By David Barnes

Horwich Heritage

This year Horwich RMI Harriers celebrate its centenary and those celebrations start with the opening of an exhibition at the Horwich Heritage Centre tomorrow (10am – 1pm).

The exhibition will run until May 16 and we would like to encourage anyone with an interest in Horwich’s great sporting tradition to come along.

Horwich has been an important place for sport for well over a century, dating back to the opening of the Loco Works in 1885 and even before that, and it will continue to be a great place for athletics in the coming years thanks to Horwich Harriers.

Horwich RMI Harriers has been a key sporting club in the town for 100 years.

The Bolton News: Howrich Harriers, cross country champions in the 1920s

The current Harriers stand on the shoulders of ‘giants’ who have sustained and represented the club through lean times and successful ones and the exhibition at Horwich Heritage will go some way to honouring that history with a vision for the future.

This has all been achieved by the enthusiasm of members, the support of key partners such as Horwich Town Council, Bolton Council, Bolton Arena, Horwich Rotary, Walsh Sports and many more.

It is increasingly recognised what sport and athletics can do for prosperity and wellbeing and the Harriers is one of the largest voluntary providers of children’s activities in Horwich as well as offering senior membership for all ages.

The club’s foundation in 1924 was in a period of economic hardship and we’re grateful to that group of employees at Horwich Locomotive Works who set it up. Athletics and sports clubs tend to rely on the efforts of a small core of people, and for the Harriers one man who epitomises this is Jack Prescott.

The Bolton News: Harriers stalwarts Jack Prescott & Harold Maugham

Jack joined the club in September 1924 and at this point he was the club’s leading athlete.

When he stopped racing, Jack became club secretary, a role he held for 33 years and his willingness to encourage youngsters to run for the club helped so many Harriers.

Even in the club’s darkest days at the end of the 1960s, Jack never wavered despite club turnouts being down to single figures. He kept the club alive along with Cyril Hodgson, Norman Troup and so many more.

Jack was still active and involved well into his 80s and respected by everybody who came under his guidance.

The late 1970s and 1980s saw a resurgence in interest in the sport generally.

For the Harriers, it was focused on fell and cross-country racing as well as the road racing craze that swept the nation at that time, not least in the Bolton area where thousands took part in races including the much-loved Bolton Marathon.

During that period, there were many successes for the club both in individual performances and in team events such as the Welsh Castles relays and the Manchester to Blackpool relays organised by Horwich.

Then, in the late 1990s, there was a once-in-a-generation opportunity that changed the direction of the club.

Bolton Wanderers had moved from Burnden Park to the Reebok Stadium at Middlebrook and, at the same time, Sport England under Sir Trevor Brooking, was keen to establish another key piece of accessible sports infrastructure with the Arena and athletics track.

The club, under the leadership of Stewart Westhead, the current president but chairman at the time, had the vision to see what could be a great facility, especially for young athletes.

The Bolton News: Trevor Williams, Sophie Walton and chairman Glynne Lever

Today we see the fruits of that vision. Although the track is now almost 25 years old and in need of renewal, it has provided the platform for the burgeoning junior section, currently with a membership of 200.

It has resulted in the opportunities for athletes such as Sophie Walton (who at under-21 has already achieved several top international medals and vests) and Ola Abidogun (world championship medallist and Paralympian).

This has been accompanied by a new generation of coaches, such as Trevor Williams coaching the juniors through to elite competition and Tony Hesketh, himself a very good athlete, and still achieving wins in his 70s.

Tony started out as a road runner and went on to feature in fell running but again, following in the ‘footsteps’ of Jack Prescott, he has continued, with his wife, Brenda, to nurture junior athletes for participation and competition.

The Harriers have had a distinguished history and are going from ‘strength to strength’ at the present time, but what does the future hold?

During the tenure of the current chairman, Glynne Lever, the club has put in place the building blocks to make sure it moves forward on a solid footing.

Covid and the associated ‘lockdowns’ proved a challenging time, but Horwich Harriers now has a 10 year plan that aims to ensure that Horwich will continue to have an athletics club to be proud of for many years to come.

The Bolton News: The future of the Club - young members in 2020s

In 2024, the club is an unusual combination of track and fell specialisms with road, cross-country and field events thrown in. This has produced some excellent results which have continued in recent years with several impressive major competition performances and international vests.

All this recognition goes to show what a vital element Horwich Harriers is in promoting the wellbeing and success of a small town on the edge of Greater Manchester and the West Pennines. Long may this continue!