Playing Past is delighted to be publishing on Open Access – Sporting Lives, [ISBN 978-1-905476-62-6] a collection of papers on the lives of men and women connected with the sporting world. This edited volume has its origins in a Sporting Lives symposium hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute for Performance Research in December 2010.


Please cite this article as:

Stone, Ian. Alec Nelson: Professional Runner, Athletics Coach and ‘Entrepreneur-Client’,  In Day, D. (ed), Sporting Lives (Manchester: MMU Sport and Leisure History, 2010), 88-111.





Alec Nelson: Professional Runner, Athletics Coach and ‘Entrepreneur-Client’[1]

Ian Stone




This chapter considers the sporting life of Alec Nelson (1871-1944), first, as an athlete, and then as a professional coach.   It sets his career in its wider social and sporting context, arguing that he was a significant contributor to British athletics in the decades up to World War II.  A crucial part in the story is played by a prominent social and political figure, whose ambition to bring about change in British athletics brought him into an ongoing alliance with Alec Nelson, the gifted coach of his era.  Surviving records and correspondence suggests that a patron-client relationship existed between the two men.  Such a model is useful in seeking to understand Nelson’s life and career – allowing for the fact that the relationship was conditioned by the patron’s distinctive outlook on life and by his client’s entrepreneurialism.

The study arises out of my interest in family history. Alec Nelson was my great-great uncle.  Received information from family about his life was confined to some simple facts: he worked as a coach at Cambridge University and, as a conscientious objector, serving in the ambulance service during the Great War.  My image of him was based on a photograph (c1915), inscribed ‘Alec Nelson’ on the reverse.  It shows a man, clearly well-to-do, taking a salute from uniformed Red Cross ambulance men.  Everything in the photograph reinforced the impression of ‘Uncle Alec’ conveyed by my (aspirant middle-class) grandmother and her sister. A few clicks on Google, however, revealed that Nelson was not the principal subject of the photograph; rather, he was one of the men giving the salute.[2]  Moreover, those clicks also suggested that there was more to Alec Nelson than I had imagined, and that his was indeed a sporting life worthy of further investigation.

Family background

Nelson’s father, it is virtually certain, was Robert Nelson (1820-85), an agricultural labourer from Fife, Scotland, who, with his wife, Margaret, relocated to Hayes in the mid-1850s. He and other male family members worked as farm and garden labourers; females found positions as domestic servants[3].  Alec’s mother was Elizabeth Reeves (b. 1837), whose family moved from Wiltshire to Orpington, Kent in the mid-1800s; her father was an ‘own account’ carpenter. Alec, along with twin sister Beatrice and older brother William, were all products of a relationship between Robert and Elizabeth.  Born in 1871, he was registered ‘Leopold Reeves’, with no father’s name appearing on the birth certificate.  He later took the name ‘Alec Nelson’ – Alexander being a common name on his father’s side.  Although Robert and Elizabeth never married, Alec’s mother consistently recorded her name as ‘Nelson’ in censuses, and her status as ‘widow’, even prior to Robert’s death.  Census records show that she and her children lived first in the crowded household of brother Stephen Reeves, and subsequently with one or other of her own children, contributing to the family budget by working as a dressmaker and confectioner.

In the early 1890s, Nelson was living with his sister Beatrice and her husband Jack Levy; working with him in the local paper mill.  On 20 January 1897, he married Catherine Smith, of Sawston, Cambridgeshire, in a ceremony at St George the Martyr Anglican Church, Southwark. His profession, according to the marriage certificate was ‘clerk’.  The couple had four children, of whom three survived early childhood: Stanley (b. 1902), Winifred (1893) and Millicent (1900).

Athletics career

Little is known about Nelson’s childhood, but, athletically, he appears to have been naturally gifted.  Indeed, his fleetness of foot as a boy led to his losing a delivery job for an Orpington butcher: As he later recalled, his boss considered he had been impossibly quick in delivering some kidneys and dismissed him on the spot. He became a member of Cambridge Harriers, moving in 1895 to Goldsmith’s Athletic Club, for which he competed in handicap races from 100 yards to 2 miles; in 1899, he switched to Brighton & County Harriers. Presumably, the successive moves were precipitated by job changes.

Lacking in height, but powerfully built and possessing an electrifying burst of speed, Nelson was a proficient performer on the amateur national circuit.  In the 1986 amateur championships at Northampton[4], and again in 1901 at Huddersfield, he came 3rd in the half-mile. At Reading on 26 August 1898, in ‘a race of exceptionally interesting character’ he broke (or possibly set) the ¾ mile (1320 yards) British amateur record, beating his great rival Joe Binks in a time of 3m 11 and 4/5 secs.[5] Shortly afterwards, on 17 September 1898 in the 1,000 yards Invitation Scratch race at the Kennington Oval, he broke the grass record for the event: ‘some good running was shown by A. Nelson of the Goldsmiths’ Institute, winning by ten yards in front of J. Binks in 2 min 15 secs.[6]  Against the same opponent and at the same venue on 9 September 1899, he achieved a victory by six yards in the half-mile in a fast time of 1 min 58 and 2/5 secs.[7]

Betting odds and lack of place affiliation in newspaper reports suggest that he was competing as a professional pedestrian in the early 1900s.  While for A.R. Downer and Alfred Shrubb, who both received AAA bans for taking money, there are clear dates for their transition to the professional ranks, it is hard to be definite with regard to Alec Nelson.  Place affiliation for professionals changed according to whim – and possibly to confuse the bookies.  Thus, in 1905 A. Nelson (Dundee) contested the 300 yards £100 event at the New Year Powderhall handicaps, in front of a 16,000 crowd – ‘the biggest ever seen at a pedestrian meeting in Edinburgh’. [8]  Nelson won the qualifying heat in ‘a good race’ in 31 and 4/5 secs, equal fastest of the eight heats, but Lockhart (Glasgow, at bookies’ odds of 2 to 1) won ‘with a bit to spare’ from Waddell (Linlithgow) and Nelson (3-1 against) in a time of 31 and 4/5 secs.

