A brief history of GO ...

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How orienteering came to Guildford and how Guildford seized the opportunity, held on, but nearly lost it altogether.

By John Higginson with additional material by GO Founder member Richard Raynsford.

Veteran Scots, Northerners and Southerners will continue to argue their respective claims as to was the first to bring the sport to Britain. Was it the late 1950’s, 1963 or 1964? Peter Palmer, who was teaching history at Rydens School in Walton-on-Thames says that orienteering had been a school activity since 1961, jointly encouraged by his colleague Peter Warner who taught geography. None would wish to question an assertion from such chronological and topographical expertise. In 1964 John Disley had been appointed Physical Education Officer for Surrey County Council. He arranged an orienteering course for Surrey teachers in January 1965; one outcome of which was the formation of the Surrey Schools Orienteering Association (originally Rydens County Secondary School and Godalming Grammar, which then had Martin Hyman on the teaching staff. Membership grew to 9 in 1967 and was to increase still further as orienteering rapidly gained in popularity).

The decision to form the English Orienteering Association was taken at a meeting in 1965 between Messrs Brasher, Disley, Palmer and Warner. The first AGM was held at the Guildford Youth Center on 21st May 1965. Active clubs officially numbered only two: OO and SN. But when this meeting was held, orienteering had already come to town. Guildford Orienteers were on the spot! According to Chris Brasher, the club was started “by students”.

Richard Raynsford confirms this. “I went to the Guildford Technical College as a part time student in 1964 and they were already competing in orienteering events. I remember that they were going to a championship event somewhere in the Midlands but I didn’t go - mobility around the country was not quite so easy in those days. The first event I have record of was held at Shalford Primary School. It was organised by Guildford Technical College and use a black and white 1:25000 OS map with streams and water touched up in black. The controls were ‘End of track’ 016483, ‘Block house’ 033484, ‘Stile’ 039472, ‘Double fork in path’ 047464, ‘Bend in path beyond windmill’ 026466 and ‘Gate into field’ 014463.

The first Guildford Orienteers event I recall was held on 23.10.66 on the common south of Elstead. The format was the same as the Shalford competition. Chris Brasher was first with me second and John Disley third. Other orienteers still competing were also present. GO organised a score event on 28.01.67 at Hurt Wood but I have no results for this.”

I think that the club has a good case for claiming a formation date at 1964 which gives GO some seniority!

In the meantime, partly as a result of discussions with the CCPR and looking ahead to the Sports Council, the English Orienteering Association was diversified. Surrey first came within the Southern OA, then changing to the South Eastern OA. The IOF and Sports Council required a single governing body and the inaugural meeting of the BOF took place in June 1967.

Talking of meetings, I attended the 1967 Association AGM held at the Star and Garter Home, Richmond, at which any other business discussion highlighted problems caused by inaccurate control descriptions. Novices be warned by the following exchange. Inexperienced new member (me) “Chairman, why not use National Grid references?” Chris Brasher (sitting immediately behind) hisses “We’ve already tried those”. John Disley (sitting immediately in front) explains “We want ideas for more accuracy that that.” Collapse of inexperienced new member.

These changes had not prevented the SOA from issuing a membership list of 160 in June 1967. Guildford Orienteers had nine members: Roger Jones of Elstead, secretary, A Cunningham of Bramley, Miss J Clifton of Merrow, M. Elass of Guildford, J Higginson of Knaphill, A M Heath of Godalming, R M James of Elstead, P J Noble of Horsell and R Raynsford of Chichester.

It was a long time before any items could be bought actually at competitions. I made preparations for my first event. A compass was required; one made by Silva had been suggested. I went to the importers, B.J. Ward Ltd., at their office and stores in the upper part of the narrow Victorian office building that was 130 Westminster Bridge Road, SE1. I was welcomed courteously by both Elsie and Bertie Ward; yes they would be pleased to sell me a Silva compass. Would I like to examine two that they would recommend for orienteering? The three of us filled the width of the office as I made my decision and became the proud possessor as (as I thought) the only piece of equipment that I would ever need for the sport.

