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News > Heritage > Bradfield Cheese and Steeplechase

Bradfield Cheese and Steeplechase

The tradition of Cross Country running continues
29 Nov 2023
Senior Cheese 1966 from Michael Bostelmann
Senior Cheese 1966 from Michael Bostelmann

With the Huxham Runs just a week away, we take a moment to look back at the long tradition of Cross Country running at Bradfield.

The Bradfield Cheese and the Steeplechases have been important events in the Bradfield running calendar for many years. The Open Steeplechase event is noted in the Bradfield Chronicle of June 1888 as being the first year that the race included water challenges “The course was a very severe mile-and-a-half finishing through both sluice and river, but all the competitors went through it to the bitter end.”

It made it into many newspaper articles over the years and even The Times and other newspapers as denoted in the picture in the gallery below titled “The Weary Homeward Way – Boys of Bradfield College tacking the last obstacle in their senior steeplechase. A rope was provided to help them climb the weir".

The Bradfield Chronicle of December 1942 congratulates David C Kemp (D 40-43) in winning the College Cheese in 30 1/5 minutes – which it records as ‘a very good time’.

In July 1962 the Chronicle notes that the season’s running standard in the school continued to be very high. The Senior Cheese run in the Michaelmas Term was won by Robert W Bostelmann (A 59-64) and the Junior Cheese was won by Ian G Hunter (D 60-64). Robert remembers running without his glasses as he was frightened of losing them in the Pang and always losing in sprint finishes with his rival Master Bentley, but added "he would love to know how Health and Safety would deal with this now, but in our day it was a great occasion."

Robert’s brother Michael Bostelmann (A 61-66) is also listed as winning the Senior Cheese in 1964 and Simon P Leech (A 62-66) the Junior Cheese, both from Mr Stibbe’s house in that year. Michael says "From memory, the Cheese was relatively short, about 3 miles long mainly along the Pang and diverted down to the bottom to get the water splash, which was right at the end of the course. After 57 years my memory fades!" Mike's Valete records that he won the Steeplechase in 1966, so the photograph above is of the Steeplechase in the spring term of 1966. It is thought that the Steeplechase in this form climbing the weir continued only until the 1970s. Any update on this would be most welcome from any Bradfieldians who can remember?

The term Cheese according to Blackie’s book The History of Bradfield 1850 – 1975 refers in the dictionary section of Bradfield Slang as originally coined for a hard-working pupil:

Cheese n. and v. ‘hard-working or over-enthusiastic person’, ‘to work hard’. In 1920s usually pejorative, thus ‘a corps cheese’, but apparently not earlier. Obsolete later in this sense, but the quite modern “College Cheese” for a particular cross-country race was still current [according to Blackie’s book in 1975] and continued into the 1990s.

The Junior Steeplechase even features in a poem which gives some idea of the course conditions in March 1934 and can be seen in the gallery below alongside pictures of the Steeplechase in May 1951.

Today at Bradfield, the Steeplechase is run as a fun house event in the Lent term just before Easter with every pupil taking part, if they wish to and some dressing up in fancy dress or house shirts for the occasion. They even dip into the River Pang at the end, although Health and Safety no longer allows climbing of the weir and sluice today as was done in the past! It is not known when the race through the water was stopped, but Michael remembers "On the whole it was enjoyed by participants, as is evidenced by the smiles in photos. I do not think entry was compulsory, there may have been some ‘encouragement’ but not compulsion."

Michael also added "Why was a Times reporter there? Well if it rained, some of the National football matches would be off so, in desperation, the Times would have an article about the Cheese!"

By comparison the Huxham Runs (10.4 mile and 5 mile races), a Bradfield community tradition which started in 1974 are more recent, but another very popular College running event. We look forward to seeing this year's runners on the course very soon.

If you want to see a throwback video of the Steeplechase back in 1929 there is a great video on Youtube here

More details about the Steeplechase then and now from the Bradfield College website today here

In addition, below some photographs of the CCF Obstacle Course, as it is today, for those who remember it.


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