Club History

Orion Harriers has a long history, having been established in 1911 by members of Orion Gymnastics Club

Back in 1908 two members of the Orion Gymnastic Club chanced upon a discovery that running, even around Hackney, could be enjoyable. What these enthusiasts, Frankie Harriss and Joe Spicer, did not realise was that their initial (and ongoing] actions were to spawn the growth of a harrier running club that would be celebrating its founding a little over one hundred years hence. Initial organisation was through the Gymnastic Club and the founding of Orion Harriers took place at a meeting at the Orion Gymnasium, Hackney on Wednesday 6th September 1911 at 8.30pm, at which fourteen members of the Gymnastic Club and six absentees are recorded in the minute book as the 20 founder members. By the First World War membership has risen to 99 but the club did not function for five seasons and lost 24 of its members, including its Captain, to the war.

In 1919 the club started up again with a membership of 43 of whom 18 were new members. It was in the 1 920-21 season that the formal ‘mob’ matches we know of today commenced. The members’ handbook details matches against Blackheath, Ranelagh and South London Harriers all to be followed by supper and a concert. In his pre-season letter accompanying the handbook Orion’s first Honorary Secretary, Frankie Harriss, refers to the most cordial relations with the three clubs “…whose support is so valuable to us ….. ” Looking ahead to competing in the coming season he adds that Orion should now be meeting on equal terms, with aspirations of being “formidable” opponents. “The nett result should be that we should climb in each their’s esteem, but the policy will have to be each club for itself and the deuce take the hindmost” says Harriss, a Secretary clearly to be reckoned with. In office from 1911-1925 he played a major role in Orion’s formative years.

The club’s long association with the Royal Forest Hotel (RFH) commenced as early as August 1909 when the aforementioned Joe Spicer, while undertaking secretarial duties, agreed to arrange with a Mr Brill for the use of accommodation at the Hotel. The photograph on the front of this programme shows members outside the RFH on 23rd March 1912. (Frankie Harriss is seen in the front row third from left, flanked by LW (Joe] Spicer on his left and LG [Len] Barton on his right). It was a unique and very fortunate position for a harrier running club, held for almost all of its first 100 years, to be able to run out of its headquarters onto open countryside, our wonderful Epping Forest. Connections with the Corporation of London (as guardians of the Forest) have continued just as long. In November 1911 the Orion Captain lent the club the princely sum of £ 1 as a fee payable to the Corporation to grant permission to lay paper trails. This sum is still held by the Corporation and they will only repay it, according to regulations dated 1903, if we ever cease to use the Forest for ‘paper chasing’.

From early days the social side of running appears to have been very much to the fore. The 1920/21 handbook notes that some of the matches would be followed by supper “and an impromptu smoker” and the 15 mile constitutional in March was to be followed by the Club Supper and Concert. The concert programmes consisted of material (and performance) supplied by members. Such suppers continued for many years to which photos of the same upstairs in HQ will testify.

The Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1961 when some 100 members and guests dined in the Harcourt Room of the House Commons. In similar style 185 members and guests gathered at the Manor Hall, Chigwell to mark the 75th Anniversary, where they were entertained (amongst others) by a 10 man choir dressed in 1920s running kit! The Centenary Dinner has been onceived similarly as an opportunity for reunion, celebration, conversation and anecdote, with contributions from members and audience participation.

One wonders what founder members Frankie Harriss and Joe Spicer would make of Orion Harriers today with its several hundred members, enriched since April 1986 by the addition of a Ladies Section and our thriving Juniors? A club steeped in history and tradition, and a hall of fame including AH (Hughie) Dare, Harold Lee and many, many others, can look back with pride and forward with some confidence. Here’s to the next 100 years!

Note: With thanks to Bert Bond and Mike Tomlins for some source material. Necessarily any errors/omissions are my own.

Warwick Barton

Brian Hart, May 2001 2nd Left Below Start of the 1954 Wadham Road Relay The club started life in 1901 as the Priory Harriers, the name taken from a former Priory located in the centre of the Borough. Runs were started from the “Bell” Public House on the corner of Forest Road and Chingford Road. (Still in existence). It was then possible to run over fields and open country towards Chingford Mount, now of course mainly occupied by housing and factory development.


The club enjoyed some success in local club competitions and competed regularly in the North of Thames Cross-country events as evidenced by programmes of the period.