Figure 1
Nelson (left) vs Joe Binks, scratch ¾ mile limit race, Reading 26 August 1899
Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Archives

Later the same year, on 17 June 1905, in ‘one of the most interesting contests held in Britain for some time’, Nelson (Blackpool) took on George Tincler (Inverness) in a half-mile race at Rochdale.  The 37 year-old Tincler apparently came out of retirement to contest for a stake of £50 against Nelson.[9]  In drizzly conditions, 500 spectators watched Tincler lead from the start, and seem the likely winner until, reaching the home straight, Nelson passed him ‘in electrifying fashion’ to win by two yards in 2 min 1 and 2/5 secs.   Whether this was the 1905 race that decided the professional half-mile championship, referred to on the frontispiece of Nelson’s book and elsewhere, is unclear.  Certainly, the American H. Stomberg, ‘the crack runner’, let it be known that ‘he would like to meet Alec Nelson in a half-mile professional race’[10] – at the time when Nelson was described as ‘the latest star in the athletic world.’[11] In truth, worthy pedestrian opponents were scarce and contests few and far between.  To challenge Alfred Shrubb in 1906,[12] Nelson had to agree to race over 3 miles, even though – according to ‘Expert’ in Sporting Life – he no longer had ‘pretensions to be regarded as a distance champion, a mile being almost his limit as a class man.’  With Tincler and Sid Thomas both well past their prime, Alec Nelson (‘of London’) took on opponents such as Liverpool footballer Jack Cox, over 300 yards.[13]

What prompted Nelson to turn professional, when to accept money for racing likely resulted in a ban?  The decision may have been induced by the fact that he was in his thirties, and his best days as an amateur were behind him.  Another possibility is the need to earn some money.  His younger daughter Millicent suffered from Congential Talipes (club foot). Somehow, Nelson had managed to secure funds for her to have specialist surgery, and a 23-day stay, in Great St Ormond’s Children’s Hospital. The operation, performed in 1907 by (later Sir) H.A.T. Fairburn, a leading authority in the field, was said to have ‘greatly relieved’ the condition.[14]

Professional coach (1908-14)

After hanging up his spikes, Nelson was appointed coach for Cambridge University Athletics Club (CUAC) in 1908.  It is unclear how this came about, or, indeed, on what basis in terms of requisite skills etc. – although he did have a geographical connection, through his Cambridge-born wife.  All we know, from a BBC wireless broadcast he made, after the Varsity Sports at White City on 20 July 1935, is that he ‘met a prominent official of the CUAC at the London Athletic Club in 1907’ and that this led eventually to his being ‘invited to take up the position’.  In practice, the appointment was for a limited number of weeks annually – mainly the term leading up to ‘the Sports’ (Cambridge vs Oxford, held just prior to Easter at Queen’s Club, London).  Outside the weeks taken with this engagement, he appears to have also secured a position organising sports activities for the 2,000 employees of JS White & Co., a warship-building firm on the Isle of Wight.  His coaching talents must have been relatively quickly revealed, since he was appointed professional track and field coach for the British team at the 1912 Olympics held in Stockholm.

Figure 2
Cambridge University Athletic Club 1913, showing Nelson (at back) and R.S. Woods (back row, 2nd from left)
Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Archives

In March 1913, when plans were being made for the Oxbridge vs Yale-Harvard track and field meet in America, it was noted in the US press that Alec Nelson, was expected to accompany the combined team.[15]  This not only suggests an extension to his coaching work at Cambridge, but is also consistent with a 1932 report that his approach to training had benefited from studying the methods practised in different countries he had visited, including America, France and Germany.[16]

The outbreak of war, however, soon interrupted his coaching career.  Athletics at Cambridge was suspended as his present and former undergraduate athletes went off to serve in the trenches.

Friends’ ambulance service (1914-18)

Figure 3
Postcard photograph of Nelson in FAU uniform, 1915

In World War I, Alec served in France and Italy with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU), organised by the Quakers.[17] He appears to have undergone the necessary training, alongside Quaker volunteers, at the Buckinghamshire village of Jordans.[18]  The FAU was initially an unofficial body, under the direction of the British military authorities,[19] established in response to deficient arrangements for dealing with the many casualties in the battle zone.  Nelson arrived in Dunkirk in October 1914 as one of the initial 43 (out of an eventual 120) FAU personnel at the Malo-les-Bains HQ.  Their work at the Front was ‘almost exclusively [dressing and] transportation of wounded’ Eighth Army soldiers from stations around Ypres to hospital ships and the hôpital d’evacuation.[20] The focus of fighting subsequently moved away from Ypres,[21] precipitating the Unit’s shift to the Italian front.

A censored postcard to his twin-sister, Beatrice, shows that, on 17 March 1915, Nelson was in Dunkirk, where the FAU first operated.  From around August 1915 he served at the front against Austria-Hungary in north-eastern Italy, and appears to have remained there until 1918.  From his base in Udine came a cheery postcard to his mother, dated 5 September 1915:  ‘Just going up near firing line.  Going on splendid.  Happy to help the Italians all we know, they are giving us a Royal Welcome and all so good to us.  Love to you and all.  Affectionate Son.  Alec.’

But how did he come to be there? Although not a Quaker himself, Alec was known to be a conscientious objector. Nelson’s family – the Reeves side, at least – was fiercely patriotic, so enrolling for ambulance duty meant he could serve the country in an honourable, yet non-combatant, capacity.  Indeed, initially, it seemed that FAU service might have been chosen in the face of conscription, since Nelson was not in a reserved occupation, and would have had no employment as a coach in wartime.  In fact, his involvement appears to have been purely voluntary, since it was not until April 1916 that conscription for married men was introduced, and when he joined the FAU he was already above the maximum age (40) that was to be set for conscription.

Nelson is referred to in a December 1914 report on FAU’s Dunkirk operations: ‘the establishment of the Unit is now complete and that from the commanding officer, Baker, down, each man has his daily duties.  They have their own cook and the “butler” is a well-known English athletic trainer and celebrated starter, and what a character he is, too!’[22]  Nelson’s medal record, under the British Expeditionary Force,[23] records his ‘rank’ as ‘chauffeur’.  There is strong suggestion from these sources that Alec Nelson was Baker’s orderly or batman. The discovery of this connection to Philip Noel-Baker proved to be the key to unlocking our understanding of Nelson’s career and contribution as an athletics coach – at least from around 1910.

