The North Cotswold Cycling Club
The North Cotswold Cycling Club was one of many new clubs formed during the post-WW1 cycling revival. Although the precise sequence of events which led to its creation is not certain, of central importance was Tommy Kemp, the eponymous proprietor of T.L. Kemp’s gift shop, which was situated in Broadway village High Street. Kemp's was a long-established business that retailed a variety of tourist wares, clocks, watches, wind-up gramophones, toys, and other sundry items. It also sold and hired out bicycles and tandems.
At some point in the early 1930’s - probably in 1932 - Tommy happened to sell bicycles to several lads in the village; namely Bill Tustin, Norman Parsons, and Dennis Shergold, and to Evesham man, Phil Evans. Perhaps at Tommy’s prompting, these four new cycle owners, together with Tommy himself, who was only a year or so older, began riding out informally together.
Before long they gathered a number of others around them, chief among which were Fred Dodd, Bert Sullings, Cecil Gough, Arthur Bayston, Harry Hargreaves, Harold Whitcombe and Cyril Invine. All were in their late teens or early twenties, and most lived and worked in Broadway or in nearby villages. Many were already friends or acquaintances. Cyril Invine, Norman Parsons and Dennis Shergold (alias Butch, Par and Shirt) had been pupils together at Broadway Junior School. Jobbing gardener, Bill Tustin – nicknamed for some obscure reason ‘Shunner’ - was a close friend of Norman Parsons, who was working as a carpenter for a local building firm. Several of the other recruits were recent arrivals in the village, and were perhaps looking for a bit of company and an outlet for their energies. A number were employed at the Gordon Russell furniture works in the lower High Street. For his part, the invariably dapperly-dressed Harry Hargreaves was engaged as a ‘Gentleman’s gentleman’ at The Gables, a large private house in the centre of the village. It was this nucleus of exactly a dozen lads who became the founder members of the North Cotswold Cycling Club.
The casual arrangement of riding out together on a Sunday afternoon probably lasted for only a few months. In the latter part of 1932 it was decided to formalise the arrangement by creating a proper club; a matter that was resolved at a tea held at the Old New Inn at Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire during one of the outings. The Old New Inn was to become a regular watering hole, and its landlord, former cyclist Arthur Morris, was made an honorary member of the club.
The title chosen at the Bourton tea for this new venture was the North Cotswold Cycling Club; a name that was thought not so parochial as to deter potential recruits who hailed from places other than Broadway, where most of the founders happened to live. In settling upon the name it was probably no coincidence that the North Cotswold Hunt had its kennels in the village, and that Cyril Invine had family working there. Evesham and its adjacent villages were doubtless seen as the natural recruiting ground for further members, which was how it proved.
The Evesham man, Phil Evans, was appointed the North Cotswold’s first captain, and Norman Parsons was made Vice Captain. As a man of business, Tommy Kemp was the obvious choice for Club Treasurer, whilst Dennis Shergold took on the burdensome role of Club Secretary. As such, it was Dennis’ task to develop a calendar of club runs and to make arrangements for the tea stops, as well as sorting many other administrative matters. The Club came officially into existence on 1st January 1933, and the first Sunday run was that very day: a gentle fifty mile jaunt to Aston Cantlow in Warwickshire, with Phil Evans as leader.
It was usual for cycling clubs to have an emblem, and a suggested design was sketched by Dennis Shergold at the Bourton tea. It was a double circle containing the words North Cotswold, encapsulating a bicycle wheel with wings springing from it, somewhat reminiscent of the motif used by the Cyclists’ Touring Club. It became the basis for a simple nickel-plated badge. A bicycle wheel with assorted embellishments was a common theme for a club emblem, that of the Cheltenham & County being a wheel set within a laurel wreath.
Within a short time the membership subscription was reduced to three shillings (£7 equivalent) a year for social members and five shillings for full racing members, which compared with seven shillings and sixpence for full membership in the Cheltenham & County. Since the Club overheads were negligible – there were few, if any, formal committee meetings incurring costs – the smaller subscription was probably found to be adequate. There was no advantage in charging a higher fee than necessary, since it risked discouraging potential new recruits and membership renewals.