Activities were curtailed during the Great War and when recommenced, the club was without a home for the first time. Facilities were found at the Walthamstow YMCA, not far from the “Bell” pub! In deference to the support given by the YMCA the club was renamed the Walthamstow YMCA Harriers. For the period from 1919 to 1931 the club enjoyed some considerable success in YMCA events winning several championships and achieving many individual victories. The most momentous event for the club occurred in 1921 when Samuel James Waller was accepted as a member. Sam had a distinguished career as a runner but is best remembered as secretary, an office he held from 1931 to his untimely death in 1962. One of the first tasks given to him after his appointment as secretary was to seek a new home. Fire, which looms large in the club’s history, had destroyed the YMCA and with it the facilities used by the members. Fortunately another saviour arrived in the form of Lt. Col Sir Stuart S. Mallinson who could perhaps be described as the local squire. His patronage had purchased land at nearby Wadham Lodge for use by the Shernhall Methodist Church. Learning of the club’s plight he offered use of the ground and clubhouse, which was gratefully accepted. The club’s minute book at the time (15 February 1932) noted” We (sic Shernhall Institute) are willing to allow (the club) to use the Pavilion for the Harriers at a fee of 5/= per week. This will include use of the showers etc.” It was shortly after this meeting that the name was changed to Wadham Harriers.

The club continued its activities mainly on road and cross-country fixtures throughout the period, including the promotion of a Road Relay Race first held in 1938. This race continues today but at another venue as part of the Chingford League programme. Due to the Second world War activities were once again curtailed but Sam Waller was in place to ensure that the club continued in existence and able to resume normal activities in 1945. Shortly after the war ended, Ron Lambert joined the club and figured prominently in Essex cross-country for a number of years. The road relay continued to be held from Wadham Lodge {see picture above} with Hampstead Harriers the dominant team. So dominant that Sam gave them the “sack” much to the annoyance of Harry Hicks! (Later SC CC Secretary). Membership fluctuated but during the late 50s the club recruited several talented young athletes who went on to win county and area titles. While such success helped, the club committee accepted reluctantly that the name Wadham Harriers whilst known amongst the athletic fraternity, had no wider appeal and the decision was taken in 1962 to make a further name change to Walthamstow Athletic Club. Following this the activities of the club also changed with an equal emphasis being given to track and field well as the more traditional cross-country. 1962 also saw the club amalgamating with the Chingford Athletic Club, which had been formed in 1953. This club had achieved early success, winning the Chingford League competition in 1955 only two years after its formation. Membership declined, however and when the clubs joined together only three members made the change. The new combined club however achieved some success during the period from 1962 to 1970. Ron Howe won the North Thames Inter team race in 1962 followed by the Southern Counties Junior Cross-Country title. On the track, Dane Joseph won the UK Championships 800metre title as well as gaining an international vest. The club has had a yo-yo existence in the Southern League achieving Division two status on two occasions. The best season was 1988 when it won all six matches.

Surrounded as it is by clubs with higher profiles, it nevertheless has had its share of successes but above all has provided athletics for a wide variety of members who must have enjoyed the way the clubs has been organised for it to have lasted 100 years.

Road Relays.

The Wadham Road Relay was inaugurated in 1938. The course consisted of 10 legs over a course from Brookscroft Road via Forest road to waterworks corner down Wadham Road (to become North circular) back to Brookscroft. Two races wre held prior to World War II. The second race was notable as the Woodford Green team were disqualified due to the final leg runner collapsing just before the finishy and a la Jim Peters was assisted over the line. Lessons are never learned!

It resumed after the war in 1946 and became an invitation event held over six legs. Following the growth in traffic it moved to Highams Park. A notable occasion arose in the 1970s when teams from Shaftesbury Harriers (including Dave Bedford and Julian Goater) attempted to finish 1st and second teams. They failed, the B could only finish third. The race continues today as part of the Chingford and district League.

In 1955 the Chingford club started a road relay in North Chingford. In 1963 this was taken up by Walthamstow following the amalgamation of the clubs, and held each year up to 1999 when lack of entries in 2000 saw its demise. The club also promoted a successful Youth Relay for a number of years.

One of our original local rivals, Walthamstow Athletic Club, had a proud history going back to 1901.
Walthamstow had a tradition of quality Athletes but following the loss of their Headquarters (due to vandalism) their numbers reduced to an unsustainable level. As there were already close coaching connections between the Clubs, all Walthamstow members became part of Orion in 2011

The Orion Cry

Orion Cry

Orion – A historical record

Orion Harriers – An alternative history lesson

Alternate history