Philip Noel-Baker (1889-1982)[24]

Figure 4
Philip Baker, ID photo, Friends’ Ambulance Unit, 1914-18
By kind permission of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain

Philip Baker was from a Quaker industrial family producing baking equipment in Brent (Joseph Baker & Sons Ltd).[25] The business was strongly ethical in the mould of Quaker concerns, showing rare respect for its workers. Baker[26] was educated at Quaker institutions (Bootham School, York, and Haverford College, Penn. US).  At Cambridge, he was president of both Cambridge Union (1912) and CUAC (1910-12), and a 1500m finalist at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.  The Baker family organised the Friends’ ambulance service at Ypres in 1914, and Philip was active on the ground.  In 1915 he moved on, as Adjutant to the FAU, to lead operations in Italy, where was awarded the Mons star and silver medal for valour (1917) and croce di guerra (1918).

Following the war, he resumed his athletic career, gaining silver at the Antwerp Olympics in 1920, while also becoming increasingly engaged in the administration and development of the sport.  He was the leading figure in the formation of the Achilles Club in 1919, which arranged matches and tours for Oxford and Cambridge athletes, undertook athletics development in public schools, etc.  Noel-Baker was also largely responsible for instituting the Oxford-Cambridge Relay races in 1920.  He was appointed Professor of International Relations at London University (1924-29), where, inevitably, he also pursued projects to develop athletics facilities and support for London students.  At a national level, in the early 1920s, he was captain of the British Olympic team, a member of the British Olympic Council and British delegate to Olympic Conference.  His service to sport continued throughout his life: he was British Olympic team Commandant in 1952, and President of UNESCO’s International Council of Sport & Physical Recreation in the 1960s.

Alongside his academic and sporting activities, Noel-Baker somehow found the time – to the evident frustration of his wife – to develop a full career in international affairs and politics. His wartime experiences made him committed to the cause of international cooperation and disarmament. He was a member of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, and was involved during 1921-24 in the League of Nations, including as secretary to the British delegation.  From the late 1920s he was a labour politician, first as MP for Coventry (1929-31) and then Derby (Derby South) (1936-70).  After the war he became Secretary of State for the Commonwealth, before being moved to the Ministry of Fuel & Power. He published a number of books on international affairs, notably The Arms Race: A Programme for World Disarmament, 1958, which contributed to his winning the Nobel Peace prize in 1959.  Noel-Baker’s papers are voluminous, covering as they do his many activities within and outside the world of sport.  Virginia Woolf reflected this in her diary: ‘Phil Baker should try to do half what he does, and should drink wine’.[27]

Professional coach (1919-39)

On his return from Italy, Nelson went back to Cowes, resuming his post at J&S White & Co.  His mentor, Noel-Baker, meanwhile, worked assiduously to set up conditions for his return to his old position as CUAC coach.  This involved constructing a package of activities – ‘engagements’ – that would provide an adequate income. Noel-Baker arranged with CUAC officials for him to be offered a fee of £5 per week for a short-term appointment and also tried to set up similar work at the new Achilles Club for the seasonal lull over the summer.[28]   Notice terms of just a single week did not deter Nelson, since post-war lay-offs in shipbuilding rendered insecure his contract at Whites. ‘Whatever you say, Mr Philip, I’m doing’ he wrote trustingly to his patron in December 1919.[29]

Figure 5
CUAC team, 1924, showing coach Alec Nelson, son Stanley (front 2nd from left) and DGA Lowe (second row, 3rd from left)
Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Archives

He returned to Cambridge in January 1920.  His coaching contract then, and perennially, was confined to the Michaelmas and Lent terms (ending respectively with ‘the Sports’ in March and Relay Races in December).  This was fewer than 18 weeks in the year, even allowing for additional work with the Hare & Hounds Club, which organised cross-country events against Oxford.

At the Achilles Club, as well as coaching members, his duties included giving advice on, and supervising, the conversion of the old ‘3 lap’ track at Queen’s Club to one of 4 laps.[30] He coached for Achilles until 1928, when the club’s loss of the Queen’s ground made this untenable.  In 1920, he was once again invited to be the British Olympic track coach for the Antwerp Games.  This appointment, it turns out, was principally Baker’s doing – through his position both as team captain and member of the British Olympic Council.  The BOC readily endorsed the appointment after Noel-Baker proposed that the Achilles Club would cover the costs.

His growing reputation in the immediate post-war period, led to his engagement also as coach by the Army Council.  The army’s interest was sparked by the realisation that many competitors at the Bisley Rifle Championships ‘were entirely ignorant of the basic principles of running’.  In attack shooting, soldiers were becoming out of breath and unable to fire straight. As his training regimes produced improved performances,[31] army engagements became a regular part of Nelson’s summer calendar for the next 10-15 years, with typically two weeks stints at Lydd in Kent, Catterick, Colchester and the Tank Corps camp in Bovington, Dorset.

Noel-Baker’s professorship at London led to him developing schemes that gave rise to new opportunities for his loyal servant.  From 1928 Alec Nelson thus worked as a coach on behalf of the University of London Athletic Union, as well as advising on, and supervising, development of the track facilities and buildings.

The other major known coaching engagement took him to Ireland, and an appointment as national coach.  The 14-week contract was followed, in 1932, by an engagement for 20 weeks. He visited athletics centres, including schools and colleges, gave lectures and demonstrations, and also helped leading athletes prepare for the Los Angeles Olympics – notably Bob Tisdall (formerly of CUAC) who won the gold medal in the 400m hurdles.

