FWCC Club History
Fareham Wheelers Cycling Club was founded in 1927, and we’re lucky enough to have members spanning this time frame to reflect back on things past.
Fareham Wheelers Cycling Club must be one of the oldest established sports organisations in the borough, and still going strong after 91 years, with its current membership an all-time high of over 300, it is far removed from its humble beginnings.
It was in 1927 that Mr E.J. Cambrai, with his son Pat, and the support of Ron Fry, W.Munday, and C. Lawrance, laid the foundations of the club. It wasn’t long before many other cyclists joined the group, such as George Cousins, Ernie Duffett, Alf Jenson, and Vic Prior, just to name a few. The minimum age was 16 years for male and female members. They met every Thursday in the dining room of the Cambrai home in Gordon Road, Fareham. Here they discussed any cycling issues of the day, followed by social activities such as playing shove-halfpenny, darts, and general skylarking about. In due course, Mr. E.J. Cambrai was appointed the general secretary and his son Pat, club captain. Subscriptions were introduced at 3d (1.5p) a week. This was primarily to offset insurance cover for its members of 2/6d (12.5p) per annum. There were those of course who struggled to pay their dues, for one reason or another, but were nevertheless welcome to take part.
Sadly in 1931, Pat Cambrai was tragically killed in a road accident- unrelated to cycling I believe. Naturally, this had a profound effect on his parents and the cycling club as a whole. Great courage was shown by Mr & Mrs Cambrai who continued to support the club by allowing members to meet at their home. However, in 1934, with his added work commitments, he found it difficult to continue in office. At the same time, the club had also outgrown its current venue. The Royal Oak pub in West Street was then used for a while followed by Solomons Billiard Hall in Portland Street. The annual suppers and prize presentations at the P&P parish hall in West Street, as well as the Red Lion Hotel, were very popular affairs with invitations extended to other clubs. Social riding (club runs), were held on Sundays, to a scheduled programme throughout the year, that occasionally included a weekend camp or a tour. During the racing season many of the racing men, who had probably competed in a 25-mile time trial earlier in the day, would meet up with the club riders at some pre-arranged destination for the rest of the day’s activities that invariably concluded with tea at some café en route before returning home.
Some of its early officials were general secretary F. N. ‘Alf’ Jensen who held this position from 1936 to 1973. Chairman Mr N Hodges; his daughter Miss E. Hodges was treasurer and subsequently became the club’s, first president. She held both positions into the 1960’s; Miss E. Hodges was the proprietress of a very successful cycle shop at 134 West Street Fareham (next to Birks furnishing store). She later opened another business at Park Gate.
The War Years
When WW11 was declared, the committee decided to cancel the remainder of the racing programme for 1939, and also re-scheduled club runs so that members arrived home before lighting up time.
In 1941, with so many members being absorbed into the army forces, it was decided to suspend official club meetings. Although the club officially remained dormant, during the remainder of the war years a few members still in the area maintained their affiliation, in the clubs name, to National Cycling Union (NCU). Thus sustaining the club’s continuity throughout.
There were those of course who never returned. One of these was Dennis Coombes who also lived on Gordon Road. In civvy street, Dennis was employed by Fareham U.D.C. as an electrician. He joined the Royal Corps of Signals and having survived the fall of Dunkirk in 1940, lost his life in December 1942 when the ship he was being transported on to St. Helena was torpedoed by a u-boat. In 1947 his parents donated a trophy to the club in his memory. This trophy is still keenly competed for annually ever since.
In contrast to tragedy, perhaps Jack Smith’s prowess as an outstanding track rider (he broke the club’s 1000 meter sprint record in the summer of 1939) was going to help his escape, one will never know! Having missed the evacuation at Dunkirk Jack ‘borrowed‘ a bicycle and made his way south-west into what was to become Vichy in France. He arrived in Bordeaux in September and managed to get passage on a cargo ship to freedom. Much to the amazement of his army unit on his unexpected late arrival, he was praised by his commanding officer for using his initiative and was treated as a bit of a celebrity at the time
With hostilities over, word was circulated that the club was going to reform again, and with a number of pre-war members still keen to enjoy the freedom of the roads once more, a general meeting was called in May 1946, at the home of Vic Prior. As a consequence, the club was relaunched. Weekly club nights resumed at the Golden Lion pub in the High Street, and a programme of events to attract new members was drawn up.
