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 Tom/ins for some source material. Necessarily any errors/omissions are my own.