EARLY in the present century the Roebuck Inn, Mobberley, was famed far beyond the county border for the sumptuous meals invariably served by mine hostess, Mrs. Leigh, who took over the hostelry after catering for some years in a private house at near-by High Legh. Amongst her clientele were a goodly number of, shall we say, hard riding cyclists who travelled the road throughout the four seasons. For them High Legh had been a suitable jumping-off point for home, particularly in winter, when Sunday evening meant the end of a weekend awheel. Happily enough, Mobberley was equally convenient and, in any case, who could resist the spread to which they had become accustomed no matter where the new location of the dining tables might be. Some idea of the normal menu for tea - it was thus described although it was in fact a first class dinner - may be of interest. Here it is. Soup, choice of poultry, joint or steak and kidney pie, three vegetables and the usual sauces and etceteras. Sweets provided a wide range of choice and included lashings of cream. Cheese and biscuits plus tea or coffee rounded off the meal. Mrs. Leigh's son, Needham, waited on the diners and I well recall the look of disappointment, or disgust, if the number of repeats were not numerous. The cost? One shilling and sixpence per head! It should be mentioned that the accommodation was thoroughly comfortable and in bad weather the fire was of the dimensions that gladdened one's heart. Should you perchance be amongst the early arrivals it was interesting to observe the beam of light from a cycle lamp turn into the yard and at the same time to speculate as to which of the diehards might be behind it. They came from all directions and swapping experiences made good after tea chatter, just as it does today. Snowing `at Shrewsbury, thick fog at Congleton, wind behind from Malpas, tricky on the ice in the Buxton district, etc.
It was in this well fed, happy, atmosphere that one Sunday in November, 1913, conversation turned in the direction of a Sunday cycling club which some years previously had ceased to exist. It was known as The Cheshire Roads Club and some of the assembled company had been members. From the general conversation on the subject I gathered that conviviality, rather than serious cycling was the main attraction of the club, that its life was brief and that it faded out more or less unobserved. The discussion aroused considerable interest, and the idea of having one's Sunday lunch and tea arranged in advance and partaken of in company typical of the Roebuck habituees seemed attractive. The late C. H. Turnor suggested that the club might be resuscitated and the idea readily caught on. It was agreed to convene a meeting for the purpose to be held at the Roebuck at 6-45 p.m. on the following Sunday, the 7th December. In the meantime the sponsors would advise any other cyclists known to them and whom they thought might be interested. The meeting was duly held and was attended by the following : F. Clarke, W. Clarke, G. B. Goodall, C. Mark, A. Mason, A. Richardson, E. Sproston, F. Sproston, C. H. Turnor, R. Walker and A. Warburton. The following appointments were made : President and Captain, C. H. Turnor; Hon. Secretary and Treasurer, A. Warburton, whilst W. Clarke, A. Richardson and E. Sproston formed the first committee. The annual subscription was fixed at 3/6 with no entrance fee. And so a club was born or should we say, re-born ?
The first committee meeting was held on the llth December at the Robin Hood Hotel, Stretford, when the President put before the meeting a set of proposed rules. These were accepted by the committee and it was resolved that they be submitted to a general meeting of the members to be held at the Roebuck, Mobberley, on the 2lst of December. It will be seen that the close proximity of Christmas did not deflect us at all ! Club fixtures, lunch and tea, up to the end of January were arranged, subject to the houses chosen being agreeable to cater at 2/- per head for lunch and 1/6 for tea, the Hon. Sec. To take the necessary action and advise all members of the fixtures in due course. That sounded quite a simple job but it did not, on this and many subsequent occasions, prove to be really simple. Much substituting of venues became necessary, caterers were often slow in replying and as a result the poor Secretary frequently found himself up against it in an endeavour to get the month's fixture card in the hands of members in advance of the date of the first run. The cards, by the way, had to be written by hand in the early days and it was quite a job of work. Very soon, however, the committee authorised the purchase of a gelatine duplicator. Bless 'em, it eased the work considerably at a cost of 6/-. At the general meeting the proposed rules were accepted after considerable discussion and the first resignations were accepted with regret. Early days for dropping out but the Clarke brothers thought that the prices agreed for meals were excessive and would probably bring disaster upon us.
