Scheme launched to preserve Berwick’s sporting heritage

A project to preserve the sporting archives of Berwick and surrounding district has been launched.

It is the brainchild of Henry Gray, a top athletics and swimming coach, and Ray Weatherburn, a former Great Britain middle distance runner.

Henry Gray and Ray Weatherburn are putting together a Northumberland sports hall of fame

Henry Gray and Ray Weatherburn are putting together a Northumberland sports hall of fame

Both now live in Berwick and are keen to see the unique sporting history of the area documented for future generations.

“The thing is,” said Henry, “the longer we leave it the more likely it is that some of the history will be lost.

“We might be OK for the information on people and events over the past 30 or 40 years, but further back than that and people tend to forget, or they are no longer with us.”

Gray, who is one of the coaches of current GB middle distance runner Guy Learmonth, previously ran a similar project in Berwickshire, when he unearthed some fascinating facts.

“We were able to put some of the information into a book,” he said, “and that is something we also hope to do here. We are also looking into setting up a Hall of Fame.”

Ray, who comes from a well known Berwick family, hit the big time in the 70s along with athletes like Mike McLeod, Nat Muir, Ray Smedley and Geoff Capes, whom he once shared a room with.

“I moved back to the town about six years ago,” he said, “and I bumped into Henry and we got talking and hit on the idea. We thought it would be nice if we could do something to coincide with this year’s Berwick 900 celebrations.

“Over the years there have been a lot of individuals and teams who have gone on to achieve sporting success at national and international level, and that is what we are wanting to record. They all have a story to tell.”

Henry added: “I already have some information on a guy called Robert Burton who competed in the 800m at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. He was one of the first athletes to experiment with oxygen, how forward thinking was that?

“But there are plenty more - we are talking about people like Trevor Steven (the former England footballer), Raymond Hogg and Bobby Ayre (football), Stuart Fraser (rowing), Brian Patterson (squash) and Craig Smith and Gavin Kerr (rugby).”

Ray added: “There have also been some great sporting occasions and moments, like the Pier Field athletics and cycling championships, the original Walls Races, and of course Berwick Rangers’ famous cup win over Rangers in 1967.”

Henry and Ray would now like to hear from anyone who has a sporting story to tell, no matter how far back it goes. “We have even been looking at Jimmy Strength, who was a famous Berwick character,” said Henry, “and he was around in the 1800’s.”

The pair also hope to glean as much information as they can from the local archives, and later in the year plan to stage an open event to which members of the public will be invited.

In the meantime, if you have a sporting story which you think Henry or Ray might be interested in, simply email Henry at hgray28@hotmail.com with a brief description and pass on your contact details.

“It’s all about preserving the history before it’s lost,” said Henry.