Sunday 10.9.1967 found me at Mickleham School, proudly entered as a GO in the Mojo Striders “Novices” event. I was pleased to see another GO, Richard Raynsford, entered in the Intermediate class and found that I had beaten him six minutes (the first and last time) over what the organisers described as a “course of 4 and a quarter miles”. Richard told me that he had been competing for about two years and had seen Roger Jones once, but of other GO’s nothing at all. Nor as Richard and carried the GO name to successive competitions, Intermediate Men and Senior Men respectively, did any other GO’s appear. Fortunately for the club, Richard invariably managed to finish in the first ten while I struggled to reach the top twenty of the Senior Man ‘A’ list. Classes then were juniors 13-16 years, intermediate 17-19 years, seniors 20-35 years and veterans 35+. In 1968 Richard moved to the Senior Men ‘A’ class and on 30.6.1968 came 2nd at the Sandhurst National Score event. On 14.7.1968 he won the Senior Men ‘A’ class outright at the Eggars School Alton competition.

Maps were changing. Black and white copies of 1:25000 sheets quickly Xeroxed by then exotic and rare machines, were being superseded by two colour redrawn masterpieces. Red biros had to be carried to mark up your map.

In 1968 the SEOA attempted to eliminate what were termed ‘Ghost Clubs’ i.e. clubs on paper but of minimal membership and GO was instructed to have formal representation. I talked to Richard and we called a club meeting. I voted Richard to the position of Club Secretary and I agreed to his proposal that I should become the club’s representative at the periodic meetings of the SEOA. These always took place in the upstairs room of the Dysart Arms, Petersham, a venue close to my (then) office and just across the road from my favourite training area, Richmond Park.

Richard and I were concerned at the prospects for the future of the club. Our lack of resources was emphasised each time that I climbed the stairs at the Dysart…. “High time GO’s ran an event” etc. etc. The Dysart Arms had considerable character. The pub was the HQ of both the Dysart Dashers and the Ranelagh Harriers. A shield in the snug recorded an improbably fast time for the Pennine Way relay race. Colourful people turned up at the pub to meet Chris Brasher, who still lives just round the corner at the Navigator’s House (named after George Vancouver) in River Lane. One night the entire SEOA committee because mixed up with a meeting between Brasher and Don Whillans, the latter jumping to the conclusion that we were all climbing friends who had come to join a cosy chat in the snug.

The committee meetings were themselves filled with characters, ably chaired by John Pearson and then Chris James, steered efficiently by Sophie Rex, the secretary. Some club representatives travelled serious distances to meetings, for example Saxons and Chigwell. Eventually even Kent Schools found a delegate, an enthusiastic if unlikely bohemian runner who smoked incessantly and fitted in orienteering between organising and participating in Kent School trips to Paris.

I see that Richard and I actually organised a GO event on 16/11/1969 but I cannot trace any record of this. It was probably a Come and Try it. We had come to the conclusion that the small amount of GO promotion had failed and that we should either amalgamate with another club or make a last effort to draw in members. The Club Secretary called an extraordinary meeting (me) to discuss the problem and we decided to convene at a point as near equidistant from our two homes as possible. The stage was set for the fateful evening meeting at ‘The Jolly Farmer’ pub, Millbrook, Guildford. In these days this hostelry was basic Friary Meux, and had changed very little since the brewers had last renovated the property in 1913. We had a long discussion . We could hardly justify the increasing paperwork that was being received from BOF office. GO assets were minimal. Yes, we would combine - but with whom? Eventually we decided to suggest a merger with OO’s. They were strong in the Guildford area and we knew most of the membership. We would put the matter to the vote after another beer.

But the pause gave us a chance to have second thoughts. We both knew how supportive SEOA was to junior competitors. Moreover BOF was bringing out a new range of publicity material. Perhaps we should have one last membership drive bringing in Guildford schools, youth clubs, youth organisations and libraries. We put the matter to the vote. The result was unanimous. “More advertisement - the club continues!”

The results surpassed expectations. Dave Mitchell, a Guildford teacher of geography, joined and immediately started to draw new maps, notably Merrow Downs followed by Charlton Forest, two colours! Juniors and seniors arrived and quite suddenly Guildford Orienteers had a very active membership. The year marking the new dawn was 1970. Highlights included the Jan Kjellstrom Trophy where in the individual race at Clumber, Richard Raynsford beat John Disley by 4 minutes. Furthermore GO were able to enter a team in the relays at Shining Cliff Woods, finishing in 23rd place out of 39.

