that in better words than I can muster but I was fortunate enough to have met him many times and hear him speak in public at dinners and prize givings.  I remember him speaking at a Clydesdale Harriers Presentation when he was guest of honour in the early 1970’s and, commenting on the novel concept of ‘fun-running’ as proselytised by Brendan Foster, saying “… but when was running not fun?”   

I first saw Walter, as distinct from meeting him, when I turned up for my first ever county championships at the Brock Baths in Dumbarton.   As we lined up on the Common for the start of the race, I saw this chap trotting across to the starting line with a young woman running beside him.   Younger than he was, and taller than he was, it was Dale Greig whose marathon career he whole heartedly supported, indeed when she went to run in the Isle of Wight Marathon, she stayed with Walter’s brother.    An excellent athlete on the track, over the country and on the road, a distinguished official and capable administrator, she worked with Walter on the ‘Scots Athlete’ magazine which he founded.  

When the veteran harrier movement started up, he was the man who really provided the impetus to get the movement off the ground and keep the movement going until its impetus and sheer momentum kept it going.  

Brian McAusland

However, we should look at his life in athletics and I reproduce the articles from his obituary and accompanying articles in the

Here are some comments about Walter from his obituary edition of the SVHC Newsletter of August 1993.

Walter Ross – what a sad loss this man will be to Scottish Veteran Harriers.   His generosity in providing printing services, including this magazine, prizes at races and gifts to the Ladies at Christmas will be greatly missed.   Walter was very enthusiastic about Veteran Athletics and he spread his infectious enthusiasm and love of the sport throughout many countries worldwide, as he travelled to further the Veterans movement.   He was a member of IGAL and set up world and European Championships in many countries.   Walter’s other hobby was ballroom dancing and with his wife, Winnie, would give excellent demonstrations at many of the Veterans social functions.   Walter printed ‘The Scots Athlete’ magazine in 1946 – before any other magazine in Scottish athletics was thought about.   A man before his time, indeed.

Walter was never one to complain, although towards the end of his life, he was suffering.  He still managed to travel to Birmingham to see the SVHC vest represented amongst the world’s Veteran movement.   I personally will miss our chats in his office on a Friday morning.   Often we would be discussing a problem and with his usual smile, Walter would say, “Don’t worry, it will work out all right on the day, don’t worry.”  The Scottish Veteran Harriers will never forget Walter Ross.   We are all indebted to Walter, both as a founder member of our club and for his loyalty, support and friendship over many years.   Next year we plan to have a Memorial race and we are sure that club members will turn out to give something back to the man who started it all – Walter Ross.

Daniel Wilmoth, President SVHC

The Great Enthusiast

 For the first time in years I know my telephone will not ring late tonight, previously a frequent feature of my evenings, for although I saw Walter at work every day, there would often be a late night call, an encore, an epilogue to the day’s activities; some business to discuss or just some piece of news or ‘tittle-tattle’ to impart.   The silent bell, as the day ends, speaks volumes.   More than anything it brings home to me the realisation that Walter J Ross, my long-time friend and colleague is gone, and that his voice will be heard no more.

Yet whilst mourning his death, those of us who knew him well will not lose sight of the important thing – that he did live, a life of struggle in many ways, but a life full of meaning.   He has left all who know him and associated with him the memory of a true friend for whom service was more important than success and the joy and purpose of life.   He was just 27 years old when he first published ‘The Scots Athlete’, regarded now as a great historical reference for the sport.   Just as that publication was the articulation of the young man’s vision, so the founding of the SVHC in 1970 shows he still had the same vision and vigour when he had passed his 50th birthday.   He had stayed the distance.

Walter was one of those mortals who never grows old.   He retained that youthful enthusiasm, competitive spirit and robustness of purpose that was an inspiration to us all.   His running activities took him all over the world, and when he wasn’;t competing in races he was ‘running’ them (!), the most notable being the World IGAL championships (10K and Marathon) which he brought to Glasgow in 1980.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” (Emerson) was a bye-line that ‘The Scots Athlete’ carried for many years, Walter was enthusiasm personified in everything he tackled.   He was a great champion too of women’s struggle for advancement, particularly in sport.   When I helped found the Women’s Cross-Country Union in 1960, this too was Walter in the background with another of his ‘marvellous’ ideas!

I did not expect his life to end in the way it did.   Unfortunately, death is no respecter of persons or age.   As Omar says: ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on’.   It is, knowing him, a happy thought that his courage, determination and mental vigour remained undiminished to the end.   I last saw him some 36 hours before he died, when, ever the optimist, he asked me to make travel arrangements so that he could have a holiday when released from hospital!   And so, at last, farewell, dear friend.   But not to forget .. only a kind of chastened au revoir.   In spirit you are with us always!

Dale Greig

(Dale, a fine Scottish International runner, worked as secretary for the editor and publisher, Walter Ross of ‘The Scots Athlete’ and then the typed up many SVHC Newsletters.)


Having known Walter for over 50 years – even before I met my wife, Jean – it is no wonder that his passing has left me devastated.   Walter showed his pioneering qualities by launching in 1946 ‘The Scots Athlete’ to which I made a monthly contribution under Running Commentary. The magazine was well-received and travelled to many countries.   However, it was non-profit-making, and Walter’s principles wouldn’t allow him to take adverts for drink or tobacco.   Sadly, it finally closed.  

Gentle and endearing, Walter had the highest of ethical standards, especially if injustice was involved, or man’s inhumanity to man.   His optimism was remarkable despite the stress of business and later, domestic duties.   And starting up the Scots veteran athletic movement was an act of real citizenship.   Walter admired the talented elite, but wanted sport to be for all.   I’m sure many new adherents joining us for competitive or constitutional reasons do not know that this quiet, modest little chap was the cause of their new-found opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives.

From the approximate 12 apostles, the movement has now grown almost a hundred-fold.   Robert Louis Stevenson said: “To miss the joy is to miss all.”   Walter would have endorsed that.  

In almost all strata, today’s world is very professionally-oriented or, to put it bluntly, MONEY-MAD!”   But Walter, on the other hand was the supreme amateur.   The multitude of veterans who run on country roads or woodland paths and grassy verges, rejoicing in the colour and poetry and space of the great outdoors, provide a living and vital memorial to a person for whom there is only one epithet.   Unique.

John Emmet Farrell

Walter J. Ross, founder member of the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club, died on 22/4/93 at the age of 74 after a lifetime devoted to athletics. He ran with Garscube Harriers from boyhood until he was forced to retire at 64 with arthritis. 

He was a life vice-president of IGAL unitl 1988, when it merged with WAVA. He edited, printed and published “Scots Athlete” from 1946-1960. His enthusiasm and organisation laid the foundations of Veteran Athletics in Scotland, and the present members owe a lot to his vision and example. He brought the World IGAL 10k and Marathon to Glasgow in 1980; and his trips to Vancouver, Perpignan, Bolton etc, will be long remembered.

Walter was unique in that he was the supreme optimist and enthusiast – we will miss his kindness and his contributions to our lives.

David Morrison


The Scottish Road Running and Cross-Country Commission Archive is an invaluable source of Championship results.

For the 1970s and 1980s the following Cross-Country information is listed:

In 1972, the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club introduced an open championship – effectively a Scottish Championship since it was open to non-members.

                                                                      Cross-Country Championships for Veteran Women

Dundee Hawkhill Harriers Ladies Section 1932. In the 1930s, Hawks were very successful in the SWCCU Championships – but no Veterans seem to be involved above.

Henry Muchamore remembers that one important thing he did with Henry Morrison and Ian Steedman in 1982/3 was to change the SVHC constitution to enable Female Veterans over 35 to become full members. However, their membership was slow to grow. Molly Wilmoth (wife of Danny) and Aileen Lusk were key in developing recruits. In late 1989, Molly Wilmoth [(nee Ferguson) a former Scottish cross-country internationalist and twice winner of the Scottish 880 yards title] became the first Female President of the SVHC, with Kay Dodson the Vice-President.

Here are a few landmarks: 

In August 1980, Aileen Lusk finished third W50 in the IGAL (World Veterans) 10k Road Race in Glasgow.

                                                                          The Glasgow 1980 World Veterans Road Races medal

(Aileen said that she used to run with Dale Greig on Thursday nights in Bellahouston Park and it was Dale who encouraged her into vets racing and trying the marathon: the first was at Inverclyde where she suffered badly on a very hot day in August 1981 but she managed to finish first W50 in 3.45.36.)

                                                                                   Left to Right: Dale Greig and Aileen Lusk

In late 1982, Aileen Lusk and Molly Wilmoth were the first two Women Vets to join the SVHC Committee. Four Female SVHC runners completed the Glasgow Marathon.

By early 1983, in the British Vets XC Championships, all Veteran Women ran with M50+ Men, over 5000m. Aileen Lusk (W50) and two younger ‘Lady Veterans’ completed the ‘Glasgow 800’ 6.6 Miles Road Race. Molly Wilmoth ran a 10k. Other Women completed Half Marathons.

A real pioneer, Aileen Lusk ‘a Scottish National mile and cross-country champion three decades ago, deservedly gained World Veteran medals for third place in both the 10k and 25k events in the W55-59 category.’ This was in the International Veterans (IGAL) road running championships (on the 15th and 16th October 1983) at Perpignan in the South of France. 

(The Scottish Athletics Archive notes the following:

Aileen LUSK (1928-)

Club: Western

Born Aileen Drummond, she was Scottish WAAA  880y champion in 1954 & 55, Mile Champion in 1953, 54 and 55, and Cross-Country champion 1954 to 1956. During 1954-1956 she ran for Scotland once on the Track and three times over Cross-Country.

