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Amateur Athletic Association - The Coming of Age Dinner

Amateur Athletic Association - The Report of The Coming of Age Dinner, June 8th 1901

The speakers:

“The Earl of Jersey” – [Victor Albert George Child Villiers, 7th Earl of Jersey] (1845-1915) was the inaugural AAA President (1880-1890) and a link back to the Amateur Athletic Club, of which he was a member; and a member of the organising committee of the first Championship meeting (1866).  He was also a member of the Barnes Football Club and was a member of the committee that organised their Athletic Sports in March 1866.  He was also a member of the London Athletic Club.  As a runner, he ran distances from 600yds to 2-Miles, mainly as an undergraduate at Oxford.  He was a banker and politician, and served as Paymaster General in Lord Salisbury’s administration.  He also served in the Privy Council, was Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, and Deputy Lieutenant of Warwickshire, and was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George.  He served as Governor of New South Wales from 1891 to 1893.  He was a Freemason, and served as Senior Grand Warden of the United Grand Lodge of England, in 1870, at the age of 25.  Queen Victoria was his godmother. 

“Capt. H.J. May, C.B., R.N” – [Captain Henry John May] (1853-1904) was Captain of the Royal Naval College Greenwich, and was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1902.

“Col. Fox” – [Colonel George Malcolm Fox] (1843–1918) was Inspector of the Gymnasia at Aldershot, (1890-1897) and Director of Physical Training at the Military School, Aldershot.  He began his army career with the 100th Royal Canadians and served in Malta.  He transferred to the 42nd Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) and was sent to Egypt, where he was wounded in the thigh at the Battle of Tel el-Kebir (1882).  He had always been interested in physical training, fencing and boxing and organised many competitions in the army, and, while on sick leave, he was appointed Assistant Inspector of the Army Gymnasia at Aldershot; he was later promoted to Colonel.  In 1890 he was appointed Inspector of the Gymnasia and, with the help of his second wife’s money, he expanded the army athletic grounds and gymnasia at Aldershot.  His interest in swordsmanship led him to design swords for the British Army, and it is his reputation as a swordsman that leads to his inclusion in 1895 in the collection of Vanity Fair cartoons by Spy.  In 1903 he was seconded to the Board Of Education to be their Chief Inspector of Physical Training.  He was knighted in 1910.

“The President” – [Richard Everard Webster, 1st Viscount Alverstone] (1842-1915).  Lord Alverstone was the AAA’s second president (1891-1915).  After Charterhouse and Cambridge he was called to the Bar, practised successfully and was Attorney General (1885-1886, 1886-1892, and 1895-1900) and Lord Chief Justice (1900-1913).  He was one of the group of undergraduates that set up the Cambridge University Athletics Association in 1862.  He was a founding member of the Amateur Athletic Club and was a member of the organising committee for the first Champion Meeting in 1866.  As an athlete he competed for Oxford in the first Oxford and Cambridge Athletic Sports (March 1864), finishing 2nd in the Steeplechase, losing by six yards.  The following year he won the 1-Mile event in the same meeting by virtue of his better finish and, in the following year, he was Referee.  He was not, however, a man limited to one sport; he was President of Surrey County Cricket Club from 1895 and President of the MCC from 1903. 

“Mr Montague Shearman” – [Sir Montague Shearman] (1857-1930) was a founder member of the AAA, its first Honorary Secretary (1880-1883), its Vice-President (1883-1910) and its President (1916-1930).  He was also a member of London Athletic Club from 1876.  He entered the Inner Temple when he was a student at Oxford and was called to the Bar in 1881.  He practised on the Midland Circuit for twenty years and became KC (King’s Counsel) in 1903.  As an athlete he ran for Oxford in the Oxford and Cambridge Athletic Sports, winning the 100yds in 1876 in 10 1/5 s.  The following year, he did not compete in it, but in 1878 he was 2nd in both the 100yds and 440yds; but he was clearly a versatile athlete and in the 1879 match he was 3rd in Putting the Weight.  He was also a very good Association and Rugby Football player, playing for the Wanderers Football Club and playing in the forwards for Oxford in two Inter-Varsity Rugby matches in the winters of 1879-80 and 1880-81. 

