Back in Time: A Century-old Glimpse into B&H’s role in Sussex’s Running Scene!

April 9, 2024

As the Winter season ends, we have the opportunity to look back and see what Sussex Cross Country and Road Races were like 100 years ago.

The featured photo showcases the start of the “First Shires” Cross Country Championships of 1924. This coincided with the formation of the Sussex County Amateur Athletic Association marking a pivotal year in the development of athletics in the county.

The athletes in white tops with three stripes represent Sussex’s oldest club, then known as Brighton and County Harriers, which has since transformed into Brighton and Hove AC after several iterations. Other participating clubs likely included Horsham, Chichester, Lewes, Crawley, and Eastbourne. We do not know who the cricket jumper-wearing runner is, but we are bowled over by his strong start!

‘JG’ Gordon Buswell

We have been very fortunate to receive a treasure trove of photographs and newspaper clippings chronicling Sussex Athletics’ early history, generously donated by the family of runner John Gordon Buswell.

Born in 1902, ‘JG’, or Gordon, as he was affectionately known, was a versatile club athlete competing in various events for Brighton and County Harriers, ranging from cross-country and road relays to the iconic London to Brighton Relay Race.

‘JG’ Buswell’s Brighton to London certificate

In the 1925 London to Brighton, his team secured an impressive 11th place overall. Gordon ran the third leg from Mitcham to Purley Corner, covering a distance of 5 miles 352 yards (8.36 kilometres) in 31 minutes and 31 seconds. That translates to a pace of 6 minutes 4.03 seconds per mile or 3 minutes 46.2 seconds per kilometre.

In his archive is a photo of the ‘opening run’ in October 1924 of the Sussex road racing season, which we believe was at Preston Park, Brighton. It features a well-dressed but very casual-looking official leaning on a lamppost!

First Race Autumn Season, 1924

The photos reflect society at a time when the majority of participants in sports were men. However, newspaper clippings from 1923 show that one athletics event included 80-yard races for girls as young as five years old and a Women’s 100-yard sprint, won by Miss Fennell.

It wasn’t until late in the 1920s that Sussex Women established their own association, distinct from the men’s, and began to carve out their impressive role in athletics in the county, as recalled by the late Reg Hook:

“The Sussex Women also set up their County Association, although, apart from the Brighton Ladies A.C, there were only relatively small pockets of Women’s or Ladies athletics taking place in the County, apart from at Brighton’s Preston Park and a few ‘Open Handicap’ meetings.”

The newspaper cuttings give us a glimpse into our county’s athletics history and the inclusivity of events following the end of the First World War. One competition featured a sack race, a blindfold race – only open to ex-servicemen, a 220 yards walking race, a tug-of-war, a fancy dress race, a wheelbarrow race, a quarter-mile artificial leg race, a boot race – open to ex-servicemen and a band race for musicians from Brighton Corporation Tramways Band.  Tagged onto the end was a beauty competition, but it is unclear whether the contestants also had to run!

We extend our thanks to Angie Hutchings and her family for entrusting us with her grandfather’s archive, which includes a pair of his spikes.

1920s spikes worn by ‘JG’ Buswell

Later in the year, Brighton and Hove AC will display the photographs, newspaper cuttings and spikes in their clubhouse. If you are at Withdean for an event or training, you are welcome to view this captivating glimpse into Sussex AA’s past.

To delve deeper into Sussex’s early athletic history, read Reg Hook’s feature here: In the Beginning.

Bronze Medal Team, Sussex Road Relays, Haywards Heath 1921