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History: the early days of the Olympic Harrier Club

The Whyte Mackay Shield

Three of the clubs around back in the early 1900s were the Wellington Harrier Club, Civil Service and Catholic Young Men’s Amateur Athletic Club. Wellington Harriers was the only regular club that enjoyed winter harriers. The major trophy of the time, the Whyte Mackay Shield (a 5 mile teams road race at Hutt Park), was therefore a rather one-sided competition.

One morning in 1909 while Wellington Harrier members where inspecting the Whyte Mackay course, it was decided that the competition should be made fairer by reducing the strength of the Wellington Harriers team. Member F Hodson announced he would try and form a club in Brooklyn. With the help of other members (including Percy Wilton and WH Philp) and some outstanding runners, Brooklyn Harrier Club was set up, and successfully competed for the Whyte Mackay Shield, winning it in 1911 and 1913.

Brooklyn Harrier Club split in two

However, at the Brooklyn Harrier Club AGM in early 1913, there was a disagreement amongst members, and founder F Hodson, along with a number of other Brooklyn harriers, decided to break away and form their own club.

So on 5th February 1914 a meeting to form a new club was held in the offices of WH Philp. Mr G Frost was elected President, Mr FJ Byrne Club Captain, and Mr JT Don Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. And the Olympic Harrier Club was formed.

Immediate Success for Olympic

Now there were three strong clubs in Wellington (Wellington, Brooklyn and Olympic). Olympic had immediate success, winning the individual (FR Byrne) and team wins in that year’s cross country champs.

World War I and the following decade

In the next year or so Scottish Harriers appeared on the scene. In 1916 the clubs found themselves depleted because of World War I, so the Wellington, Olympic and Scottish clubs combined to form Trinity Harriers. They were back on their own in 1919, and despite tragic losses in the war and a limited interclub programme, Olympic went on to have an an outstanding decade. The Grand Memorial races were added in the 1920s and the Shaw Baton interclub relay was first held in 1923.

For the full story on World War I, its impact on the club and how it led to the Grand Memorial races see Soldiers, Signalmen, Runners.

Some things never change

From a 1923 newspaper reporting on a club race:

“Some men who have accustomed in the past to take places well up the front were this time left behind; whether they were genuinely indisposed or merely trying to get one on to the handicapper with a view to future races is not known; certainly with the present handicapper and their own past records such an attempt would be unavailing.”

I don’t think any comment is needed on this!

Up to the present day

Some of the Club’s members who lived in the Hutt Valley formed a local club, the Hutt Valley Harriers, in the 1920s. Another Club member, Fred Mair, formed the Christchurch Olympic club (now part of New Brighton Olympic) after moving there. Fred Mair has his name on our trophy for “the junior athlete showing the most potential.”

Wellington Harrier Club recently merged with the Wellington Track and Field Club to form the Wellington Harrier Athletic Club, and celebrated its centenary in 2003. Scottish Athletics is also as strong as ever. However Brooklyn Harriers only survived for a few more decades before finally folding around 1950.

The club celebrated its centenary in 2014, and it entered its second 100 years with a strong membership and more members competing overseas than ever before.

In 2015, to emphasise it is more than just a harrier club, it changed its name from Olympic Harrier Club to Olympic Harrier and Athletic Club. This reflects its strong track and field programmes, for both children and older members.

Early club photos

Click on a thumbnail picture for an enlargement.

When it all started, 1914

When it all started

Standing: F Hodson, CO Coad, ?, FJ Burrell, ?, L Brown.
Seated on left wall (from front): L Pearce, ?, EA Shaw.
Seated on right wall (from front): JT Don (Honorary Secretary and Treasurer), ?, ?, R Cook
Seated on steps (middle): M Poynton, G Frost (President), JP Luke, C Murray, ?
Seated on steps (front): C Duck, WH Philp, FJ Byrne (Club Captain), CH Baker

Winners of the first Bennett Memorial Road Race, 1921

Bennett Memorial 1921 winners

Standing: C CampbellEA ShawJW Scatchard 
Sitting: H McCormick, N Craig, WH Philp, HE Moore

Winners of the Bennett Memorial road race 1924

Bennett Memorial 1924 winners

Standing: JW ScatchardJR Perston, H Grove. 
Sitting: C CampbellAT Davies (President), PL Wilson

Do any of those names look familiar?

Some of the early members ensured they’d never be forgotten:

EA Shaw

EA (Ted) Shaw, a founding member of the club, was the donor of the trophies for the Shaw Baton relays, first raced in 1923 and traditionally the first inter-club event on the Wellington cross country calendar.

WH Philp

WH Philp had a significant role in the founding of the club.

JR Perston

JR (Jack) Perston was a important figure in the early years of the club. He went on to be club President for 21 years from 1928 to 1949. He donated these trophies:

C Campbell

C (Colin) Campbell donated the Campbell Cup in 1924 for the Run-In Points prize. Nowdays we prefer to warm-down after pack runs, so the cup is now awarded to the Masters Men road racing champion.

AT Davies

AT (Arthur) Davies’s wife presented the Arthur T Davies Memorial Vase after his death, in 1954, to be awarded to the most improved junior (now M19)

JW Scatchard

JW (Bill) Scatchard’s wife presented the Bill Scatchard Memorial Cup, to be awarded to the B15 club cross country champion.

Information from “Olympic Harriers: the first 75 years (1914-1989)”

Last updated: 7 Aug 2017