Montague Shearman was also very active in the art world, being an important collector, and Honorary Secretary to the Contemporary Arts Society.  His collection included works by Bonnard, Dali, Lautrec, Léger, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Pissarro, Renoir, Rouault, Sickert, Utrillo, Vuillard, and many others.  On his death he gifted several pictures to the Tate Gallery, where they still hang.  He was knighted in 1914.

“Mr. C. Herbert”, - [Charles Herbert] (1846-1924) was the Honorary Secretary of the AAA.  He had taken over from Montague Shearman in 1883 and was to remain in the post for 23 years (until 1906), during which time the AAA became one of the pre-eminent Governing Bodies of world sport.  These were the years in which the Olympic Games were established, and Pierre de Coubertin famously described himself, Professor Sloan (Princeton) and Charles Herbert as the “immovable trinity” on which the Olympic Games were built.  Herbert was an inaugural member of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).  Looking back, this seems like a very proud boast, and perhaps Herbert’s greatest claim to fame, but at the time of the 1901 dinner it would not have seemed that way.  The athletic standards of the 1896 and 1900 Olympic Games were poor, and Herbert was not convinced that they were a good idea.  Nevertheless, he gave his advice about the events, the programme and the rules, and was satisfied that the proposed Olympic Rules were in accordance with the AAA’s; but the standard of the AAA Championships was higher than that of the Olympic Games, and the annual AAA Championship had a higher standing in the athletic world than the Olympic Games.  So perhaps Herbert was right in taking pride in the AAA Championships rather than in the Olympic Games.

Charles Herbert was a Gloucestershire man who worked for the Inland Revenue, and so a civil servant, and he made his name as an administrator in sport, but was never an outstanding athlete himself.  He was an enthusiastic amateur though, and did have a taste of success.  1875 was his big year.  In May he won the Silver Goblet (a coxless-pairs competition) at Henley Regatta: he competed with W. Chillingworth for the Ino Rowing Club, a club that rowed on the Thames and which had its Club House in the City Arms, Hammersmith.  They won when their opponents from the London Rowing Club were disqualified.  One month later, he ran in the Civil Service Sports at Lillie Bridge, on a cold, wet, day and won the 2-Mile handicap off 20-yards; and, later, when the crowd had grown to 15,000, won the 1-Mile Challenge Cup, though in a slow time.  He became heavily involved in the Civil Service Athletic Association,an organisation that was even older than the Amateur Athletic Club – they held their first Annual Sports in April 1864.  He was forced to retire from work and had to give up his post as Hon Sec to the AAA when he was 59, when he fell down the stairs of a bus and was badly hurt. 