Advocates of change in British athletics

The 1920s saw frequent expressions of concern over how British athletics was managed, and the implications for its international competitiveness, especially relative to the USA.  Nelson’s emergence as a leading professional coach was bound up with the challenge mounted, by men such as Philip Noel-Baker, to what David Day terms ‘the grip of amateur officials upon athletics’ and cult of ‘effortless superiority’. Noel-Baker and his associates argued the need to improve international performance via competent scientific athletics instructors.[32]

Lt-Colonel A.N.S. Strode Jackson, 1500 metres gold medallist at Stockholm,[33] gave voice to this view in The Times in 1919, arguing that, for future success, the lessons of the ‘Swedish model’ needed to be learned – specifically, central coordination of effort, a national stadium and the availability of a considerable fund for building athletic strength.[34]  Such a fund would allow the appointment of ‘supervising trainers’ such as Alec Nelson for athletics who could then devote ‘their whole time to this work’ in order to produce a systematic approach to producing talent to compete in the Olympic competitions.[35]

Noel-Baker worked to bring about change at an operational level. He sought to develop the athletics infrastructure (physical and organisational), improve the quality of coaching, increase opportunities for (largely Oxbridge) graduate athletes to engage in international competition; and widen participation in the sport – especially at university level (notably London), but also within public schools.

Consistent with, and parallel to, Noel-Baker’s efforts relating to the civilian world, it seems likely that his friend, Arnold Strode Jackson, was behind the Army Athletic Association’s move to overhaul its athletics structure and adopt professional coaching methods. Nelson’s job, as the new Army Head Athletic Coach, was to develop, through courses, a corps of qualified training personnel, and to supervise their activities at unit level.  This, combined with new training facilities at Aldershot, was seen as the way to increased British military representation at 1924 Olympics.[36]

Nelson as a coach

Reasoned assessment indicates that Alec Nelson was an outstanding coach of his time.  This is indicated by the relative performance of his athletes and teams.  The dominance that CUAC established in competitions against its Varsity rival, Oxford, was apparent from the start: 1908-14 was ‘predominantly a Cambridge era.’[37]  Throughout his almost 25 years as CUAC coach, he won three out of every four of the contests against Oxford, and 14 out of 18 between 1921-37.[38] Starting from a balance of wins in 1908 slightly favouring Oxford, by 1937 Cambridge led 36-27.  This superior performance was recorded in the face of Oxford’s advantage from having Rhodes Scholarships, which enabled it to recruit the best athletes from overseas, while Cambridge relied upon developing the talents of young men from public schools.[39]

Cambridge’s 8-3 victory over Oxford in 1931, in front of 9,000 spectators at Stamford Bridge, was its sixth in succession. Harold Abrahams, in The Times, observed that ‘Cambridge not only won eight events, they also had seven second and seven third places’.[40]  Victories over Oxford became so routine – and emphatic[41] – that Noel-Baker, after narrow defeat in 1933 to an Oxford team strongly bolstered by overseas talent, consoled Nelson by saying ‘You can’t win every year, Alec!’[42]

Nelson coached many prominent athletes – Noel-Baker, Harold Abrahams, Douglas Lowe, Henry Stallard, Lord Burghley, Guy Butler, and Robert Tisdall – leading R.S. Woods to argue that: ‘During the reign of Alec Nelson… the CUAC almost certainly gained more Olympic medals than any other club in the world, besides contributing a high proportion of the members of successful British Olympics, British Empire and English International teams’.[43]

Another indication of Nelson’s standing is found in the reaction to Austrian Franz Stampfl’s appointment as southern region AAA coach in 1938.  Stampfl, an international athlete, was considered fully able to lecture and demonstrate – practically and theoretically – track and field events.  Senior figures of the National Fitness Council, main funders of the appointment, voiced concern that the position should go to someone from overseas.  Neil Carter notes that AAA secretary E.J. Holt ‘doubted if any Englishman was up to the same standard as Stampfl… the only possible candidate was the Cambridge University coach Alec Nelson, who was then seventy’.[44]

An article in The Observer put Cambridge’s dominance over Oxford, Rhodes scholars and all, down to the teaching ‘British Public School boys’ received at Fenners from ‘that doyen of English athletic coaches, Alec Nelson’.  It deduced that there was no shortage of English talent; the important thing was to move beyond the limit of a individual’s natural capacity for improvement through proper coaching: ‘the well-taught athlete is continually learning something new and does not mind the time or exertion involved in building up his physique to stand the strain of intensive training and competition.’[45]  Nelson’s value as a coach derived principally from his ability to identify and then develop an individual’s motivation and talent through all stages to his competitive performance.  This approach is apparent from his book, Practical Athletics,[46] and from his letters to Noel-Baker reporting on promising freshmen, their progress, and preparation of the team and individuals for events.[47]  In common with most published work on training prior to the era of scientific testing, the ideas in Nelson’s book are based on his intuition and personal observations. Their credibility depended upon the competitive performance of his athletes.[48]

Nelson devoted great attention to detail, leaving nothing to chance.  A development programme was devised specifically for each individual athlete, with staged preparation to reach peak condition on race day.  Thus, in late January 1935, he was ‘giving them long, slow steady work and holding them back for speed, as the Sports are much later this time’.[49]  He carefully observed each athlete, and experimented, before selecting their best event; then worked on developing their strengths and eradicating weaknesses, both the physical and psychological aspects – including strategies for dealing with those with a tendency to ‘get the wind up’, and for achieving the electric finish for which he was renowned as an athlete.[50] There is evidence of strong motivational skills, both individually and collectively: his teams were noted for their esprit de corp.[51]  He looked to achieve balance within the team, exploit opportunities for teamwork, and adopt effective race tactics – all informed by intelligence carefully gathered on the opposing team – their form, tactics etc. – and invariably set down in matrix form.  Coaching also required management skills, and Nelson developed effective methods for organising the coaching of a diverse range of events, while also ensuring he could attend to more strategic considerations.  He instituted systematic delegation of tasks within CUAC. He was especially interested in the running events, and, particularly as the range of events widened, ‘it became the tradition for outstanding Blues to hold regular classes in their own events, giving him more time to keep an eye on the Club as a whole and, especially, fire the imagination and ambition of the freshmen’.[52]

