fb-pixel Notes from the Archives: And I would run 10 miles more? | Mill Hill Schools


Notes from the Archives: And I would run 10 miles more?

April is almost upon us now; the end of what has been a surprisingly gloomy Spring Term is nearing. We can practically taste those Easter eggs! However, before we can lapse into a sugary coma, we must first get our ‘laps’ in. That’s right, have your sweat bands at the ready, because it’s time for the 5- and 10-Miles Races!!

Pupils past and present will know the tradition well, but for the newer members of our audience I shall present to you, a story of historic tradition; but more importantly, a tale of resilience. So without further ado, let us set the scene.

“Our story begins on a muddy track, in North London, 31 March 1896. Mill Hill School’s brand new “Cross-Country Run” is about to begin. This inaugural race involves the pupils running around the school grounds, along a course nearly 10 miles long. Well, it’s actual around 9⅓ miles, if we’re being pedantic about it, but 10 miles has a nicer ring to it…. Moving on, the pupils have been told to complete this course several times to create an average time that they will be ranked by. In fact, they must run it, three whole times, each! That’d work up an appetite for anyone! (Thankfully this is version of the races has long since been abandoned)

Earlier in the term the boys were separated into three different classifications, in which they will race. The categories are based on their running capabilities and size, called First, Second and Third Divisions. The starter pistol fires and they’re off! It’s going to be a long and tiring day for all. The races will take hours to complete, so let us skip ahead a little – otherwise we will be here all day too!

Fast forwarding, we re-join the action at the final lap for the Third Division – the smallest boys, with the lowest racing ability. It’s rained over the last few days, so the ground is slippery, and there’s a chill in the air. Not the best conditions for a race, but having postponed it once already the show, as they say, must go on.

Hold on, what’s this, one of the younger lads is lagging. He’s hot, sweaty, and covered in muck. He’s watched his big brother Frederick lap him at least twice. Now he’s seriously trailing behind, a nasty fall from earlier has cost him vital time. At this point, he should just give up now; he’s already run almost 19 miles at this point!

But he doesn’t want to give in; he can’t. He wants to prove he can do this.

So, shaking himself off, he doubles his efforts, giving it everything he’s got. Though he’s running on empty and hasn’t got a chance of winning, this young lad continues the race. The air in his lungs burn and the cold, wet air stings the cuts on his legs, but he doesn’t give up.

Eventually, his efforts pay off – he’s almost there! The School, and more importantly the finish line, loom into sight! Fred’s there waiting, cheering him on; the minute he crosses that line, our poor boy collapses into a heap, in relief; but he’s done it.

However, being so preoccupied with finishing, our little lad hasn’t noticed the keen gaze of the Masters and Headmaster Sir John McClure on him. Murmuring amongst themselves, they comment on the strength and resilience the boy has displayed throughout the day; particularly as one of the youngest boys there (he’s only 12). The Masters agree that when the time comes for the prizes to be announced, there is a well-deserved, surprise addition to the list.

Let us skip ahead again, the prize-giving is now winding down and there’s only the Third Division awards left. Fred is called up to collect the second-place prize for the Thirds! His little brother feels a stab of jealousy, but he tries to push it aside and cheer for him. With the proceedings finished, the boys prepare to disband and clean themselves up. They’re clapping each other on the backs, sharing stories, when Headmaster McClure calls out for their attention. He informs the boys that there is still one more prize to give out. The lads are confused, all the prizes have been handed out; a storm of hushed whispering breaks out. The Headmaster quickly reveals the announcement that there is one last prize to award, specifically “a prize for pluckiness in running”. All ears are pricked up in anticipation. Fred and his brother are murmuring to one another, when McClure announces the lucky winner – a name rings out into the crowd:

“Harold Cleveland Bridgman!”

Why, it’s the hero of our story of course; our determined little lad; his resilience has paid off!

Fred turns to Harry in shock, before grinning and gripping his baby brother in a massive hug. After a beat the whole crowd descends into whooping and cheering, as young Harry looks on, startled. He doesn’t understand. All he did was complete the race; he certainly doesn’t consider himself all that ‘plucky’. But as he goes up and shakes the Headmaster’s hand, he allows himself to bask in the moment.

Even though Harold Bridgman didn’t win, or even place, what mattered most, and what was recognised by all, was that he tried his best and refused to be beaten.

And so, dear reader, here ends the tale of the first ever 10 Miles Race at Mill Hill School.”

Thankfully, things have changed quite a bit since 1896. By 1904, the races were referred to as the 5- and 10-Miles Races. The Senior boys ran the 10 Miles, whilst the Junior boys ran the 5 Miles, albeit still 3 times each unfortunately! Fortunately, in 1907, the school medics ruled that the race was too physically demanding on the boys; the Senior race was suspended that year as a result. By the 1970s, the races had completely transformed into the relay style course that still exist today.

Today, pupils thankfully run only one mile each, in teams of 5 or 10 – to make up the total 5 or 10 miles. Competing as Houses, they vie for the Mortimer trophy, kindly donated by alumni brothers, Mark and Gavin Mortimer, both of whom loved to take part in the 5- and 10-Miles races.

Whilst the races may have changed on the surface, the underlying values remain. Even though the pupils are no longer required to run the entire course 3 times, the story of the 5- and 10- Miles races is still one of resilience. The day of the races has become far more of an event than it ever was in Harold’s day, but it’s what brings us all together as a community and helps us to show just how strong and ‘plucky’ we Millhillians can be!


NB: The above story is a merely an interpreted dramatization of how the archivist imagines that day could have happened. Please do not view this as an accurate, historic report! There isn’t a recorded account about the exact details of the day. The archivist’s account is mainly based on information found in the April 1896 edition of the Mill Hill Magazine.