At the very beginning there seems to have been just three club rules. These were printed on the back of the first combined membership card and run list for 1933. All of them related to the finances of the club, viz: subscriptions were to be paid to the Treasurer on receipt of the card; the designated leader for a run was to be responsible for the meal money; and members were reminded that the cost of the badges was not included in the annual subscription. In subsequent years a more comprehensive set of rules was developed, based on those used by other cycling clubs. These mostly formalised matters relating to safety and courtesy that were common sense and common practice. They included, for example, the injunction to members to be ready to start at the time stated on the run cards; not to leave the group when out on a run without notifying the Captain; and not to indulge in the hazardous practice of overlapping the man in front when riding.
Although the NCCC was always a relatively small club in comparison with its neighbours at Cheltenham, Gloucester, Worcester and Leamington, it was nevertheless a successful one. More than fifty men and women were members at some stage during its seven active years. From the initial twelve founders, the membership climbed to around thirty during the fifth season, of which seventeen were racing members and the remainder social riders. This level of membership was then maintained until the club folded in 1939.
Initially, however, as is not untypical with any new venture, there was a slight falling away of people. The original enthusiasm quickly waned among a few members, whilst others found that work commitments obliged them to limit their involvement. Club cycling, especially competitive riding, required a degree of effort and dedication that not everyone was able to sustain. New recruits sometimes found that their lack of general fitness let them down, and that the whole experience was too much like hard work. Of the founders, Arthur Bayston, for his part, quickly abandoned the bicycle for the motor cycle, to which he remained devoted for the remainder of his life. Those who persevered and overcame these initial barriers found themselves inducted into the wonderfully liberating world of the open road.
Despite this slight falling away of people, the club soon began to attract new members. One of the earliest new recruits was Harry Bennett, a baker from Chipping Campden, who decided to take up cycling in order to improve his health: he had suffered long stretches of incapacity and hospitalisation from a diseased hip. An imposing presence at over six feet tall he was quickly dubbed ‘The Colonel’ by his compatriots; nicknames being somewhat de rigueur in those days. Although he never participated in competition, he was a frequent presence on the club runs and became a true club stalwart, occasionally employing his van to carry fellow riders to and from events.
Another early joiner was Norman Parsons’ younger brother Theo; just sixteen when he became a member in 1933. He was immediately christened ‘Nip’ – short for nipper - and the name stuck. Norman’s youngest brother, John, (alias Jup) became a member a year or two later. Among others who joined during the first year or so, and who remained with the club until its break-up, were Reginald ‘Steppy’ Steptoe, Bill ‘Winnie’ Winfield and the boisterous Phil Grimmitt.
Club cycling was predominantly a male activity, and the racing side of it exclusively so. There were women riders, but in all clubs they tended to be in the minority. The North Cotswold had several female members, among which were Dorothy Wilcox, whose brother Seymour was a club regular, and Nellie Willcock, who subsequently married founder member Bert Sullings.
Two other club regulars, and early joiners, were the Nash brothers, Sidney and Percy, who lived at Hailes, near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire. Both were also members of the Cheltenham and County (C&C), their family home being roughly halfway between Broadway and Cheltenham. As the larger and more established club, the C&C had ‘first claim’ over them for team events, and they therefore rode mostly for that club.
Sid was something of a cycling phenomenon, and it was perhaps a blessing that he seldom rode with the North Cotswold, for he would likely have dominated the club prizes to the exclusion of other members, as he did with the Cheltenham & County. In the mid 1930’s, for several seasons he won all four of their major awards, including the Williams Cup for the fastest aggregate time for races held over twenty-five miles or more, and the Bick Cup for the fastest 50 mile time-trial. He only failed in his attempt to win the 1937 Sexton Memorial Cup for the fastest return time between Cheltenham and Oxford because he was chased and stopped en route by a “speed cop” for doing thirty-eight miles an hour in a built-up area. This incident was amusingly recounted at the Cheltenham & County’s annual dinner in November 1937, and was duly reported in the Gloucestershire Echo. Having forfeited the race, Sid had hoped for ‘compensation’ in the form of a summons recording his remarkable feat, which he intended to frame and place with his other trophies. But to his regret, the threatened summons never arrived.
These, then, were some of the principal members of the North Cotswold Cycling Club, and the following is their story.
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