While he coached many athletes whose outlook was mature and motivation unquestionable, often he worked with individuals who were somewhat less focused. Patience, courtesy and tact were plainly at a premium in dealing with privileged undergraduate athletes.[53] A remarkable letter detailed the challenges he faced in preparing his ‘overconfident’ team for the 1935 Sports.[54] He describes how the CUAC Committee chose to prepare in Brighton (against his own preference for the more mundane Hunstanton); how student athletes with their own cars chose to train at different places (apart from those who did not train at all – either because of a ‘stomach upset’ or through having forgotten training pumps – though both had ‘dates’ in the evening and returned late, ‘with me on the doorstep’); and how the shot-putter had packed a shot of incorrect weight, etc.  On top of that, his 1st string long jumper only informed him at the last minute that he was not fit to jump (after pulling a muscle through not preparing properly); and arrangements still had to be made for the team’s heavy luggage to be transported from rail station to the hotel (to conserve the athletes’ energy and avoid strains).[55]

Figure 6
Letter from Nelson to Noel-Baker, 4 March 1935; detailed assessment of CUAC team’s progress
Courtesy of Noel-Baker papers, Churchill College Archives, Cambridge

Though from a pronouncedly different background to that of his student athletes, Alec Nelson successfully bridged the class divide and was very popular with the undergraduates (whom he fondly called ‘my Blues’), often keeping in touch with them (and their training) in off-season.[56] His famous sense of humour helped him form a bond with the young men.  Denys Williamson recalled the high jump advice Nelson had given him in 1939: ‘Mr Williamson, throw your leg over the bar… and follow it as soon as possible’.[57]

Patron-client relationship

It was suggested above that the patron-client model helps explain the relationship between the two men and, indeed, Nelson’s career as a professional coach.[58] Much about that relationship is revealed in correspondence between them. Theirs was a close and enduring relationship, with a high degree of mutual trust and responsibility toward the other.[59]  Over a period of 30 years, Noel-Baker acted as mentor, adviser and ‘fixer’ for Nelson, who reciprocated with great loyalty and respect. The nature of the relationship partly derived from Noel-Baker’s innate decency and distinct family background that gave him an ability to relate to people of a different class; but it was undoubtedly strengthened by benefits each gained from their association.  Noel-Baker – the person, according to R.S. Woods, who ‘discovered him’ – recognised that Nelson’s skills, energy and inventiveness made him a most valuable asset, and it was this realisation that was central to a most fruitful sporting partnership[60].

Nelson’s letters contain a mix of the loyal retainer’s care for a patron’s welfare and the concern that would be shown by a true friend.  He often expressed his hopes that Noel-Baker’s talents on the international stage would be better recognised. He was well aware of his patron’s tendency to take on too much:  ‘I am deeply sorry to hear that you have been ill’, he wrote in early 1935. ‘I am afraid you work too hard and get terribly run down.  Go steady now and thoroughly build yourself up.’[61] On another occasion, he expressed his caring sentiments more bluntly: ‘I am informed that Mrs Baker is looking remarkably well, which is a great pleasure.  On the other hand, I learn that you are looking very seedy.  May I suggest one good cure, 24 hours fasting together with 24 hours in bed.’[62] Nelson also regularly undertook various tasks on behalf of Baker – keeping him informed about athletics at Cambridge, procuring tickets for varsity events and ordering items of running equipment for ‘Master Francis’ Baker.

Noel-Baker’s support for his client was genuine, consistent and wide-ranging in nature. In putting together an income package to enable Alec Nelson to return as CUAC coach in 1919, he paid Winnie, Nelson’s daughter, for typing his letters (even helping her to acquire a typewriter).  Mrs Nelson, who fabricated silk shorts for the CUAC team, also received similar commissions from Baker himself. Noel-Baker sent a regular Christmas cheque to Nelson, used his contacts to arrange for him to do a BBC wireless broadcast in 1933 – for which Alec received a fee – and acted similarly with respect to a series of newspaper articles in the News Chronicle. He also initiated, and was heavily involved in, Nelson’s Benefit Appeal.[63]

Through Noel-Baker, his patron’s network, and contacts with the sporting offspring of elite families, Nelson indeed had friends in high places.  One, Strode Jackson, probably played a role in his being offered the army coaching position.  Another came to his aid in 1937, when he appeared at Cambridge Court on a drink driving charge.[64]  The police surgeon testified that Nelson’s breath suggested he had been drinking, and that he was argumentative, garrulous and ‘at one time had wanted to fight me while being examined’. The defence contended his condition and behaviour were explained by his having tripped and fallen when getting out of his car.  Vital supporting evidence came from witness, Dr R. Salisbury Woods, a respected local GP who had subsequently examined the accused. He noticed no smell of alcohol, and ‘found it extraordinarily difficult to determine whether Nelson’s dazed condition was due to slight concussion through his fall, or by reason of having had too much to drink’.  The case was dismissed.  Reports of the proceedings do not mention the fact that the witness was the same ‘Dr R.S. Woods’ who was Hon Treasurer of CUAC and indeed recent organiser of the Nelson Appeal.[65]

The term ‘entrepreneur-client’ was used above to indicate that Alec Nelson did not passively await engagements facilitated by his patron. He was active in using his network to help boost his income. ‘Mr Philip’ was very much at the heart of that network: ‘You have been such a tower of help to me always and you have always been a great Organiser that perhaps you would tell me how to bring my experience to fruition’.[66]  The News Chronicle articles of athletics were, in fact, Alec Nelson’s own idea. Others business ideas included: a Correspondence School of Athletics; authorship – not only Practical Athletics, but a further book, in the early 1930s, of his experiences and those of the various athletes with whom he had worked;[67] supporting Oxford & Cambridge Achilles athletes on their visits to public schools (‘providing ocular demonstrations, answering questions, etc’); and lecture programmes for the armed forces and public schools on athletic technique, psychology and coaching.

