BACKPEDAL: Raging blizzard reduces visibility at 1937 Balham Rough Stuff

1937 March 3 Source Cycling Balham Cyclists DE Hebblethwaite Venue Surrey / Kent Meeting Balham Rough Stuff Meeting Date Sunday 1937 February 28 Race 25 Mile Race Result Norwood Paragon’s Willett and Butler take first and second but Addiscombe CC take home the team prize

Worth reading cutting just for the phrase: “Frank Cleeve, another former winner, found it difficult to get going – his glasses were frozen over – and could clock only 2.4.14”

Unusual Weather for Balham Rough Stuff ‘25’ FJ Willett Beats Stan Butler by 24 seconds

A swirling blizzard that raged for nearly two hours, covering most of the course with a 2 inch carpet of crisp snow and reducing visibility to almost a few yards, was the lot of the riders in the annual Balham Rough Stuff 25 held in the lanes and over the hills of Surrey on Sunday. Normally, it rains heavily for this event, which is looked upon as the curtain raiser for the London season of road sport, and although the course before now has been covered in thick snow, this is the first time a freezing cold wind has tossed snow-flakes about so vigorously.

But the kind of man who rides in the Balham event is not daunted by a blizzard. Twenty-one of the hundred accepted entries, it is admitted failed to start, but of those who set out to ride the course, which includes three practically unrideable hills and miles of good surfaced though switchback lanes, as well as a descent of a steep, grassy hill, dotted here and there with prickly bushes, all but 21 returned sodden and weary, to the finish.

Nearly everyone, including FJ Willett, the Norwood Paragon CC trackman, who won with an excellent time of 1.43.45 and SM Butler his clubmate, four times a winner who was second, 24 seconds slower, took a toss, but no serious injuries were reported. Willett was a little more fortunate than Butler, because he had covered more than half the course before the blizzard began, and he very sportingly was the first to point this out when congratulated by a Cycling man upon his win. E Walker, Sydenham Wheelers, was third with 1.46.35. All these times are very much slower than normal, even though the new stretch of the course is a reasonably fast lane that takes the place of a parkland, rutty route.

The cause undoubtedly was that the blizzard practically blinded everyone. Butler went careering down one steep hill, completely over shooting a corner he should have taken through this when the storm was at its height.

Having filled the two fastest positions the Norwood Paragon could reasonably have expected to win the team race, but Frank Cleeve, another former winner, found it difficult to get going – his glasses were frozen over – and could clock only 2.4.14, and the team consequently finished third with 5.32.8 to the Addiscombe CC (SE Armstrong 1.47.59; SE Harris 1.49.32; and AA Smith 1.51.18), whose aggregate of 5.28.49 was 39 seconds faster than the Ilford RCs. Eighteen teams were actively interested in the team race and nine complete teams finished.

One team came from Wessex RC, whose star man, Vic Doe, crashed heavily after 10 miles and was brought back to the finish suffering from concussion. He soon recovered, however. WW Maxfield Sheffield Central (now living in London) and A Bevan one of England’s team in the Olympic Games road race, were among the non-finishers. JA Geale, South Western, a former winner clocked 1.51.10; EL Roberts, the well known Fountain CC rider 1.59.56 (which includes 9 1/2 minutes late); and Keith Mosedale, the former 100-mile competition record holder, 2.32.22 (28 1/2 minutes late). Mr JT Wells held the watch and returned the following fastest times:


Your Help

Have you or any family members got any photos or club memorabilia from the Balham Rough Stuff ?  Did you ride the race in the 50s and/or 60s? Email me at or drop me a line in the comments box. I would love to hear from you.


Race report from Cycling Weekly formerly Cycling

Medals from writer’s own collection


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