1967 1 Mile  5.57.7 ranked 7th

1969 1500m  5.17.11 ranked 5th

1971 1500m  5.54.42 ranked 8th

1971 3000m  12.31.2 ranked 11th)

In 1984, Helen Fyfe, Mary Houston and Mary Marshall ran the Tom Scott Veteran 10 Mile Championship in April. Aileen Lusk completed the SVHC 10,000m track. She finished behind Helen Fyfe in the club Half Marathon but in front of three other Women; Margaret Robertson ran fast in a 1500m Time Trial.

The track season review included the following: “In the women’s events, the number of entrants is still small, but a start has been made, and next year we can expect a fair increase in numbers. In the 100 and 200, Katherine Laing gained a double; as did Molly Wilmoth in the 400 and 800; and Hazel Stewart in the discus and javelin. Aileen Lusk ran a tremendous 5000m in 22.48.6, which must be at least a British W55 best.”

                      In June 1984, Aileen recorded 45.21 to win her age-group in the inaugural ‘10K-OK’ women-only race in Glasgow

In June 1985, at Lytham St Anne’s, Aileen Lusk added another bronze medal in the W55-59 category of the 10k race which was part of the IGAL World Veterans Road Championships.

In the Christmas 1986 Newsletter, Molly Wilmoth wrote:

“As a lady veteran, a Committee Member and also the wife of your membership secretary (Danny), I decided it was about time to put the spotlight on our lady members.

From the membership roll, I see that a large percentage is female – 17 new members in the last three months alone.

So what we have to do now is get the pleasure of meeting each other.

New members can have a shyness, a feeling of wondering what kind of reception they’ll get turning up for a race, maybe a fear of being too slow to compete.

Honestly, there’s no need to worry. And from all accounts, lady vets in the north-east are discovering that fast.

One suggestion I’d like to make is that we have a meeting of females only. We could have a pack run, followed by a cup of tea and a chat.

This would let us meet one another, and discuss how we can strengthen the female numbers at veteran races.

So my message to all lady members of the SVHC is to forget your doubts and let’s meet.

If you’re interested in a Ladies Day, please give me a ring any time after six o’clock (in the evening!).”

In the 1987 Glenrothes Half Marathon, when 1500 took part, W35 Jacqui Ferrari of Pitreavie finished first overall, and thus emulated Don Macgregor, Bill Stoddart and the renowned female marathoner Leslie Watson, who previously had all managed to win a road race outright, as well as being first Veteran. 

It seems likely that from the early 1970s, taking part as guests, one or two Women Vets (mainly W35 or W40 for a start), might run in SVHC XC eventsKay Dodson remembers taking part in several, mainly in the Central Belt : for example, on 1/12/85, 30/11/86, 17/1/88, 15/1/89, 14/1/90, 20/1/91, 22/12/91.

On 19/11/79, at Lochinch, Aileen Lusk was first W50, recording 39.13 for 5 Miles.

In 1987 at Dumbarton, over a 4000 metres course, Kate Chapman of Giffnock North was first W35 in 15.06, from Susan Belford (Kilbarchan) 16.04 and Jane Murray (Kilbarchan) 16.10.

On 17/1/88 at East Kilbride, Sue Belford (Kilbarchan) was first W35; Kay Dodson (Law) first W40; and Margaret Moore (Kilbarchan) first W50.

In 1989, Kate Chapman was first W35, from Kate Todd and Jane Murray; Kay Dodson won W40; Margaret Robertson W45; and Margaret Moore W50. The distance was 5 Miles, and Men and Women raced together.

In 1991, Janette Stevenson (W40) was first home; followed by Rose McAleese (W35). Jackie Byng won the W45 category; Margaret Robertson W50; and Margaret Moore W55.

In 1992, Janette won W40 again; Janet McCall W35; and Margaret Moore W55.

At some time, probably in the mid-70s, an annual W35 contest commenced, which was part of the Scottish Women’s National Cross-Country Championships, organised by either the Scottish Women Veteran Runners Association or the Scottish Women’s Cross Country Union and Road Running Association. (Dale Greig had been Senior National Champion four times.) The Scottish Senior Women’s Cross Country Championships started in 1932, continued until 1938; then restarted in 1950.

Henry Muchamore (who was SVHC General Secretary until 1985 then Vice President for a year before becoming President in 1991; and ran for Scotland as an M50 in the 1991 Cross Country International at Ampthill), added:

The WCCU did not recognise FV age group categories (until 1984?). Only after much debate did the SCCU agree to adding one Veteran (now Masters) W35 age group in their Women’s Senior XC Championships. Now (2020) we have ALL Male and Female Age Groups included in the SAL Vets XC championships. It was a tough road to negotiate this, and in parts a ‘quagmire’ but we got there in the end.


Records are incomplete; and races often badly reported, with Veterans omitted.

 Here is what can be found in the Glasgow Herald or Athletics Weekly or the SVHC Newsletter between 1975 and 1992. (There are much better results from Season 1992-93 onwards, when proper Combined Male and Female Veteran XC Championships started.)

1974-5 on 2nd March at Dalkeith:  Norma Campbell (Blaydon H) 22.12, Noreen O’Boyle (Victoria Park AAC) 23.21, Dale Greig Paisley H 25.51, Aileen Lusk (SVHC)

(Norma Campbell was actually 46 years old.)

(This was the inaugural Scottish Women Veteran Runners Association championships, organised by Dale Greig.)

1975-6 No SWVRA result has been found, but first Veteran in the SWCCU championships was Dale Greig, closely followed by Noreen O’Boyle.

1976-7 on 5th March at Coatbridge: Pearl Meldrum (Grangemouth) 21.15, Norma Campbell Berwick AC, 22.38 Dale Greig Paisley H 23.53, Aileen Lusk, E Steedman. (The second and last result found for the SWVRA championships.) In the previously held SWCCU event on 19th February at Dumbarton, Pearl Meldrum was first Vet (and part of the winning Glasgow AC Senior team); with Dale Greig second Vet.

1977-8. There is no AW result for the SWCCU event. However, at Glasgow, in the SWCCU 4000m Closed Cross Country championship (for Scots only), Pearl Meldrum (Glasgow AC) was first Vet.

1978-9 No SWCCU results found; but on 3rd March at Strathclyde Park, in the East v West XC, Pearl Meldrum finished 5th ‘Senior’.

1979-80 On the second of February 1980 at Lanark Racecourse, the former Scottish XC International and Marathon racing star, Leslie Watson, finished a good 10th in the SWCCU championships – alas, two days before her 35th birthday!

1983-4 at Beach Park, Irvine: Palm Gunstone (Dundee) 25.48, Pearl Meldrum (Grangemouth) 26.05, Margaret Robertson (Troon) 28.10

It seems likely that this SWCCU National Championships was the first one to feature a W35 category. Further evidence which suggests that from this season onwards there was official recognition of leading Veteran finishers in Senior Championships is that, for the first time, Male Veteran winners were mentioned in the results of the: East District XC (Rod MacFarquhar of Aberdeen); West District XC (Lachie Stewart of Shettleston); and Home Countries XC International match at Cumbernauld (Brian Carty of Shettleston).

(However, the first Woman in the 1984 Scottish Veteran XC Championships, was Ina Robertson (Scottish Vets) in 44.08. She ran the whole 10k course with the Men. Not sure if this was ‘legal’ for cross-country at the time; although Women could certainly run with Men in road races like marathons.)

1984-5: Lorna Irving (ESH) was first W35 (in 4th place overall); and Palm Gunstone (DHH) second W35. (Lorna had recently won the Scottish Peoples’ Marathon in Glasgow and went on to represent Scotland and finish a very good sixth in the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games Marathon.) 

1985-6 at Irvine on 23rd February: Kay Dodson (Law and District) 25.49, Jean Sharp (Central Region AC) 26.07, Pearl Meldrum (Grangemouth) 26.48

1986-7 at Cowdenbeath: Lorna Irving (Edinburgh Southern Harriers) finished first W35 in 9th place overall 25.39; 2nd W35 was Jacqui Ferrari (Pitreavie) in 26.52; and 3rd W35 was Kate Chapman (Giffnock North) in 28.48.

1987-88: on 28th February at Irvine, Heather Wisley (Fraserburgh) was first W35 (19th overall). (Heather was a former Aberdeen University squash ‘blue’ who took up running six months earlier, on reaching her 35th birthday.)

1988-9 at Irvine: Patricia (Tricia) Calder (EAC) 6th overall in 23.50, Janette Stevenson (FVH) 16th in 25.12. 1st Vet team: Giffnock North.

1989-90 at Bridge of Don, Aberdeen: Renee Murray (Giffnock N) 23.44, Ann Curtis (Livingston) 24.10, Margaret Stafford (Aberdeen AAC) 24.37. First Vet team: Aberdeen AAC.

1990-91: on 24th February at Irvine, Tricia Calder (EAC) was first W35 (7th overall); Janette Stevenson (FVH) second W35/first W40 (19th); and Jackie Byng (Irvine) third W35 (but first W45).

1991-2 Janette Stevenson (Falkirk Victoria H) 9th overall. (Christine Price, competing for Bolton, finished first Veteran in the English Cross-Country Championships.)

 In addition, there was a W35 category, especially in the West District XC. On November 24th 1985 at Lanark racecourse, Kay Dodson finished 18th overall and won her age group.

1987: Kate Chapman (Giffnock North)

1988: Jean Sharp (Central Region AC

1989: Janette Stevenson (FVH)

1990: Rose McAleese (Monkland Shettleston)

1991: Janette Stevenson (FVH)

The only East Districts XC W35 result I can find is from 1988, when Liz Buchanan (Haddington) finished first.

The very first Veterans International Cross-Country Championships took place in 1988. Find a detailed summary of this great annual fixture in the Veterans Section of Scottish Distance Running History.

The British Veterans Athletics Association (BVAF) also organised XC Championships, in which M50 men raced against all Women Veterans over 5000m courses.  For example, at Irvine on March 13th 1988, well-known Scottish International Christine Price won the W35 category, with Janette Stevenson second. Margaret Robertson won W45 bronze; and Margaret Moore W50 bronze.