Mr. W.M. Chinnery” – [Walter Moresby Chinnery] (1843-1905).  Walter Chinnery was a member of the Amateur Athletic Club and competed in the first Champion Meeting in March 1866 (1-Mile), and AAC Handicap Meeting nine months later (1-Mile, back-marker), but Chinnery’s career reminds us that, important as it was, the AAC’s Champion Meeting was not the beginning of amateur athletics – for many at the time, it was its culmination; the logical conclusion of years of amateur athletic competitions all around Britain, but lacking an identifying focus (e.g. Price’s Handicaps, and the Sheffield Football Club Athletics Sports, etc.).  Chinnery was a tall, long-striding runner and ran in 1862 in a 1-Mile and Half-Mile race in Bolton, and Half-Mile race at Hackney Wick, famous as a venue for the professional pedestrians; and he was a seasoned competitor before 1866.  In a long and distinguished running career, Walter Chinnery won the Mile Championship three times (1868, 1869, 1871), the 4-Mile Championship twice (1868, 1869), and ran sub-4:30 for the 1-Mile more than once – the first time by an amateur.  Chinnery joined the Mincing Lane Athletic Club, which became the London Athletic Club, but, when his running days were over, he became President of Thames Valley Athletic Club.  Walter Chinnery was one of the outstanding athletes of his era, and competed all over Britain for ten years.  His brother, Harry, was also an athlete, competing in running and jumping events, but was also a boxer.  Walter Chinnery was also an outstanding chess player and he competed in chess tournaments and wrote about chess whilst still an athlete.  His chess games are still available for analysis on-line.  Walter and Harry Chinnery started the Chinnery Brothers Company in the City of London and traded securities between the London and New York Stock Exchanges.  With the fortune he accumulated, he purchased Hatchford Park House, a grand house in Surrey, with Jacobean origins.  Walter Chinnery became a Justice of the Peace and held the office of High Sherriff, and Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Surrey. 

“Dr. Turner”, - [Dr Edward Beadon Turner] (1854-1931).  E.B. Turner was a medical doctor, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and well-known as a public speaker with outspoken views, and active on several committees of national importance – the British Medical Association’s Medico-Political and Parliamentary Committee, and the Special Committee on the Economic Position of Nurses.  He was also a prolific writer of papers on an extraordinarily wide range of topics, from venereal disease in the army, to influenza, the health benefits of cycling, sexual morality, women drivers, contraceptives, and a three year study of the physiology of what was called “pacing and waiting races” in cycling.  The last topic was related to his career as a cyclist.  He held World Records for distances from half-a-mile to 50 miles as a tricyclist.  He was a track specialist and also held World Records (with S. Lee) at distances up to 50 Miles for tandem tricycling; these were the days of cushion (i.e. solid and not pneumatic, and so relatively heavy) tyres.  After his competitive days were over he became Vice-President of the National Cyclists’ Union (formed in 1883 with the amalgamation of the Bicycle Union, founded 1887, and the Tricycle Union), and was often their spokesman.  He was an amateur purist, resisting any links between sport and money.  In his youth he was a member of the Amateur Athletic Club and London Athletic Club, but he was not a particularly successful athlete; but he was a very successful Rugby player and played three times for England between 1875 and 1878, each time as a forward, and always on the winning side.  He was later on the Committee of the RFU.  

“Mr. E.B. Holmes”, - [E.B. Holmes] was Vice President of the AAA, representing the Midland Counties AAA, and remained so for at least the next thirteen years.  He played rugby for Mosely as a forward in the 1870s and, after his playing days, became involved in the club’s administration, becoming its Hon. Sec.  This was a spring-board to the Midland Counties Rugby Union, of which he was to become its President for 24 years.  He was perhaps best-known as a rugby referee, and refereed the Scotland v. Wales international match in 1895; but he probably refereed hundreds of games, and in 1907 was presented with a silver cigar-case at a dinner following the annual Devon v. Somerset Rugby match, for refereeing this match every year since 1893.  He was also President of the Midland Counties AAA and officiated regularly at athletics meetings.  Professionally he was involved in architecture and design and in 1897 designed a new stand at the Aston Villa ground, putting a concrete running and cycling track around it.  So successful was it that Warwickshire County Cricket Club wanted to copy it at Edgbaston in 1902.  He was regarded as an authority on measurement and measured Cross-Country courses; and in 1903 measured the course at Villa Park (the site of the old Aston Lower Grounds) in advance of Alf Shrubb’s visit as part of the London v. Birmingham athletics match (in reality London Athletic Club v. Birchfield Harriers).  Shrubb was to make an attempt at the World Record for 1½-Miles.  He failed by 2.2s but it was a mark of the faith the authorities had in E.B. Holmes that he was given the task of measuring the track in advance. 