The early life of the club was more or less uneventful. They were happy days on the road and we gradually compiled a list of excellent houses in various districts at whlch they were willing to provide the fare desired. In that connection we were doubtless somewhat exacting, a fact which was brought home to us later on by F. H. Koenen who invariably referred to us as "The Beefsteak Club.' It was, by the way, made clear to all caterers that, as they were advised some weeks in advance of our visit, our requirements in both accommodation and food must not be subordinated to those of other callers. We had in mind that at this period motorists, not very numerous, were inclined to be regarded at hotels, etc., as V.I.P's, a view to which we did not subscribe. It worked splendidly.
Life in the new club was proving very enjoyable. The small membership, 29 by the turn of the year were all enthusiasts and, consequently, the Hon. Sec. found it possible to be fairly accurate in quoting numbers to the caterers. I do, however, recall one occasion on which his estimate was very wide of the mark. Three members only met at St. Margaret's Church, Altrincham, at 10-00 a.m. There was deep snow, an overnight surprise, on the roads and the question arose could they make the Farmers' Arms at Broxton for lunch. Having so often boasted the 'weather no object doctrine', there was really no alternative and so, riding a little and walking a lot, they headed for Broxton. At about 3 p.m. they staggered into the Farmers' Arms much to the surprise of the landlord who had not expected anyone to get through. As becomes a good provider, his wife had roasted a couple of fowls just in case the snowfall was only local. The trio were in good form and one of the birds was fully accounted for.
Most clubs number amongst their members men of outstanding ability and as the names emerge it will be seen that the C.R.C. is no exception, they figured even amongst our founder members. C. H. Turnor had the N.R.R.A. 24 hours Bicycle, 24 hours Tricycle and a share in the 24 hours Tandem Tricycle Records to his credit. A glutton, indeed, for 24's. Teddy Sproston was the first man to put the N.R.R.A. 12 hours Bicycle Record over the 200 mile mark. This he accomplished in 1910. Equally successful, though in another sphere, was Herbert Jackson who joined the club in January, 1914. A cycle builder of great merit he became known as the cycle expert, not only in the C.R.C. but also in numerous other clubs throughout Cheshire and the adjoining counties. During subsequent years he must have built hundreds of speed irons for clubmen and was incidentally, the first cycle mechanic to build a machine with slotted fork ends for quick wheel release.
In March 1914, the club became affiliated to the N.R.R.A. and in the same year we received our first invitation to compete in an Open event, the Anfield 24. Modesty precluded acceptance! The membership continued to grow very satisfactorily both in numbers and in men of the right type to ensure success in the various phases of the pastime. Unhappily, however, the outbreak of hostilities in the summer of that year put the brake on everything except war and all that it involved. Very soon we had lost to the forces most of our younger members. It was a big set-back for so young a club but, thanks to the determination of a few stalwarts of over military age it rode out the storm.
Throughout the long period of the war tea fixtures were fully maintained and even the luncheon fixtures were abandoned only for a brief period when meat rationing temporarily scared most of the caterers. In 1915 half a dozen members managed an all-night ride the destination being Church Stretton, and an Easter week-end in North Wales. Our first great personal loss, on the home front, was sustained the following year by the tragic death of G. B. Goodall. A founder member whose attendance at fixtures was unfailing despite the fact that his shop premises in the suburbs of Manchester were open until midnight on Saturdays - hence the bad old days. Goodall was known to us affectionately as The Doctor, probably because he seemed always able to patch up either bicycle or rider. He provided much entertainment on club runs. On one occasion he won a bet by riding up a short, steep, grass bank on to the towing path of a canal. Unfortunately, having accomplished the climb, he omitted to put the brake on and, together with his mount, he shot into the canal at a good pace. After an exhibition swim and a dive to recover the bicycle we hauled them out and continue the journey lunchwards. He dined in borrowed drapings whilst his clothes were dried. Another successful effort of Goodall's was to ride from Holmes Chapel to Altrincham, "handsoff". Mad as a March Hare? Maybe, but a very likeable soul whose company on the road was missed very keenly by us all.