Palm Gunstone  who, in the 1970s, ran three times for Scotland in the World Cross, and went on to be the 1984 National XC W35 winner, remembers that there were differences of opinion in the Scottish Women’s Cross-Country Union. Some people thought 35 was too young to be a Vet and that the qualifying age should be 40, same as the Men. They also thought the distances were too short – 3 miles was the longest cross-country for Women in the 70s and early 80s; with 4000m being the usual distance.

Palm ran what she thinks was the first SWCCU Women’s Road Race Scottish Championships (over 10K) in Glasgow in 1984. Liz McColgan won the race and Palm was 1st Vet.

Therefore, during 1975-1992, it seems that Women Vets could not race officially on the same day and at the same venue as the Men’s Scottish Veterans XC Championships over 10K. 

From Season 1992-93, under the newly-formed Scottish Athletics Federation, Women Vets had a separate race at the same venue and on the same day as the Scottish Veterans XC Champs, in five-year age groups up to W55 (nowadays, in 2020, W75).

The distance that Veteran Women raced had increased to 6k; which nowadays is also the 5 Nations Masters International XC distance, although in the Scottish Masters XC Champs the Women still have a separate race; in the International, the Women run (and ‘murder’) the over-65 Men.

Weirdly, in the Scottish Vets XC, there was a W35 category from 1993 to 2013; but from 2014 this changed to W40 and upwards. Briefly, between 2006 and 2013, there was also an M35 age group but since then, only M40 and upwards. Yet, in the 5 Nations International, there are both W35 and M35 contests! 


 In 1985, the Scottish Cross Country Union introduced a Scottish Veteran Championship (over 40, over 50 and over 60), for Men, for individuals with a single combined team race. Initially these races were held in conjunction with the Scottish Veteran Harriers Club races. (Between 1985 and 1987, the SVHC presented medals for the M45, M55, M65, M70 and M75 age-groups; then the SCCU presented these medals from the 1988 Championships onwards.) 


1971-2 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 29.52 Hugh Mitchell Shettleston H 31.27 Moir Logie East Kilbride AAC 31.49

1972-3 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 28.41 Charles McAlinden Babcock & Wilcox AC 29.20 Tom O’Reilly Springburn H 30.22

1973-4 Charles McAlinden Paisley H 27.47 William Russell Monklands H 28.54 William Ramage Springburn H 29.03

1974-5 Charles McAlinden Paisley H 28.52 Gordon Eadie Cambuslang H 29.41 Jim Irvine Bellahouston H 29.42

1975-6 Charles McAlinden Paisley H

1976-7 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 29.07 Robert McKay Clyde Valley AC 29.27 Robert McFall Edinburgh Southern H 29.56

1977-8 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 24.21 William Drysdale Law & District AAC 24.52 Tom O’Reilly Springburn H 25.04

1978-9 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 33.41 J Barrowman Garscube H 34.10 Jim Irvine Bellahouston H 34.19

1979-80 Donald Macgregor Fife AC 32.27 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 33.29 Ron Prior Edinburgh AC 34.11

1980-1 Martin Craven Edinburgh Southern H 32.30 Andrew Brown Clyde Valley AC 33.19 Andrew Pender Falkirk Victoria H 33.39

1981-2 Andrew Brown Clyde Valley AC 32.29 Martin Craven Edinburgh Southern H 33.08 William Scally Shettleston H 33.22

1982-3 Donald Macgregor Fife AC 34.11 Martin Craven Edinburgh Southern H 34.14 Antony McCall Dumbarton AAC 34.23

1983-4 Richard Hodelet Greenock Glenpark H 30.47 J Lachan Stewart Spango Valley AC 30.59 William Scally Shettleston H 31.57

1984-5 Richard Hodelet Greenock Glenpark H 31.22 Allan Adams Dumbarton AAC 31.25 William Scally Shettleston H 31.30

1985-6 Brian Scobie Maryhill H 44.18 Allan Adams Dumbarton AAC 45.29 Kenneth Duncan Pitreavie AAC 46.31

1986-7 Brian Scobie Maryhill H 32.32 Brian Carty Shettleston H 33.00 David Fairweather Law & District AC 33.10

1987-8 Colin Youngson Aberdeen AAC 39.14 Archibald Duncan Pitreavie AAC 39.38 Graham Milne Aberdeen AAC 39.53

1988-9 Colin Youngson Aberdeen AAC 31.36 Charles McDougall Calderglen H 31.58 Peter Marshall Haddington ELP

32.29 1989-90 George Meredith Victoria Park AAC 35.48 Colin Youngson Aberdeen AAC 35.54 Brian Emmerson Teviotdale H 36.15

1990-1 Ian Elliot Teviotdale H 31.56 Colin Youngson Aberdeen AAC 32.36 John Kennedy Victoria Park AAC 32.45

1991-2 Ian Elliot Teviotdale H 35.23 Colin Youngson Aberdeen AAC 35.32 George Meredith Victoria Park AAC 36.30


1984-5 Donald Macgregor Fife AC 31.50 John Linaker Pitreavie AAC 32.30 Ian Leggett Livingston AAC 34.03  

1985-6 John Linaker Pitreavie AAC 47.09 Ian Leggett SVHC 49.00 Martin Craven Edinburgh Southern H 49.05

1986-7 John Linaker Pitreavie AAC 34.19 Martin Craven Edinburgh Southern H 34.35 J Moses Bellahouston H 35.17

1987-8 Mel Edwards Aberdeen AAC 40.55 Roderick MacFarquhar Aberdeen AAC 41.10 Richard Hodelet Greenock Glenpark H 41.57

1988-9 Allan Adams Dumbarton AAC 32.36 Roderick MacFarquhar Aberdeen AAC 33.12 Robert Young Clydesdale H 33.18

1989-90 Allan Adams Dumbarton AAC 37.46 Ben Pearce Aberdeen AAC 38.29 Robert Young Clydesdale H 38.53

1990-1 Allan Adams Dumbarton AAC 33.37 Bernard McMonagle Shettleston H 33.56 Robert Young Clydesdale H 34.11

1991-2 Allan Adams Dumbarton AAC 37.23 Colin Martin Dunbarton AAC 37.42 Robert Young Clydesdale H 37.58


1971-2 Andrew Forbes Victoria Park AAC 34.35 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 35.09 Walter Ross Garscube H 35.40

1972-3 Walter J Ross Garscube H 34.03 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 34.10 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 34.43

1973-4 George Martin Springburn H 31.12 R Clark Wallace Shettleston H 31.51 Jim Geddes Monklands H 33.14

1974-5 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 33.41 R Clark Wallace Shettleston H 34.22 1975-6 Cyril O’Boyle Clydesdale H

1976-7 Ronnie Kane Victoria Park AAC 31.38 Cyril O’Boyle Clydesdale H 31.42 George Martin Springburn H 38.51

1977-8 William Marshall Clyde Valley AC 25.39 Ronnie Kane Victoria Park AAC 26.49 John Clark Clyde Valley AC 28.51

1978-9 Hugh Mitchell Shettleston H 35.04 William Marshall Clyde Valley AC 35.27 D Clelland SVHC 38.06

1979-80 William Marshall Clyde Valley AC 35.55 Tom Stevenson Greenock Wellpark H 36.37 Peter Milligan Clydesdale H 36.42

1980-1 William Marshall Clyde Valley AC 35.15 William McBrinn Clyde Valley AC 35.53 David Cleland SVHC 36.51

1981-2 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 33.30 William McBrinn Clyde Valley AC 34.35 William Marshall Clyde Valley AC 35.30

1982-3 Alastair Wood Aberdeen AAC 37.11 William McBrinn Clyde Valley AC 37.18 Tom O’Reilly East Kilbride AAC 37.42

1983-4 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 34.04 Tom O’Reilly Springburn H 34.56 William McBrinn Clyde Valley AC 35.08

1984-5 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 33.30 William McBrinn Clyde Valley AC 34.32 James Milne Edinburgh AC 34.40

1985-6 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 48.41 Pat Keenan Victoria Park AAC 50.38 Hugh Gibson Hamilton H 53.35

1986-7 Jim Irvine Bellahouston H 35.22 Hugh Gibson Hamilton H 37.39 D Fraser Bellahouston H 37.47

1987-8 Jack Maitland Lochaber AC 44.01 Jim Morrison Aberdeen AAC 44.24 Jim Irvine Bellahouston H 45.12

1988-9 Jack Maitland Lochaber AC 35.42 James Irvine Bellahouston H 35.53 Henry Muchamore Haddington ELP 37.01

1989-90 John Linaker Pitreavie AAC 39.17 Ian Leggett Livingston AC 39.34 George Armstrong Haddington ELP 41.57

1990-1 Donald Macgregor Fife AC 34.21 John Linaker Pitreavie AAC 34.55 Ian Leggett Livingston AC 36.40

1991-2 George Armstrong Haddington ELP 40.40 R Rotchford Springburn H 41.11 G Angus Dundee Hawkhill H 41.15


1984-5 Tom Stevenson Greenock Wellpark H 36.22 Tom Kinsey Maryhill H 36.52 G Lawson Maryhill H 37.31

1985-6 William McBrinn Shettleston H 51.17 S McLean Bellahouston H 56.00 William Russell SVHC 57.47

1986-7 William Stoddart Greenock Glenpark H 35.53 William McBrinn Shettleston H 36.09 Hamish Scott Perth Strathtay H 38.00

1987-8 William Stoddart Greenock Glenpark H 43.36 Hugh Gibson Hamilton H 44.07 Sandy Robertson Troon Tortoises 47.08

1988-9 Hugh Gibson Hamilton H 36.25 William McBrinn Shettleston H 36.42 William Gauld Carnethy HRC 38.10

