The story of the North Shropshire Wheelers began on 27th April 1926 when eight young biking fans, A Burge, Harry Ladds, Don Hatton, Cedric Hatton, Ted Hayes, D Ellis, Charlie Pond & Ted Shone got together & founded the Club at a General Meeting in Whitchurch. Officials were elected, rules drawn up and a name for the club was decided, “North Shropshire Wheelers” being chosen in preference to “Whitchurch Bicycle Club”. A club badge design was chosen and the club became affiliated to the National Cyclists Union (NCU) which was an organisation established to defend cyclists and organise and regulate cycle racing. The only races allowed on public roads were time trials, massed start racing had to be held on closed circuits. Despite what now seems a rather ambitious proposal in 1926 to organise their first time trial over either 100 miles or 12 hours, the first event turned out to be a more modest 25 mile time trial held in 1927.
Cedric Hatton was also a founder member of the Shropshire District Association of the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) in 1928. In 2002 a cycle track (part of the National Cycle Network Regional Route 31) running along a disused railway line in Whitchurch was opened and dedicated as ‘Hatton Way’ in memory of Cedric and his wife Ruth, also a lifelong cyclist. There is a small plaque situated near Whitchurch Cricket Club & Sedgeford. For many years Cedric, along with other NSW members also helped organise children’s cycling proficiency tests in Whitchurch. In recognition of his services to the Wheelers he was made an Honorary Life Member in 1960. He passed away in 1990 and Ruth in 2000.
The Club operated quite successfully until 1930 when interest began to tail off despite the efforts of members like George Ward who was one of the Club’s first recruits during 1926. He was later elected President in 1936, a role that he retained until 1971. In 1956 it was proposed that George be made an Honorary Life Member for his many great services to the Club but in typical fashion “he thanked the committee for their proposed honour, a gesture which he very much appreciated but felt unable to accept as he was of the opinion that Life Members were a dead weight to the Club as they paid no annual subscription!”
In 1933 an Extraordinary General Meeting was held in what turned out to be a successful attempt to revive interest and following this the club’s fortunes went up a gear with a full calendar of club runs, time trials and touring. One man present at this meeting, Jack Duckers, was to become a mainstay of the Club for the rest of his life. He more than anyone was probably responsible for breathing new life into the Club, causing its fortunes to go up a gear. In an article for a cycling magazine in 1964 he wrote, “I will never know and always regret why I did not join them (the NSW) in 1926. Perhaps I was tainted with the local apathy which the pioneers found so hard to break down in their efforts to sell real cycling”. He was Secretary for 40 years before being made Honorary Life President in 1975, remaining at the helm until his death in 1989. Jack’s influence and determination carried the Club through several difficult periods.
As well as his love for cycling Jack’s other love was football and he was Chairman & Treasurer of the Whitchurch Alport Football Club for many years. His cycling and football reports were regular features in the Whitchurch Herald. He was also very interested in everything to do with his home town of Whitchurch and served as a Councillor and two terms as town Mayor. For many years Jack was a leading campaigner to have the Whitchurch bypass built and although he didn’t live to see it, this was recognised by the unveiling of a plaque in his memory which can be found at the side of the bypass near Edgeley Road.
During the 30s & 40s another name that stands out is Edward Jones. Although not a very active cyclist any longer he was a highly respected member and timekeeper for all the events during this period and he donated many cups as prizes. As a young man in 1886 he had been a founder member of an earlier cycling club in Whitchurch, the Whitchurch Road Club. He was made an Honorary Life Member in 1946 and died in 1948 at the age of 83. In his memory a Challenge Cup was purchased to be awarded every year for the fastest ’25’ by a club member. This cup has been awarded every year since 1949.
The revived interest in the Club continued until 1939 when the start of the Second World War put a brake on things. For the first two years of the war the Club was asked to provide cycling messengers for the ARP (Air Raid Precaution) service. The Club continued throughout the war but activities were scaled down as many members were on active service.
In April 1946 a reunion dinner & dance marked the start of things gradually getting back to normal as members returned to civilian life, thankfully without a single casualty. An active programme of racing, touring, social events & club runs became the norm for the next 40 years. In hindsight, 1947 proved to be another good year for the Club when a young man, Norman White joined its ranks. Norman was to become another lifelong member and stalwart, finally holding the position of President until his death in 2003.
In 1973 he was one of the founder members of the Shropshire Cycling Clubs Association, an Association formed by three clubs, the North Shropshire Wheelers, the Mid Shropshire Wheelers and
Wrekinsport CC. From its humble beginnings the Association now boasts over a dozen affiliated clubs. During the lean years for the Club in the 80s, Norman proved to be a mainstay, keeping things ticking over until the local cycling scene improved. He was made an Honorary Life Member in 1997.
In the 1950s & again in the 60s & 70s there was quite an influx of younger riders who flew the NSW flag at many time trials in the wider local area. Unfortunately though as is often the case, younger riders become older and the pressures of starting to work for a living, moving away and the combination of motor bikes, cars and members of the opposite sex took its toll and membership tended to fluctuate due to these new found interests! During this time there were many attempts on the Land’s End to John o Groats records by various individuals from around the country on all sorts of machines and due to Whitchurch’s geographical position the Wheelers were often called upon for assistance at all times of the day and night, not so easy in the days before mobile phones. This ensured that the North Shropshire Wheelers became known throughout the country.
One of the younger 50s riders was Jim Hopwood who, three decades later having long retired from cycling, decided to give something back to his old club by becoming a sponsor. In 1956, thirty years after it was first proposed, the 1926 pioneers finally got their wish when the Club organised its own 12 hour time trial, radiating from Whitchurch to Newport, Shawbirch, Shrewsbury, Welshampton, Wem, Bangor-on-Dee and Nantwich.
