KEN SMITH MEMOIRS: Cycling offers a great escape from 1930’s South London

The following is an extract from the memoirs of former Balham CC secretary and Gazette club magazine editor Ken Smith, covering 1936-1939. With little editing, it gives an insight into the lives of a group of young men from the Balham and South London cycling community having fun before the second world war would change their lives forever.
In the spring of 1936 I exchanged my accumulated paper-round savings for a brand-new Golden Wings, all black, chrome fork-ends, Resilion B cantilevers, A&P Forks, Terry saddle and a fixed/free hub. It was a time of innocence for me, the sheer pleasure of riding not clouded by equipment comparisons.

A few months later I joined the Balham CC. On turning up for my first club run on my gleaming BSA, polished from spoke to celluloid-covered Lauterwassers, I was confronted by a group of clubmen mounted on Selbachs, Granbys, Neates and other unheard of names. My BSA was glanced at, critical comment was passed, and it was dismissed just as a Rolls-Royce owner would look down his nose at a Ford. My faith in my treasured machine was, to say the least, shaken. First to go was the Terry saddle, then the Lauterwassers, replaced by a fiecer drop, which gave my neck a heck of an ache.

I do not have a photograph of myself with that wonderful BSA Golden Wings, but I do have memories of the outings into the Surrey and Sussex countryside and the pleasure it gave me. The exhilaration of pedaling that machine into the Surrey countryside is still with me.

Early the following year, having accumulated some more spare cash (my work with 17s 6d weekly salary did not leave much for pleasure) I bought a second-hand Grubb Road/Track, apple green with chrome front forks, a pair of Constrictor wood rims, tubulars, all for £4. I think someone in the Catford sold it to me. It was a good buy and on it I rode my first 25, in the Kentish Wheelers Novices, returning what was for me a respectable time of 1.10.48. After a mixture of time-trials and races at Brooklands that year I became hooked on the continental craze, brightly coloured frames, long looping cables, gears, and bought a made to measure frame from Ted Woodall at Croydon. That was in 1939.

Cycling in the 1936-1939 days was inexpensive, an open door to a new world, an opportunity to escape the drab surroundings of South London and the stifling monotony of the unchallenging work at Ind Coope & Allsopp.

Those four years were cycling years, nothing mattered except the bike, whether it was the evening runs, the Sunday Club outings, the racing, and the fellowship. Happy days never forgotten.

6 February 1937 Club Dinner

The Balham dinner was a grand occasion attended by most of the greats of the South London club world. The four I attended during this period (1937-1940) were all held at the elegant (for those days) restaurant of W. Hill & Sons at Ludgate Hill. LC ‘Lun’ Vanner [named in menu] was one of the leading lights in the administrative and official world of the NCU and was a Balham member all his life. Cost of the dinner was 7/6d, which I paid in three instalments of 2/6d a week.



18 February 1937 Southern Roads Records Association Supper

I was induced [Sic] to attend this function with approximately a dozen other Balham members. This pleased me as it was a sign that I had been accepted into the ranks as a reliable member. A large Balham contingent was always required to not be outdone by the Norwood Paragon attendees. It was necessary to maintain the friendly rivalry between this two clubs.


28 February 1937: My first Balham Rough Stuff

The Balham Rough Riders 25 was a classic event and always attracted a first class field. I have vivid memories of being guided to a crossroad – like in the cutting – in unknown country by a Balham member and told to make sure I turned right. It did not start snowing until halfway through the event and by the time the last rider had vanished up the road everything was coated in wet snow including myself. I had to wait until the marshal at the next spot came to take me back to the finish, as I had no idea where I was. My initial marshaling experience.


1937 CC Melhuish

Here’s a good picture of ‘Melly’ in 1937. When I joined the Balham he was the star rider constantly dueling for the 25 title with Atty. He later joined Norwood Paragon with Bert Chapman from the Corrence, mainly because they were a good tandem pair and there was some ‘feeling’ against Chapman joining the Balham.


June 1937 – Article in Cycling

Although this article by Jock Wadley was written for the June 11, 1977 issue of cycling, it comments on a race I attended and a style I witnessed for the first time, continental racing as distinct from the time trialing that was practiced in Britain.


15 August 1937 – 7 Day Tour of Wales

Taken at Moreton-in-Marsh August 15, 1937. It was a lunchtime stop on a 7-day tour of Wales with George Murray (who took this photograph with an Old Box Brownie I borrowed from a co-worker at Ind Coope), Ken Denton and Bob Rance.  George and I had left on the Friday evening staying at Chalfont St. Giles that night and then made our way to Cheltenham where we met with Ken and Bob. I remember this tour as one of almost continuous rain, 100 miles a day average and one tough day crossing from Rhayader to Aberystwyth via the old coach road, nothing more than a rutted cart track. After leaving the Elan Valley Waterworks we became hopelessly lost in the maze of mountain paths and tracks. It took us all the afternoon to reach Ffair-rhos which consisted of a pub and a few cottages.

