Thornton Road Club owes its existence to the enthusiasm and determination of thirteen young men who emerged from World War II, hardened by active service in the armed forces, conditioned by the horrors of the blitz on London, and made lean by the rigours of food rationing, but resolved nevertheless to enjoy and to encourage the physicality and congeniality of the sport of cycling. Many of them had one important trait in common: they were employees of the punched card machine company, Accumulators and Tabulators (‘Acc & Tab’, later Powers Samas), which had its factory in Thornton Road, Croydon. The company had various social and sports clubs which it supported financially, but no support was given to its cycling section. For that reason, the young men of the cycling section decided to form an independent club. On 16 October 1946, at the Clifton Arms, in Clifton Road, London SE25, a building that stood defiant in the war-damaged suburbs between South Norwood and Thornton Heath, these young men formed the cycling fellowship that became the Thornton Road Club. They were A M Baldwin, G V Mills, A C Forrest, W Morton, G Baldwin, J M Walton, K E Vaughan, E C Connor, A W Weller, R C Underwood, J A Adams, C G Goldfinch, and C Shonfield. Of these, George Mills, was the organising force who, despite owning a bike with a Galibier frame, did little serious cycling.

At the inaugural meeting, the founder members promulgated eight objectives for the club, which were (i) to cater for every aspect of cycling; (ii) to centre activities around Sunday runs; (iii) to organise and train a massed-start (i.e. a road racing) team; (iv) to organise a training system for track events; (v) to organise time trials and training; (vi) to organise a hard-riders’ section as soon as possible, (vii) to affiliate to the RTTC, SCCU, and CDCA; and (viii) to find a club room as soon as possible.

 Twelve days later, on 28 October 1946, with one additional member (John Woolger) already recruited, the very first committee meeting of the club was convened at 35 Bynes Road, South Croydon, under the chairmanship of founder member A M Baldwin. That meeting began the process of implementing the club’s objectives, and partly to that end, John Woolger was made the first Runs Captain. Two further committee meetings were convened at Bynes Road until the first annual general meeting on 8 January 1947, held once again at the Clifton Arms. By then, the club had acquired the use of the Waldrons Hall, 55 Duppas Hill Lane, Croydon, as a clubroom and a meeting room. Club members had the use of the hall on Tuesday evenings, between 7 pm and 10.30 pm, when a range of activities was available, from listening to the radio, to playing darts, billiards, and table tennis, to training on rollers, and later, to enjoying the conviviality of a small bar. In line with the fashions of the day, using stencils and a duplicator, and under the editorship of Len Palmer, the club started a monthly newsletter for sale and circulation to members. Extramural activities, such as football matches, annual dinners and dances, and visits to the theatre, complemented cycling runs and races. For the next eleven enjoyable years, club activities generally were centred on Duppas Hill Lane. In 1957, increasing costs of the Waldrons Hall clubroom induced the committee to move the club’s social venue to The Cherry Orchard, in Cherry Orchard Road, East Croydon, about one mile to the east of Duppas Hill Lane. Members were dissatisfied with the change however, and the club returned to the Waldrons Hall by January 1958.

Club riding achievements over the period to 1958 were substantial. Membership peaked quite early in the club’s history at about seventy persons, including juniors and women, but stabilised later at about forty regulars. Members generally came from Mitcham, Tooting, Streatham, Thornton Heath, Carshalton, Beddington, and South Norwood. Sunday runs were held throughout summer and winter every year. With an average of about ten or twelve riders (male and female) taking part, these runs assembled at Thornton Heath Pond (near to the Powers Samas factory), and took well-practised routes to elevenses at convenient hostelries. As the club matured, touring riders who participated in Sunday runs tended to separate from riders whose prime interest was in racing. Road races (shirt colours dark green, gold and blue), and track events (shirt colour red, but later made identical to the road race colours) were organised at either the Surrey Centre or Herne Hill. Time trials over 10, 25, and 50 miles were particularly popular with racing riders, and a young man and a young woman of outstanding riding abilities began to dominate these events. William Franks was the young man in question. He joined Thornton Road Club on 10 February 1948. Within a year, he had clocked personal best times of 25 min 5 sec for 10 miles, 1 hr 2 min 34 sec for 25 miles, and 2 hr 10 min 48 sec for 50 miles, set a new club record for the Coulsdon—Brighton and back ride of 3 hr 23 min 59 sec, and established a hill climb record at Ray Hill of 3 min 25.6 sec. Daisy Stockwell was Bill Franks’s feminine counterpart—and later his wife—who achieved national recognition for her riding performance. She was known to have been a club member by June 1947. In 1949 and 1950 she established club records for 10 mile, 25 mile and 50 mile time trials, at 26 min 36 sec, 1 hr 7 min 47 sec, and 2 hr 22 min 47 sec respectively. The 50-mile record was established at national championship level. During the same period (1949), she became the women’s national sprint champion at the Herne Hill track where she established times of 33.8 sec for the ¼ mile standing start, 1 min 8.8 sec for the ½ mile standing start, and 2 min 23.2 sec for the 1 mile standing start. She also achieved a time of 30.2 sec for the ¼ mile flying start. Riding with S Farrell, on a tandem, she gained records in the ½ mile, ¾ mile, and 1mile flying start rides, and with A Hunnesett, in the ¼ mile tandem flying start. In 1951, after serving for a while as club chairman, she felt that she had to move on to another cycling club whose members’ performances would present new competitive challenges. After joining the Apollo Cycling Club, she became the 50 mile and 100 mile national champion and a member of Apollo’s national team champions.