1989-90 Hugh Rankin JW Kilmarnock AC 39.18 Hugh Gibson Hamilton H 41.11 Owen Light Troon T 42.01

1990-1 William Gauld Carnethy HRC 37.53 Jim Irvine Bellahouston H 38.51 Steve McLean Bellahouston H 39.29

1991-2 Hugh Rankin JW Kilmarnock AC 38.36 Hugh Gibson Hamilton H 41.00 Bert McKay Ayr Seaforth AAC 42.42


1971-2 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 42.18 Ron Smith SVHC 43.10 George Taylor Shettleston H 43.19

1972-3 Herbert Smith Maryhill H 36.57 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 37.21 George Taylor Shettleston H 39.02

1973-4 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 31.47 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 33.14 Herbert Smith Maryhill H

1974-5 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 35.14

1975-6 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H

1976-7 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 34.55 Gavin Bell Bellahouston H 38.51 Tony Else Edinburgh AC 39.58

1977-8 Andrew Forbes Victoria Park AAC 29.14 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 29.18 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 29.30

1978-9 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 41.32 James Youngson Aberdeen AAC 43.40 Walter Ross Garscube H 45.31

1979-80 Andrew Forbes Victoria Park AAC

1980-1 David Morrison Shettleston H 41.28 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 41.33 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 41.40

1981-2 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 41.26 David Morrison Shettleston H 41.39 Andrew Forbes Victoria Park AAC 42.37

1982-3 John Clark Clyde Valley AC 42.57 George Kynaston Aberdeen AAC 45.32 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 45.32

1983-4 Thomas Kelly Shettleston H 42.36 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 42.38 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 42.45

1984-5 John Clark Clyde Valley AC 40.50 J Kelly Falkirk Victoria H 42.28 Bill Adams SVHC 43.24

1985-6 Murray Scott Haddington ELP 62.44 John Clark SVHC 63.23 David Anderson Greenock Wellpark H 69.43

1986-7 William Temple Unattached 40.37 Ben Bickerton Shettleston H 41.34 Andrew McInnes Victoria Park AAC 42.28

1987-8 William Marshall Motherwell YMCA 47.55 W Templeton SVHC 50.12

1988-9 William Marshall Motherwell YMCA 37.04 William Gillespie Falkirk Victoria H 40.43 Anthony Hannah Moray RR 45.39

1989-90 William Marshall Motherwell YMCA 42.43 Hugh McGinlay Falkirk Victoria H 55.45

1990-1 William Marshall Motherwell YMCA 38.07 S Lawson Maryhill H 41.43 William Gillespie Falkirk Victoria H 42.55

1991-2 William Stoddart Greenock Wellpark H 40.21 S Lawson Maryhill H 46.23 John Elphinstone SVHC 48.16


From 1981-84 the SCCU did not present medals for this category, but the SVHC may have. Unfortunately, there are no records available.



1986-7 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 47.47 David Anderson Greenock Wellpark H 49.56


1988-9 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 49.05

1989-90 William Marshall Motherwell YMCA 42.43 Hugh McGinlay Falkirk Victoria H 55.45

1990-1 Hugh McGinlay Falkirk Victoria H 45.42 1991-2 William Gillespie Falkirk Victoria H 49.27 Robert Dempster Maryhill H 58.44


1978-9 Roddy Devon Clyde Valley AAC 59.54

1979-80 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H

1981-2 Herbert Smith Maryhill H 47.27

1982-3 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 46.07 1983-4

1984-5 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 42.28 David Morrison Shettleston H 42.46


1986-7 David Morrison Shettleston H 45.02




1990-1 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 56.50

1991-2 Tommy Harrison Maryhill H 83.00


1984-5 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 45.14

1985-6 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 68.09

1986-7 J Emmet Farrell Maryhill H 51.43


1988-9 David Morrison Shettleston H 46.46



1991-2 Gordon Porteous Maryhill H 55.42













Alex Wilson’s Historical Profiles

Alex Wilson as a runner was an enthusiastic member of Fife Southern Harriers and is now an authority on the history of running and foot racing going back over the centuries.   A good writer who does detailed painstaking research his biographical profiles of his subjects not only detail their athletic careers but give some insight into their personalities.   They also tell us quite a lot about the world in which they moved.   A typical article might give us the races in which they ran, how they were organised, maybe a bit about the training they did, about the principal rivals; they often tell us about the promoters or about challenge matches or a bit about society at the time as a way of putting it all into context.   Beautifully constructed and a pleasure to read, they have been brought together on this page for ease of consultation.    The line drawing at the top is of Paddy Cannon who is one that is most frequently read on this site.   To read about any of these men, just click on his name below the photograph.


There are also quite a few where Alex provided the bulk of the historical information, along with many contemporary photographs or line drawings such as those of Robert Burton, Jimmy Duffy ,Arthur Robertson, CB Mein and others.   He also wrote excellent articles on various aspects of Scottish running history and two of these are below along with some collections of just a few of the pictures (drawings and photographs) that he has collected over many years.   Profiles first

Plus  the articles 

The early history of the Edinburgh to North Berwick race.

The Race to Sub Two

We also have a couple of pages with some of the photographs sourced by Alex or from his own collection, assembled over many years.

Alex Wilson’s Gallery 1: the half milers                  Alex Wilson’s Gallery 2: the milers  

Alex Wilson’s Gallery 3: Distance Runners   Alex Wilson’s Gallery 4: All Round Endurance Runners

William “Cutty” Smith

A cut above the rest

William “Cutty” Smith

by Alex Wilson


19th-century Paisley was not only an industrial powerhouse of a town, the most populous in Scotland, but also home to some of the greatest Scottish professional foot racers of all time. Some of these names may not be familiar today, long forgotten names that would have been known to our great-great grandfathers, names such as “Cutty” Smith. Smith was a native of Paisley, the eldest of 12 children born to William and Isabella Smith on 27 December 1846. The year of Smith’s birth also heralded the birth of the travel industry, when Thomas Cook from Leicester organised his first trips for well-to-do sightseers to, of all places, Scotland. 173 years later his long-running business went bust while I was putting together the material for this biography. Like most Scottish families the Smiths were far from well-to-do. Smith’s father was employed as a card-cutter at a shawl factory in Paisley, where the making of shawls had been big business ever since Queen Victoria – the fashion icon of her day – had first been sighted wearing one in 1842.

The censuses, which have been conducted every ten years in Scotland since 1841, give us snapshots of those who have long since died as well as useful clues. In 1861 the Smiths were to be found living in a tenement at 5 Brown’s Lane in Paisley. The building has miraculously survived the waves of urban redevelopment that have swept over Scotland in recent times erasing forever much of the original character of old towns like Paisley. In fact, it is now something of an underground attraction thanks to a graffiti mural of the late Paisley-born rock deity Gerry Rafferty gracing its gable end. The adjacent property is identified on old street maps as a shawl factory, which was probably where Smith snr. and jnr. were employed. The building has since been converted for residential use and the handlooms that once echoed within these walls are now museum pieces, silent witnesses to the past. It being the custom back then to follow in one’s faither’s footsteps, Smith also joined the ranks of the card-cutters. His job was to transfer intricate designs to punch cards which were used on Jacquard looms to create fabrics with the famous “Paisley pattern”.

Quite how Smith came by his unusual sobriquet is unclear. In Scots “cutty” translates to short, stumpy or diminutive, as in “cutty stool”. Well, Smith tipped the scales at 8 stone 12 lbs. (56 kg) and stood just under five feet six inches tall (1.67 m), diminutive today but not in 1870. A “cutty” is also Scots for a fast-moving, scrawny rodent with long limbs: the common hare. See the connection? To confuse matters, a “cutty” was also a short-stemmed clay pipe popular then among tobacco smokers, but that seems an unlikely source for his name. Could “cutty” simply have been a vernacular reference to his occupation? It’s anyone’s guess!

Smith not only had a distinctive moniker but also a distinctive running style for it appears that he ran on the flat of his foot with a fast, low stride and some forward lean. There was nothing stylish about his running style, but style doesn’t necessarily win races today, and didn’t then either.

On 21 May 1869 Smith contested his first notable race at the Stonefield Recreation Grounds in Glasgow. It was a three-mile handicap promoted by the Glasgow Pedestrian Club. He started from a mark of 330 yards but failed to make much of an impression. Two months later, however, he took on the reigning Scottish 10-mile champion Willie Park (not to be confused with the famous golfer) in a three-mile handicap at Kelvinside Recreation Grounds and won easily off 100 yards in a time of 15:33.5. In those days, news spread by word of mouth almost as quickly as it does today through social media. By the summer of ‘69 he was toeing the scratch mark at Highland meetings.

This old town plan of Paisley shows the house and the shawl factory in Paisley where Cutty Smith once lived and probably worked, while the pictures below show how they look today.

The subsequent summers would fly by in a blur of races as Smith skipped from one meeting to the next in relentless pursuit of prize money. These were heady days for the professional runner, when a buoyant economy brought increasing prosperity and opportunities galore to those with the wherewithal seize them. In a dog-eat-dog world where even the smallest competitive edge could make all the difference, hitherto neglected aspects such as training volume and intensity, post-training massage and diet became increasingly important. There was no such thing as a training manual in those days. This meant that trainers purported to be knowledgeable in the arcane science of physical conditioning were much sought after. In fact, no self-respecting “ped” was ever what we would term “self-coached”. Smith was trained by Jock Lindsay, a diminutive Glaswegian taskmaster about whom little is known, but it may be assumed that he trained his charges to within an inch of their lives. Another well-known trainer of the time, Harry Wyatt, professed to “work off all the adipose tissue” of in runners in his care so that there was, quote, “nothing left but muscle and sinew”.