"The Rt Hon Jesse Collings”, - [Jesse Collings] (1831-1920) was the Liberal Unionist MP for Bordesley (a Birmingham constituency) from 1886 to 1918 and at the time of this dinner was Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (1895-1902) in Lord Salisbury’s government.  He had been Mayor of Birmingham (1878-79), a magistrate and a Governor of King Edward Grammar School, Birmingham.  He was, however, a figure of national importance, particularly with his 1882 Allotments Extension Act, but his work on providing free libraries and art galleries, and access to educational opportunities, made him a popular politician who had a high sense of social responsibility, and who seemed to occupy the moral high ground in many an argument.  He was not a noted sportsman, however, but he did claim to have taken part in sport all his life; but particularly in his “younger days”.

“Mr. Guy Pym” - [Charles Guy Pym] (1841-1918) was Conservative MP for Bedford (1895-1906), a Justice of the Peace, later becoming High Sheriff of the County of London (1911–1912); but he was best known as an athlete and an athletics administrator.  He was not only a founding member of the Amateur Athletic Club, and a member of the organising committee for the AAC’s inaugural Champion Meeting, he was its pro-tem secretary and had the distinction of announcing it to the press two days before Christmas in 1865.  John G. Chambers then took over as Secretary.  Unlike almost everyone else at this dinner, Guy Pym was not an athletics purist; he loved the sport in all its guises.  In 1865, for example, he ran a Quarter-of-a-Mile match against a Mr Thornton on the grounds behind Beaufort House, Walham Green, for a piece of plate and £100 a side (£8,342 purchasing power in 2013).  The track was grass and 1/3-Mile (586.67yds – 536.45m) in length.  He won it in 49.7s.  In November 1865 he ran a ½-Mile match against J.D. Hogarth from Liverpool, on the Beaufort House grounds.  Charles Westhall was the referee. It was thought they ran for a silver cup valued at £50, but others thought it was for £50 a side.  This sort of one-on-one match was common to the pedestrians but almost unknown to the amateurs.  Guy Pym was clearly not a man to be inhibited by others’ opinions.  Newspapers claimed that he must from then on be considered a professional, but he seems to have wriggled out of the accusation.

Guy Pym was also a High Jumper, winning the National Olympian Association’s meeting at Crystal palace in 1866; but it was at 440 yards that he excelled, running off scratch in many handicap meetings.  Guy Pym also conceived the idea of the Civil Service Athletic Association when he worked in the War Office, and helped in the organisation of the first two-day Civil Service Sports at Beaufort House, Walham Green, in April 1864, winning the 440yds and 1-Mile, and 2nd in the High Jump; he also competed in the Long Jump but only took one jump to save himself for the Mile.  He also played cricket for the Civil Service Cricket Club and for a club named Incogniti.


The place of The AAA’s, Report of the Coming-of-Age Dinner, in the history of Athletics literature:

There were eleven toasts and/or responses after the dinner, and each toast or response was preceded by a speech, some brief, some not so brief; they are recorded verbatim here.  All of the major office-bearers of the AAA were present and gave their reflections on the successes of the Association during its first 21 years.  Several of the older speakers had also been members of the Amateur Athletic Club, and in their speeches they reflected on the origins of the Champion Meeting and the roles played by various clubs and individuals.  This volume is particularly valuable, partly because it is so rare (perhaps no more than 110 copies were ever printed), and because it gives us the personal accounts, expressed in their own words, of those who were there at the beginning of the sport of Amateur Athletics, and of the AAA – and they don’t all agree with each other. 


The text:

This volume contains the texts of all speeches, the letter of invitation, invitation card, toast list, menu, music, wine list, and table plan, so that we can see who was present and even who they sat next to.  We can even see what Sherry, Riesling, Bordeaux, Champagne and Port they drank and what songs were sung to entertain them.

Of the eleven speeches, five are of interest to the athletics historian – those of the Earl of Jersey, Montague Shearman, Walter Chinnery, Guy Pym, and Viscount Alverstone (the President, who was in the chair).

