History of the Centurions - Centurions1911

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History of the Centurions

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The Brotherhood of Centurions 1911 - a short history

What is a Centurion?

“A Centurion is one who, as an amateur, has walked in competition in Great Britain 100 miles within 24 hours.”

The definition has evolved over the years and there are now certain criteria attached to what the Centurions expect of the race organisation of a 100 mile/24 hour race  ...see below.

Centurions 1911 - who we are

The Centurions 1911 is not a club and the rules to qualify as a Centurion are:

  • an "applicant" must have fulfilled the performance criteria set both by the Centurions and the RWA.
  • the application must be unanimously accepted by members at a general meeting where the athlete would then be "invited" to become a Centurion. This "process" has not changed much over the years, except that these days, walkers who have finished the race in the qualifying time are normally awarded their Centurion number on the day at the race presentation.

Membership numbers are awarded in strict sequential order of qualification/ election.

The Centurions do not have a "Constitution" with fixed "Rules and Regulaltions".  
But we do have a Committee to ensure that the "Brotherhood" continues and that our 100 mile qualifying races are well organised according to the standards which we expect of a 100 mile/24 hour event. This also includes the standrads set by the RWA.

Over the years, there has been a "rota" of clubs who have hosted the 100 miles although many of the clubs no longer have the resources and some, such as London Vidarians, have ceased to exist. Surrey Walking Club, renowned for it long and ultra distance members, generally host the race every four or five years and their last race was at Lingfield in 2011. They are looking to host the race in 2018. In 2019, the Isle of Man are preparng to replicate the huge success of 2015 in Castletown. Other clubs have stepped forward in recent years - Colchester Harriers, Southend AC, Redcar WC ... to name just a few. These races are recognised by the Centurions (usually at the AGM) and some have been co-organised by the Centurions.  

Enormous gratitude is owed by walkers to those clubs which, over the years, have organised qualifying races, and to all those officials, timekeepers, judges, lap recorders, feeding station helpers, and supporters in many other capacities, who devote their weekend to making such events possible.

In 2017, the Centurions took the step of affiliation to England Athletes. A lot of work has been unertaken to ensure that the Centurions movement continues well into the future. One of the main benefits of affiliation is the ability of the Centurions to organised their own events.
Affilitation Certificate and letter to the Secretary. Do take a look.

1911 and the foundation of the Centurions - from the early years to now!

Between 1902 and the Centurions foundation in 1911 walking as an (amateur) athletic sport had become established (professional athletes still existed at this time) and some 50 people had qualified in six events by the above definition.  

A fascination with long-distance walking in the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century contributed directly to the formation of the Centurions in 1911. The idea of forming the Brotherhood was conceived by E.R. Bob Gillespie, who had walked 106 miles non stop in a 24 hour race in 1908. The formation meeting was held at the Ship and Turtle, situated at 131, Leadenhall Street, London on 11 May.

Mr James Edward Fowler- Dixon, having walked 100 miles in a recorded time of 20 hours 36 minutes 8 seconds in a race at Lillie Bridge, Fulham, London in 1877, was elected President ashe was designated as the senior and longest qualified person present, and so was given the auspicious membership number “1”.  
The founding Centurions were in part the same small group of walkers – including Hammond, Neville, and Barnes-Moss - who in 1907 founded the Southern Counties RWA. [see right the signatures of those early Centurions taken from Minute Book One]

From the earliest events, 24 hour track races took their place alongside the epic road journeys which survived until road traffic pressures in the 1970s and 80s caused organisers to seek alternative courses, first around quiet rural lanes and then around parks and other “closed” spaces. One attraction of the track has always been the opportunity it presents to achieve fast times under conditions which allow for close judging and support. The roads too have inspired some outstanding times and performances, many walkers favouring the experience of the “journey race.”

From the early years of Centurion qualifying events, some excellent times were achieved. Tommy Hammond’s 1907 time of 18.13.37 was for the full 104 miles Brighton double journey. For some years, the 100 miles times on the Brighton road were not always recorded. Tommy Richardson (holder of the world 50 mile track record) was awarded Centurion number 100, in a time of 17.35.04 achieved in the 1936 Brighton event. The Brighton double journey was organised by Surrey Walking Club 17 times between 1902 and 1967. Other point-to point events took place on the Bath to London Road (1952,) Birmingham to London (1953), Blackpool to Manchester and back (1954), and Sheffield to Harrogate and back (1956) - these four races organised uniquely among 100 mile events by the RWA itself with sponsorship from the Sunday Dispatch newspaper. Between 1958 and 1978, Leicester WC organised the Leicester to Skegness race 11 times. In 1998, the chance to complete a beautiful journey was presented by the Isle of Man 85 miles Parishes walk (during which the walkers touch the gate of each parish church on the island) to which was added 15 miles along Douglas promenade.