Smith’s first big match was on 8 October 1870, when he raced Willie Park at Greenhill Cricket Ground, Paisley, for £30 and the “Ten Miles Championship of Scotland”. 3,000 “Buddies” braved cold and windy weather to witness their new distance-running sensation take on the Scottish champion. They would be rewarded for their efforts when Smith romped to victory over the veteran Glasgow ped by about 250 yards in 57:30.0. By now it was clear that if Smith could run this fast on a grass track in bad conditions, he could aspire to greater things. Even at this early stage of his running career, Smith seems to have had a penchant for injecting sudden and frequent bursts of pace with the sole purpose of exhausting and/or demoralising his opponents. It was to become his trademark tactic. Sometimes it and worked sometimes it backfired. Some may recall that Brendan Foster employed such a strategy in the 5000 metres final at the 1974 European Championships. To see some snippets from this race, click on this this link:

The 1871 census, the next snapshot of Smith’s life, records that he is unemployed and living with his 21-year-old wife Margaret next to his parents in a tenement building on Love Street. This census was enumerated in early April, which of course was during the off-season for the professionals who competed on the Highland Games circuit. Without having to spend 60 hours a week cutting cards, he could of course devote himself entirely to training. By the same token, his winnings from the previous summer had to last until the next season, but these were no doubt substantial enough. On 1 July Smith got the summer off to a good start by soundly defeating Willie Park and Jemmy McLeavy in a three-mile flat race on grass at Greenock in 16:30.0. The Greenock Telegraph reported that “Smith, of Paisley, who came in first, showed some beautiful running.” It was not long before Smith was ready to take it to the next level. On 16 October 1871, he made his first appearance in London, in a four-mile handicap at the Lillie Bridge Ground, one of the meccas of 19th-century pedestrianism. Starting as a nobody from the 550-yard mark, he produced a sterling performance and won by 150 yards in 19:25.0. By defeating 28 other runners, including a few well-known peds into the bargain, it had taken him less than twenty minutes to get his name on the board, as it were.

Despite his promising success at Lillie Bridge at the end of the 1871 season, 1872 was to be a quiet year for Smith. Outside of the Highland meetings, he contested only three major races. The first of these was at the Queen’s Birthday Meeting at Powderhall on Thursday 23 May. Here he ran off 95 yards in the mile handicap and took the first prize of £10 ahead of Willie Park and Bob Hindle. He followed this up on 24 August with a second-place finish in the six-mile championship at Powderhall, where he finished in second place, 350 yards behind Jemmy McLeavy in an estimated 32:38. Finally, on 30 September, he placed third in the one-mile championship at Gateshead Borough Gardens Grounds behind Hindle and McLeavy in an estimated 4:34.4.


In 1873 and 1874, Smith eschewed big races and matches and confined his appearances to Highland meetings, the number of which was increasing steadily from year to year. Such was the proliferation of Highland meetings by now that on some weekends Smith had a choice of multiple options. The summer of 1874, for instance, saw him in action in Highland meetings at Kilbirnie (200 yards, 1 and 2 miles), Greenock (1 and 3 miles), Wishaw (1 and 2 miles), Paisley (1 and 2 miles), Forfar (880y and 1 mile walking match), Whitburn (1 and 2 miles), Galashiels (1 and 2 miles), Kilbarchan (mile), Leith (mile), Couper Angus (1 ½ and 3 miles), New Cumnock (3 miles), Clackmannan (880y and 2 miles), Alloa (mile heat + final) Pollokshaws (4 miles), Methil (1 and 2 miles), Springburn (half mile and mile), Dumfries (1 and 2 miles), Bridge of Allan (1 and 2 miles), Cupar (1 and 2 miles), Birnam (500y three-legged race) and Ardrossan (1 and 2 miles). If anything, this list is incomplete. However, it gives a good idea of how busy Smith’s typical summer racing schedule was. The Greenock Telegraph, in its report on the 1874 Greenock National Games, commented: “The three-mile race (handicap), for which Wm. Smith, Paisley, Park, and several other peds were entered, was the one that caused the most enthusiasm. From the first it was thought that Smith would be the successful man, and so it turned out. Smith is still as fleet as ever, and steps it very quickly, without losing that vigour which is noticeable in many of these “professional” men. Starts of different lengths were given to the whole of Smith’s opponents, but one by one he passed them, and came in a winner with the greatest of ease.” Wherever he competed on the Highland Games circuit, as a star attraction Smith invariably took home a share of the prize money, though rarely more than five pounds in total. Of course, he had to pay his travel expenses, and his coach and any attendants would also have taken their cut. Yet he had no trouble earning several times an ordinary labourer’s average weekly wage (30 shillings, give or take) in a single afternoon. In order to pull in as big a crowd as possible and thus maximise revenues, the hosting communities were always looking to attract well-known sportsmen to their annual meetings: the more famous, the better. In keeping with the general business rule that a happy customer is a regular customer, the handicap races at the Highland meetings were typically framed in such a way that the “cracks” had a reasonable to good chance of winning outright, or at least making the prize list. To conserve his energy, Smith rarely did more than necessary, and when he won, he often did by a margin of no more than 20 yards. The handicaps at key venues such as Powderhall Grounds in Edinburgh or Lillie Bridge Grounds in London were of course a different matter altogether. They usually had a much bigger single-race purse and were framed more rigorously, that is to say more objectively. As such, it was not uncommon for a leading ped to finish well down the order and go home empty-handed. Of course, peds were risk takers by nature, and the potential upside would have outweighed the potential downside in their eyes. This was the case with an open handicap at the Queen’s Park Recreation Grounds in Glasgow on 3 October 1874, a race in which Smith celebrated his biggest payday of the year – a first prize of £13 in the two miles off 30 yards.

In 1876 Smith began to include more big races and matches into his racing schedule, a change of heart motivated presumably by pecuniary considerations. The 1870s saw a plethora of enclosured running tracks opening throughout the British Isles, several of them in Glasgow alone – such as Springfield Recreation Grounds. Here, on 29 April, Smith took on Willie Park in a 10-mile race for £30. Smith had conceded the Glasgow veteran a start of 440 yards but was in such fine fettle that he caught his opponent before the halfway mark and won by half a mile in 55:41.0. To rub salt in the wound, he also broke Park’s Scottish record of 56:19.75 set eight years earlier at the former Stonefield Recreation Ground. Two weeks later Smith returned to Springfield to compete in another 10-mile race, this one being the grand-sounding “Great Ten Mile Race for the Championship of the World”. The contest was to be decided between himself, George Hazael, London, and Alick Clark, Glasgow, with prize money of £50, £15 and £5 for the first three. Hazael was evidently “in the pink” for he set a fast pace from the start and forced Clark to call it quits after only a mile. Having said that, Clark had probably expected to come third anyway! Smith held on to Hazael’s coat tails for as long as he could, but he too was forced to retire, albeit after eight miles. Hazael won unchallenged in an outstanding time of 52:05.0, only 39 seconds outside the world record set by the famous Seneca Indian Lewis “Deerfoot” Bennett in 1861. On 23 September, after a long summer of racing, Smith appeared in a four-mile handicap at the Powderhall Grounds in front of about 5,000 spectators. The proprietor, Mr. Charles Robertson Bauchope, had offered a silver champion cup plus £25 for the winner. Instead of yards, the starts were allotted in minutes and seconds – just like in a modern biathlon pursuit race. All competitors therefore were required to complete the full distance. Anyone breaking the world record of 19:36.0 was to receive a bonus of £50. A sovereign was also to be given to each of the competitors who completed the distance in under 21 min. 30 sec. and an outrageously generous 5 shillings to everyone who “competed the distance without stopping”. The Sportsman takes up the story from here: “Punctually at five o’clock the bell rung for the big race, betting on which had been freely indulged in throughout the afternoon. Those most in demand were Smith, of Paisley, and Bailey, of Sittingbourne, who were each supported at 7 to 2. The others were accorded prices ranging from 6 to 1 to 20 to 1… Out of an entry of thirty, twenty faced the starter. There was loud cheering when it came to the turn for the two favourites to be dispatched, and for nearly half-way the race was a fine one. After that, however, the local novices, who had never attempted so long a journey before, were in difficulties, and the scratch men overhauled them with astonishing rapidity. Till three miles and a half had been covered Smith and Bailey raced abreast, but in the last two circuits the Sittingbourne man came right away and won cleverly by a score yards; time 20min 38sec.” The adjusted times were 21:01.0 for Bailey and 21:05.4 for Smith, who took home £5. McLeavy, who started from scratch, finished third but was disqualified for “jumping the gun” (he had started no fewer than eight seconds too early!).

Even in the autumn of 1876 Smith refused to let up – quite the opposite in fact. On 7 October he outstripped a good field including McLeavy in a three-mile handicap off 100 yards at the Vale of Clyde Grounds in Glasgow. A fortnight later, he defeated John Beavan from Camberwell in a 10-mile match for £30 at Springfield. Then, on 16 December, he entered a challenge cup race at Springfield Grounds over a mile – not a distance he was known to excel at. The Edinburgh Evening News sums it up nicely: “The race was for a silver challenge cup, value £15, with £15 added money, the second to receive £4, and the third £1. The twenty-six competitors toed their respective marks, and a capital start was affected. In the home straight, W. Smith, 70 yds. start, rushed to the front and came in an easy winner by four lengths; Eldred, of Glasgow, 80 yds. start, was second, ten yards ahead of Taylor, Glasgow, 115 yds. Time, 4 mins. 24 secs.” No one would have been more surprised by this outcome than Smith, who would probably have been the first to admit that he wasn’t much of a miler. This race having been run under challenge cup rules, he had however only taken the first step to outright ownership of the cup. He had to win it twice, including the handicap, the winner to be penalised ten yards and to run every six weeks if challenged for not less than £15 a-side. The following week, Smith made the long journey south and spent Christmas of 1876 at a London hostel in preparation for a 10-mile handicap on Boxing Day at Lillie Bridge for prizes worth £50. Smith had been given a start of 1 min. 30 sec., with only McLeavy behind him on scratch. The Sporting Life reported merely that Smith had taken the lead in the last mile and secured the £30 first prize ahead of J. Tester and Blower Brown. Another £10 was divided among those who ran the 10 miles within the hour (eight in all). Smith’s time of 53:22.0 was the fastest in Britain that year and a significant improvement on his own Scottish record.

