Founded beside the road to Milnthorpe..
By Ian Haigh
Cycling in Great Britain, and club cycling in particular, enjoyed a period of prosperity in the late 1880s. Records exist of an Allerdale Touring Club in West Cumberland and a Shap Cycling Club, both in the 1890s, and a Kendal Bicycle Club, which existed from about 1885 to 1910 or thereabouts.
The machines available back then were mainly handmade and, therefore, very expensive. In 1886 a Humber Club Racer ordinary or Penny Farthing cost £19/10s, which was the equivalent of 18 months’ wages for the average workman. Cycle builders of the day turned out a vast number of designs, many of them of doubtful practicality, until Starley introduced their Dwarf Safety Roadster in about 1886, which developed over the years into the basic design in use today. The sport in those early days was taken up by the wealthy upper classes, many of who put up some quite remarkable performances on both road and track on heavy and low-geared machines.
The majority of cycling clubs in existence today seem to have been founded in the 1920s when, in the years after the First World War, the working class became slightly more affluent and bicycles came down in price – due to better production methods. This triggered a minor revolution in personal transport, and cyclists were able to leave the cities and towns in their hundreds every Sunday.
A few local cyclists who met on the road decided in April 1928 to form a cycling club in Kendal. The inaugural meeting took place on a seat beside the Milnthorpe Road on what was known as Orphan’s House Hill. The founder members at that meeting were: Norman Hutton senior; James Proctor; Victor Taylor; Edward Noble and Jack Greenbank. The name of the club was discussed and, after several suggestions, Vic Taylor proposed ‘Kent Valley Road Club’, and this was agreed upon. Club runs were to be held every Sunday, a meeting was to be held every month to arrange the runs, and subscriptions were to be half a crown (12p) per annum. The first run was in early May, via Sedbergh, Hawes, Buttertubs Pass, Tailbrig Hill and Kirkby Stephen, and was attended by all the founder members. As the year progressed, other members were attracted and by Christmas membership had reached 10. Two of the members, J and N. Crow, of Staveley, were keen on pass storming, and in the first two years most of the foot passes in the lake District were crossed, including Striding Edge on Helvellyn. These expeditions were included in the programme of club runs, which were well supported.
From time to time the club met with Lancaster CC, usually at Ingleton – a popular tea time venue for both clubs - and in the Spring of 1929, members were invited to ride in the Lancaster CC open 25 miles time trial on Brock. This was before the Garstang bypass was built. Jack Greenbank and Jim Proctor decided to enter and got fixed up with black tights and jackets, which was regulation attire for time trials in those days. They took a tent but, to keep the weight down, did without bedding. Camping on a frosty night in April is not the best preparation for a ‘25’ but Jack recorded 1-18-39 and Jim did a 1-20. Their unanimous opinion of racing was “never again”.
By this time the club was getting well known in the town and membership had grown to 17. Mrs Braithwaite, of Kirkland House, a CTC hostelry known throughout the North for good catering and hospitality, was approached and kindly let the club have use of a large hut in her garden for meetings. Before this, meetings had been held in the back room of Mr Hutton’s butchers shop in Finkle Street, formerly Brennands. At this time Jack Greenbank was club captain and Norman Hutton was secretary. The club had also affiliated to the North Lancashire Time Trials Association, the National Cyclists Union, and the Cyclists Touring Club, but no-one else competed until August 1929 when Jack rode in the Nelson Wheelers 25, taking 1st handicap with 1-10-20, less than two minutes behind Harry Green, of Nelson Wheelers, who broke the course record.
In 1930, membership rose to 26 and included Bert Shepherd, who ran the cycle shop in Kirkland. For quite a few years Bert donated to the club a percentage of the money spent with him by club members. A racing section began to take shape but the mainstay of the club was still the Sunday run and touring. The racing men would always try to join the main group at some point in the day’s run. Wednesday evening runs were started and carried on throughout the year. A tent was acquired and hired to members for a small charge. An all-night run became an annual event, and venues as far afield as Gretna Green, Chester, Durham, Edinburgh and York were visited through the years. Weekends away at Bank Holidays extended the touring area, bed and breakfast being relatively cheap. The ‘coast run’ via Keswick, Cockermouth, St Bees and Millom became the traditional Good Friday run.
By 1931, the club had been invited by the Lancaster CC and North Lonsdale CC to join their inter-club events, and in September of that year, a Kent Valley team was entered in the inter-club 25 on the Levens/Lindale course. Jack Greenbank recorded 1-10, Stanley Greenbank 1-11 and the third man was Peter Stock or Geoff Snaith with 1-12. Edwin Howson finished in 1-15. This was the slowest team in the event.
In 1932, the event was switched to the Cartmel/Ulverston course and run in October. All the clubs camped at a farm outside Cartmel and Edward Noble presented a cup which became the championship ‘25’ trophy. This event was run on several courses through the years, including Levens/Lindale and Carnforth. George Dawes, a Nelson Wheeler who had moved to Kendal and joined the Kent valley in 1931, won the trophy in 1932 in 1-8-24 and went on to win it every year until the war, except for 1933 when Peter Stock won with 1-7-54. By this time the club had 37 members and the club best all-rounder competition was introduced. Jack Greenbank was the first winner. The annual dinner was held at the Savoy Café and the club had affiliated to the Cumberland and Westmorland Time Trials Association, which gave the racing men a wider field of competition, and also ran a 100-in-8 reliability trial, which 22 members rode.