He also had ideas for the development of athletics in all schools, not just public schools.[68]   He was confident enough to use contacts his coaching role gave him within the Establishment.[69]  On hearing about a Prince of Wales Fund for an A1 Nation, he sketched some ideas for certificated coaching courses specifically targeted upon schools, which he asked one of his CUAC athletes to give to his father, a member of one of the relevant committees.  His letter was subsequently forwarded, via Herbert Morrison, to Lord Astor[70] ‘There are hundreds of school masters’, he later explained to Noel-Baker, ‘who sadly want such teaching.  I find the same in the Services Clubs and other places where boys have recreative games’.[71]

In a similar vein, he set out ideas for developing a system of ‘measurable athletics standards’ to guide improvement within schools – an attempt at ‘benchmarking’ that has a decidedly modern ring.  His ideas for extending athletic and fitness development activities beyond the realm of the public schools – albeit still confined to boys and young men – represented an ambition to involve a broader cross-section of the community.  While the scope of this particular initiative was perhaps somewhat beyond Noel-Baker’s agendas, for the most part, Alec Nelson’s entrepreneurial instincts ensured that his schemes would find favour with his patron.

Never enough ‘engagements’

In spite of his resourcefulness, and generous help from his mentor, and others, Alec Nelson was always short of the number of engagements that would yield an income sufficient for a comfortable lifestyle.  In 1920s Cambridge, his CUAC fee was £5 per week, plus end of term tips from individual athletes (later converted to a pool).  He supplemented his Cambridge earnings by fees from other coaching, plus payments for helping individual Achilles members, fees for lectures, newspaper articles, book royalties, etc.  For all his successes as a self-employed portfolio worker, the problem of intermittent work, and thus uncertainty of income, was ever-present. He described his predicament to Noel-Baker in the mid-1930s: ‘I cannot claim out of work dole, although engagements are scarce from March to October each year; I’ve no employment card, nor any health insurance, and no old age pension’;[72] ‘I’m forced to seek diligently for jobs each summer and travel all over England, devoid of many comforts.’[73]

Recognising this, and in light of his loyal service over the years, his supportive network rallied present and former athletes in a benefit appeal, launched in 1934.  Indeed, the notice that appeared in the Times, and was posted out to current and former members of CUAC and Achilles, was signed by the big names in athletics.[74]  While it was Noel-Baker’s idea, the Appeal was organised by Dr Rex Salisbury Woods, CUAC Hon. Treasurer, who, with ‘Mrs Rex’, addressed 2000-odd envelopes.  Total donations, including receipts from the 1934 Relay races, raised £462 16s 1d – worth roughly £75,000 today.[75]

The purpose was to provide Alec Nelson with a house. The family had always lived in rented property: in Cambridge, the basement of 4 All Saints Passage, next to the Hawks Club and Mrs McKenzie’s Goldfish Café.  Much was made in the Appeal of Mrs Nelson’s failing health and her need to live in a more comfortable home without stairs.[76]  Providing the Nelsons with a home of their own was not straightforward, since the sum raised fell some way short of prevailing house prices.  ‘I’ve £400 to make up over house and land’ wrote Nelson, ‘So Mr Philip, anything you can do to helping in A Fit Nation, or any engagement, I shall appreciate ever so much.’[77]

He eventually had constructed a simple bungalow in Barton village, three miles from Cambridge.[78] The proud owner of the ‘really dinky house’ delighted in inviting people to visit, but its cost, and distance from Fenners, worried him.  ‘I should be able to carry on at CUAC’, he wrote to his mentor, but if ‘illness or anything happen, I dread to think of the larder.  Perhaps CUAC would still help for any unlooked for eventuality.’  In 1940, with ‘every Commodity going up, up, up’, he contemplated renting out the house, going back to All Saints Passage, to derive income from the net difference in rents.[79]


Alec Nelson was an outstanding coach of his time.  He learned his trade by drawing from his own experience as an athlete, combined with years of observation, experimentation, and identification of ‘what worked’. His personal attributes – creativity, enthusiasm, humour, patience, etc. – were vital to his success, as was his instinct for engaging young people whose life experience and social background invariably differed from his own.  His talents vitally underpinned the inter-war mission of a small elite group to develop Britain’s capacity in athletics via professionalising coaching, widening the base of participation in the sport, developing its infrastructure and increasing competitive opportunities.  With the help of a circle of friends and associates, a unique individual, Philip Noel-Baker, ensured Nelson gained full public recognition for his contribution.  However, this support could not overcome the perennial problem of restricted opportunities for professional coaches in an inter-war Britain where amateur values and organisational forms still prevailed.  The talents of this gifted, hard-working and innovative individual were thus consistently both under-exploited and under-rewarded.



[1] I am grateful to Dr David Day for certain factual material on Alec Nelson, and advice regarding its interpretation, and to Margaret Roberts, for her invaluable family history support, including resolving census cul-de-sacs.  Librarians and archivists at Churchill College Archives, Cambridge University, Cambridge County Archives, The Cambridge Collection, and the Religious Society of Friends in Britain have been especially helpful in tracking manuscripts and illustrations.

[2] Indeed, in addition to photographic evidence regarding the identity of people in the family photograph, a Pathé News clip was quickly revealed, featuring the December 1934 Varsity Relay Races at Fenners.  Proceeds from the meeting went to Nelson’s benefit appeal, and the clip features part of an interview with him. The Pathé film archives contain many clips of inter-war Varsity sporting events, including some of Cambridge-Oxford versus Harvard-Yale, and afford an opportunity to observe the setting for the events, including the old Queens club ground, as well as the style and techniques of the athletes themselves, frequently shown in slow motion.

[3] On his marriage certificate, Nelson entered his (deceased) father’s occupation as ‘farm bailiff’, but there is no evidence to confirm that he actually achieved this occupational level.

[4] Yorkshire Herald, and The York Herald, July 1, 1896, 6; Observer, July 5, 1896, 3; Reynolds’s Newspaper, July 5, 1896; Morning Post, July 6, 1896, 3.

[5] Pall Mall Gazette, August  23, 1900

[6] Observer, September 8, 1898, 3; The Times, September 19, 1898, 10.

[7] Morning Post, September 11, 1899, 2; The Times, September 11, 1899, 9.

[8] ‘The Powderhall New Year Handicaps’, Pedestrianism, The Scotsman, January 4, 1905, 3.

[9]  Star, August 11, 1905, 1.