I am riding my Freddy Grubb bike sporting an Osgear triple gear. This was a great bike frame, as solid as a rock and in retrospect, better than the Ted Woodall frame I had built for me the following year
Bob Rance and Ken Denton, resting on our weary trip across the wilds of central Wales

1937 The Balham Club Hill Climb

I forget the hill, somewhere on the North Downs not far from a pub. Went out to watch not intending to ride but was induced (sic) to by some of the older riders. Here I am riding Attwood’s track bike, in touring clothing and wearing a large, heavy continental sweater. Much to my surprise I came second fastest to Atty. As it was a club event there were only 12 entrants. For this effort I took second prize of 7/6d in cash. So, technically speaking, in the strict amateur definitions of those days I was now a professional.


17 February 1938 The Southern Roads Records Association Supper


I attended this dinner with a strong Balham contingent. I am at the far table. The Balham and Norwood Paragon always supported this ‘do’ vying with each other for the top attendance. Norwood Paragon is in the foreground; Stan Butler and Frank Southall can be seen facing the camera.


1938SRRADinner report

1938 Balham Rough Stuff (See here for the full report)


27 March 1938 Kentish Wheelers 25 Mile Novices Scratch Time Trial & Team Race

My first event was the Kentish Wheelers Novices ‘25’. This was an annual event for those who had never competed and was well regarded having a history going back to the ‘20s. The Balham entered a team, George Murray, Harry Broome as well as myself. We stayed at Tom Smith’s ramshackle establishment in Crawley with many other riders. I remember the yard being cluttered with bikes, with riders preparing for the great day. I was riding my Freddy Grubb bike, wooden wheels Constrictor hubs and tires. I rode a gear of 77; the older Balham hands talked me out of my original intention to ride an 82. I wish I had as I discovered after the event that many of the riders I managed to speak to, and those who had beaten me, had all ridden higher gears. It was all fixed wheel, no one rode a gear. Anyway, the 1.10.48 satisfied me for a first ride.



1 May 1938 Camden Wheelers Open Longmarkers’ 25 Mile Scratch & Team Time Trial

The Camden Wheelers event was ridden in pouring rain, times were slow and I was not very please with my performance. The week prior I had ridden a Club 25 and managed to do the fastest time. The only reason was that Attwood, who was a sure winner, punctured.


8 May 1938 29th Wheelers Novices’ Massed Start Races at Brooklands Track

I got hooked on the ‘massed start’ racing craze and rode in several events at Brooklands but without much success. It was a 1.25 mile circuit with a reasonable steep hill from the finishing straight to the banking.

One of the few descriptions of the kit on the blog – and even then not giving much away


 June 1938 Balham Second Class 100


31 July 1938 Upton Manor Cycling Club 50 Miles Handicap and Scratch Team Event


1939 Exact date unknown

Can’t remember what we are doing sitting in this shelter, probably waiting for the pub to open

Back Row: Steve Smith, Unknown, Unknown, ‘Spindle Meredith’, Tobot?, Dixon; Front Row: Doug Gerrard, Unknown, Ken Smith, Bob Rance and George Murray

4 February 1939 Balham Cycling Club Annual Dinner


Early 1939

At Ramsden Road early 1939 Ken Smith, Jim Church, Unknown, Doug Gerrard, Jack Osborne, Reg Gamble


2 April 2 1939 West London Cycling Association 50 Mile Unpaced Handicap & Team Event


16 April 1939 SCCU 25 Mile Unpaced Handicap and Team Trial


30 April 1939 Ipswich BC Open 25

The only memories of this event is that five Balham riders met at Clapham Common at midnight and were driven down to Ipswich by Fred Smith in an old Dodge with three in the front and two in the ‘dickie’ seat. The bikes were strapped all round the car and it poured with rain during the event and most of the way back. Trouble returning was that the muffler kept coming loose necessitating Fred jumping out of the car, rolling underneath and trying to fix it together. None of us did much of a ride.


21 May  1939 Thornton CC 50

I rode a private time trial with Thornton CC. Wally Ridgers, who some of the Balham (Bill West, Jimmy Church, Arthur Attwood and myself) used for a weekly massage. He offered to drive me down to the Thornton Club 50 as I was not competing in an open event that Sunday. The course was none too easy, Crawley one with the climb to Cowfold. I surprised myself and all the Thornton riders by recording the fastest time of 2h 19m 35s. This blurred picture was taken of me descending Pease Pottage.


