In his diary for 9 June 1903 Sancreed farmer James Stevens wrote:
Last Friday I saw the walking contest that went from Penzance to Land's End and back going over Tregonebris Hill.Very large crowds witnessed both the start and the finish, while there were hundreds at Land's End and along the route, in addition to which the walkers were accompanied by vehicles and cyclists innumerable. Of the 60 or 70 competitors who gave in their names 41 faced the start Mr E. A. Head. The winners of the scratch were
Ford (Penzance), 3hrs 36 min.
E. Jasper (Penzance), 3hrs 36 min. 3 sec.
V. White (Madron), 3 hrs. 36 min. 30 sec.
Ford, who walked at a great rate, took the lead from the start, his time at Land's End being 1 hr 38½ min., the second man at this point being 1 hr. 44½ min., with Jasper third 1 hr 45 min. White was among the last few to round the hotel, but he rapidly gained on everyone, passing man after man. On the return journey Jasper began steadily to overhaul Ford, and a splendid struggle was witnessed between the two men, Sampson having dropped out. Up tol-tuft hill, only a short distance from home, Jasper passed Ford, but the latter regained his lead on the down hill, and managed to reach the winning post first by 3 seconds.
James Stevens evidently enjoyed his day at the races. It was a Tuesday so he seems to have awarded himself an infrequent day off. His enjoyment and lack of surprise at the physicality of the event is in marked contrast to the account given in The Cornishman's One and All Notes on 11 June. This chap was no athlete or man of the great outdoors, he refers constantly to the heat and dust, which of course farmer Stevens doesn't even notice. This fellow is on a bike and it still takes him 45 minutes to get to the three mile marker but he does convey the sense of occasion with all the locals along the route coming out to offer refreshments and crowding the roadsides.
The same edition of the Cornishman contains a letter from Mr Vicars White (placed 3rd) who indignantly takes the paper to task for suggesting in it's sister title, Evening Tidings, that he had been about to retire. No such thing he says, I could only wish the course had been longer. Well, he would wouldn't he? But his irate letter does point at another source. Stashed away in the basement of the Morrab Library is an archive of incredibly decayed Evening Tidings. Printed on cheap paper 114 years ago many of them look as if they've been rescued from a fire which smouldered around their edges but never really caught. And here, in among the dust and paper fragments is the full story of the Penzance to Land's End Walking Context 1903. There's a full list of contestants and placings with a separate table for the results of the handicap.
My friends, the Olympic Games has nothing on this! Never before in the history of the town has there been such a large and enthusiastic crowd as that which witnessed the finish of the finest bit of sport seen in West Cornwall for many a long day…..The long line of vehicles of every description accompanying the walkers was a sight never to be forgotten…..The fast finish was unexpected in many quarters, and this led to many strolling down between 6.45 and 7o'clock, and thus missing the best sight of the day, the struggle between Jasper and Ford down Alexandra Road.
You can almost hear the voice of Peter O'Sullivan as the reporter gets to grip with the final passage of the race.
...whether Jasper would catch Ford. He was certainly going the stronger, and overhauling the leader, and a wonderful struggle between the two was witnessed, Ford though tiring fast keeping going with any amount of pluck. The distance between the two grew smaller by degrees and at Trereiffe they were practically neck and neck, Ford just leading. Up Toltuft hill Jasper, who was the strongest in this work, passed Ford, but the latter regained the lead when the downhill work started again, and a desperate finish resulted. Amidst enthusiastic cheering the men came along Alverton and down Alexandra Road, within a yard or two of each other. Ford just managing to reach the winning post first by 3 seconds.
Read it for yourself, a fine piece of hyperbole, judged to a nicety and, I think, clearly read by one James Stevens of Glebe, Sancreed, before recording his impressions of the great day in his diary. James Stevens began his life in Zennor and lived there until 1897, latterly at Foage, before moving to the fast paced neighbourhood of Sancreed.
No-one could call this pedestrian!
A Cornish Farmer's Diary, James Stevens, ed. Peter Pool, Peter Pool, 1977
Cornishman 11 June 1903
Cornish Telegraph 17 June 1903
Evening Tidings 8 June 1903