The eighteenth annual race for the "National" honours in the cross-country world took place on Saturday afternoon over a thoroughly genuine course at Blackpool. Nine clubs had entered, being an increase of one over last year when the event was brought off at Redditch. The entries included five Southern clubs, viz., Essex Beagles (holders), Finchley Harriers, Walthamstow Harriers, Ranelagh Harriers, and South London Harriers. Only one team ran from the Midlands, well-known Birchfield Harriers, whilst the Northern Counties representatives included Salford Harriers, Bolton Harriers, and Cheshire Tally-Ho Hare and Hounds. The Worcester Harriers, a team that finished seventh a year ago, did not enter this time, neither did the Ashton Harriers.
Promoted in 1877 by a few London enthusiasts, who styled the contest the "All-England Championship," the event has grown in importance from a Southerners' race to a trial of speed and endurance between the picked teams of the United Kingdom. Certainly there were no competitors this year from either Ireland or Scotland, but on one or two previous occasions the Hadlington Harriers from the Emerald Isle and the Clydesdale Harriers from beyond the Tweed have competed. These clubs, however, have never stood any chance with the Englishmen; thus the cause their abstention.
Originally the race was decided at Roehampton but with the formation the National Cross-Country Union in 1883 rules were introduced that made it compulsory to bring off the contest alternately in the North, Midlands, and South. Of the 17 championships decided before the race under notice the Birchfield Harriers have won five and made dead heat once. Moseley Harriers (a Midland club long since defunct) secured four successive wins (1881-2-3-4). Thames and Hounds in early days got home first on two occasions, whilst another London club of the old school, Spartan Harriers, have had one win. Three wins been credited to Northern clubs, the Liverpool Harriers winning at Manchester Racecourse 1885, whilst present champions of the North, the Salford Harriers, after running a close second (beaten by four points only) to Birchfield 1838, won at Kempton Park in 1889, and at Birmingham in 1890, two of the nearest finishes being witnessed on both these occasions, the Salfordians securing the verdicts by the narrow majorities of one and two points respectively from their old opponents, Birchfield.
From 1879 to 1892, the Southern clubs never stood any chance with the provincials, but in the latter year, when the race was held Ockham, the combination of Essex Beagles managed to make dead heat with the Birchfield Harriers. Naturally, Londoners were joyous at this result, but feelings of still greater satisfaction were shown when the Beagles managed to win outright last year at Redditch.
It has been left to eight individuals to share honour of being first man home, P. H. Stenning four wins to his credit, E. W. Parry (Salford) three, G. A. Dunning (Clapton) two, W. G. George (Moseley) two, J. E. Hickman (Coventry) two. H. A. Heath (South London) two, W. Snook (Birchfield) and J. Kibblewhite (Spartan) one each. The prizes as usual consisted of six gold medals to the winning team, six silver medals to the second club, and six bronze medals the third team. In addition, the winner outright receives a special gold medal all which are of the Union's special design.
At a meeting before the race on Saturday, Smith, of the Salford Harriers, was disqualified by five votes to four, and thus the Northern champions were debarred of one of their best men. It was 18 minutes past four when the field of 83 were sent on their journey. At the completion of two circuits of the cinder track (half mile) Crossland Souch, Moran, and Morton, all of the Salford team, were leading, with several of the Birchfield men in close attendance, and for some distance in the country Crossland led. After covering about a mile and a half Watkins, the Southern champion, sailed the front, but Crossland and Moran kept close company.
When the men came into the grounds, having traversed one complete lap, or three miles and a quarter, the lead was hold by Watkins, a yard ahead of Crossland, and Moran a similar distance behind in third place. Then came Dunkerley (Birchfield), Martin (Essex), Souch (Salford), M'Cabe (Bolton), Saward (Essex), Brewer (Essex), Meacham and Pearce (Birchfield), Davies and Birch (Birchfield), Allen (Ranelagh). Bartlett (Essex), Morris (Salford), Heaton (Birchfield), Brown and Randall (Finchley), Davie (Ranelegh) Rutherford (Finchley), and Morton (Salford), Fearnley and Bolton bringing the rear, nearly half a mile behind. At the conclusion of the second circuit, a little over six miles. Watkins and Crossland were together some 20 yards ahead of Moran, who in turn was 50 yards ahead of Martin and Dunkerley. Then came Souch, Saward, Davies, M'Cabe, Meacham, Brewer, Bartlett, Pearce, Birch, Allen, Morris, Eaton, Brown, Barlow, Randall, and Morton. The Salford Harriers thus had six men well up in the first 21.