Len White - A Tribute to Matlock CC's Long Serving President
Len passing the feeding station in the East Midlands CC 12 hour Time Trial in which he did over 200 miles.
Notice the Cinelli badge on his steel handlebar stem, handlebar wire bottle cage plus alloy cage on his downtube, 5 speed Benelux gears, wool top, wool shorts maybe acrylic (nylon lycra not invented then!) no helmet, D’Alleasandrio tubulars note the spare under his saddle, Wienmann brakes, Fiamme rims. Bluemels pump, Airlite QR hubs and Christophe toe clips. The pedal cap suggest Lyotard. Leather toe straps. Along with his Mercian frame, most of the “in” equipment at the time!
Len was born July 18th 1923 in Ripley and died after a fall at Beverley on September 13th 2021, exactly the same September date that Matlock’s famed hill climber, George Higton also died. Each October, MCC promotes the Annual George Higton Memorial Hill Climb. Len had known George since he began cycling with MCC.
Len was a Matlock CC elected official for as many as 72 years and 4 days! He had served in almost every post within our club and was the club’s oldest rider. Who is the oldest rider now?
Len served a Butterley Company Engineering Apprenticeship. He had farming relatives in Great Longstone and Len spent much time with them. Len even had a year spent at Great Longstone School.
Len cycled in Ripley and Matlock as a teenager but riding was interrupted by World War II in 1939.
In 1941 Matlock CC went into abeyance as most members had been called into His Majesty’s Armed Forces. In 1942 Len followed suit and began his War service by enlisting in the Royal Navy to serve in combat against the Japanese on aircraft carriers and later in Hong Kong until his demobilisation in 1946.
Whilst in the Navy, Len met and served with Brian Robinson (Brian was not the famous professional then. His Tour de France stage victory as the first British rider ever to do so came years later).
Prior to Matlock CC’s abeyance, our Club had the reputation as being one of the UK’s leading outfits promoting time trials, grass track racing and even in 1938, a Cyclo-Cross at Tansley. Very few clubs can claim an 83 year old CX heritage!
The War over, Len and Matlock riders got together and cycled but they could not afford the cost of reforming Matlock CC due to the affiliation fees demanded by the NCU and RTTC. The riders tasked Len into restarting MCC. In truth, he “sort of” did so!
Len and Brian persuaded Huddersfield RC to create a “Matlock Section” within the Yorkshire club and so time trials could be ridden again by locals from 1947, albeit in the guise of the Matlock Section.
1948, Len and other MCC members organised a club visit to the London Olympic Road Races.
1949, the Matlock Section of the Huddersfield RC had 20 seniors and 1 junior. Officially on the 9th of September, Matlock CC was reborn. Len was elected an officer in the club following its 1st AGM on January 9th 1950, 60 years after the club was first inaugurated. LEN WAS NOT A MEMBER IN 1890. Then the Club Secretary was the Landlord of the Olde Englishe Inn adjacent to Matlock’s very own cycle track. You can still see the partial track remains in the garden at the far end of Olde Englishe Road.
1950 MCC restarted promoting with two 10 mile TT’s, starting Darley Dale’s Grouse Inn and to Bakewell and back.
Len records that in 1951, MCC joined the BDCA. Len rode the first BDCA 25 mile TT event starting at Broadholme and turning at Matlock’s Crown Square and he recorded that the pre War RTTC clothing rule still pertained. Every rider had to be entirely dressed in black but by 1951, shorts could be worn! The writer still has two sets of such clothing that his parents raced in during the 1930’s!
That year, MCC added a Hill Climb, up Willersley Lane from Cromford bridge and two “Place to Place” competitions. Len rode both the “Darley Dale to Cannock and Back” as well as the “Buxton and Back”. At Cannock, Len records that the club paid 37.5 pence (then 7 shillings and 6 old pence) for a marshal’s Bed & Breakfast for them to be ready in time to turn the riders. Folk in those days didn’t have cars to drive to places. At Darley Dale the riders had started at 5am!
A 5 am club ride to the Meridian Memorial Service was ridden by Len rode along with about 30 other members.
Sponsorship was a term not invented in 1950 but, Fearn’s as they do now, along with Greenhough’s of Wirksworth supported MCC financially.
1951, it was Len who provided the “Best All Rounder Trophy” still competed for in 2021.
1952, Matlock CC joined the Derby Track League at the Municipal Sports Stadium where Len and others competed regularly each Tuesday. The writer wonders how they got there and back. Did they ride or take the steam train from Matlock?
