Early years (1898-1920)
The club has its origins in two older organisations: Lewisham Hare and Hounds, founded in c.1885; and West Kent Harriers, founded c. 1887. They amalgamated in the summer of 1898 and Kent AC was first heard of by that name in July of that year. The club and its peers were on the periphery of London and enjoyed access to true countryside runs. In the early 20th century Kent AC started to formally compete through district and regional associations: the winter cross-country season was of 8 – 10 events and featured still contested competitions such as the South of the Thames championship. The leading runner was Albert Aldridge, second in the Southern Counties Cross County Championship in 1903. There was also competition over shorter distances – in the 1920s the club mile record was a very creditable 4.19, run by A J Lock.
Building of Ladywell Track (1936)
In the early years, venues used for meetings were scattered through south-east London and north Kent, but in 1936 the London County Council built Ladywell track. This has been the club’s headquarters ever since, firmly rooting it to inner London. Prior to the Second World War, the club is men-only, but the “Ladies Section” was well established by 1950.
Regional competition (1960-1980)
In the 1960s and 1970s the club competed at a regional level and had successful men’s and women’s teams. One member was Gillian Adams Horovitz, who between 9 and 22 September 1979 held the women’s UK marathon record at 2.41.03, and came second in the 1979 NY marathon.
Growth and national success (2001- present)
British Athletics League
The club slowly made its way up the Southern League during the 1980s and 1990s, and finally in 2001 entered the British Athletics League. It continued to progress, and in 2012 was in the Premiership, where it competed against the other top seven clubs in the country.
The club competed in the South of the Thames (winning the junior 2001-2005), the Kent County Championships (winning in 2005 and 2015), and the Nationals (8th in 2007). In 2007 the club entered the Surrey Cross Country league, and was champion of Division 1 for six years from 2013-2018. John Gilbert won seven races in 2017/18, equalling Frank Sando’s record.
The club entered the National Road Relays 12 stage in 2001, and has competed every year since, regularly finishing in the top 20. At the UKA marathon championship (London Marathon) the men’s team won silver medals in 2012, and gold in 2013 and 2014
The women’s section grew in numbers and strength, and broadened its competition to include regional road relays and the county and national cross country. Amy Clements won senior women’s county cross country in 2015, and was part of the team that won the London Marathon team competition in 2017.
Several Kent AC athletes have represented GB: Jermaine Mays in the steeplechase in the European Championships in 2006; and John Headley won the V40 category 800m in the European Veteran’s Championship. The first international medals went to Conrad Williams, who won silver in the 4x400m relay at the World Championships in 2009, and bronze in the same event in the Commonwealth Games a year later. Steve Green was the club’s first Olympian in the 4x400m squad in Moscow in 1980; and both Conrad and 400m hurdler Jack Green were in Team GB at London 2012, and finished 4th in the 4x400m relay final. 2018 saw the retirement of Conrad Williams, and the full blossoming of the already-proven talent of Alex Yee. Yee, also an international triathlete, had already set new club records at 5,000, but his 27.51 10,000 put him 3rd on the UK u23 all-time list and 24th senior.
The club’s success would not have been possible without leadership in terms of team management and coaching. Larry Garnham brought on a talented sprints and throws group in the 1990s and was the first to nurture Conrad Williams. His peer with a distance group was Ken Pike, who turned to coaching in 2000 after 10 years of managing the A track team. As a manager he does more than anybody to nurture the strong team spirit in the club, and as a coach he has a loyal and dedicated group of top-class athletes. And much of the growth and success of the women’s section since 2005 is down to the coaching of Pete Boxshall.
The club, in partnership with Lewisham Council, is at the heart of local athletics activity. It organizes grass-roots events, such as the Lewisham trials for the mini marathon, and Lewisham schools’ cross country. The club also puts on races: the Sidcup 10-mile road race until 2015; cross-country championships in Beckenham Place park; and the launch of the Ladywell 10000 in September 2017 proves a great success and is now a regular fixture.