Lord Jersey adopts a nostalgic tone and chooses to look back, not over the 21 years since the AAA had been formed, but over an extra sixteen years to when the Amateur Athletic Club was formed and held the first Champion Meeting.  Although an ex-President of the AAA, Lord Jersey was still an old AAC member at heart – “the AAA [is] to a large extent our child”, he said, and singles out John G Chambers “who did more … than all of us or any of us, in the cause of athletics”.  He looks back on the origins of the AAC Champion Meeting and reflects on the difficulties they overcame – “a great deal of opposition” and, “we were told we were going to fail”.  He does have pride in the AAA, however, and believed that it set an example to other sports.  It was a leader in sport, not just in Britain but in the world.

There is, perhaps understandably, a general air of self-congratulation in the room, even bordering on smugness in some quarters; but something of a generational divide appears among the speakers.  Montague Shearman, who was more than a decade younger than Lord Jersey, had no time for the AAC and disputes the importance of the AAC’s role even in the formation of the AAA.  It was, he said, the first time that he had ever heard the claim that the AAC was the “father” of the AAA!  An extraordinary statement - and from a man who was a historian; and who was present in Oxford with the representatives of the AAC and others at the meeting in 1880 at which the AAA was born; and at which the AAC died.  But this was not history – Montague Shearman was a barrister, and he was on his feet – it was his job to represent his client (the AAA) and to demolish the arguments of the other side; and he does it in style.

Guy Pym, however, was not going to let him get away with it.  He was of Lord Jersey’s generation, and not likely to be intimidated by a younger man, KC or not.  Also, he had been there at the beginning of the sport – Montague Shearman had not.  E.B. Turner, although too young to have taken part in the first AAC Champion Meeting, was there as an impressionable twelve-year old, as a spectator – he supported Lord Jersey – yes, he said, the AAA was a “great Association”, but the AAC was generally acknowledged to be is parent.  It was Guy Pym, one of the oldest speakers, who most vigorously and effectively defended Lord Jersey’s version of events. 

Guy Pym was voice from an earlier age; a link back to the pre-Championship days, when there was no Governing Body, and, uniquely among those present at the AAA celebratory dinner, had run as a professional, and knew and admired the old peds.  He backs Lord Jersey and he, too, goes back in his speech 35 years to the beginnings of the AAC; but he goes further and hints that he could go back 40 years.  He was uniquely qualified to reject Montague Shearman’s version of history.

In October 1859 Guy Pym passed his civil-service exams and was appointed a temporary clerk in the War Office; he was eighteen.  In March 1862 he passed more civil-service exams and was appointed clerk in the Accountant General’s Branch within the War Office, with its headquarters on Pall Mall.  With his exams over, and now with a permanent job, Guy Pym became involved with the Civil Service Cricket Club.  He was a lower-order batsman who didn’t score many runs, and he didn’t bowl, so perhaps he was in the team because of his fielding.  They were an ambitious, outward-looking club and Guy Pym went with them to Ireland in 1864 and to a tour in the west-country in 1865; and there was even talk of them going to Paris.  Whilst in this club, in late 1863 or early 1864, he floated the idea of Athletic Sports for the Civil Service to Jacob Luard Pattisson (Hon Sec of the CS Cricket Club) and the two of them got together a representative committee and, in April 1864, the first Civil Service Athletic Sports took place at Beaufort House, Walham Green, under the secretaryship of Guy Pym.  It was a major initiative, and it is worth noting that Luard Pattisson and Guy Pym were both only 22/23 years old.  The first Civil Service Athletic Sports was a two-day event on a course newly constructed by a Mr Jones, who had had only three weeks to convert it from a field; and, by cutting, watering and rolling it, turned it into “wonderful good going”.  This was the first time that the grounds at Beaufort House had been used for such an event and it was hugely successful; and Guy Pym was one of the four Stewards on duty – he also won the 440yds, and 1-Mile, was 2nd in the High Jump and took part in the Long Jump.  He was only 23 but had already had the idea of a major sports meeting, had seen it become a reality, worked at it as an official (under Charles Westhall, who was Umpire) and had experience competing in a wide range of events – and he was said to have won the 440yds “hands down”.  The next year, he won the 250yds, 440 and ½Mile, and was again a Steward; and he joined the Amateur Athletic Club and became its Hon Secretary.  When they came in 1866 to plan their Championship Meeting, Guy Pym was invaluable.  He was a good athlete, he had helped put on a major competition and knew the Beaumont House grounds well.  He knew the place and the people, and who to contact.  He also had experience in selecting the events for such a meeting.  In February they asked for entries and even defined an amateur.  On the committee with Guy Pym were Lord Jersey, J.G. Chambers, and R.E. Webster (i.e. later Lord Alverstone, President of the AAA).

