Question marks over Sunderland Harriers’ formation date

Sunderland Harriers in 1920.
Sunderland Harriers in 1920.
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Sunderland Harriers officials are having to rewrite the history of the club after newspaper articles suggest that the club is much older than originally thought.

Previous research found the date of the Harriers was given as 1897, but a look through some old newspaper cuttings and minutes gives the date of the foundation of the Wearsiders as October 1, 1889.

Previous to that, there was mention that the club had been in existence since 1884. Long time chairman Mr J.G. Mawston reported at the annual meeting in 1936 he had been a member since 1884 – a period of 52 years. But there was no mention during that time that the Harriers from 1884 to 1889 were an inaugurated club.

Further information has come to light through the British Newspaper archives which said: “The first meeting of the newly formed Sunderland Harriers club was held on Tuesday, October 1, 1889, in the Central Coffee Tavern.

“It was decided that the club colours would be black pants and white jersey with black shield on the left breast and the letters SH worked in white on the shield.”

If Sunderland now adopts the 1889 date, it will make them one of the oldest sporting clubs in the city and only Elswick Harriers have been in existence as long as Sunderland in the North East.

But to add to the intrigue, old Sunderland Harriers’ club handbooks have the formation date down as 1897 and reformed in 1905 to suggest that there has been a break in their service.

The club’s first handicap race in 1890 was held from the Three Crowns Hotel with the finish at the central station cab office. There was a dense crowd around the hotel to greet the winner - Barkiss running in splendid form won by 30 seconds.

The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette reported that the first championship race that Sunderland Harriers took part in was in 1891 at Manchester in the Northern Counties Junior Cross Country Championships.

The report said: “That they would leave the Central on Friday afternoon by saloon for Manchester, where they will be put up for the night so to be quite fit for the long and trying course between eight and 10 miles. 300 runners are expected to take part.”

It went on to say: “That the first Sunderland Harriers annual dinner was held in the long room of The Three Crowns Hotel, High Street West. Councillor Thomas Burlinson presided and he was supported by a large number of runners from Sunderland Harriers and neighbouring clubs.

“The chairman proposed the toast to Sunderland Harriers and he referred to his own experience as a walker. He also mentioned that the bone shaker he once bestrode was on exhibition at Mr Turvey’s shop.”

“The town is suffering from a lack of youth coming forward to take up athletics.” This comment was made by the club president Dr J.M. Shaw, who has been closely involved in an official capacity in the sport and his words carry weight.

“When the Corporation were looking round for land they might have gave a thought to the problems of athletics and see if they could emulate other towns by providing a running track and a sports ground,” he said.

The Mayor Councillor Ditchburn, who was in attendance, did not take the hint though he might have thought a lot for his interest in sport has been life-long. “He paid his humble ‘bob’ at Roker Park more often than he has got in with a director’s nod.”

At the end of the dinner, gold medals were presented to Dr J.M. Shaw and Mr J.G. Mawson, chairman.

Dr Shaw, who was re-elected president, expressed regret that more young people had not taken advantage of the splendid facilities for training provided by the Harriers.

Thanks to their patron, Mr T.E. Parrington, they had a superb training ground and dressing accommodation at Carley Hill.

“I strongly appeal to the youth of the town to join us in a clean sport in clean surroundings so that they may endeavour to make themselves more efficient, clean-thinking citizens,” said Dr Shaw.

The annual report stated that although the membership of the club was down, the club had a fairly successful season.

The Sunderland to Darlington walk attracted a splendid entry and was a complete success. Six prizes had been secured at local sports meetings against 15 in the previous year.

The financial statement showed a credit balance of £13 0s 5d and this was considered highly satisfactory.

The club have already celebrated their 75th anniversary in 1980 at the Roker Hotel and their 100th at the Alexandra Hotel, Grangetown in 2005. Now officials are scratching their heads on what next to celebrate next. Maybe 130 years?

Sunderland Strollers’ women won the team race in the Old Monks multi-terrain race at Hart Village on Sunday.

They placed Jenna Maynard fourth woman (40.41), Lyne Valentine was first Over-60 in seventh (44.05) and Dawn Elliott finished first Over-55 (44.06) in eighth. Derek Wright was first Over-65 in 67th (43.18).

Birtley AC promote the 34th Cathedral Cross Country Relays on Sunday at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy, Birtley, DH3 2LP. It includes the North East Masters Athletics Association Championships.

Time table: Race 1: 10am - Male masters M35-44, M45-54, M55-65, M65+

Race 2: 11am - Senior women/masters women W35-44, W45-54, W55-64, W65+. Race 3: 11.50am - Senior Men.