Events on shorter road courses, during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, included the Chigwell, Bristol, Ewhurst (six times,) and Leicester Congerstone and Hungarton courses (eight events.) More recent events in public parks, sports grounds, and private spaces have included the Hendon, Battersea Park, Colchester, Newmarket, King’s Lynn and Douglas events. The 1993 Battersea Park event, organised by Surrey Walking Club and the Metropolitan Police WC, was the only British event to host a 200 kms qualifying race for the Paris-Colmar classic. Various tracks have provided venues for the 100 miles race, from Lillie Bridge in 1877 onwards. They include the tracks at White City and Woodford Green, London, Walton and Motspur Park, Surrey, and tracks in Bradford, Brighton, Leicester, Colchester, Ware, Blackpool and Milton Keynes.

Perhaps the most notable track event took place at Walton in 1960 where Hew Neilson (C145) set a new world record for 24 hours of 133 miles 21 yards. Hew completed 20 Centurion events, a feat only equalled by Sandra Brown (C735) in 2005. Since then, Martin Fisher (C788) and Chris Flint (C849) have also completed 20 100s (2008 and 2010 respectively).

Colin Young (C317) achieved his Centurion status at Walton, completing over 131 miles in 24 hours. He became the first British walker to complete the Paris-Strasbourg (later Paris-Colmar and now Paris -Alsace) the “Olympics of long distance walking” coming 3rd and 5th in his two participations. Since then Richard Brown, Sandra Brown, J
ill Green, Karen Lawrie and Suzanne Beardsmore have completed this event (540km for the men and 340km for the women with only short breaks).

Centurion members have come from many countries around the world. The numerous Dutch and Belgian members of the Centurions 1911 have their own active organisation, the Centurion Vereniging Nederland (CVN) and each year the English and Dutch Centurions compete for a special trophy. Some other countries organise Centurion races and make their own awards. The other five Centurion organisations worldwide are: the Continental Centurions (based in The Netherlands,) and those of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Malaysia. [read more on these organisations]

The Dutch and Belgian members of the Centurions 1911 are an enthusiastic and highly supportive group. Their number increased rapidly following the qualification of the first Dutch walker, Lieuwe Schol C291 in the 1959 London to Brighton and back. Including the Colchester 2012 qualifying event, Dutch and Belgian members of the Centurions 1911 number 317. Their many outstanding performances include the overall winners, other scorers and winning team in many events, Jaap Visser C944, the seven times winner of the Eddie McNeir trophy for the first man over 65, and other notable walkers such as Annie van der Meer C1055. The consistent support of our Dutch and Belgian friends is hugely appreciated, as walkers – many returning year after year, like Gerrit de Jong who completed 19 UK 100s – and in helping and supporting our events in many ways, including the compilation of race results and statistics on Centurion performances worldwide.

Whilst the Centurions celebrated 100 years since its inception in 1911 (see opposite: Celebrating 100 years), we look forward to celebrating the 100th edition in 2023.

Centurions Minute Book 1
Notable achievements

Olympians who have been Centurions include Tommy Hammond (C10) who qualified in the London to Brighton and back in 1907, Len Mathews (C316) who qualified on the Leicester to Skegness in 1960 (at the time he was the oldest ever new Centurion at almost 67 years of age), Frank O’Reilly (C276) (competing for Eire) who qualified in 1958 also on the Leicester to Skegness, Don Thompson (C631) (Olympic gold medallist at 50km in the 1960 Rome Olympics) who qualified in 1978, and Dominic King (C1098) who qualified at Colchester in 2012 alongside his twin brother Dan (C1100), the first twins to become Centurions. Dominic competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Some of the fastest 100 mile men’s times are set out below:

Time     Name           Event
16:31:38 Jan DE JONGE    Bergen 10/11 April 1982
16:50:28 Richard BROWN Sint Oedenrode 22/23 May 1993
16:54:15 Frank O'REILLY  Leicester-Skegness 01/02 July 1960
16:55:44 John MOULLIN   Ewhurst 25/26 July 1971

other notable achievements:

  • In 1977, for the first time in British 100 miles history, women were allowed to compete on equal terms with the men and the first Centurion qualification by a woman was achieved by Ann Sayer (C599) at the Bristol 100. In fact, Ann had become a Continental Centurion earlier that year in St. Odenrode finishing in a time of 21 hours and 46 minutes;

  • Eddie McNeir (C375) completed 10 Centurion events between the ages of 65 and 75 after whom a trophy is named for the first man over 65 to complete 100 miles;

  • John Moulin set the fastest Centurion qualifying time of 16.55.44 in 1971.

  • Dave Boxall recorded six wins

  • Richard Brown has won a record ten Centurion events

  • Sandra Brown has completed 26 UK 100 miles, and 41 Centurion races around the world, and has won the UK ladies 100 miles event 25 times. Sandra became the first person to achieve all seven worldwide Centurion awards.

1877 to 2017, 94 Centurion qualifying events have been held in the UK.
In 2017 last number awarded  was C1187

Centurion qualifying events have been held annually (except during the two world wars when competitions were suspended) and now incorporate the RWA long distance championship.
17 of the 94 events held to 2017 have been track races.

Read more:

Overseas Centurions

and further afield...

“Now the matchless deed’s determined, dared, achieved and done”

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