[10] Challenges, The Police Gazette, New York City 1905, 3.

[11]  Star, August 11, 1905, 1.

[12] Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, February 17, 1906, 102.

[13] Kalgoorlie Western Argus, January 22, 1907, 39.

[14] S.T. Buxton, ‘Sir Thomas Fairbank, An Appreciation’, Journal of Bone Surgery, 38B:1 (1956)

[15] New York Times, March 25, 1913.

[16] ‘Alex Nelson Coming to Cavan’, cutting, unidentified Irish newspaper, Churchil College Archives, Cambridge University, Philip Noel-Baker papers, NBKR 6/14 (hereafter cited as NBKR papers, file no.).  Philip Noel-Baker is hereafter referred to in these notes as PNB, and Alec Nelson as AN.

[17] A. Tegla Davies, Friends Ambulance Unit, The Story Of The F.A.U.  in The Second World War 1939-1946, Council of the Friends Ambulance Unit (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1947)

[18] Nelson later claimed to have taken a medical course that helped his coaching work; it is likely that this was a reference to his training at Jordans.  A postcard of the Friends meeting house, in the Stone family archives, suggests he participated in this training.

[19] M. Tatham and J.E. Miles, eds, The Friends Ambulance Unit, 1914-19: A Record (London: Adam Matthew Publications, 1920)

[20] ‘Report of FAU of the British Red Cross Society, from October  31 1914 to January 27 1915’, NBKR Papers, 11/3

[21] Speech by PNB (CO at Malo HQ), dated May 17, 1915, NBKR 11/7/1

[22] Report, 16 December 1914, Malo-les-Bains, quoted in Canadian Medical Association Journal 5:2 (1915): 156-57

[23] Roll 31, October 1914

[24] The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is a key source for this section; See also: D. Whittaker, Fighter for Peace: Philip Noel-Baker, 1889-1982, (York: Sessions, 1989).

[25] Later involved in a merger and thence called Baker-Perkins Ltd.

[26]  Philip Baker adopted his wife’s family name, Noel, as an additional surname after their marriage in 1915.

[27] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – PNB entry

[28] CUAC Hon Treasurer, Canon Joey H Gray, refused to sanction a fee above the level (£2.10s) paid to the incumbent trainer, but Club President A.C. Telfer agreed to take on Nelson at £5 per week and to ‘risk making it up from the members’, reasoning that, ‘Webster is coming over once a week and, with Alec, Fenner’s ought to be worth joining.’ (Correspondence between A.C. Telfer and PNB in early 1920, NBKR papers 9/38/5)

[29] AN to PNB, December 15, 1919, NBKR papers 9/38/5

[30] Queens Club was important to both Cambridge and Oxford graduate athletes, many of whom – such as Guy Butler – lived in London and wanted good facilities for training.

[31] Within months, advances in performance were apparent, leading to acknowledgement by the Army Council that the decision to appoint Nelson was entirely justified, and that it was possible that the times allowable per hundred yards in attack shooting could be reduced without diminishing the scores. ‘Bisley Begins, Bisley Camp, July 10’, The Times, July 11, 1922, 7.

[32] David Day, ‘London Swimming Professors: Victorian Craftsmen and Aquatic Entrepreneurs’, Sport in History, 30:1 (2010): 32-54.

[33] Arnold Strode Jackson (1891-72) was, like his friend PNB, a private entrant to the 1912 Olympics, having failed to gain official selection.  Both men competed in the 1500 metres at Stockholm, and Strode Jackson remains the youngest ever winner of the event (at age 21).  His concern over the growth of USA athletic strength may have been influenced by his experience in this race, in which seven of the competitors were from the US and three deliberately ran abreast in an attempt to obstruct other runners.  He later cooperated with PNB in both founding the Achilles club and developing facilities at Queens Club for former Oxbridge athletes.

[34] A. Strode-Jackson, ‘The Olympic Games’, The Times, September 29, 1919, 4.

[35] Strode Jackson’s own preparation for winning gold at the 1912 Games hardly conformed to the more ‘systematic approaches he was later to advocate: according to Wikipedia, he cut short his holiday in Norway to compete and his training thus consisted of ‘massage, golf and walking’.

[36] ‘Important Army appointment’, Observer, May 14, 1922, 20.

[37] Achilles Club history (

[38] The results presented relate to the years up to 1937, after which the scoring system was radically changed in favour of an experimental points system. The proportion of wins was similar in the annual Varsity Relays Competition, inaugurated in 1920: his CUAC team was successful in 11 of the 14 events for which results were available to this research (i.e. up to 1935).

[39] Referring to March 1914, R.S. Woods wrote in his autobiography   ‘Five of us won the Sports for Cambridge against an Oxford team in which 9 of their 10 first strings were Rhodes Scholars – hand-picked athletes from all over the world – and the tenth no less a person than A.N.S. Jackson, who had already won the Olympic 1500m for Britain in Stockholm in 1912.’ R. S. Woods, Cambridge Doctor (London: Trinity Press, 1962).  See also, discussion of this issue in 1927: ‘Oxford’s Lost Laurels’, Observer, April 3, 1927, 29.

[40] NBKR papers 6/2, sports cuttings (n.d.)

[41] The margin of victory was also 8-3 in 1926, 1928 and 1936; it was 9-1 in 1922 and 9-2 in 1927.

[42] PNB to AN, 3 March 1933, NBKR papers 6/54.  Oxford followed up this rare victory with another the following year.  Again, Baker was philosophical in corresponding with Nelson: ‘The truth is that we had too many people with Olympic experience against us’ (PNB to AN, 16 March 1934, NBKR papers 6/54).  Oxford’s team included triple winner C.F. Stanwood and N. Hallowell (both from the USA) and New Zealand distance runner J.E Lovelock.

[43] Woods, Cambridge Doctor.  Woods listed others that might be added to this list: H.M. Macintosh, J. Ainsworth-Davis, G.C. Weightman-Smith, J. Rinkel and A.G.K. Brown.  It is possible that, over time, aspiring school athletes were attracted to study at Cambridge, as awareness developed of the coaching support provided to them at Fenner’s.  This may have contributed to a better pool of English talent being available to CUAC.

