Robert S Langlands

The quest for the first two minute half mile by a Scotsman had been steadily chopped down over the years: Robert Mitchell of Clydesdale Harriers and St Mirren FC had cut it to 2:00.4, Walter Malcom of Clydesdale Harriers and Morton FC got it down to 2:00.2 – and Langlands had the honour of being the man who finally broke the barrier.

Robert S Langlands from Dumbarton was one of four Langlands brothers who were significant members of Clydesdale Harriers at a local level.    The Langlands family is well known in Dumbarton and it is significant enough for their family history to be well documented in the local Library.   Their father, George, had come from Dundee to be Postmaster in Dumbarton and had four sons from his first marriage.   Robert, born 1870, was the oldest followed by Sam, 1871, George, 1874, and William 1876.   They all did well in life with Sam being Chief Inspector of Lighting for Glasgow Corporation and George being a notable marine engineer and manager of Beardmore’s in Dalmuir then of Barclay Curle’s.    Robert himself was a surveyor for Lloyd’s of London and worked in London and Cadiz – this would probably account for the shortness of his athletics career – he was 25 when he set the record and just setting out as a professional man.   RS Langlands first appears as a club member in season 1892/93 when his brother Sam  was local Assistant Secretary and George was local vice captain.   He is not recorded in the club records as having won anything that year    He started off running cross country and in February 1894, along with W Robertson, DW Mill, E Kelly, J Stavert and J McGowan, he was a member of the team which won the Scottish Junior Cross Country Championship at Hamilton; he was also awarded a time badge during the summer season although it is not clear from the records what it was for.  In 1894/95 his youngest brother William had increased the family membership to four.

His real claim to fame was that he was the first Scotsman to run under two minutes for the 880 yards.   As with all these barriers, there were many who were attempting to be first – including his club mate Robert Mitchell, (pb 2:00.4) originally a St Mirren FC football player from Paisley who was the main rival, and Walter Malcolm (pn 2:00.2) who set Scottish records at 880 yards and 1000 yards.

The first note of Langlands racing the half mile was on 2nd June 1894 when at the Queen’s Park FC Sports, he was second to Mitchell.   Mitchell’s handicap was 16 yards while Langlands was running from 20: he was beaten by half a yard with the winning time being 2:02.6.   It was a close race with the third placed runner – G Gourley, Ayr FC, off 27 yards – another half yard behind.    He was back at Hampden at the end of July when on the 26th of the month he ran in the half mile handicap at the first annual Glasgow Charities Sports.  He was again second: running from a mark of 12 yards he was beaten by John Milroy (Maryhill Harriers (30) and James McLaren, Clydesdale Harriers, (37) in ‘a good race’ which was won in 1:58.2.   The Clydesdale Harriers handbook for 1894/95 tells us that in summer 1894, he won three first prizes, three seconds and three thirds.   

In 1895, feeling victimised by the SAAA, Clydesdale Harriers formed a parallel amateur athletics body – the Scottish Amateur Athletics Union – which held its own races and championships.   Many clubs, including Rangers FC, Celtic FC and most of the clubs in the west of Scotland as well as a number from the east,  resigned from the SAAA and joined the new SAAU.   The result was that in 1895 and 1896 there were two sets of national championships.

1895 started for him on 20th April when he was second in the half mile at  the West of Scotland Cricket Club Sports at Hamilton Crescent.   Langlands, running from 12 yards, was beaten by J Barclay of Whiteinch Harriers (46 yards) in a close race won in 2:00.8.    On 1st June Langlands won the half mile at the annual Vale of Leven Football Club Sports off 10 yards in 2 minutes dead with clubmate W Robertson second.   His brother George was third in the handicap mile behind A Hannah and W Robertson.    On 22nd June 1895, the SAAA championships and the SAAU Championships were both held in Glasgow on the same day.   At Ibrox Park the SAAA event was won by MCC Seton in 2 minutes 5.4 seconds but at the SAAU Championships held at Hampden Park, Langlands won in the time of 1 minute 59.6 seconds – the first time that the two minute barrier had been broken by a Scotsman.     The race is reported in John Keddie’s Centenary History of the SAAA thus:

“It was another Clydesdale Harrier, Robert Langlands, who finally broke through the 2 minute ‘barrier’ in Scotland.   He achieved this at the breakaway SAAU Championships at Hampden Park on 22nd June 1895.   His winning time was 1 minute 59.6 seconds and apparently the pace was so shattering that no other competitor finished the race!   It is perhaps odd to think of a 2 minute barrier today, but one can picture the excitement created by such an occasion.   This was a real milestone.”

Milestone or no, the local ‘Lennox Herald’ headed their coverage 

“A Dumbarton Pedestrian Breaks a Scottish Record”

the article continues “The first championship meeting under the auspices of the new Scottish Amateur Athletic Union which was formed recently following a split in the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association, took place at Hampden Park on Saturday.   The most noteworthy performance of the meeting was theHis brother George was third in the Mile handicap behind A Hannah and W Robertson.  breaking of the Scottish Half Mile Record by R Langlands, Dumbarton.   Rodger of Maybole did not turn out and Langlands’ only opponent was the previous holder of the record, R Mitchell of Paisley.   The pace set had apparently been too much for the Paisley man who dropped off after covering nearly two thirds of the distance.   Langlands continued to run in splendid style and finished inside Mitchell’s record by four fifths of a second.   The performance was a capital one and as Langlands has youth on his side and probably something to learn through further experience we look to him eclipsing Saturday’s feat before long.   His brother George ran very pluckily in the Mile race at the same meeting and finished second to W Robertson of Clydesdale Harriers.”  

It was reported a week later that he would be awarded a special badge for the feat.   

Where Mitchell had been a 440/880 runner, Langlands was championship material at 880/Mile distances. It is interesting that the pace set by the stronger man was too hot for the 220/440/880 runner  the  who held the Scottish record for 600 yards.   Mitchell had joined the club before any of the Langlands family and in season 1888/89 he had won 13 first prizes, 2 seconds and 7 thirds.   He was a seasoned campaigner before Robert came on the scene.   Unfortunately his career ended in disgrace: In 1898 he was permanently suspended for betting as part of an investigation carried out by the SAAA.     The last word on Langlands in the club records is in season 1899/1900.   As indicated above his career as surveyor then took him to London and Cadiz in Spain.   Nevertheless he was the first inside two minutes and

“This was a real milestone.”