George Dawes established himself as one of the strongest riders in the NLTTA at the shorter distances, winning the Kent Valley club championship ‘25’ in 1-5-16 and leading the club to glory in the inter-club 25 with 1-9-5, supported by Peter Stock on 1-9-45 and Stan Greenbank 1-10-14. Jack Greenbank was fourth in the Lancashire Road Club 12-hour event of the same year with 214 miles 1 furlong. The winner, W.O. Jackson of the Lancashire Road Club, covered 222 miles 7 furlongs.
In 1935 George Dawes broke the course record in the Derwent Valley ‘25’ at Maryport with 1-6-30 and, with Jack Greenbank fourth on 1-9-39 and Edwin Howson fifth on 1-9-39, Kent Valley took the team award – the club’s first success in an open event.
The club’s first open event was a ‘25’ promoted on the Carlisle-Lockerbie course and Kent Valley again took the team award with Stan Greenbank on 1-7-0, Peter Stock on 1-7-14 and new recruit W. Hartley on 1-7-42. Then, in the Eden Valley ‘50’ at Carlisle, the Kent Valley took all nine medals on the prize list. Jack Greenbank won the event in 2-17-31; Stanley Greenbank was second in 2-19-28 and Edwin Howson third with 2-24-11. George Dawes again won the club championship 25, this time in 1-6-49.
In 1936, the Kent Valley won the C & WTTA ‘50’ team trophy with Stanley Greenbank taking individual victory in 2-20-33, 1-30 faster than George Dawes, with Jack Greenbank third on 2-22-31, but once more Dawes took the club championship, in 1-5-37.
Early in 1937, George Dawes clocked 1-3-54 to win the West Pennine 25 on a cold, wet morning. More open team successes followed and Jack Greenbank won the NLTTA 12-hour event with a personal best 224 miles. In those days the 12-hour came up to Kendal and by the time Jack reached the town at 114 miles his lead was 17 minutes, but a bad patch 30 miles later saw this dwindle and he eventually won by just half a mile. Kent Valley again won the inter-club team shield with George Dawes scoring his tenth win of the season in 1-6-19. Peter Stock was second with 1-8-21 and Jack Greenbank’s 1-11-9 ensured victory.
The Kent Valley retained the inter-club team shield in 1938 and 1939 while George Dawes enhanced his reputation at 25 miles with more open event victories. Before war was declared in 1939, the club made its first venture into ‘massed start’ racing when Dawes, Jack Crossley, W.P Pearson and E. Roberts rode the 75 miles Yorkshire Road Club race on the car racing circuit at Donnington Park, near Derby. Incidentally, the club colours were all yellow jerseys, chosen because money was scarce and George Dawes was able to acquire four smart sports shirts at a favourable price.
By 1940 membership was down to 20, but shortly afterwards cycling virtually ceased until the war was over. Alan Winder was the last active member and he joined Lancaster CC until the Kent Valley re-started at a reunion dinner at the Savoy Café in 1947. Jack Crossley became secretary and remained in that position until 1959.
Pedalling from the past to the future
After several valiant attempts, the Kent Valley eventually became NLTTA team champions in 1997 with Andrew Barlow, Phil Walters and Phil Leigh at the forefront and again in 2002 when Andy Powell was the area's best all-rounder with a club record 265.9 miles for 12 hours, and current treasurer Tim Bennett also joined the frontline troops.
Road racing also grew in popularity through the 1960s and 70s and perhaps our most noted roadman was Bob Swailes - a legendary hard rider who thought nothing of pedalling over the Pennines to compete over 80 to 90 miles in the North East and then riding home again. We have an annual memorial road race in his name, which takes place on the lumpy Old Hutton Circuit to the east oftown. Charlie Wilson, Ian Lilley and Phil Leigh, who also set a club 24-hour record of 461 miles in 1995 - figured among the top roadmen in the North West in the 1980s and 1990s. And Steffan Wilson won the national junior road race championship in 2002.
James Knox was national junior hill climb champion in Kent Valley colours in 2012 before going on to ride for Team GBin the junior world road race championship in Italy and has now been recruited by the Bradley Wiggins Racing Team.And 2008 British Best Ladies All-Rounder Lynn Hamel learned her competitive cycling as a young Kent Valley club rider and was also national women's hill climb champion in 2008, 2010-12. So the Kent Valley hasinspired some handy riders.
With many newcomers entering the sport through sportives, today we promote our own annual sportive (the very scenic Three Counties Challenge) in conjunction with Kendal Rotary Club, which also helps fund local junior sporting talent and not just cyclists. As a community club, the Kent Valley annually raises nearly £1,000 for charity through open time trials and winter lanequests. It has also introduced an inter-club hilly time trials series to give South Cumbria and North Lancs riders a competitive reason for donning club colours and pitching against each other for league points (50 down to one) in a season-long quest for the Tunstall Trophy in memory of Derek Tunstall, the club's late stalwart and champion of all things inter-club. We won the inaugural series but expect much tougher opposition as time progresses.
Sir Bradley Wiggins set the Levens 10 record of 17mins 58secs back in one of our events in 2006 - but we aren't just about time-trialling. Another Kent Valley initiative is a series of club Audax rides which we hope will entice sportive fans to try something different: navigating and not just following direction arrows! Our own super Audax man, Paul Latham, did the Paris Brest Paris ride in 2015 and is going to be heavily involved with Bruce Barnes in rolling out this latest project. Watch this space.
We have club runs at 9am on Sundays and 10am every Thursday and the plan now is to do shorter club runs on Mondays and maybe Fridays too. So there will always be friendly company for anyone who wants to do a ride. No-one gets left behind and we always enjoy a cafe stop on our longer runs.