KEN SMITH MEMOIRS: Care free and Car free – The ’40s and ’50s South London cycling club scene

The following is the final extract from the memoirs of former Balham CC secretary and Gazette club magazine editor Ken Smith, covering the post war years. It gives a flavour of club life and the lives of a group of men from the Balham and South London cycling community in the 1940 and 1950s.

Following on from ‘The War Years’ 

“Contact Corner was the title for the two or three pages of correspondence that The Bicycle received each month from servicemen all over the world. It became a big feature, reuniting cyclists with others in the same area and providing interesting stories of cycling activities from out-of-the-way, inhospitable places.

The Buckshee Wheelers was the largest overseas club, operating from the Cairo, Middle East area. They had regular events, time trials and even a hill climb up the hill alongside the Pyramids!

The Phoenix Pedallers was a small club, although at one time there were about 500 names on our [mailing] list and it was quite a chore keeping it up to date.

The Bicycle organised a get-together on April 6, 1946 just two days after I arrived home. I got there with Ron Smith and Alf Malnick who had already been demobbed. The programme gives the details. I remember that the hall was packed, with well over a couple of hundred present.

In 1946 a couple of events were held. I rode both but the results were so appalling that it was obvious a great deal of training was required to get into reasonable shape.

The Friday night club meetings had resumed at the Duke of Cornwall in Clapham [with members in their familiar groups] round the Public Bar and the clubroom upstairs sparsely occupied until the last drinks call. The beer was more expensive and, according to those with acute taste buds, lacking in pre-war strength. Nevertheless, vast quantities were consumed between making arrangements for the Sunday runs, racing news, and in the winter, what dinners and dances to attend over the weekend.

I purchased a pre-war tandem, not a bad job but on the heavy side and needing a paint job. I fitted it out with better equipment and Nancy [wife] and I began a series of Sunday rides into the country, sometimes with Bill [Shore] and Celia who also rode a tandem, or we would meet the Club at a pub for lunch or tea spot for an evening meal. It was a wonderful time to be on the road with the absence of most motor traffic due to stringent petrol rationing. It was the time when the bicycle was king of the road!

Returning home along the Brighton Road of a Sunday evening was a scene that would never be experienced in later years. Cyclists would be out in strength either in small groups, large clubs or singularly, all using the road without fear as motor traffic was so little. A favourite 6.30pm to 7pm stop was The Jolliffe at Coulsdon. Situated on the right hand of the Brighton Road with a large drive-in and fences extending from both sides, it was an ideal place for the final beer before the last 15-20 miles home. The fences would be covered from end-to-end, two or three deep with bicycles, tandems, tandems with child seats and sidecars, in fact all two-wheel machines. To arrive early was important. There was a shortage of glasses and mugs and to get in the door at 7pm in the first rush was important. I can well remember the stampede as soon as the frightened bar tender unlocked the door and shot back into the bar to escape being trampled to death by the thirsty mob. Somehow everyone managed to get a drink.

But it was not only to get a drink that The Joliffe was so well patronized. It was the Sunday evening meeting place of the Clubworld. All the South London clubs were represented, there were always friends and acquaintances from other clubs – Norwood Paragon, Southern Roads, 29th Wheelers, Oval, and so on. It was a meeting place, a wonderful opportunity to recall the events of the day, who was doing what, future events, races, dances, dinners, outings. It was impossible to stop there and not be part of the scene. The Balham prospered during those early post war years.

The programme for 1947 included the Rough Riders 25, the 2nd Class 100 and the London Centre Tandem Paced 25 at Herne Hill. A club dance was held at the Express Rooms, Clapham Junction, as well as an Annual Dinner. It was a full programme which also included a number of club events. In 1946 the Balham picked up where it left off in 1939.

The Annual dinner on the 18th January 1947 was the first occasion bringing together all the old members, both those who had served in the Forces and the older group who had kept the Club alive during the years 1939 and 1946.

SCCU 25 Mile Handicap and Team Event, April 20, 1947

Balham CC come 2nd in the team event

Bec Second Class 25, May 4. 1947

Not a rapid time on this Portsmouth Road course but I did manage first handicap and 7th fastest

Balham CC Open 2nd Class 100 May 26, 1947

As this was a Balham event I was number one on the card. I moved well up Pangbourne Lane to the first turn which was just before Oxford and being marshaled by the Oxford City RC. I rode on and found myself on the outskirts of Oxford!

The marshal had not arrived and those early starters were now going into Oxford. I turned round rode back wondering where the exact turn was located. By that time other riders were milling around, cursing, and riding back to the start.

I hung around for some time, left a rider who had volunteered to turn the field – he said he knew where it was – and shouted to them at the start that no one was at the turn. The Oxford City marshal had arrived shortly afterward.

