Seventy years of the Shave Cross Mini Marathon

Shave Cross mini marathon

‘On a Saturday night in June 1947 some local men felt in a contemplative mood after a few drinks at the Shave Cross Inn. They started taking bets as to who could run the fastest. The mood became infectious and the running went on until 2am … People living nearby wondered what was going on as the still peaceful night was disturbed by a constant “Are you ready – Go” … clobber, clobber, clobber (from the hobnailed boots).’ (Taken from Dorset’s Western Vale by Sylvia Creed-Castle.)

From this midnight race meeting was born the Shave Cross Sports, which included a ‘marathon’ of four and three-tenths of a mile. The event was held on 5 June 1948 in a field near the inn called Big Bomer, which was owned by Jack Rendell. It also featured children’s events, 100-yard sprints, tug of war, sack race, obstacle race, slow cycle race, long jump, egg and spoon race and skittles.

In 1949 the event gained in prestige when it received its rst report in The Bridport News. The marathon was resticted to local runners living within three miles of the pub. The programme consisted of some 27 events, mostly fun races for ladies, gentlemen and children.

Skittling contest

During the 1950s, the event became an established highlight of the local calendar. It went on into the evening and there was a fun fair with swing boats, a coconut shy and hoopla. In 1954 the marathon was opened to all comers.

Skittling was a major part of the sports day. It took place in the Shave Cross Inn during the week with an outdoor alley set out for the Saturday finals. In 1955 the prizes for the skittle competition were as follows: first prize: a pig, second prize: a load of firewood, third prize: a bottle of scotch.

Other ‘sporting events’ included a pipe smoking contest in which contestants had to smoke a clay pipe crammed with black shag tobacco. According to John Green, entrants could use as many boxes of matches and drink as much farm cider as they liked to achieve the objective of nishing the pipe.

In 1956 proceeds were o cially donated to charity for the rst time. In 1958 a ower show was added. The sports and ower show continued during the 1960s with coaches bringing runners from Yeovil, Weymouth and Salisbury. Marathons were uncommon events in those days, even short ones, and Shave Cross attracted considerable interest. At its height, the event had up to 150 runners.

The general sports and the ower show ended in 1977. The organising committee had been involved for 28 years and found it di cult to get the helpers needed. Also, the access to the original sports eld was lost.

New era in 1970s

In 1977 all equipment for the side shows was sold and that was thought to be the end of the entire event. But one summer afternoon, locals were surprised to see a number of people collecting in the pub car park. When asked, they said they had come to run the marathon. Arrangements were hastily made and the rst marathon of the next era took place. The course was extended to ve miles, with a route going up towards Pilsdon Pen via Pilsdon and returning to Shave Cross by Gerrards Farm. In the years since 1980 the event has been enlarged to include a dog show, coffee morning and treasure hunt.

John and Allison Green hosted the event at Bomerhayes Farm from 1979 until, due to ill health, it was relocated to Kittys Farm, then owned by George Rendell. The current owner, Fiona Burkeman, hosted the event in 2015 and 2016.

This year’s race will be on Saturday 5 August. Look out for details of the supporting events in the Summer edition of Beneath The Vale. This year will be the 70th anniversary of that rst midnight run. If anyone has any anecdotes or photographs from the very early days, Beneath The Vale would be delighted to receive them.

David Corneloues