In his speech at the Coming-of-Age dinner, he reminded them all of the roots of the sport and the amateur movement, thirty five or thirty six years earlier (not twenty-one, the theme of the evening), and presses Lord Alverstone to write a “history of the athletic movement in England”, and even suggests a publisher.  All those present would have known, however, that such a book had already been written – by Montague Shearman!

It fell to Lord Alverstone as Chairman (and President of the AAA) in closing the proceedings, to find a way through the disagreements in the evening’s speeches.  He assured “my old friend”, Montague Shearman, that there was no jealousy between the old members of the AAC and the AAA, but he had to point out that it was “a matter of history” that what the AAA had been able to achieve “was the outcome of the efforts first commenced by the Amateur Athletic Club”.  To seal the point he said, “I have in my hands a copy of the [AAC] rules, and there the definition of an amateur is practically identical with that which has ever since been adopted.”  It was not surprising that Lord Alverstone focussed on the definition of an amateur - it had been the big issue of the age - but the idea of an amateur movement in sport had also been the Big Idea of Guy Pym’s, Lord Jersey’s, and Viscount Alverstone’s generation; but the idea of “gentleman amateurs” that they started with had passed by the mid-1890s - now an amateur was not defined by his birth, he was defined by the wording of the AAA Laws.

On that evening in 1901, the old members of the AAC won the argument with Montague Shearman “hands down”, and all were united in the pleasure they got from the current achievements and status of the AAA, but it was Walter Chinnery who introduced a new note and it was, perhaps, the only forward-looking note in the whole proceedings.  Whatever the satisfaction about the present, and the nostalgia for the past or the eagerness to see the debt to an old organisation properly recognised, Water Chinnery had “a little fear”.  It was that the sport no longer attracted the younger generation as it once did.  The AAC’s task had been enormous – it had helped create the whole notion of amateur sport, it wrote the rules, it selected appropriate events, it selected a suitable venue and promoted the first ever Champion Meeting.  The AAA’s task was equally enormous, but different – given all the above, it had to spread the sport nation-wide, and indeed, world-wide, and it had to hold the line against the encroachments of money and commercial interests.  They were both Governing Bodies - the AAA a more effective one than the AAC when judged on a national scale - but neither had to concern themselves with the growth of the sport.  The sport was new and grew at a great rate anyway; the numbers of athletes and clubs grew year after year, and the standard of performance in all events was on an upward trajectory.  But Chinnery could look forward and see a time when that natural growth would end, and new challenges would face a Governing Body.  But no-one else in the room seemed to be in a mood for such thoughts.


Peter Radford/ 2015

Bibliographic details:


Amateur Athletic Association - The Report of The Coming of Age Dinner, June 8th 1901


The Amateur Athletic Association

Place of Publication:


Date of Publication:


Date(s) of Re-Publication:

Never re-printed

BL Catalogue:

Not in the British Library

"An Athletics Compendium" Reference:

Not included


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