I rode round the course for the exercise only, no chance of a decent time. Many early starters just packed up. I was very disappointed as I had prepared to do a good ride.

Mid Summer Circuit Race Battersea Park July 22, 1947

There were many pile ups with the field being eliminated every few laps. I managed to stay up, no breaks and came up to the finish but I was no match for the sprinters. Finishing list in The Bicycle showed me as 11th. Not too bad. Battersea Park, was a flat, narrow, twisting circuit. Not the best but better than nothing as the [focus] is on speed. No one who got dropped managed to reconnect with the bunch. Never changed gear once, just the top (88) all the way.

West London Cycling Association 100 Mile Scratch Handicap and Team Race, July 27, 1947

Another lousy ride, but not as bad as result. I was riding high pressures on Conloy rims, as many of us did, but on the first stretch along Pangbourne Lane punctured my rear tire. Had to change an inner tube which took a lot longer than I expected. Continued on, but was also thinking of the time I had lost on the inner tube replacement.

SCCU 100 Mile Handicap and Team Event August 17th, 1947

Not sure what the problem was at this event, must have been the weather as there were 33 non-starters and 28 non-finishers as well as another 6 who started late. Despite the weather Jimmy Church did a good ride to take second fastest.


Leamington C&AC 100 mile Open Time Trial, August 24th, 1947

LeamingtonPhotoPhoto taken by Wally Watson (Leamington C&AC) who I had met three years earlier in Calcutta when he was a photographer on SEAC. I completely sold out with about 20miles to go, just crawled. It was a pattern from previous 100s, one I was trying to overcome but without much luck

Did ride one more event, a Club TT but only managed a 1.08.37. Many TTs and other events not shown in this scrapbook, some finished cards lost and club events with nothing to document

Massed start London Centre Championship Circuit Race September 20, 1947

Tried to repeat my previous performance at this Battersea Park event when I finished 11th on this tight circuit. This time I was involved in a mass pile up when the rider in front of me clattered and I had nowhere to go bringing down about 20 riders. Took off a lot of skin from legs elbows an side and got a collection of bruises, but the bike was OK. Syred, who was behind me came off with just a few scratches but his bike was battered.

The day was damp and there were some wet leaves on the raod which may have contributed to this pile up.



Balham CC Annual Dinner January 17, 1948

Balham CC Open Rough Riders February 29, 1948

Conditions were atrocious. There had been a week of heavy snow and it was doubtful whether the event could be held. There were 22 non-starters and 27 non-finishers. I was disappointed with my performance as I rode strongly and was hoping to finish in the two hour region. However, approaching the long climb after descending from Biggin Hill I just collapsed, had to get off and walk! This cost me dearly. Ayliffe, who I had caught and dropped early on re-caught me at the summit and took some time out of me from then on. Other faster riders also caught me, but until the collapse I had not been caught by anyone and was being told by marshals that I was “doing a ride”. It was a good try. Would love to have won a Balham event.



The above were taken during the Rough Riders 25 on 29 January. A cold, wintery day with plenty of snow around, especially in the valleys and around Tatsfield. The first photo is at the top of Titsey Hill, the other is decending Flinthouse. I managed to get to the bottom without coming off, which was quite a feat as the lane was covered with ice and ruts.

SCCU 25 Mile Handicap and Team Event, Cherry Tree Course, March 7, 1948

The first 25 of the year (1948), a regular by the SCCU. It was cold as can be seen, and managed to finish a respectable 16th out of the 150 entrants. This was taken approx 1 mile from the finish on the Cherry Tree Course, the favourite venue.


Len Vanner

This news clipping is [not in the scrapbook] because of George Fleming entering Herne Hill on winning the Paris-London event but of Len Vanner (wearing tie), a Balham member always involved with promotion and officiating, especially at the Hill


SCCU 2nd Class Handicap and Team Event, April 18, 1948

Finishing in the SCCU 25 18 April in second place. As this was a second class event and I had beaten the standard the previous week I did not get my prize! Did however get the satisfaction of a good ride.



Finishing sheets for 1948 run out after 30 May. I did ride several other events both Open and Club at distances of 25, 50 and 100. No spectacular times but the season for me didn’t finish until August.

July 1948 Touring Holiday & Hampton Court

{First picture] With Nancy [Wife]. Cheryl [Daughter] in the sidecar near Hampton Court. Was out most Sundays on the tandem after competing in a 25 or 50. Made me strong but not fast!

On the tandem,  we stopped frequently and usually managed to find a pub for lunch.

Photo of Ken Smith – Date and Place Unknown – 1949


Southern Roads Golden Jubilee Dinner, February 12, 1949.



