Thursday, 9 February 2017

Running London: tracking the city's first railway journey

As somebody reminded me on twitter, yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of the London railways. On 8 February 1836, the first section of the London and Greenwich Railway was opened, with trains between Deptford and Spa Road in Bermondsey - the first passenger steam trains in the capital. Over the next few years the line was extended to reach London Bridge at one end and Greenwich at the other.

Today I decided to retrace that first train journey, running as near as I could the track from Deptford to Spa Road and indeed beyond to Druid Street then Tooley Street.

The railway not only transformed transport but the architecture of the city. To avoid the need for lots of level crossings, the railway was elevated above street level on a viaduct with hundreds of brick arches. 

Arches in Deptford

The site of the original Spa Road station is marked by a plaque commemorating 'London's first railway terminus, opened 1836'.

There is also a large photo on display of the old station.

The bridge where the railway crosses Spa Road is a grand structure supported on pillars.

As I ran alongside the railway I reflected on all the ever changing uses of these railway arches, home over the decades to countless stables, workshops, scrap metal yards, churches, gyms, boxing clubs, nightclubs, studios and in their latest incarnation offices like the Neal's Yard Dairy HQ on Druid Street.  I thought of great nights out in railway arches like the Cross club at Kings Cross, Shunt at London Bridge or various arches in 1990s Brixton.  It's been a similar picture in other cities, such as Glasgow, where of course one of the most iconic clubs until it closed in 2015 was The Arches. As urban property has become more valuable and tightly policed, railway arches in some areas are losing their cheap/marginal/semi-outlaw status, but the history of these places isn't played out yet.

Many of these arches have their own distinct stories, some glorious, some tragic. In the latter category, a plaque on Druid Street recalls the Druid Street Arch Bombing when on 25 October 1940 a Nazi bomb killed 77 people sheltering in a railway arch. 

site of the Druid arch bomb, October 1940
(I ran alongside the track for about 3 miles, for most of it close to the line though there were a couple of points where it's not possible to do so - see run details on strava)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Running on Screen (18): T2 Trainspotting

The opening scene of the original Trainspotting film (1996) famously features Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) running through the streets of Edinburgh being chased by store detectives, set to Iggy Pop's Lust for Life.

The follow up twenty years latter, T2 Trainspotting likewise starts with a run, but of a quite different kind. This time Renton is running on a treadmill in an Amsterdam gym before collapsing - his health shock prompting him to return to Edinburgh and  the heroin addict friends who he ripped off all those years before.

Finding Spud to be still struggling to kick the habit, Renton drags him out for a run to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh's Holyrood Park, the highest point in the city (this time soundtracked by Young Fathers' Low).

Sitting on top of the hill, they talk about addiction.

Renton: 'you are an addict... so  be addicted to something else'

Spud 'Like running until you feel sick?'

Renton 'yes or something else, you've got to channel it, you've got to control it'.

Certainly not the first person, in fiction or real life, to take a lot more than 12 steps to recovery with the help of running.

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has done his share of running, including running London marathon twice, his first in London in 2001 I believe.

Update 10 February 2017:

This week's Athletics Weekly notes that it is Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) who is the strongest runner of the Trainspotting crew, dating back to his teenage years when he was 4th in the Surrey under 17 1500m champs in 1988. He has run many marathons including the 2008 London Marathon in 3:01.and New York 2013 in 3:19. He has also taken part in some ultras, including 50 mile race through Bear Mountain, New York in 2015 for children's charity Jonah’s Just Begun. In fact in his twitter handle he describes himself as 'Professional pretender, ultrarunner, rare disease patient advocate, dad, ninja. But not in that order'.

Jonny Lee Miller at the finish of 2013 New York City Marathon

Previously in the Running on Screen series:

Running London: in praise of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is one of the most important routes for London runners on the East side of the city.  With no pedestrian friendly river crossings between it and Tower Bridge five miles upstream (I don't recommend running through the vehicle fumes of the Rotherhithe tunnel, though technically you could), the  370m tunnel connects the north and south banks of the Thames at a very useful point. 

Of course its entrance on the Greenwich side is an iconic running location in its own right, marking with the Cutty Sark ship Mile Seven of the London Marathon route. On Sunday mornings in particular in the lead up to the Spring Marathon season a seemingly never ending stream of runners pass through the tunnel during their long run training. For runners from South  London heading north, the tunnel gives access to parks and waterways of the Isle of Dogs and East London along which it is possible to run for miles with very little interruption from roads. For those heading north to south, the tunnel opens up the way to the hilly Greenwich Park and the green expanse of Blackheath, as well as to Thames-side routes around the Greenwich peninsula up to the 02/Dome and beyond.  