28 May 1939 Yeovil Cycling Club 25 Mile Time Trial

Took the train to Salisbury on the Saturday afternoon with Bill West, Jimmy Church and Ronnie Goss. On arrival at Yeovil had a job finding accommodation and it was late before we managed to find a pub for the evening booze. Had the usual fill up which, no doubt, affected our racing performances next day. It was a difficult winding course and not too our liking. After the event rode across country to Hungerford on the Bath Road to help the next day with the Balham 2nd class 100 which was always an event on the Whitsun calendar. Had good digs at Hungerford, tucked into an enourmous supper washed down with pints of beer and then up early to do the marshal and feed at Savernake. Returned home late on Monday evening after a good couple of days racing, touring and beer drinking.


25 June 1939 Oxford City Road Club Open 50 Miles Unpaced Handicap

Finishing the Oxford City 50. Not a good ride as it was a hard morning and I had to ride out to Oxford after leaving work. I look in a real state as I cross the finish line

July 1939 Bedfordshire Road Cycling Club Open 25 Time Trial Handicap & Scratch Team Races


9 July 1939 Ramsgate and District Road Club Open Scratch 25 & Team Event

Decided with Frank Syred (Brixton) to ride in this event, not our usual territory. Stan Denton, one of the few members with a car, drove Osborne, Gerrard and myself to the start. Performances not very good. It was a terrible wet and windy morning and the road was in shocking condition, lots of punctures. The visiting clubs from South London, Balham, Brixton and Belle Vue did not cover themselves in glory


23 July 1939 Chichester Cycling Club Open 50 Unpaced Handicap and Scratch Team Time Trial


7 August 1939 Bournemouth Arrow Cycling Club Open 50 Miles Scratch Handicap and Scratch Team Time Trial


13 August 1939 Inter club 12 hours

This was good inter-club event, run and marshaled by members of the four clubs and run on the Bath Road course. Have good memories of this event as I didn’t expect to do great mileage, my racing experience and pre-race training had not envisaged a ‘12’.

It was a good, warm day and I can remember riding the first 100 miles or thereabouts in 5hours, and still feeling good. The stretch from Theale to Savernake was OK but I suffered on the return from Savernake along the Bath Road and was doing my best to keep Eldon (29th) in sight as he caught me along this stretch.

At ‘The Lamb’ at Theale, George Murray was waiting at the sit-down feed. I stopped and he produced a bowl of peaches in juice, which I gobbled down by inserting my dirty-gloved hand into the bowl and scooping up the peaches! They went down well.

On the stretch to Oxford I caught Ted Storey (Velma CC) and we rode along for several miles until Ted drew ahead. I finished on Maidenhead Thicket being run out by Fred Smith and just passing Bill West sitting on the side of the road – didn’t expect to beat him.

Rode back to the digs in Hownslow, had a good meal, then road back to Tooting with the Club stopping at a pub halfway and consuming two or three pints of beer.


27 August 1939 Crouch Hill Cycling Club 50 miles Open Unpaced Scratch Tandem Time Trial

This was ridden on a patched up clonker of a tandem with a three geared cyclo gear, top 104, the others were too slow to use!

Rode with Harold Sharpe, who had borrowed the tandem but would not let him take the front as he wore glasses with huge lenses and reputedly couldn’t see where he was going!

We were bombing along quite well, crossed a humpbacked bridge and Harold cried out that his glasses had fallen off! It took 100 yards to stop the speeding tandem with its two sloppy caliper brakes, returned and groped around in the gravel and dirt looking for Harold’s specs. Found them after nearly being demolished by several speeding tandems. Anticipated that this unscheduled episode thwarted our aim of beating 2 hours.

[Six days later war was declared]


19 November 1939

Balham Cycling Club members outside one of the club’s favourite ‘elevenses’ stops, Mrs Curd’s in Godstone. Photograph taken 19 November 1939.

IMG_9348From left to right: ‘Underground’ Johnny; Bob Davey (President and member going back to 1917); Tom Cross; Jimmy Church; Frank Bartholomew; Bill Shore; Len Shanley; Arthur Utting; Jack Osborne; rider hidden unidentified; pipe smoker unidentified; Ken Smith; Steve Smith; Stan Rowe; rider unidentified; Jack ‘Spindle’ Meredith; and seated holding pipe Arthur Attwood.

1940 and the war years are covered here

Your Help

Have you or any family members got any photos or club memorabilia from the Balham CC years? Email me at or drop me a line in the comments box. I would love to hear from you.


Ken Smith’s scrapbook


One thought on “KEN SMITH MEMOIRS: Cycling offers a great escape from 1930’s South London

  1. Hi, I have photos, medals etc of my father when he cycled for Camden wheelers in early 40’s. Do you know of anywhere they will be of interest to. Many thanks. Susan cundill. My father was Alick George Edwards


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