During this period in the history, club members were lucky to have one of their members running a local bike shop where bikes, bits and pieces and repairs could be sorted quite cheaply by Charlie Johnson. The downside was that Charlie had been a very successful rider in the 30s and setting foot in his shop required a willingness to be “educated” about the previous week’s poor performances! In his words his shop was “the only shop in Whitchurch where you could be insulted with pleasure”!
This history would not be complete without reference to long suffering Wes Edge. During the 60s & 70s Wes was the quietly spoken club rider who along with Jack Duckers took all the new youngsters out on the Sunday club runs. If anyone had mechanical trouble or punctures he was the one who got his hands dirty while Jack would sit on the fence catching up on his daily intake of cigarettes! He invariably organised a week long cycling tour in the summer. Long suffering because in his efforts to pass on his love of cycle touring & camping to the younger riders in the Club he took on the unenviable responsibilities of looking after said unruly youngsters hundreds of miles from home!
In 1970 the Club organised its first Open 25 mile time trial, an event that has been held annually ever since and which has continually built on its successes to become an event not to be missed in the CTT Liverpool District. Every year comments are received from riders praising the organisation, the HQ facilities, the marshalling and not forgetting the quality and quantity of cakes to replace those vital lost calories!
The 80s proved to be a rather lean period for the Club and for a short period between 1987 & 1992 the club was sponsored by local businessmen which provided a welcome boost to finances.
The early 1990s proved to be a period of change for the Wheelers. In 1991, in addition to its usual activities, the Club was asked to organise an evening criterium around the streets in the centre of Ellesmere as part of the Ellesmere Festival weekend. Several events of various laps covering different categories took place over a period of 2 hours. The streets of Ellesmere had probably never seen such intense activity as road closures were put in place, dozens of steel barriers erected and straw bales strategically placed in record time ready for the first event, only to be removed just as quickly 2 hours later. This proved to be so successful that it was repeated in 1992, 1993 & 1994.
Later in 1991 with mountain biking becoming increasingly popular, the Club decided it should open its doors to this new breed of cyclists. This decision resulted in quickly attracting an increasing number of new members with car assisted mountain bike rides every weekend. Over the next few years some of these riders, men, women & juniors went on to achieve successes in mountain bike races including national championships around the country fielding one of the largest teams and also an impressive group of vocal supporters!
However it wasn’t long before the lure of the road and time trialling began to look attractive to some of the mountain bikers and garage space had to be found to accommodate gleaming new road machines alongside their mountain bikes.
In 1994 the decision was made to organise the first of many highly successful cross-country mountain bike events, the “North Shropshire Folly” at Hawkstone Park, the highlight being a floodlit section through the caves. This was a huge undertaking for the Club with ten separate events covering all categories and a total field of 395 riders. Several weekends were spent before the event, chain sawing tracks through dense rhododendrons etc and the week prior to the event marking the course with tape, rope and bales. Another week after the event was spent clearing up!
This was repeated in 1995 with the event becoming Round 1 of the Midland Super Series which consisted of 6 events and a final. There was also the addition of a downhill event which attracted 127 entries on the previous day making for a full weekend’s competition. These cross country and downhill events at Hawkstone continued to be very successful annual events until 1999 finally attracting over 200 riders in the downhill and almost 550 in the cross country.
Also in 1995 a 3rd category 54 mile road race was organised over three laps of an 18 mile circuit, starting and finishing in Ellesmere and proceeding towards Overton, St Martins, Gobowen and Whittington. The Club had no previous experience of running road races but were lucky enough to have a member who did! Bryan Collins, many years previously in the 60s, had organised professional road races around Ellesmere when he was a member of the St Raphael club and he provided the backbone for the organising committee. The event was oversubscribed attracting the maximum number of riders allowed, 60, with 7 reserves. Bryan Collins became yet another mainstay of the Club taking on many roles. He was made an Honorary Life Member in 2000 and was elected President in 2003.
In 2000 having decided not to promote any further events at Hawkstone the decision was made to organise a sportive event, the ” Cambrian Cycle Challenge”. This was based in Oswestry with a choice of two on-road, 40 or 80 miles and two off road, 50 or 20 mile events. A refreshment stop mid-point for all routes was provided with soup and cakes at the finish. Again, these proved to be very popular successful events and were organised annually for a total of 9 years with variations in the routes being made every year. It was encouraging to see many of the same faces turn up year on year for a fun day out.
Over the years the Wheelers have been fortunate to have several National Champions amongst their members, both time triallists, mountain bikers and triathletes and several notable riders have ‘cut their teeth’ with the Wheelers, starting their cycling careers in the club as juveniles before moving on to further their cycling aims in pastures new.
In the early years of the Club, local hospitals and charities benefitted from the proceeds of dances organised by the Wheelers. During the war years a benefits fund was opened for members on active service. In 1971 the first 100 mile sponsored ride was organised in aid of the “new” Whitchurch Swimming Pool fund. This was followed in later years with sponsored rides for various local appeals. More recently rides have been held with all proceeds going to the Midlands Air Ambulance charity.
Since 2009 the club has reverted back to its roots, mainly concentrating on organising a full programme of club event time trials, many of them held in the evening during the summer months. Championship events at all distances, points competitions and Best All Rounder competitions for men, women, juniors & veterans are all available with a considerable array of silverware to be competed for.
In addition weekend and midday club runs and social rides are held. Throughout the year individual groups of members organise cycling trips at home and abroad.
Several social events are held during the year with the highlight being the Annual Dinner & Prize Presentation in November.
Many of the trophies to be competed for each year have been donated or purchased by the Club in memory of the many stalwarts of the North Shropshire Wheelers mentioned in this history. This ensures that their names and contributions are remembered every year at the prize presentation.