Smith kicked off the 1877 season on New Year’s Day at a chilly Vale of Clyde Grounds, where he finished third in the four-mile handicap off 90 yards in 20:42.5. It was a good performance for this time of year and indicative that he was keeping himself in shape for an imminent – albeit improbable – defence of the mile challenge cup. The second race for the “Mile Handicap Silver Cup” was in fact decided on Saturday 24 February 1877 at Springfield Recreation Ground, where Smith faced no fewer than five challengers, each man having paid £15 into a sweepstakes, making in all £75 in addition to the cup. Having been penalised 10 yards for his earlier win, Smith on this occasion started from the 60-yard mark, his chances diminished. However they forgot to tell Smith, who caught the last of the runners in front of him at the apex of the last bend and uncorked an inspired sprint that carried him to victory by 10 yards in 4:37.25 ahead of a young William Cummings. Having won the challenge race twice in a row, the silver cup became Smith’s absolute property. Financially, it was by far his biggest win to date.

On 2 June, Smith took on Peter Simpson in a four-mile match for £40 at Shawfield Recreation Grounds. During the previous two seasons, the Edinburgh runner had figured prominently in the east and south of Scotland and built a formidable reputation, having already beaten Smith in the previous year in an open two miles at Kelso. This time, however, Smith would turn the tables on his east-coast rival. The North British Daily Mail reported: “There was a fair attendance on Saturday to witness the four-mile race between Wm. Smith, Paisley, and Peter Simpson, Edinburgh, for the sum of £40. They alternately led to the last quarter of a mile, when the pair got level and ran alongside each other till about 180 yards from home, when Smith began a tremendous spurt and won by 20 yards. Time, 20 min. 58 secs.” To make the most of his good form, Smith returned to Shawfield four weeks later to defend his title in the Ten Miles Championship of Scotland against McLeavy. On paper at least, Smith was no match for McLeavy at distances up to four miles, but over 10 miles they were thought to be closely matched. The surface was rutted following mid-week trotting races, but that didn’t deter Smith from scorching through the first mile in 5:02. He then proceeded to inject a spurt every half mile and took care to not let the pace slip, leading through four miles in 21:03, five in 26:36 and six in 31:58. At one point McLeavy appeared to crack, but the Alexandria ace rallied and closed the gap again before sprinting past Smith on the home straight to win a thrilling contest by two yards in 54:10.0. Arguably Smith had done himself more harm than good with his spurting tactic, always a dangerous strategy against such accomplished a performer as McLeavy. On 7 July, despite a busy schedule of Highland meetings during the summer, Smith found the time to take on Glasgow’s Paddy Corbett in a 10-mile match for £30. He had conceded this opponent half a mile and would probably have caught up with him had he not lost one of his spikes, forcing him to retire at seven miles. Then, on 23 August, Smith made his first appearance in the famous Red Hose Race at Carnwath in south Lanarkshire. This race, a half-mile dash through the village, is today the oldest in the United Kingdom and the second oldest in the world, dating all the way back to 1508. However, a win it was not to be, the coveted  red socks going to Edinburgh’s half-mile specialist William Mann.

On Saturday 20 October, Smith took part in yet another four-mile handicap against a strong field in front of 2,000 spectators at Springfield Recreation Grounds. He had received a 15-second start and was one of the bookmakers’ favourites at 4-1 against. In a thrilling contest he caught the race leader George Cameron 200 yards from home and sprinted to victory in a time of 20:24.5. If you add his start, his net time was 20:39.5. There was also some drama when Alex McPhee, Paisley, father of 1920 Olympian Duncan McPhee, pushed James Bailey (Sittingbourne) off the track at 2 ½ miles. As the runners came into the home straight, the referee stepped onto the track and removed McPhee amid loud cheering and banished him from the ground for six months. Rioting was not uncommon at professional meetings as such events tended to attract a highly volatile element with a dangerous inclination to drink and gamble. To avoid crowd trouble, fraud of any kind had to be seen to be sanctioned with an appropriate measure of severity.

Having confirmed his good form, Smith signed articles for a match against Jemmy McLeavy to decide the 10-mile championship for £50 and a champion belt. The race was supposed to take place at Shawfield Recreation Grounds on 10 November but failed to materialise when Smith contracted gastric fever and was forced to forfeit, giving McLeavy the luxury of a walk-over. Thus ended the 1877 season.

The 1878 season began with the sensational news that the famous M.P. and sports patron Sir John Astley would be bankrolling the world’s first six-day “go-as-you-please” race in which the competitors could run or walk at their leisure. The event was to take place at the Agricultural Hall in London’s Islington district on Sunday 18 March. The total prize money was to be £750, and the winner was to receive a champion belt worth £500 plus an additional £100 in prize money.

Smith had no experience of ultra-long distances, but like his compatriot Jemmy McLeavy, he was drawn like a moth to the flame by the mouth-watering prize money. After recovering from the illness that had beset him in late 1877, he began the extensive preparations for the upcoming six-day race. As early as February he was already looking for races to test his form. On 2 March he challenged Jemmy McLeavy for the Ten Miles Championship of Scotland and £30. The match, which was decided at Shawfield Recreation Grounds, was not much of a contest though as Smith broke clean away from McLeavy at five miles and won by half a lap in 54:42.0. Poor McLeavy suffered not only a heavy defeat but also had to endure the jeering of his so-called “supporters”. A week later, they met again at Shawfield Grounds for an 8-hour “go-as-you-please” race. For both of them it was the first real endurance test before the upcoming Astley Belt race just nine days in the offing. The two opponents alternated between walking and running. After 6 hrs. 40 min. the race was discontinued due to the onset of bad weather, Smith winning by 4 miles having covered 39 miles (62.8 km).

The six-day Astley Belt race began on the scheduled date in the presence of a huge crowd. Two tracks had been constructed from brick gravel, sand, tan bark and earth. One, 7 laps per mile, was for the British and Irish entrants while the other, 8 laps per mile, was for foreign entrants (which meant that the American Dan O’Leary had the track all to himself). Each competitor had his own trackside cubicle equipped with a bed and a stove, very basic. Smith was up against 17 other competitors of varying abilities and experience and immediately showed that he lacked the latter by taking an early lead, covering 9.1 miles in the first hour, 20 miles in 2:24:22 and 23.45 miles in 3 hours. This was of course a suicidal pace, and after only four hours (28.1 miles) it began to take its toll. As fatigue set in, he could only watch as his more experienced rivals overhauled him one after another. In the end, he wound up 13th with 198 miles on the scoreboard – 322 miles fewer than the winner, Dan O’Leary.

This engraving from Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News is believed to depict Cutty Smith.


In the run-up to the Islington six-day race Smith had ramped up his training quite considerably. Although the hoped-for success had failed to materialise, the gruelling contest had taught with valuable lessons and insights into the realm of six-day racing, not to mention providing him with a good endurance base for the coming season. His first opportunity to test this theory came on Monday 13 May in a six-mile championship sweepstakes against Hazael and McLeavy for £40 in front of 2,000 spectators at Springfield Recreation Grounds. The race featured heavy betting with odds of 6 to 4 against McLeavy, 2 to 1 against Smith and 4 to 1 against Hazael. According to the Glasgow Herald, it unfolded thus: “Postponements as a rule seldom do well, but that of Springfield Grounds the change the change on Saturday till yesterday evening proved an exception as fully 2000 assembled to witness the six-mile championship race between William Smith, of Paisley; James McLeavy, of Alexandria; and George Hazael of London – the prizes being £50 and £10. The men looked well, and before they started the betting ruled 6 to 4 on McLeavy, 2 to 1 agst Smith, and 4 to 1 Hazael. The lot got away well, Smith and McLeavy alongside each other, travelling about two yards in advance of Hazael; but after going 700 yards Smith dropped to the rear, and on passing the referee for the first time McLeavy led by two yards, Smith last eight yards in rear of Hazael. After going half-a-mile Hazael showed signs of distress, and fell far behind. At the finish of the three miles the Londoner retired, when about 400 yards in the rear. McLeavy showed the way till the close of the next quarter, when Smith put it on and came up alongside the leader, and the pair ran for fully 100 yards locked together. Coming up the straight, Mac shook the Paisley representative off, and led at three and a-half miles by six yards. In the succeeding lap Smith shot past, and was never afterwards in danger – in fact, he held such a lead that McLeavy, at five and a-half miles, seeing his chance hopeless, gave in. Smith, therefore, finished, alone. Time – 1st mile, 4 min 44 ¼ sec; 2nd mile, 9 min 56 ¼ sec; 3rd mile, 15 min 20 ½ sec; 4th mile, 20 min 41 sec; 5th mile, 26 min 3 ½ sec; 6th mile, 31 min 29 ¼ sec.” This performance, which was just a shade outside McLeavy’s Scottish record of 31:28.0 set in 1872, was the fastest time recorded in the world that year. The six-day race had not been a fruitless exercise after all, for the extra work he had put in during the winter had clearly done wonders for his running at the shorter distances he favoured. It almost goes without saying that McLeavy was intent on securing a rematch race against Smith and the chance to avenge his defeat. On June 8, they met again in a six-mile race at for £25 a-side at Springfield Recreation Grounds. The Sporting Life reported: “McLeavy had been taking his breathings at Bothewell, while Smith trained on the ground. During the last few days rumours were circulated that McLeavy had broken down, which caused Smith’s friends to lay 3 to 1. The proprietor got the men to their marks in good time, the rain coming down in torrents for about ten minutes. Smith went away with about five yards’ lead, and in this manner they finished the first mile in 4 min. 47 sec. At no part of the race would McLeavy try to get to the front, despite the frequent rushes of Smith. When the men had got about three miles, they were like a pair of darkies, covered with mud, with McLeavy still in the rear; in this order they continued until coming into the straight for home, when a splendid race took place, McLeavy winning by about two yards in 31 min. 34 ½ sec.” The mile splits were: 1M – 4:47, 2M – 9:52, 3M – 15:10, 4M – 20:35, 5M – 26:19. So there it was. McLeavy had levelled the scores again.