Len, then Racing Secretary, was unhappy that the NCU did not allow mass start road racing and he and others keen to do so had to travel to the Nottingham Forest Circuit in order to race there. Len wasn’t the only cyclist at odds with the NCU! Nationally a rebellion was developing against NCU rules. Len’s naval friend Brian had developed into GB’s top professional but he was critical of being forced to go to Europe in order to race. However, in order to actually see “real” mass start racing, Len began to organise annual MCC excursions to the Isle of Man Race week. On one of these, Matlock’s star rider, then a young Ian Parsons, competed in the Mannin Veg but fell off and grazed his knee on the road. In doing so, he contracted Lockjaw (tetanus), which is normally fatal with no known cure, He spent months in hospital to be one of the few persons ever to survive the infection but effects of which did recur. Even so, to Len’s relief (Len blamed himself for taking Ian to the races), Ian in a later year, gained a Team Medal in the National Best All Rounder Competition.
Len rode the National Hill Climb Championships up the Winnats pass. In 2021 also the National Championship Hill Climb once again.
At the AGM, Len was still the Racing Secretary and also the Organiser of the Annual Club Dinner and Prize Presentation, the latter post he was to hold for very many years. Under Len’s guidance, MCC’s Annual Prize Presentations had as the guest of honour, the choice of the sport’s top stars – Brian Robinson, Ian Steel, Beryl Burton, Ethel Crowther, Ray Booty and others of note.
But, what was not known in 1952 that Len was to be so brilliant at organising the Annual Presentations, that they always raised cash for club funds. He engaged star politicians or comedians as the after dinner speakers and live bands for the after dances. More could be written!
The Minutes of the 1952 AGM record Len as the “The Most Improved Rider”. Club star, George Bland was surprised to be second.
1955, Len encouraged MCC to rebel against the NCU so that MCC could promote local road races. Our riders began to shout “Up the League” every time our club run passed other cycle groups on the road and so it was at the AGM MCC affiliated to the BLRC – BRITISH LEAGUE OF RACING CYCLISTS.
1956, MCC riders can be seen on RR Programmes from that year along with George Bland and the writer.
1957, Len was elected when there were 2 AGM’s in the same year! The club added a 100 mile TT to its promotions.
1962, Len appears to be Club Chairman at the AGM and was definitely unanimously elected as such a year later.
By 1963, Len’s chairmanship had overseen the blossoming of road racing within the club and the addition of young riders to its membership. Several of whom are still active cyclists as this article is written.
1967,Chairman Len encouraged an interest in Cyclo-Cross as it was missing from its current activities, not then realising that in 1938, that MCC had promoted a CX at Tansley.
1968, at the AGM, MCC were affiliated to the British Cyclo Cross Association, which had also been formed also due to the lack of NCU interest. Racing Secretary Dave Orford recruited Yorkshire’s Eric Stone who had moved to Derby and who wanted to join a club that was interested in both road racing and cyclo cross.
1969, early in the year, Len announced in press reports that for the first time ever, a Matlock CC rider, Eric Stone, had been chosen to represent his country in the Cyclo Cross World Championships. He finished 1st British.
June 1969, Len was Race Director of the Matlock to Buxton and back record attempt, contested by 10 amateurs and one professional. The record at that time was held by Cromford’s Bob Craig. His record was to be broken 4 times before Matlock CC’s Ken Wilson set up the new record. In 2021, Len told the writer that he thought the record still stood.
1970, Len eventually lost Eric Stone when he moved back to Yorkshire to turn professional and to open a cycle shop.
Under Len’s guidance, MCC managed to steer itself through the drop in the UK’s interest in cycling. Promotions and activities continued but with reduced numbers until an upsurge in cycling activity at local schools brought in new school age riders who wanted to join in club activities and compete. The club had affiliated to the British Schools Cycling Association.
1976,Len was so pleased to welcome new young faces and being able to see 11 year olds ride time trials until the RTTC raised the minimum age to 12 years old!.
Len’s wife Joy began to suffer serious ill health and she had to stop being elected as a club official but Len carried on as Chairman and the very successful Prize Presentation Organiser. Len, later, was glad that he did so.
1980,Len became proud that MCC’s schoolboy and schoolgirl teams began to win TT and Road Racing competitions both as individuals and teams. Matlock’s “Circuit of the Moor” Cyclo Cross began to build up its reputation of the being THE cyclo cross to ride. Annually an additional CX was promoted as well as the club’s main Circuit of the Moor. MCC regularly provided winners!
1982 Len heralded a junior club member gaining a Team Gold Medal in the World Cyclo Cross Championships. Len excelled himself by achieving for the club excellent publicity. His political connections ensuring that the achievement was recognised by the local authority as the 2nd Matlock CC member ever to compete for Great Britain. Later, Len recorded that a MCC schoolboy had won the BSCA National Road Race Championships and was also the Three Peaks Junior Champion.