Soon afterwards, on 3rd May, GO organised a successful event on Milford and Witley Commons. Highlight of the year was undoubtedly the GUILDFORD ORIENTEERS BADGE EVENT, the Dave Mitchell Charlton Forest competition earning itself upper case treatment in ‘The Orienteer’ and held in autumn sunshine on October 11th. Access to the competition area was through East Dean, northwards to Stein Farm, the woods enclosing a little visited valley which runs north-eastward to Graffham Down. It was a most successful event. Dusk found the contented organisers loading cars with (partly borrowed) equipment, while a barn owl, ghostly in the twilight, hunted above the fields beyond the farm.

New members to the club included the Crease, Reed and Saunders families, their arrival doubling or trebling the total membership. The club has been particularly fortunate in having the enthusiasm and hard work of the Reeds who have been a major part of the organisation and competition success of the club over the years. Ken Reed actually invented the phrase “no problem”! The bearded, ever enthusiastic Stephen Brown became a familiar figure, as did Martin Lock.

Up and coming talent included Nigel Collard, Alastair Doyle and Mark Smith, so that when Richard Raynsford changed jobs in 1971 and moved to the area of the newest orienteering association, East Anglia, he left behind a flourishing club. For example on 10.10.1971 at Ashtead and Epson Commons, 13 GO’s competed. They were S Brown, P Fish, K Hawney, Higginson +3, P Lawrence, D Mitchell, T Palmer, Ken and Sue Reed and P Williams, There was growing confidence in the forests. Alastair Doyle ran in the 1972 JK at Cannock Chase. Nigel Collard and Mark Smith competed in the 1972 British Championships, emerging unscathed and cheerful from the deepest part of the New Forest.

The first club badge event has already been mentioned, so I must not forget the first Four-Colour map (black + 3!). This was Redlands Wood at 1:15000 expertly printed by Smallprint (Paul Kansen) for the club badge event on 6.5.1973. The controller David James, had many constructive comments on the cartography (including, “I wish I had seen this earlier”) but it was a genuine club ‘first’, thus making that map a genuine piece for collectors of ephemera. So much so that I was surprised, talking to senior club members in 1998, that none could recall the 1973 competiton.

In 1974 I was making preparations to move north, but not before the club had taken the first three places in on the short 12 mile course on the late Alan Blatchford’s ‘Kettlebury Kanter’. Alan, whose membership in GO was sadly all too brief, was ever enthusiastic to change orienteers into long distance walkers so that they could try the ‘Icknield Eighty’ or ‘Peakland Hundred’. His powers of persuasion resulted in Alastair Doyle (a combination of Hindle, Smith and Reed) and the writer setting out from Milford on 10th February with 1 inch to 1 mile maps and a list of 6 figure grid references (grid references again!). Two hours and a few minutes later we finished 1, 2 and 3 in the same order as above at Witley Village Hall after a cross-(private) country route.

Messrs. Doyle and Smith, M19, each ran the M21A course at Ranmore on June 2nd and beat most of the field.

The hard work of club secretary was taken over by Nigel Collard. James Saunders became SEOA fixtures secretary, later Chairman of the Association.

Richard Raynsford reflects that many clubs have quickly come and gone in the south east. However I’ll bet that most of the expertise is still around. I forgot to ask Jack Trendall whether OO’s would have actually responded to an approach, all those years ago from Richard and myself, but Tony Wale can tell me (in confidence) when we next meet!

The position of “The Jolly Farmer” which faces out across the River Wey towards Guildown, does make the pub a landmark, but club members should also consider it to be a monument, even as it were, an orienteering marker. The Allied Domeque group has rebuilt the interior but you may be sure that the north east corner of the bar still has echoes of that fateful night when Guildford Orienteers were saved. Perhaps, on a winter’s night, today’s customers may still hear, quite distinctly, the words “More advertisement, the club continues…”

This photograph of John Higginson, appeared in The Orienteer in the Spring 1970 copy (Vol. 3 No. 1). The Bike O event took place on 25th January 1970, with the start and finish at Tanners Hatch YH. There were 2 courses (10 + 20km), using a OS 1" map. It just goes to show just how long Bike O has been around too!

Last Update : 23 Oct 09