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Explanatory notes: Harrier Club formation to 1900

The spreadsheet detailing the clubs formed to 1900 has been gathered from a variety of sources. There has been a heavy reliance on local press reporting which has its own pitfalls of subtle change of names, mis-spellings and occasional inaccuracies. Official club histories can also be written from ‘a particular view’. This is by no means an exhaustive survey.  Inevitably, not all local sources have been plundered so there will be some local clubs in small places that have been omitted.  However, 2 stand out as being a discovery.  Banton Harriers adjacent to Kilsyth, and Dailly Harriers a small village in south Ayrshire both numbered only around 1,000 people in 1891 but both had harrier clubs. The common factor was the nature of the local industry which was coal mining and the iron industry. This aspect in the growth of the harrier clubs is important and touched on later.

There has been no attempt to follow up the clubs formed to see what became of them, but it is clear from the accompanying demographic sheet that some towns and cities simply could not support the level of club formation (and therefore membership) to keep them viable.  Dundee and Arbroath are two cases in point. Dundee numbered some 40 clubs in the period 1885 to 1900 with a population of approx 158,000 in 1891. The town of Arbroath numbered some 15 clubs with a population of some 22,900. However, by 1900 the press reported only 2 functioning clubs in Dundee. Clubs came and went and were part and parcel of leisure trends and ‘fads’ of the time. It does however demonstrate ‘impact’ in relation to the grip of the sport at the time. Population trends of the time indicate that Glasgow was the largest city of around 565,000 with Edinburgh next at approx. 370,000.  Dundee just eclipses Aberdeen with 158,000 to 130,000.  Fife and the Central belt numbered approx. 135,000 with the Borders at 130,000.  While these numbers are extremely approximate, they nevertheless give an indication of population trends and what we know as Strathclyde today had fully one third of the total Scottish population.

Schools and universities were difficult to get information on without direct access to the respective archives, but where they are mentioned they are included even if the reference was a bare mention since they were part of the landscape of the time.  Prior to 1885 there is evidence of the public schools especially, but not exclusively, of Edinburgh engaging in ‘athletic sports’ which was essentially track and field events (Royal High School, Edinburgh Academy, Loretto, Merchiston Castle, Dreghorn and Glenalmond). These annual games or sports days also held ‘stranger’s races’. It may well be that harrier (hares and hounds) or cross-country activity was part of the sporting opportunities of the time but by 1875 these inter-scholastic meetings had all but died out and it was the universities of Aberdeen, St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh that continued with ‘athletic sports’. More work is needed to establish the contribution of the public schools both in Edinburgh and Glasgow, especially Glasgow Academy and the High School of Glasgow.

There has been an attempt to establish the exact date of formation and include limited additional information.  This was never intended to be an exhaustive picture of the sport but one merely to establish the harrier club landscape.  Where things became opaque in relation to club formation and club activity, and on follow up where nothing could be discerned, the club is depicted in red (there are a few who perhaps did not get off the ground).

While the main document lists all clubs in chronological order which demonstrates demographic trends in relation to other regions, there is also the document which lists clubs formed by region (West of Scotland, East of Scotland, Central belt, Tayside and Fife, Borders, Aberdeenshire). The main document of all clubs also contains other information on athletes, club colours and uniforms and trainers and training as well as run venues.  Clubs held smokers, domino leagues, ‘at homes’, ‘conversatsiones’, formal club dinners, less formal meals after runs with entertainment, smokers, variety nights and of course recourse by some clubs, to their own club rooms.

Documented in the press and in need of follow up is information covering deaths of harriers on runs, assaults on harriers, call ups for the 2nd Boer War, issues to do with betting, articles on how to run ‘respectfully’, trespassing, falsifying information on entry forms (nothing changes!) and articles directly advocating that harriers vote for certain candidates in local council elections. The richness of the social history and the way in which harrier clubs interacted with agencies around them at the time is worthy of more research.

What is also worthy of note is the social and economic context of club formation. Nearly all clubs were based on some form of industrial economy rather than a more rural, agricultural economy. Harriers needed to be in occupations that meant they had the means to buy running attire, specialist shoes and to be able to afford the travel to run venues as well as the meals and ‘smokers’ after the runs. Again, more work is needed on this aspect of harrier club membership. What is certain is that some harriers benefitted from the connections made within the club.  There is one striking account of a harrier leaving for a post in London through connections made with ex pat harriers based there. The industries of weaving, mining, commerce and banking as well as shipping and textiles were at the heart of occupational status of harriers.

The documents are not exhaustive.  Any additions and corrections are more than welcomed as the purpose is to set up a conversation relating to the earliest days of the sport to gain a better insight into not only the sport, but also its contribution to the various communities which the clubs represented.