Catford Cycling Club 50 mile open handicap and team time trial, May 29, 1949

A third team prize (Jack Osborn, Ken Smith, Jimmy Church). If Jimmy had done his usual ride we would have been second. Quite pleased with my 2.14.31. especially as Charlie Counsel who started a minute in front only managed 2.13.31

South Eastern Road Club Ope 12 hour Scratch Time Trial, August 7, 1949

My first 12 since 1939 and started slowly. For some reason best known to himself, Alan Gordon the timekeeper had put me off last. I asked him “why, did you think I would win”? He said “you never know”. Well I did as soon as I got to the first turn and saw the other riders coming back. I was hoping to do 230 miles at least but had to settle for just over 223. I rode the Counties 12 later that year but packed.

SCCU 100 Miles Handicap and Team Event, August 21, 1949

Inside 4.50, one of my best rides to date and I know I could improve on this. What I remember most on this ride was the number of riders I caught, they popped up all the time and no one caught me. Finished 13th just behind Jimmy Church.


Redhill CC Third Annual 50 mile Handicap and team event September 4, 1949

Photo taken during the last few miles of the Redhill 50. Not too pleased with my 2.15.57, should have done better.



29th Wheelers Cycling Club Annual Dinner November 19, 1949

Included this 29th Wheelers Annual Dinner Menu because I was invited to the occasion to receive a medal for winning the inter-club 100 they promoted. Did a 4.49. Not mentioned in the menu.



Balham CC Annual Dinner 21st January 1950

Receiving the Sir Alfred Butt Cup for the most points in Club events. This cup had been presented for years. Butt was a conservative MP for Balham in pre-war days, had a reputation of hardly ever visiting parliament, also a scandal with some budget matters back in the ‘20s. [More to follow on this event in future blog]




Balham Cutting – Balham Form Old Members Association


The Touring Years

Touring by tandem started in 1948 and continued into the 50s. Not just Sunday and weekend runs but tours of Southern England through Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset, Hereford and the Isle of Wight. The tours started with a tandem with sidecar, then we moved on to a tandem with a seat on the back for Cheryl, and then to a Rann Trailor. The tandem was loaded with all spares and clothing for a two-week tour and could be managed quite easily along most terrain. Gearing was minimal, a four geared Cyclo with a low gear of 28 which enabled most climbs to be ridden without having to dismount and push. Pushing was harder than riding! In all the miles covered by the tandem it gave no trouble. At first, braking was just two tandem Cantilever “A” brakes with long brake shoes. These were superb brakes and never failed. When the sidecar was added insurance was achieved by adding a hub brake, which could be operated from the bars as well as a foot brake. The adjustment for this lever had to be precise. It was very effective and security was assured. The seat was a pre-war Watsonian. Made of wood and shaped to hold a child, it had padded seat and backrest, the latter being high enough for a headrest. Aluminium leg shields protected the child from the rear wheel and a harness was attached. A waterproof cover was included and attached by press-studs for rain showers. In all, it was a well thought out and sturdily manufactured seat. Nothing produced since has contained so many features.


The Rann Trailor was made by Freddy Grubb and while a sturdily built addition it was not suitable for long periods. Many Sunday runs were accomplished with the Rann but it was a heavy load to pull as Cheryl did little pedalling! Not that much could be expected.

Balham CC Annual Dinner January, 27, 1951

[More to follow on this event in future blog]


Balham CC Rough Riders March 1, 1951

(see Balham Rough Stuff Section for the clipping that was in Ken’s scrapbook)

HUBS of the Wheel World article April 5, 1951


SCCU 100 (Clubs A-K) Clipping June 20, 1951


Balham CC Annual Dinner February 14, 1952


Balham CC Rough Riders (Rough Stuff), 1952

1952: Alf Booth with about 3 miles to go in the Rough Riders 25

Balham CC Annual Dinner January 22, 1953


Catford 24 hour, 1953

Fred Smith drove the small Fiat. I sat in the passenger seat surrounded by food, stove, bike spares, clothing, tools and all round necessities to keep Bob Rance going. We raced around, in and out of the circuits, met him on the road and during the last 50 miles or so, feeding him every 10 miles with a special concoction. He rode a good event, 426 miles a club record.


Frank Jones was on his motor-cycle and sidecar looking after Charlie Press who did 408 miles. I forget who was sat on the pillion.
Charlie sits on the grass after finishing. Far left is Don Sweetland.
Bob Rance, Unknown, Fred Smith, Jimmy Church, Frank Syred at finish
Fred adjusts Bob’s toe straps at one of the many stops during the event.


Event unknown – 1953

At the ‘Railway’ Earlswood – 1953. Jimmy Church in centre with pipe


Catford 24 hour, 1953

After the Catford Hill Climb 1953


Ken Smith’s scrapbook

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.


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