A few days later Smith headed south to London to compete in the British 10 Mile Championship at Lillie Bridge. The stadium was home to the country’s best cinder track. It was also one of the longest tracks in the British Isles, measuring 586 2/3 yards per circuit. Sir John Astley, that great patron of the sport, had promised the winner a champion belt worth 50 guineas and a medal worth £5 plus a third of the “gate”. The bookies made Smith their favourite ahead of George Hazael, Deptford, William Shrubsole, Cambridge, James Bailey, Sittingbourne, and Charlie Price, Kensington. Though a good race was in prospect, the public was clearly of a different opinion as the attendance was much less than expected. Smith led for the first three miles and then gave way to Price for the next three miles before regaining the lead at seven miles. The race was finally decided when Smith injected a burst of pace that carried him to victory by 50 yards in 53:42.5 ahead of Bailey (53:53.0) and Price (53:58.0). The mile splits were: 1M – 4:45, 2M – 9:56, 3M – 15:13.5, 4M – 20:45, 5M – 26:06, 6M – 32:05, 7M – 37:14, 8M – 42:49, 9M – 48:27. Smith, however, did not enjoy being the British champion for long, as he was unable to raise the necessary stake when Hazael challenged him on 15 July. Consequently, he was compelled to default and hand over the belt to Hazael.

George Hazael

Having ruled out a defence of his British 10-mile championship, Smith entered the 50-mile British Championship sponsored by Sir John Astley at Lillie Bridge on July 15. The race was for a challenge belt worth £50 and cash prizes totalling £35. However, attendance was again low – only 400 spectators came. The race started quickly, as Hazael had bet on completing the first 10 miles in under an hour. The Deptford runner immediately took the lead and covered the first five miles in 27:02 and the first 10 miles in 56:35. At 15 miles, he was still well ahead in 1:27:38, but then he lost a lot of ground during the next 5 miles, allowing Smith to make up half a mile and get back on level terms. With his opponent going through a bad patch, Smith moved ahead in the 20th mile, which he completed in 2 hrs. 10 min, and kept the pace ticking over to 25 miles, where the standings were: 1 – 2:50:22, Cutty Smith; 2 – 2:51:22, James Bailey (Sittingbourne); 3 – 2:53:50, Harry Vandepeer (Sittingbourne). Although blissfully unaware of his feat, Smith had become the first man to run 25 miles in under three hours. However, his race came to a grinding halt at 30 miles when he suffered a bad attack of leg cramp, and a resurgent Hazael bounced back to take the title in 7 hrs. 15 min.

During a busy summer, Smith won, among other things, a one-hour race in Forfar on 9 August, with a distance of 10 ¼ miles, and a traditional “basket-and-stone” race ahead of David Livingstone at the Springfield Grounds on 17 August. In the Scottish Six-Mile Championship at Springfield Grounds on October 12, however, he trailed home second 115 yards behind Livingstone in a time of around 32:13.

So that was it for 1878, a year which, despite the disappointment of the six-day race, had nevertheless been his best yet, a year which had seen him claim several major victories, notably the 10 Mile Scottish Championship and the British Championships over 6 and 10 miles, as well as setting a “world record” for 25 miles.

When six-day racing boom hit Scotland in 1879 Smith was one of several prominent peds to move up. First and foremost, there was the prize money, not least thanks to the popular novelty value of this new racing format. Then there was the fact that these contests were staged indoors during the winter, which was otherwise the lean season for most peds. The popularity of six-day races was so great that promoters all over the country were vying for the attention of the best peds. Smith immediately saw his opportunity. Since George Hazael, Alick Clarke and Jemmy McLeavy, among others, had likewise switched to six-day races, 1879 was to be a year largely devoid of long-distance championship races over the usual distances from 4 to 10 miles. In early January 1879, Smith was one of the 15 starters of a 48-hour go-as-you-please at the Aberdeen Music Hall, where the first prize was a gold medal and £10 in cash. When the race started on Thursday evening, the hall was packed to the rafters with spectators. The track was a dizzying 22 ½ laps to the mile, so competitors were asked to overtake on the outside and change direction every hour. For some participants, 50 miles was sufficient, as it entitled them to have their entry fee returned. However, Smith, who took the lead early on, had other ideas. By covering 92 miles in the first 24 hours and 66 ½ miles on the second day, he ultimately won by seven miles from Joe Leith, a local cattle drover with no foot racing pedigree. In late March, Smith joined forces with Jemmy McLeavy in a 24-hour walking match against Peter McKellan (Edinburgh) at Shawfield Recreation Grounds. Both Smith and McLeavy had to walk for 12 hours at a stretch, while the 45-year-old ex-soldier, an acclaimed heel-and-toe specialist, was to walk the whole distance alone. Smith was first up and covered 55 ¼ miles in the first 12 hours but was unable to keep up with McKellan, who was four miles ahead. McLeavy managed 53 miles during the allotted time, but the aggregate effort of the pair proved enough to defeat the amazing McKellan, albeit only by two miles. Although neither Smith nor McLeavy was particularly proficient at walking, their training would most likely have consisted of a mixture of running and brisk walking in primitive running shoes that afforded next to no shock absorption. To capitalise on the popularity of endurance running at the time, the Aberdeen Highland Games Organising Committee included a five-hour “go-as-you-please” for a first prize of £5 5s in their programme of events on Saturday 19 July. Once again Smith emerged as the winner after having covered 35.1 miles. But he had to dig deep to fend off Daniel McLeod, a young cartwright from Elgin. When the meeting resumed three days later, Smith shared first prize in a one-hour walking race, covering 6¼ miles (about 10 km), which would still be a respectable achievement for a runner today. Towards the end of the year, as he gained more and more competitive experience and developed his basic endurance, Smith tried his hand at six-day races again. In his first six-day race of the winter, a 72-hour race (12 hours per day) at Wolverhampton’s Agricultural Hall, starting on 14 November, he finished in second place with 357 miles behind Sam Day and took home £30 prize money. Making his debut in fourth place was George Littlewood from Sheffield, who nine years later would set a fantastic six-day world record of 623.6 miles in New York. A month later, Smith entered another 72-hour race for a first prize of 50 pounds at Cooke’s Circus in Dundee. The Cookes were a family of circus artists who operated circuses around the country. The Dundee venue was opened in early 1878 on a site behind the Queen’s Hotel in Nethergate. The luxuriously appointed building was 37 metres long, 24 metres wide and 18 metres high and could seat 3,500 spectators. The ceiling was decorated from wall to wall with oriental tapestries, and for the comfort of the guests there were upholstered seats and velvet floors. Lighting was provided by two rows of gas jets and six stylishly arranged chandeliers. The race was run on a raised tan bark track measuring only 50 yards a lap or 35 laps to the mile. The entrance fee was two shillings per day for the reserved seats, one shilling for the promenade and sixpence for the gallery. To cut a long story short, Smith repeated his performance from Wolverhampton with 358 miles, but it was easily enough to win him the race on this occasion.

Just a fortnight after his win at Dundee, Smith returned to Aberdeen to contest the Scottish Six Day Championship at John Henry Cooke’s Royal Circus on Bridge Street, a decade-spanning event that began on 29 December 1879 and concluded on 3 January 1880. Being the Scottish championship, only bona fide Scots were eligible to compete. There were 16 entries and the winner was to receive a handsome champion belt and £20 in cash. The champion belt was hand-crafted from black velvet trimmed with red silk and mounted with five plates of solid silver. A male figure running was engraved on each of the two side pieces with a handsome border of rose, thistle and shamrock. The two front clasps contained the arms of the City of Aberdeen and “Bon Accord” and the massive centrepiece bore the inscription “Six-days’ Long Distance Champion Belt of Scotland”. The track was tiny at 43 yards per lap or 41 laps to the mile, so the lap counters had to be on their toes lest they miscount. But as tiny as the track was, it was not as small as the track at Perth Drill Hall, a nausea-inducing 43 laps to the mile. One of the participants, James Robson, was actually a Scouser, but his hopeless attempt at a Scottish accent gave him away and he was disqualified. He protested to little avail, claiming he was from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Smith was the bookies’ favourite and took the lead early on. By alternating between running and walking he made 66 miles in the first 12 hours. Then on the second day he covered 64 miles, on the third day 63 miles, on the fourth day 59 miles, on the fifth day 49 miles and on the last day 45 miles. In the end, he won by a huge margin of 27 miles with a total distance of 347.9 miles. By popular request of the spectators who chanted “Put it on”, Smith embarked on a lap of honour proudly displaying the championship belt.

On 28 February 1880 Smith took part in his fourth 72-hour race in as many months at Newcome’s Circus in Glasgow, but this time he failed to reproduce the form he had shown towards the end of 1879. With a total score of 337 miles, he had to settle for third place behind Edinburgh’s George D. Cameron (aka Noremac) and Peter McKellan, who made 357 miles and 348 miles respectively. With the six-day craze now in full swing, Smith did not have to wait long for the next competitive opportunity to come along: a 72-hour go-as-you-please at the Edinburgh Royal Gymnasium on 29 March. There were eight participants competing for total prize money of £70 and the winner was to receive £40. The track measured a 125 yards per lap or 14 laps to the mile. Suffice to say that Smith was unlucky: during the first two days he suffered not only constipation but also unbearable pain in his right leg, necessitating the application of a cast. Despite all this, he still managed to cover 158 miles before finally discretion prevailed over valour. Consequently, he played no part in the best 72-hour race ever, a thrilling encounter in which Noremac triumphed over Davie Ferguson in front of a home crowd with a sensational score of 384 miles.