Last weekend for instance a group of us did a 14 mile run from Greenwich that included following the Regents Canal to Victoria Park, then the Hertford Union Canal up to the Olympic London Stadium and back. Yesterday my 16 mile route took me to Mile End, where I did the parkrun before heading back via Limehouse and Millwall Docks to the foot tunnel.

The tunnel was opened in 1902, and was originally intended to help dock workers from the South side get to work on the Isle of Dogs. It was commissioned by the London County Council, with former docker and later Labour MP Will Crooks having a key role as chair of the LCC's Bridges Committee. So runners can thank him and the workers who dug the tunnel through the chalk by hand.

For runners passing through today the main dilemma seems to be whether to use the lift or the stairs - 100 of them at the Greenwich end. Most seem to descend via the spiral staircase but get the lift back up.

(Running Past has written a bit more about the history and notes that  to mark the centenary of the tunnel in 2002, 100 people ran a Greenwich Foot Tunnel Centenary Marathon entirely inside the tunnel (58 laps). Hugh Jones, winner of the 1982 London Marathon, won the tunnel event in a time of 2.45.40).

Friday, 27 January 2017

Holocaust Memorial Day: Race for Remembrance

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, a time to pause and remember those murdered by the Nazis and their allies and indeed those killed in subsequent genocides. On the 27 January 1945 the Red Army liberated the 7,000 prisoners remaining at Auschwitz, a place where over a million people had died.

Like people from all walks of life, the Holocaust took its toll of athletes. Jewish athletes in particular of course, like the members of the Dutch women's gymnastic team, Ajax footballer Eddy Hamel or Lilli  Henoch, a leading light in the Berlin Sports Club in events including the discus, shot-put, and the 100-meter relay. But also other victims  like the German Gypsy boxer Johann Trollmann, the communist resistance fighter and wrestler Werner Seelenbinder (who finished  fourth in the 1936 Olympics) and Janusz Kusocin'ski (1907-1940) the Polish runner who had set a world record in the 10,000 meters at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. 

Lilli Henoch (1899-1942), second from left
Last Sunday, 22 January, about 1,500 people took part in the 'Run for Mem' in Rome, a non-competitive road race past sites related to the history of the Holocaust, such as the Regina Coeli prison where Jews and political prisoners were detained. It was organised by the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, with support of Maccabi Italia and the Rome Marathon, with the guest of honour being Holocaust survivor Shaul Ladany, who also survived the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics which he was attending as a race walker.

The President of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities Noemi Di Segni, who opened the race, said:

“This year we chose a new, maybe even brave way to mark Holocaust Memorial Day — a sporting event... People happen to run every day, but today we have to take with us the milestones of our history and remember that the path ahead of us starts from the one influenced by past events. Sometimes people fall and are hurt. They have made us fall, they have hurt us, but we have gotten back to our feet and we have started again, as individuals, as a people, as a community, as Italians, as Europeans". Participants wore t-shirts bearing the slogan  '"Corsa per la memoria, verso il futuro" - “Race for Remembrance, Into the Future" see full report in Times of Israel, 27 January 2017).

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A Cook's Special Trip to the Southern Cross Country Championships, 1931

The 2017 Southern Cross Country Championships take place at Parliament Hill Fields on January 28th. Back in 1931, travel agent Thomas Cook was running a special railway trip from London Liverpool Street to Shenfield in Essex (found this flyer tucked in an old notebook in the Kent AC archives). Cutting it a bit fine with the warm up, train arriving at 2:30 pm with junior race starting at 3 pm and Seniors at 3.15. Imagine this was mostly spectators, sure the runners would have there a bit earlier.

See previous archive posts on Kent AC and its history:

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Kent AC women in the 1950s

My club, Kent Athletic Club, was formed in 1898 and has therefore nearly 120 years of running and other athletics behind it, sustained through the years by the efforts of countless volunteers in South East London. Former club coach Larry Garnham is currently finalising a history of the club, and has gathered together a treasure horde of photographs and documents dating back to the club's origins. Some of these have already been deposited in Lewisham Archives, and others will be shortly. 

Here's some great photos from the 1950s of the club's 'Ladies Section'. Prior to the Second World War the club was just for men but this was all to change.

The first photograph is captioned 'KAC Ladies Section - Winter training 1950-51, Ladywell Track' (where the club still trains today). The caption also lists the women - presumably left to right  - as Joyce Lane, Audrey Bell, Beryl Lane, Maureen Theakstone, Shirley Marlow, Olive Hynes, Edna Wittey and Audrey Homewood.

The second photo was also taken at Ladywell in 1950-51 - possibly even in the same session.

I don't have a caption or date for the final team photo but it is evidently from broadly the same period.

See previous posts on Kent AC and its history:

 Always interested to find out more, if you have any club photos or memorabilia lying around do get in touch.