Official Handover of Arthur Newton Bicycle
The Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) officially received the bicycle of five-time Comrades Marathon winner, Arthur Newton from Jackie Mekler (also a five-time Comrades winner) on Tuesday, 2 December 2014.
As recalled by Ian Champion, President of the Road Runners Club (UK), Mr Newton's bicycle effectively became the first 'prototype' of a gadget subsequently invented, and now used globally as the recognised standard for course measurement, called the 'Clane-Jones' Counter. The history of the famous bicycle and how it came to be housed at the Comrades Marathon Museum is told as follows by Mr Champion:
“When Mr Newton moved back to England his personal finances were very low. The South African Government had reclaimed his farm and did not pay him any compensation. This was the major influence in him becoming involved in road running, ultra distance and the Comrades Marathon in particular. He knew if he could perform well or even win the event, he would attract media publicity and draw public attention to his problem and unfair treatment.
He won the event five times (1922, 23, 24, 25 and 27) but found the farm issue was a lost cause and he ultimately moved back to England. His financial circumstances were dire but Mr Newton's competitive instincts made him a survivor. He got involved in road running as an athletic discipline in England and was quickly accepted as a mentor/advisor to leading runners, with his home becoming ‘the Mecca’ of road running in England.
By the time a gentleman named John Jewell became one of his friends, Mr Newton had taken to riding a bicycle not only as a means of fitness but because it was a cheap way of travelling. He had acquired two second hand bicycles. One was a 'first choice', the other 'a reserve' in case something happened to the first one. His 'first choice' bicycle, was the one that features in most of the photographs taken of him and his 'running' friends. It had a distinctive metal chain guard and handlebars. Mr Newton's 'reserve' bicycle was similar in size and style but without, the 'chain guard' and a different style of handlebars.
While John Jewell realised how restricted his friend’s finances were, he also knew Mr Newton well enough to know he would not accept a direct cash gift so as a way of helping him he devised a plan. Over a period of time he offered to buy his 'reserve' bicycle and eventually Mr Newton agreed. I understand the price paid was £15.
This was not long after the end of World War 2. Back then £15 was at least a month's wages for a working man, so, as the price for what became a 'third hand' bicycle, Mr Newton gratefully accepted his offer.
Whilst all this was happening over a period of time, John Jewell an active road runner also became involved as did Mr Newton in the formation of 'The Road Runners Club', in 1952. This was a substantial group of members of various road running clubs who wanted to form their own, single specialist discipline, 'Association', within the existing, Amateur Athletics Governing Authority. They tried very diplomatically to achieve this but were told that it would have to be called a ‘Club' rather than an 'Association'. There was already in place a 'Cross Country Association’ and a 'Race Walking Association’ but for reasons that were never really made clear at the time, 'Road Runners' could not call their specialist discipline, an 'Association'.
John Jewell was a professional scientist by occupation and meticulous in everything he did. As well as being an active runner he was also interested in statistics and records for road running performances. He realised that for record purposes, accurate measurement of 'distances' of road races needed a unification of the methods in use. He set out to try and achieve this via intensive research.
Over a period of time and with everything meticulously recorded, he tested every known recorded measurement method, used at that time, including tape measures, chains, map readings, vehicle odometers, surveys, etc. He did all of this riding the bicycle he bought from Mr Newton and eventually, using his scientific brain, devised a system of measurement which used basically the number of revolutions of a bicycle wheel. Initially John used Mr Newton's bicycle to measure some race distances but Mr Newton's bicycle effectively became the first 'prototype' of a gadget subsequently invented, now used globally, called a 'Clane-Jones' Counter.
As the Clane-Jones Counter developed, fortunately John Jewell kept and maintained his bicycle. In 1961 the Road Runners Club published his recorded notes of his research of accurate course measurement. When John passed away his wife Judith kept the bicycle safely stored in their garage. When she too passed away, I accepted care of the bicycle on behalf of the RRC.
The bicycle is not only a mechanical antique; it is part of road running history. It needed to be on display somewhere so it could be properly appreciated for what it is. I tried various suggestions to find it a home in England but 'Athletic' visual display museums in this country are rare, local and not well known. Those I tried were not particularly interested. All the time I felt that if I approached the Comrades Marathon Museum in South Africa, they would be interested.
When I was visiting South Africa and the Comrades Marathon Museum this year the bicycle was mentioned and discussed. I then decided that I would try and persuade the RRC Council members that whilst living at the other end of the world, the bicycle would have a safe home where it would be appreciated for what it was. They agreed unanimously and the rest is history. The bicycle is now in South Africa, has undergone some restoration and will be permanently displayed in the Comrades Marathon Museum.”
At the same function Jackie Mekler (winner in 1958, 60, 63, 64 and 68) who is the oldest living Comrades Marathon winner, also presented to the Comrades Marathon Museum three magnificent pennants which had been awarded to Arthur Newton by the organisers of the Comrades Marathon in the 1920’s. Also present were 1966 Comrades Marathon winner Tommy Malone, renowned for the closest finish ever in the history of the race in 1967 when he stumbled 1 metre from the finish line to be beaten by Manie Kuhn, as well as an esteemed group of gentlemen recognised as “The Elders” of the Comrades Marathon Association.
CMA Chairman Macdonald Chitja, expressed sincere gratitude on behalf of the CMA to Mr Ian Champion and the Road Runners Club (UK) for entrusting the Comrades Marathon Museum with this priceless relic of Arthur Newton’s bicycle which forms such an integral part of the history of our sport. Mr Walter Stuart of the Rand Athletic Club was also acknowledged for facilitating the process.
Article and interview with Nedbank athlete Biru Messeret who won the Cape Town and Soweto marathons. Click here for article