It was in 1917 that Percy Williamson, whilst still with the forces, joined the club. At the first post-war A.G.M. he was appointed Treasurer, a post which he carried with great credit for six years. Subsequently, he held the offices of President and Hon. Secretary with equal success. Another stalwart to whom we owe much.
By mid 1918 catering difficulties had become so acute that the committee decided, very reluctantly, not to accept further applications for membership until the position improved. At this stage there was a membership of 56, of which 25 were in the forces and three had been killed in action. Details of activities during the war years are not easy to come by, but one can safely conclude that there was little to report and we, on overseas service, were full of admiration for those who, despite defence duties in addition to the normal days work, were holding the club together.
With the conclusion of hostilities the club developed very rapidly, a steady trickle of members returning on demobilisation leave plus an influx of new members saw us off once again to a good start. It was decided at a committee meeting held on the 6th July, 1919, to promote a club "50", our first competition event. Run off on a Cheshire course on the l3th September it was a great success. Horace Pryor, of Sheffield, who had joined us two months earlier recorded the fastest time of 2.41. At this period very few men had a "50" at evens to their credit and Pryor's ride, on roadster wheels, therefore caused a mild sensation. Great things were now expected of him and he did not disappoint us. On the contrary, his subsequent accomplishments on bicycle, tricycle and tandem soon set the road clubs and the cycling press of the country talking and speculating. It can indeed be said that Pryor put the C.R.C. on the map as a racing club before we had aspired to a racing programme. The prizes for our first "50" were given by the Committee.
Our debut in the field of "Opens" saw H. Walton, riding for experience, cover 326 1/2 miles in the Anfield 24.
New entrants about this time included several whose names adorned the N.R.R.A. Handbook, viz. J. A. ('Appy) Grimshaw, 100 miles Bicycle; A. P. James, Tricycle "50" and 24 hours plus a share in the Tandem Trike "50" and L. Cohen, a share in the Tandem Trike 12 hours. It was in this year, also, that A. W. Phillips, a national figure wherever cycling was in the picture, joined the club. As President of the Manchester Wheelers, a club not afraid to take big decisions, his guidance and advice stood the test of time and frequently silenced the critics , by results. He was indeed a grand old man of cycling. His knowledge of the game in all its aspects was unsurpassed. Few men of his age had such a young and progressive outlook and the C.R.C. took full advantage of his knowledge and advice, which was so readily given. If our next move had the backing of Phillips we never contemplated failure. On the other hand if he was against, and he was not invariably in agreement, when the matter under discussion became club policy he accepted it without qualification. Those of us whose privilege it was to know A.W.P. as a member of the club will, I'm sure agree that his influence had a direct bearing on the development of the club. Yes, we had a lot to thank him for. Another member of the Wheelers, C. W. Anderson, who joined us at about the same time and who knew more about cycle racing than most men, was a great pillar of support.
The year 1919 was one of great activity and interest. The club "50" had whetted the appetite of many members and one heard whispers of the desirability of an extension of the idea. Others had views regarding an Annual Dinner, and again others felt that a club journal was a necessity. Yes, we were full of bright ideas for a 3/6d. a year club. Anyhow, a progressive outlook was not to be discouraged and, who knew, one day all these ideas might materialise. Meantime as the date for the A.G.M. approached, some of us were given to wondering what propositions would appear on the agenda. In that connexion there was a feeling in committee circles that anything might happen. One thing we were all agreed upon. Our teething troubles in the shape of a more or less mark time period during four years of war were over and there were clear indications that the immediate post war years would be full of interest and activity. What better could one wish?