William G. Smith. A Wizard on Wheels

by one of his sons

For a period of 10 years before and after the first World War my father, WmG. Smith was, arguably, the best amateur racing cyclist in a wide area around Rickmansworth.  He was born in 1889, the second of six children, in an unidentified house on Keepers Hill (later Station Road) to my grandfather William, a greengrocer, and his wife Amelia. By 1891 the family had moved to the shop premises in Wensum Cottages later to become Darrah's photographic studio and sweetshop.

By the time W.G. was 21 he had dabbled in amateur boxing and was playing bass trombone in the Town Band.

W.G. joined the Cestreham Cycling & Athletic Club (Chesham) in April 1912 and, in his first season, won the Kelham Shield for the 25 mile road trial. He won again in 1913 & 1914, then, after the War he won in 1919, 1921, and 1922. His fastest time was 1 hr 12 mins 8 secs, in 1913, which, bearing in mind the road conditions at that time, compared very favourably with the 1938 winner’s time of 1 hr 6 min 18 secs, and, interestingly, of another Smith, of 1hr 11 min 40 secs in 1939.  The Kelham Shield is the one on display in the photograph opposite.

 The 25 mile rides apart, he had a number of successes on the track – 5 miles (Pressmore Cup), 2 miles (5 mins 4 secs), and 1 mile (2 mins 32 secs). The Club AGM minutes of Feb. 1913 recorded that he had had a “successful run in the National Championships”. He rode at the Herne Hill velodrome on occasion and was in line for trials for the Olympics due to be held in 1916. Another extract from the AGM minutes - this time 1920 - “W. G. Smith had proved their best cyclist winning the Road Time Trial Shield and the 5 mile Cup.” He registered other successes as well.

The prize he cherished most was a gold halfhunter watch (right) which he gave to my younger brother, Thomas, when he emigrated to Australia in 1953. The road trials, usually from Rickmansworth to Aylesbury, took just over the hour. Quite an achievement in those days.

He spent a period during World War I as a flight mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps,.He was married in 1919 and continued to compete successfully until 1922.  I was born in 1920 and my brother Vic in 1921. 

In 1924 Dad became one of the first working men in Rickmansworth to build his own house – a bungalow in Maple Cross.  After a few years he decided to build a house in the Uxbridge Road, near the junction with Cedars Avenue.  Then a year or so before World War II we moved back to Maple Cross.

He worked for W. H. Walker Bros at Batchworth for 34 years until he retired in 1954, and spent his retirement cultivating his large garden and taking almost daily rides around the countryside on his fixed wheel dropped handlebar bicycle. He passed away in September 1965 at the age of 76.

 The Smith family can be traced back in Rickmansworth to the 1841 census.

 The writer was the eldest of the 13 grandchildren of Harry & Anna Ulph, who came to Rickmansworth from Norfolk via Guildford in the 1890’s. W. G. married one of their daughters, Gladys, in 1919 in St Mary’s and I was born in 1920 in what used to be the Spotted Dog B. H. in Uxbridge Road, Mill End. The Ulphs lived at 4 Landsdowne Terrace, also in the Uxbridge road. Father Ulph was a regular quoits player one hundred years ago and the club used the Half-Way House as their home ground for matches.

Soon after I was born, we moved into one of the first Council Houses in Grove Road, where my brother was born.  From there we moved to Maple Cross where I started school in Miss Ottaway’s class at West Hyde School.  When we moved to Ricky, circa 1930, I first went to Rickmansworth School (St Mary’s) then to the Watford Central School. I still remember going on the train from Church Street to Watford High St. in saloon type carriages.

When I left school in November 1935 I became a junior clerk with Lawton & Wright, Estate Agents in the High Street, Watford. On Christmas Eve, at 15 years old, I was sent out to do my first rent collection! I must have done well as I soon became the regular rent collector cycling from Maple Cross to Bedmond on a Monday morning to make my first call. This was to some houses in Toms Lane owned by the well known local entrepreneur, Jimmy Evett, who built the shopping parade on the river side of Money Hill Parade. (The site of Rev’d Dr W. F. Hurndall’s Cedars School of 1863 – 83, to be followed by the Inebriates’ Association Home until 1935, now the Colne & Gade surgeries.)

In 1944 I felt myself very fortunate to get the job of rent collector with Ricky Council, collecting at that time, from 473 houses in Mill End, Croxley Green, and Maple Cross.  I remained in the Housing Department for the next 36 years, gradually moving up the promotion ladder until Three Rivers D.C. was created when I was appointed Principal Housing Officer, second in command to the Director of Housing.  This lasted for 6 years until the Council was required to double its housing stock to 6000 on the dissolution of the Great London Council’.

Unfortunately for me only one second tier post was created in the new establishment, and I was made redundant in 1980.  However, over the years I made many friends among colleagues, Councillors, and tenants, and although my wife & I have now lived happily in Bridport for over 21 years I am still in contact with Ricky affairs through one of my cousins.

 My main extra mural activity over the years has been music. In 1942 my brother and I formed a small dance band which became quite popular around the district until 1966.  Our proudest achievement was in 1949 when we were runners-up in the small-band section of the Musical Express National Dance Band Championships.  Our original pianist eventually became, for 8 years, Frankie Vaughan’s musical director until they both retired. A trumpet playing founder member of the Band eventually became the father of Elton John ...