An Abbreviated History of London Athletic Club
Founded in 1863 by “gentlemen who are engaged for the most part in Mercantile Houses” LAC took its first steps as Mincing Lane Athletic Club. In 1864 they met at Mr Wilson’s grounds at Bow on a track thought to be rectangular in shape. The reaction was positive. “From the attendance….and the excellent sports exhibited, the club promises to become very popular” said The Sporting Life.
In 1866, prompted by the growth of rival clubs, Mincing Lane AC became London Athletic Club and headed west. Lillie Bridge opened in 1869, a few hundred yards north of Stamford Bridge in the area between Seagrave Road and the railway line.
Brothers James and William Waddell joined LAC as athletes, but soon became treasurer and secretary. Profits soared and in 1877 they secured six and a half acres at Stamford Bridge, impressive grounds which made LAC the premier club. Early meetings featured other entertainment such as cricket ball throwing, bicycle races and in winter regular “Assault at Arms” evenings which included fencing and boxing. The LAC even raised a rugby team. The brothers later fled the country leaving the LAC in debt.
In 1895 the club sailed to America for a landmark match against New York Athletic club. The following year came the first modern Olympics in Athens. Sir George Robertson threw the discus, then delighted his hosts by reciting a classical ode. Australian Teddy Flack won double gold, the first for LAC. Over sixty members have since competed at the Games. The track was laid by LAC groundsman Charles Perry (who also supervised the track for the London Olympics in 1908). In 1904 Perry also oversaw LAC’s move to a new 17 acre site at Stamford Bridge. The first athletics meeting was held there on 10th May 1905.
The Club saw Olympic success in Paris in 1924 with gold in the 100m for Harold Abrahams, bronze in the same race for Arthur Porritt
and gold in the 800m for Douglas Lowe. In 1928 in Amsterdam Lord Burghley won the 400m hurdles and Douglas Lowe won the 800m.
By 1933 the track at Stamford Bridge had been converted for greyhound racing so LAC moved to White City. Olympic success continued: Frederick Wolff led Britain’s 4x400m relay team to gold in Berlin in 1936, Brian McCabe reached the 800m final and John Powell reached the semi-final .
Lord Burghley was the club’s most prominent administrator. He was an IOC member for 48 years and the longest serving IAAF President. He also led the organising committee for the 1948 London Olympics where Michael Pope competed in the 400m hurdles. Four years later, John Disley won 3000m steeplechase bronze in Helsinki in 1952 and later became synonymous with the London Marathon. Hurdler Jack Parker was chosen for the Olympics in 1952 and 1956. By this time the club had moved to Hurlingham Park.
Prince Philip toasted the club as LAC celebrated 100 years in 1963. Lord Burghley (Now the Marquess of Exeter) responded. A “centenary” trophy was introduced for the outstanding individual British male performance in “full scale competition”. Prince Philip often made the presentation at Buckingham Palace.
In 1966 the club moved to Crystal Palace, returned to Hurlingham in 1972 and later settled at Motspur Park, one of the locations used in “Chariots of Fire”, a film in which LAC members appeared. LAC President and BOA Chairman Sir Arthur Gold was seen in the reconstruction of the memorial service for Harold Abrahams.
In more recent years the Club has been represented at the highest level by high jumper Geoff Parsons. Geoff competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, reaching the final in 1988. He also held the British record with 2.31 metres.
The Club has an extensive collection of historic information including minute books dating back to
1867. The Club archives are currently stored at the NUTS (National Union of Track Statisticians)
athletics library at Cobham Hall School, Cobham, Kent DA12 3BL. Anyone wishing to visit the school
to view the archives must make a prior arrangement through Richard Solomons (tel 01962 761436,
or email firstname.lastname@example.org).