Perhaps attracted by the reputations that William Franks and Daisy Stockwell were rapidly gaining, the club’s third prodigy, Frank Rose, joined Thornton Road Club on 5 October 1948 probably at the minimum age of 17. He appears to have been a regular rider whose strength and ability developed slowly and deliberately. By the mid-1950s, employed by the development section of the Post Office in central London, Frank Rose was challenging all of the records set by William Franks, and in 1956, he surpassed them. Rose achieved times of 23 min 7 sec for 10 miles, 58 min 50 sec for 25 miles, 2 hr 3 min 13 sec for 50 miles, and 4 hr 19 min 55 sec for 100 miles. In addition, he rode 242.89 miles in a 12-hour time trial. He did all this on a locally made Major Brothers state-of-the-art all-steel bicycle. These formidable time trial figures were exceeded by the best Thornton RC riders only in the first decade of the new millennium. Perhaps predictably, within weeks of Frank Rose’s magnificent performances in 1956, in the summer of that year he resigned from the club to join the 34th Nomads, where riders of comparable strength and power could challenge him in all time trial events. Frank went on to win several national championships with his new club. As a mark of appreciation of his dominant athleticism, the Thornton Road Club’s annual general meeting of that year granted Frank the position of honourable second claim life member.

The departure of Frank Rose seems to have marked a change of direction in the club’s trajectory, from a discernibly upward long-term trend in membership, to a levelling-off, and then to a downward trend. That change of trajectory is also linked implicitly with the formation of a new cycling club, The Mitcham CRC, which was expected to, and did, make inroads into the Thornton Road Club membership. Some of Mitcham CRC’s members even rode in Thornton Road Club colours, much to the annoyance and protest of Thornton committee members. Within a little more than a year, Thornton’s membership had crashed to about ten. Sunday club runs ceased to be the centre of activity, Tuesday evening club nights were abandoned, attempts at producing a club newsletter ended, and except for bicycle racing activities, there was little that was holding the club together. The collective end to the club’s first sixteen years of corporate life came in 1962, not with a decisive bang but an indeterminate whimper. Trophies were given for life to their last recorded winners, the duplicating machine and the rollers were sold off, and stocks of club badges were disposed of. Demise through inanition was complete, but miraculously, not irreversible, even though individual club members were dispersed throughout London and the south-eastern counties. They took with them their club shirts, their memories, and the hope that one day the Thornton Road Club would rise from the ashes.

Through the combined efforts of Harry Brent, Gordon Davis, Paul Kemp, James McCabe, and Tracey Davis, the club’s resurrection was manifested on 2 December 1979 at No.6 Beckway Road, Norbury, London SW16, the residence of Harry Brent. Combining former members of Apollo CC, Thornton CC (a pre-war club), and Thornton RC, and after reconciling amicably all differences that may have existed in the past, it was decided to call the revived consolidated club Thornton Road Club, whose shirt colours were to be deep green, yellow and blue. Initially, Sunday runs were reinstated as the focal point of club activities, but the gradual dispersal of club members away from south London did not always allow a single unified Sunday run. Maturation of members too, and their practices, not to mention their wider re-location because of the exigencies of jobs and families, saw the decentralisation of the club into a loose network of small club sub-groups, linked by history, name, shirt colours, and occasional joint club runs. Sub-group formation polarised in about four different sites in Essex, Sussex, Hampshire, and Kent, with Kent – centred on Dymchurch and West Hythe, homes of long-standing members Gordon Davis (joined 1954) and Michael Winsor – being the most active. Among others who were enthusiastically involved with the club’s revival were Christopher Clayton (a very early member who died in 1982), Alan Cross, Andrew Davis, Norman Chapman, and Mark Hanay. Two veteran members of the pre-war Thornton CC also supported the revival, namely Ted Hooker, a former prisoner of war on the Burma railway, and Charles Adams, who later moved to St Mary’s Bay, near Dymchurch.

Michael Winsor (chairman and racing secretary), a former member of the Weybridge Wheelers, joined the club in 1987. Despite suffering periods of illness, he has shown great loyalty to Thornton RC and retains his ambition of seeing club membership grow. Since 1987, Heather Reeves, Peter Travis, and Ian Fowler have joined Michael in this ambition. Since 2001, general membership has increased steadily. There is keen interest in club runs and time trials, and in cycling generally. Counting all dispersed groups, there were more than twenty members of Thornton RC in 2003.

The history of the Thornton Road Club radiates a phoenix-like aura. Born initially in the ashes of blitzed southeast London, it flourished spectacularly for its first fifteen years, languished for the next seventeen, was resurrected by the early 1980s, and today thrives modestly in the postmodern era as a decentralised network of rider sub-groups whose chief interest is in physical fitness and social contact through bicycle riding. Like a road without end, Thornton RC goes on.