Neil Featherby: The amazing story of Cecil Taylor’s record books

The programme front cover from the Norwich City Sports Club event at the Nest in 1911 Picture: Sportlink.

As I write this week’s column, we have already had more than 125 people signed up for the Sportlink Athletics Norfolk Smile 1 mile challenge which, of course, has also led to many of the entrants asking several questions.

At Sportlink with Glyn and Diane Long and just a small sample of their many items of athletics memorabilia. Picture: Sportlink

Particularly as this is a race/run with a difference – ie, virtual running followed by a series of track races which will culminate in a grand final where men and women will race each other.

To add to the excitement, though, not only will the men have to give the ladies a 30-second head start, but to add even more drama, there will be the elimination of athletes after 800m and 1,200m leaving just three men and three ladies to battle it out for the prize money on the last lap.

However, is it anything new?

Well, virtual running is, but handicapped races and “Devil takes the Hindmost” elimination races most certainly are not, and have plenty of history here in Norfolk.

Event number 22, the men’s handicap mile race from the 1911 Norwich Athletic Sports Day Picture: Sportlink

Last week, I had a visit from Glyn and Diane Long, who really are Norfolk Athletics stalwarts. Apart from their service to our sport here in the county as dedicated athletes, coaches and, of course, administrators, they completely blew my mind when turning up at Sportlink and asking me if I would become the custodian of what really is a past account of Norfolk Athletics going back 100 years and more.

Glyn’s grandfather, Cecil Taylor, who was a very distinguished figure here in Norwich, being a surgeon at the N&N Hospital and a very prominent athlete and administrator, so very meticulously compiled and recorded events from club through to area and inter county athletics meetings and cross country championships going right back to 1924. Needless to say there were no computers back then either, so everything was so carefully recorded by hand and I have spent the last week absolutely mesmerised when going through everything.

Whilst I have in the past written an article about the history of the Henderson Track and the Norwich & Norfolk Athletics Club, it is quite clear that there were an abundance of clubs and other tracks all around the county which not only staged all the traditional track and field events of the day, but both handicap and elimination races (Devil Takes The Hindmost) which were very much part of the day’s activities and programme. In some cases an athletics meeting would have also coincided with cycling events too.

Amongst what I call this treasure trove of athletics history, there are also plans for the laying of athletics tracks, letters, magazines, detailed results in envelopes dated by each year, and programmes, including, of course, press reports and photographs from this newspaper.

he Eastern Daily Press report and results for the 1933 Norfolk cross country championships Picture: Archant

One of the stand-out pieces of memorabilia was a programme of an athletics sports meeting organised by the Norwich City Sports Club (affiliated to the National Athletic Union) on May 13, 1911 at The Nest in Rosary Road which, of course, was at the time the home of Norwich City Football Club.

The rules governing the handicap races were most certainly very strict. For instance, a one-yard penalty for those who had won races up to 120 yards right through to eight yards for those who had won races between 600 yards and 1,000 yards. When it came to the mile race, it was 14 yards followed by a further 10 yards for each succeeding mile. What did surprise me, though, was that I couldn’t see where previous race times had a bearing on what an athlete’s handicap was, although it certainly did in some of the later meetings.

I can imagine that there may have been a little cheating going on too. In other words, making sure you didn’t win too many races or run as fast as you possibly could prior to what might have been a big event coming up, especially where there may have a been a valuable prize up for grabs. At the 1911 meeting, the handicaps for the mile ranged from 73 yards to 177 yards.

If I am honest, it will take me months to go through everything and whilst this really is an amazing addition to my collection, it would be great to see such memorabilia in a museum where Norfolk’s very proud sporting history can be displayed for all to see.

The start of the Norfolk Senior Men’s cross country at Gorleston in 1933 Picture: Archant

In hindsight, how good would it have been to have named the Sportlink/Athletics Norfolk Smile 1 mile challenge after Cecil Taylor or indeed any other person who has dedicated a big part of their lives to Norfolk Athletics whilst also preserving much of its famous past. Maybe next year!

The start of the 1933 Triangular Inter Counties cross country championships between Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire with the former magnificent Costessey Hall in the background Picture: Archant

Neil Featherby's Friday EDP Feature