It has to be recorded that Len became a tad infuriated that the club’s rising youngsters were tempted away from MCC into “Sponsored” teams. This was in fact the start of a trend as it is still happening in 2021!
The later 1980’s meant Len’s Chairmanship oversaw MCC’s promotions reach new heights. The Circuit of the Moor Cyclo Cross continued to establish itself as a leading event, drawing in more professional riders. Len was overjoyed to find that Matlock locals challenged the professionals, often putting them into the runner up positions.
Eventually, Len’s wife Joy’s illness worsened and they made the decision to leave Matlock and to live at Beverley instead. Len relinquished the Club’s Chairmanship and was elected as the Club’s President, a post he still held to his death.
At first, Len and Joy travelled to be at all the Club’s main events and Len always wrote a leading piece for the Club’s Annual Magazine – Pedal Power, but as the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens. Caring for Joy on his own became too much for Len and the NHS allocated to her, Beatrice Obonyo, a Kenyan nurse. Beatrice became more than a nurse, she became a family friend, eventually taking holidays together so that’s Joy’s caring would not be interrupted. Joy’s carer met Paul, another Kenyan and eventually they got married and began to raise a family. Paul became Len’s friend too. Some MCC members have met the couple.
After Joy had died, Len decided that he wanted to help the Kenyan village Joy’s carer came from. Another aspect of Len’s life was his devotion to the “Lions” organisation and so it was that Len started fund raising with the Lions and with MCC.
In Kenya, the villagers had to walk some distance to a river for water which they carried back. A well was needed! Len’s first Kenyan project - get the money together to pay for it to be dug. Success! Enough was raised. Len was invited to Kenya to oversee the work, staying a few months. Because of worries about all the money actually getting there due to the costs of the money going through many hands, Len took all the money there himself - in his suitcase!
With the well dug, the practical side of Len realised very much more was needed. Their corrugated iron school had no doors or windows, so over the next two years, more funds to be raised. Another journey with a suitcase followed, Len stayed again with Joy’s carer Obonyo’s parents and supervised the building work. The school still had no chairs or tables!
More fund raising and the children no longer had to sit on the floor and in the evenings, villagers had somewhere to go for meetings, but it was dark there at night. There was no electricity to the village, let alone the school.
Yes, you’ve guessed it. Another project for Len: Solar panels. Of course he had to go with the money and he returned home when the lights actually came on.
Len received news that the village elders had had to take drastic action! Some villagers had acquired mobile phones and had started charging them at the school and had thus flattened the batteries. Whatever words were used, Len was informed that the practice ceased forthwith!
In 2017, Len made what was to be his final visit to the Village FOR A VERY SPECIAL OCCASION. The “Tin Hut” had by now been replaced by an entirely new, brick built school. There were 340 scholars in groups from 3 to 7, 12 teachers and 4 support staff! The celebration to which Len was invited, was to acknowledge his successful efforts in founding the school and in continuing to support. But, most of all, that Len’s deceased wife Joy’s name was also to be acknowledged by her name being incorporated in the school’s name by the village’s local authority as - JOYCELAND PREPARATORY SCHOOL.
The funds Len had helped raise, now continue to finance teacher’s equipment, pay student’s fees, the children’s school outfits and their food whilst at school.
Len stayed on as he had so on previous occasions but now he was their Guest of Honour. State politicians and dignitaries graced the village gathering. Len said you had to be there to understand how well Kenyans could celebrate!
Len wrote to Margaret Clarke, our MCC Riber Hill Climb supporter on his return that he considered what he had done in Kenya had been “having the opportunity to be involved with this project has, I think, been the most important thing I have ever done.”
We reach the end of 2020 when Len had told the writer that he still wished he could still get to Kenya and indeed Matlock as he no longer drove.
Summer 2021, Len had already made the arrangements to get a lift to Matlock with young Dave Orford to be able to attend Matlock CC’s 2022 Prize Presentation. But his fall stopped that happening.
His funeral was attended by a couple of members from MCC plus the son and daughter of Dave Orford, who is now aged over 90 and was a MCC member and Racing Secretary in the 1950/60’s, but he was unable to attend due to being in a Nursing Home. There were many from Beverley along with a Lions delegation. His friends, the Obonyo’s, were not allowed to travel into the UK from Kenya but were able to watch Len’s funeral service over the Internet.
Possibly, many Matlock CC members didn’t get the chance to know Len and what he stood for but they could read his annual contributions to MCC’s Pedal Power.
The writer hopes that reading these words might mean that you now know more of him and his exceptional contribution to Matlock Cycling Club and his Lions project.
Len, then aged 94 years pictured with God Daughter Joanne Obonyo. Len also regarded Joanne as his Granddaughter.