The History of Penicuik Harriers – To Date!
Official Club records have been lost in the realms of time. In preparing this account of Penicuik Harriers History to the present time I am therefore indebted to former club members Isaac Palmer (member in 1920’s and former Club Secretary) and Bill Purves (member in 1950’s), together with Midlothian Libraries for allowing me access to review and copy their collections of newspaper cuttings.
The earliest records we have of the Harriers come from the “R. S. Black Collection” of newspaper cuttings. A report dated 7 December 1887 confirms that the Harriers were “recently formed under the presidency and vice-presidency of Mr W Birrell, Uttershill, and Mr D McGregor, Woodslee” and “were to have their first run on Saturday”. This report goes on to say that “The formation of the club had been greatly talked of, and the first paper chase in the history of the village was looked forward to with great interest by the villagers, but the heavy rains had swollen the Esk and its tributaries very considerably, and the run had consequently to be postponed”. Some things don’t change!
The collection goes on to record in an article dated 16 December 1887 that “The Harriers had a very successful run on Saturday” and there are subsequent reports on club activities up until the last article from that period dated 14 December 1890. Although unconfirmed, it seems likely that the Club must have disbanded around this time as there are no further reports until a hand written entry dated 23 October 1926 which records that “Edinburgh Harriers and Heriot’s Cross Country Club, 50 in number, had a joint run today with the object of giving a start to a local club proposed to be formed”.
A further article dated 29 October 1926 records that Mr J Ketchen would “endeavour to do all he could to promote an Amateur Sports club for the district”. This article interestingly also confirms that “It is interesting to recall that a Harriers Club existed in the town 39 years ago”, which ties in with the 1887 date and tends to confirm that the club was most likely disbanded around 1890.
Again there are various articles in the “R. S. Black Collection” recording club activities from this period and we have a team photograph of Penicuik Harriers from the 1929 – 30 season. Various programmes and memorabilia, records of inter-club competitions, etc. have also been presented to the club which suggest that it was fairly active up until the Second World War, when it again disbanded in 1939.
The Club did not exist during the Second World War and in the immediate post war period. However, Newspaper cuttings confirm that the Club resumed once more in June 1949 as Penicuik Harriers and Amateur Athletic Club (the club vest at that time being black with a white five bar gate stitched on) and continued through the early 1950s. In an article from 1950, the Clubs “Ladies’ Section” officials and committee are recorded. The final article from this period is dated 6th June 1952. In January 1963 the Club was briefly resurrected as Penicuik Athletic Club. However, this club was soon expanded to include other sports and activities under the name of the Penicuik Sports Club. Despite this attempt to extend the range of activities it became clear that interest from the general public was very poor and the Club experienced difficulty in securing accommodation. After a very short life, the club was again disbanded in August 1963.
It was not until November 1971 that the Harriers were once more re-formed under the name of Penicuik Athletic and Harriers Club, at which time “it is hoped to commence a senior and junior section and a woman’s section”. Although we have subsequently reverted to being simply Penicuik Harriers, we have an unbroken history since that time.
Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s we catered for all age groups with track and field league competition during the summer months and cross country in the winter, whilst seniors also contested in hill and road races. The marathon boom of the early 1980s was a general boost to Scottish Athletics and brought with it further interest and competition in this classic distance.
Prominent coaches and club officers from that period include Jeannette Heggie, George McEwan (now deceased), Colin and Anna Graham, Bill Bennet, Ian Hunter and Dave Cairns, to name but a few; who provided both administrative and coaching support throughout the 80s and 90s.
It was in 1984 that the club first staged our annual Road Race, initially a 6 mile race (1984 & 1985) before adopting the present 10Km distance. Starting in Bog Road the course still predominantly follows the original route out from the town, up the dreaded Pomathorn Brae, passing through Howgate and around by the former Wellington School before heading back to town on the Peebles Road down the “Mile Brae” and passing the South Kirk before finishing in the High School playing fields by Bog Road. There have been a number of incumbents as Race Convener over the years but none more deserving of the clubs gratitude than our present incumbent, Susie Maxwell, whose infectious enthusiasm has motivated us all into action for the past 14 years (and counting).
Unfortunately in 1999 the Club was forced to disband its junior section as a result of difficulty in recruiting coaches, at which time many of our junior athletes transferred to our close neighbours Lasswade Athletic Club. Since then we have continued as a senior endurance club, competing in the full range of road, cross country, hill and ultra events under the guidance and tutelage of our present coaches (Bill Bennet, Dave Cairns, Susie Maxwell and Charlie Crawford), who can always be relied upon to provide “gentle” words of encouragement at club training nights!
Over the years our relatively small club has experienced a very respectable level of success at district, national and UK level in track and field, cross country, hill and road racing.
Almost one hundred and thirty three years have now passed since that first historic paperchase run and we’ve turned the full circle, reverting to our endurance based origins and still going strong. Where to in the future? That’s in our members hands!
We’re a cheery bunch and all are made welcome at our weekly training sessions, from novice to the more experienced and irrespective of ability, whilst also being open to all, irrespective of club allegiance.
21 October 2020