The first post-war supper and prize presentation was organised by the aptly appointed social secretary; Ken Melhuish. He was the owner of the Rendezvous Café at Southampton Road, Titchfield; the ceremony took place here in January 1948. With austerity still prevailing, a good wholesome stew was very well received by those who attended. The individual cost was four shillings (20p.) This year saw the appointment of Alan Lush as chairman. Alan joined the club in 1936 and today still remains an honorary member.
The late forties and early fifties saw a resurgence in the club’s fortunes and many talented riders came to the fore such as Johnny Hayles (father of today’s international cyclist Rob Hayles), John Gauntlet, Bernard Whaley, Larry Austin who were all very capable track riders. Time trialists such as the likes of Peter Press, Albert Coffin, John Golding, Freddie Nail, were regularly updating the record books. Two of the most outstanding lady competitors at this time were Shelagh Scott and Nellie Ludford. Shelagh’s time trial records stood for many years after her retirement from competition. Nellie was the wife of Roy Ludford, who was himself a prolific all round competitor and record holder before the war.
It was reported at the AGM in February 1949 that nine club time trials would feature in the coming season, as well a full programme of the Portsmouth & Gosport track league. Later that year racing secretary Roy Ludford announced that competition had been the most successful in the club’s history.
At the 1950 AGM, general secretary Alf Jenson announced that there had been an increase of membership from 20 in 1946 to 100 in 1949.
This year the club held a dinner, as opposed to a supper. It was held at Trinity Church Hall in January 1950. The guest of honour was Mrs B. J. Dyke, a Fareham councillor, and J.P. It was she who suggested that the newly constructed red cross headquarters, near the quay viaduct, could be made available for club meetings; Mr & Mrs Fred Dyke, I believe, were benefactors to the red-cross premises. This gesture was accepted and was to remain the clubs headquarters until 1978.
The highlight of the 1950 season was the track team winning the Portsmouth & Gosport track league championship against strong competition from rival clubs. The following year they finished runners-up while individual track and time trials records continued to tumble.
1952 – the club’s silver jubilee year was very eventful. It started with the anniversary dinner in January. Held once again at Trinity Church Hall, and attended by 140 guests which included representatives from 10 other clubs, as well as the president of the N.C.U. Mr H.G. Barnsdale and the chairman of Fareham Urban District Council Mr E. R. Hill, also the founder Mr E.J. Cambrai who presented the prizes won for the previous season’s events. There was a 5-course dinner followed by a cabaret & dance. Price per ticket being 8/6d (42.5p)!
The club continued to prosper throughout the year, and with the increased popularity of the continental style road racing (known in its early days as ‘massed start’ in the U.K.) the appointment of the first road racing secretary was confirmed on teenager Tony Pearce. Our first major success in this field was with John Shotter winning the junior southern counties event. Johnny Hayles, for the second consecutive year, won the Portsmouth Grand Prix sprint with John gauntlet finishing runner-up. John Golding won the Portsmouth Wheelers open invitation 25-mile time trial in a club record time of 1hr.00m.54s. Another popular club event in these traffic-free times was an annual ‘all night‘ club run. This particular year it was to Sonning–on–Thames, Oxon. It was reported by the leader Cyril Hoyte as being very well supported.
This article deals solely with clubs first 25 years ( 1927 – 1952 ). One can speculate the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of local people who over the decades have had some association with the club. Whether on a personal level, or perhaps a family member, such as a parent, or even a grandparent who had enjoyed the comradeship that club activities offered, and the happy memories never to be forgotten?
Don Bulman (Club President)
The club would like to forward its thanks to Don for this incredible account of the early days of the club and its valuable heritage.
Information Provided by Other Honorary Members
A historical story from Barrington (Barrie) Day: Those were the days