On 8 May Smith was back in action at Springfield Recreation Grounds, where the main attraction was a ten-hour “go-as-you-please” featuring Smith, Noremac and Davie Ferguson. The race was held in hot and dusty conditions, which caused the participants (eight in all) great difficulties, so it was discontinued by mutual consent after 9 hrs. 25 min. Smith took second place with 59 miles (95 km) behind Ferguson (61 miles / 98 km), but ahead of Noremac. On 21 June Noremac and Smith again were to the fore in a 26-hour six-day open-air race at the recently opened Aberdeen Recreation Grounds. The winner was to receive £40 and the runner-up half that amount. Both Smith and Noremac were evidently in fine form. Despite covering 34,875 miles in the first 4 hours (equivalent to a marathon pace of 3:00 hours), Smith was unable to shake Noremac off. In the end Noremac won with 204.6 miles to 201.2 miles for Smith. Third- placed Harry Mundin from Hull (180 miles), and fourth-placed David Ferguson from Pollokshaws (165 miles) were, reported the Aberdeen Weekly Journal, “pupils of Smith”, who “expressed himself pleased with their success”.

Shortly after that, Smith completed an extensive schedule of Highland Meetings, highlights of which included a 3-hour “go-as-you-please” in Aberdeen on 17 July and a 6-hour “go-as-you-please” in Kendal on 3 August. In the former, Smith won narrowly from Daniel McLeod by covering 25 ½ miles (41 km). Unfortunately, he was not so successful in Kendal against the likes of George Cartwright and George Mason and dropped out of the race after covering just over 36 miles (58 km). In Smith’s defence, it is worth noting that there were only 16 days between these gruelling multi-hour contests, and in that time he managed to complete no fewer than seven races between 1.5 and 4 miles.

Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre


In the meantime it had been announced that there would be another six-day race (a 72-hour race) at the Agricultural Hall in Islington, from 6-11 September. There were to be very valuable prizes on offer, plus a champion gold medal from Sir John Astley. Smith’s entry was accepted and at 11 a.m. on September 6 he lined up against 28 other competitors. The starting list read like a who’s who of six-day racing. On day 1, he covered 33.3 miles in the first 5 1/2 hours and after 12 hours he was in 11th place with 65.4 miles. The second day, however, marked the end for Smith and dashed all hopes of a share of the prize money. In the end the victory went to George Littlewood, who won emphatically with 406 miles. Smith’s protégé Harry Mundin finished fourth.

In 1881 Smith vanished completely from the scene. It was reported that he had gone to America, as had his great rivals George Hazael and James McLeavy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any records of any races Smith may have done in the USA nor can I give any information about his activities or whereabouts. The lack of data would however suggest that his visit to the USA was hardly successful. In 1882 he returned to Scotland and continued his running career at the age of 35.

After a handful of low-key races Smith marked his return to big stage on 1 September 1883 with a 10-mile match against Davie Livingstone for £30 at Shawfield Recreation Grounds. Both men had been quiet for a long time. Livingstone hadn’t run a 10-mile race for three years since losing to Willie Cummings at Lillie Bridge. The interest in this clash between these two greats of the Scottish pedestrian scene was correspondingly great. As the Paisley Gazette reports, Smith did not disappoint: “Notwithstanding the disagreeable weather on Saturday afternoon, there was a good attendance at Shawfield Running Grounds, Glasgow. The principal attraction was a ten-mile race between D. Livingstone, of Tranent, and W. Smith, of Paisley, the latter getting 250 yards of a start…Betting opened 6 to 4 on Smith, but even money was obtainable before the start. Livingstone had at the end of the first three miles taken in about fifty yards of the concession given to Smith. He then appeared very “soft”, and not in a condition for the long journey. At the end of the fourth mile, the Paisley man had recovered his lost ground, and thereafter Livingstone never had a chance, and was distanced so rapidly that, at the conclusion of the eighth mile, Smith had nearly placed a lap between them. At the finish of another lap, Smith passed Livingstone (Smith 8 ½ miles, Livingstone 8 ¼ miles), the former going as strong as a lion, while the latter was about used up. They travelled in company until Livingstone had concluded his ninth mile (Smith 9 ¼ miles) when he called a halt, having run so far in 49 mins. 5 secs. Smith continued his journey alone, and, moving along in his own peculiar style at a rare speed, finished the ten miles with a magnificent spurt, and apparently not the least distressed, in the very good time of 53 mins. 11 ¾ secs., which, considering the ground was in a very bad condition after the thunderstorm, is a remarkably clever performance. His time for the full distance would be about 5 secs. under 54 mins.” Given the circumstances, it was an astonishing achievement.

On 13 October Smith returned to Shawfield to compete in a 10-mile handicap for a total purse of £20. He faced, among others, against Livingstone and Paddy Cannon from Stirling, a rising force in Scottish pedestrianism. 3,000 spectators turned out to watch the action. Livingstone was virtual scratch with a start of 300 yards, then Smith at 400 yards and Cannon at 440 yards. The following report appeared in Sporting Life: “A good start was effected, McCallum, the limit man, showing the way for a mile and a half, when Muir went to the front, closely followed by Newton. McCallum dropped off after completing three miles and a quarter, and at this juncture Newton took first position, which he kept till five miles and a quarter had been traversed, when Cannon rushed past him, Newton retiring at five miles and a half, leaving Smith in second place. On coming up the straight for six miles Smith spurted, and wrested premier position from Cannon, amidst cheers by the onlookers. This place he kept, and at eight miles then men were running in the following order: – Smith, Cannon, Livingstone, Gardner, and Evans, the others having dropped off. Smith, running in splendid form, continued to improve his position, and at the finish came up the straight in grand style, and looking full of running, 100 yards in front of Cannon, second, Livingstone, about 700 yards behind, being third; Gardner, fourth, a good distance behind Livingstone, and Evans fifth. Time of the winner (off 400 yards), 52 min. 15 sec.” A rough calculation suggests Smith would have gone the full 10 miles in about 53:30, which would have been just outside his lifetime best. It was as if he had rolled back the years. Cannon would also have gone under 54 minutes had he completed the full distance.

Cannon and Smith appear to have established a working relationship, with Smith acting as the trainer and advisor. Smith’s vast experience on and off the track would have been very valuable to Cannon, who derived his fitness from hard manual labour on a farm near Stirling and the occasional training spin. In 1888, under the guidance of Smith, Cannon would set outright world records for 3 and 4 miles of 14:19.5 and 19:25.2 respectively.

Paddy Cannon was a protégé of Cutty Smith

This sums up the most important years in Cutty Smith’s long career as a professional runner. After 1883 his performances would gradually decline, but nonetheless he continued to enjoy considerable success at the Highland Games until the early 1900s, when he was well over 50 years old. After his golden years as a runner were over, Smith, it appears, returned to his old profession of card cutting. Together with his winnings at the Highland Games and his coaching work, he was able to keep his head above water. In 1891 he was living with his parents and his three daughters at 2 Phillip Street in Paisley. Ten years later, he was still living at the same address with two of his daughters and a boarder, a Mrs. Muir, at fruit preserve maker. He himself had become a widower in 1886 when his wife died from the effects of an abscess. During his sporting career Smith had been a prolific competitor, winning countless handicaps on the rough and ready grass tracks at Highland Games meetings throughout the country. But the true measure of an athlete’s greatness is the mark he leaves in the history books. Among his greatest triumphs were the Scottish 10-mile championship in 1870 and 1878, the winning of a silver mile challenge cup in 1877, the British six-mile and ten-mile championships in 1878 and the winning of a handsome championship belt in a six-day race at Aberdeen in 1879. Needless to say, he set a few records along the way: two Scottish records over ten miles and a “world record” for 25 miles eighteen years before the “Marathon” race was conceived. He also coached and dispensed his advice to an indeterminate number of other runners, most notably Paddy Cannon, whom he guided to long-standing world records for three miles and four miles in 1888.

On the evening of 7 December 1907 Smith left his two daughters at home and went out, perhaps for a few drinks in the pub. But he did not return and was reported missing by his daughters. All attempts to find him were unsuccessful. A few weeks later his body was found washed up on the banks of the River Cart, about 400 metres from Barnsford Bridge near Inchinnan. What had happened? Had he stumbled and fallen into the river and perished in the icy water? Had he been inebriated? There was no evidence of foul play, and a coroner’s inquiry returned a verdict of death by “supposed drowning”. He was 60 years old.


Smith’s best performances

1 mile


Gateshead 30 September 1872
2 miles 9:52.0+ Glasgow 8 June 1878
3 miles 15:10.0+ Glasgow 8 June 1878
4 miles 20:35.0+ Glasgow 8 June 1878
5 miles 26:03.5+ Glasgow 13 May 1878
6 miles 31:29.25 Glasgow 13 May 1878
10 miles 53:22.0 London 26 December 1876
1 hour 10M 598y (16640m) Sittingbourne 16 February 1878
20 miles 2:10:00+ London July 15, 1878
25 miles 2:50:22+ London 15 July 1878

Thanks to Peter Lovesey for stats and Mark Aston at the ILHC.

Note: Alex Wilson who wrote the above profile of Cutty Smith has also contributed many other very good accounts of runners, their life and times, to the website.   All well worth reading they include Paddy Cannon, Robert McKinstray, Frank Clark, Alex Haddow, Alex Duncan, John McGough, PJ Allwell and J Wilson.   All written to the same high standard, all with fascinating illustrations, just click on the names to be taken to the individual items.