There are records of a Brighton Excelsior cycling and fishing club dating back to the 1880s but unfortunately, there is no trace of it after World War I. The Brighton Excelsior Cycling Club which still exists today was founded in 1921 by Mr G Cheetham and Mr T Gunn after leaving Brighton Mitre.
Our founding members invited their workmates at Allen West Ltd – an electrical engineering firm in Lewes Road, Brighton – to join. One of the first to do so was Mr H. C. Strudwick who left Allen West and opened a cycle shop in Oxford Street, by the Level in Brighton, which he owned for many years; the red-painted cycle store still trades today. He was joined there by Mr Cheetham. The first meeting of Brighton Excelsior was held in Mr Cheetham’s mother’s kitchen in Bonchurch Road. As membership grew to 17 they realised they would need a bigger venue so they moved, firstly to the Lennox Arms and then, as the numbers increased even more, to larger premises at the Prince Albert Hotel. The licensee, Mr Tommy Evans, took great interest in the club and became a vice-president. The first President was Mr P. Blaber. Within 18 months of the formation, there were 70 members.
It was in 1924 that the Foremen of Allen West first presented the ‘Foremen’s Cup’ for a 10-mile race. This cup is still awarded annually but nowadays it goes to the winner of the club’s 25-mile championship.
During the ensuing years, a ladies’ section was formed. There were quite a few marriages from then on in the club and at one time it was known as a matrimonial bureau. In the mid-1920s Jacko Sydney and Eddie Barker were the first members to ride the Preston Park track, where we still ride. In 1925 Councillor Marsh became President for several years before eventually being replaced by Freddy Grubb, an Olympic silver medallist and multiple champion. Freddy had opened premises for his cycle business in the town. His bicycles were much prized for their quality and still are today if you can find one.
On the Move
Once again the club was on the move and for a while, it was based at The Mitre public house before moving a bit further down the Queens Road into the Rechabite Chambers, local HQ of a temperance organisation. As ‘The Excel’ always had a reputation for vigorous social activities, the Club may have found the Chambers cramped their style somewhat. During WWII, the chambers were used for medical examinations for conscripts, however, the club continued to hold their meetings there
Around 1945, Brighton Excelsior moved to Bond Street Cottages. At that time membership was approximately 60. However, by the early 1970s membership had slumped and the club almost folded with only 7 or 8 members remaining. With the efforts of these remaining members, including our club president Rick Stringer, his wife Val, Andy and Vanessa Attwood who are all still members in 2021, the membership swelled once again and the club survived.
Regular club rides have been held for many years. Back in 1948, a club run was often an all-day affair with stops made for elevenses, lunch, threeses and tea, covering distances of up to 135 miles. This photo was taken in 1956 of the afternoon club run, prior to meeting up with the main all-day club run, somewhere in Sussex. Having been racing in a 25-mile time trial early in the morning. Club riders often used to meet at the bottom of Elm Grove if they were cycling in the Lewes direction. Those pictured left to right are, Reggie Latham (guest rider), Fred Cornhill, Vic Bath, Wiggy Brown, Johnny Gunn, Gerry Atterbury and John Wallace. Image from Vic Bath.
Shoreham by Sea Cycling Club
From the early 90s, the club’s activities started to centre around Shoreham with rides setting out from The Red Lion Public House. Roy Page had been workingat the Adur Outdoor Activity Centre [AOAC] when he and Sally helped set up the club’s youth development section, VC Jubilee, in 1998. Youth events were organised around the AOAC with youth members graduating to senior BECC membership. AOAC kindly allowed us a club room too that was used for turbo training and committee meetings before the centre’s demise in 2015. Shoreham Airport has now taken over from the Red Lion and is an excellent place to begin club rides as we can, uniquely for the Brighton area, be immediately riding down a delightful country lane, the Coombes Road. So since VC Jubilee’s inception, Brighton Excelsior has very much become Shoreham’s Cycling Club although members still come from far and wide.
Between the junior and senior membership, numbers are back to the same levels as those early years. Senior membership peaked at over 100 in Autumn 2017 before a small dip where some riders moved away and others went to more racing focused clubs. As the club moves into its second hundred years, cycling is enjoying a post pandemic boom, the number and variety of cycling activities has been growing again with lots of new female members boosting our ranks. We have three regular Sunday rides with the blue run quite often seeing the greatest turnout although plenty of faster riders are on the read and Black Runs. BECC is dedicated to competitive and leisure riding although the emphasis is strongly on leisure at the time of writing.
As well as Freddie Grubb, two other former members have achieved great success. In 2015, Amy Smith, still only 17, became National Women’s Madison Champion and Peter Mitchell, a 2007 World junior sprint champion and multiple UCI Para-Cycling World Champion, began his riding with VC Jubilee.
Current Chairman Robert Harber is a fine veteran cyclist who has completed two of the toughest events in the sport in recent years; the Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée (twice) and the London-Edinburgh-London audax. He has been with The Excel since 1990. He has time-trialled at events up to 24 hours, winning little apart from ‘3rd-best Improver’ and an occasional ‘Lanterne Rouge’. He has toured in many countries, ridden from End to End in the UK (twice), Ireland and France and completed various long-distance events. He swears by Sudocreme. Bob brings his flair for navigation to the Sunday Blue Runs. As one of the ride leaders he consistently shares obscure roads, the occasional café and other points of cycling interest.
Vice-Chairman Chris Hodge, regular leader of the Red Run and a Saturday mountain biking coach is one of the club’s many triathletes who has successfully completed an ironman and various marathons.