[44]  Neil Carter, ‘From Knox to Dyson: Coaching, Amateurism and British Athletics, 1912-47’, Sport in History, 30 No.1 (2010): 55-81.

[45] ‘Oxford’s Lost Laurels’, Observer, April 3, 1927, 29.

[46] London: C Arthur Pearson Ltd, 1924

[47] Noel-Baker showed continuing interest in activities at Fenner’s. Typical of Nelson’s reports was one sent on 27 November 1934 (NBKR papers 6/54): ‘I strode my Half Milers over 600 yards today, without gutting them in 1.16.  I sent my milers over 1,200 yds doing 2min 50 1/5.  Mr Stothard beat my find Mr Gunn by 12 yds, Emery another 6 yds back – very satisfactory.  My four sprinters are top hole, doing 39½ for the 4×100.  My 4 quarter-milers are showing 50 to 51 sec – Good. My hurdlers are pretty feeble.’

[48] Another measure of a coach’s effectiveness is the period over which their ideas continue to have currency. Nelson was not the only practitioner to stress the role of ‘long, strong walks’ in building up the body and stamina – Alf Shrubb and James Sullivan, among others, argued something similar – but he is the one whose training programmes for long distance running (notably a 16-week one for the marathon) are still recognised today. See Tim Noakes, ‘Step 5: Learn the 15 Laws of Training’, 15_laws_of_training.   Indeed, ‘The Nelson Programme’ is a generic term used to denote training based on a mixture of walking and running. I discovered this, coincidentally, when meeting distant family relatives, Heather and Tracy Stone, who use the Nelson programme in their women’s gym in Simcoe, Ontario.

[49] AN to PNB January 25, 1935, NBKR papers 6/54

[50] DGA Lowe, in the 1924 Varsity mile race, produced ‘that electrifying burst of speed for which Cambridge men have become so justly famous, since Alec Nelson took them in hand’. ‘Oxford and Cambridge Tie, The King Present’, Observer, March 23, 1924.

[51] Woods, Cambridge Doctor.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Consistent with the formalities of the day, he always referred to his undergraduate athletes by surname with the prefix ‘Mr’.

[54] In his words: ‘what a horrible nerve racking (sic) job a Coach is in England’, AN to PNB April 3, 1935, NBKR papers 6/54.

[55] AN concluded: ‘Coach Alec has to do a lot of silly kidding to get an English Varsity team to do what is right and good for them.  Don’t please think that I am slating the whole team.  The majority was as good as gold… but I know you will understand what little things mean in youth and buoyed up energy.  Fancy after 25 years I should have allowed all this… Leave off Alec. Yours ever, Love Alec’. AN to PNB, April 3, 1935, NBKR papers 6/54.

[56] Woods, Cambridge Doctor.  Guy Butler, Cambridge and Olympic athlete, illustrates this sentiment in a comment he made to PNB in 1920, ‘I’m glad you have got Alec involved with the Queens track.  He is such a treasure.’

[57] Incident recalled in Nelson’s Obituary: ‘Death of Alec Nelson’, The Times, January 12, 1944, 6.

[58] The Patron-Client model had particular currency among anthropologists, sociologists and social geographers in the 1970s and 80s, especially in relation to peasant societies, or socially/economically dualistic contexts. See for example, L. Graziano, ‘Patron-client relationships in southern Italy’, European Journal of Political Research, 1:1 (1974): 3-34.  Originating in Roman times, where it was typically formally structured, the concept refers to a mutually obligatory arrangement between an individual (the patron) possessing authority, status and resources and another individual (the client) who benefits from the former’s support and influence.  The concept is flexible, but typically the patron is the client’s guardian and protector both in his private and public interest.  Commonly, both parties regard the link between them as a personal attachment, similar to the bond of affection holding members of a family or kin group together.

[59] The level of trust is shown in PNB sending, in November 1934, a blank cheque for Nelson to complete in payment of expenditures for seat tickets at White City and running shoes for his son; AN insisted upon ‘holding your cheque until I see you’. AN to PNB November 27, 1934, NBKR papers 6/15.

[60] Woods, Cambridge Doctor.

[61] AN to PNB December 3, 1933, NBKR papers 6/14/4

[62] AN to PNB, January 25, 1935, NBKR papers 6/54

[63] For example Nelson wrote to PNB on February 28, 1935 (NBKR papers 6/54): ’I thank you for speaking kindly about me in the News Chronicle and you know I will never let you down’.  One other area in which PNB may have used his influence to support Nelson was with regard to his son, Stanley.  No letters have been found that relate to this period, but it is intriguing that the son of a University servant had the opportunity, first, to attend Perse School, a public school in Cambridge, and, second, to study for a degree at Cambridge (in engineering).  Stanley, incidentally, became a Cambridge Blue (vs Oxford, 1924; see CUAC official photograph for that year), and went on to become a professional engineer.

[64] Manchester Guardian, March 31, 1937.

[65] The case was dismissed, but Nelson had nonetheless already been chastised by his (presumably teetotal) mentor: ‘I remember very well giving you a lecture more than 20 years ago about the dangers of a trainer’s life… You are getting some of your biggest triumphs now, …you must be very careful to do nothing to spoil your position’ (PNB to AN, June 22, 1935 NBKR papers 6/54).  Nelson tried to defend himself by saying that ‘even great men have kinks, even Oscar Wilde’ and suggested the occasional transgression should be forgiven.  However, he was quick to say that Baker was ‘the last person in the world I should want to upset’ (AN to PNB, July 3, 1935 NBKR papers 6/54).  In his typical humorous manner, he added that, since he was away in Hampshire on an army engagement, ‘Mrs Nelson opens all my letters and sends them on to me and I got a good lecture from her’.

[66] AN to PNB (n.d. August? 1935), NBKR papers 6/54.

[67] Only one section of the book has been located – a hand-written piece sent to Noel-Baker for comment, and contained within the NBKR papers (6/15).  PNB’s views are not known, but no published book appears to have resulted, and the quality of the excerpt suggests that, unlike Practical Athletics, the extent of its appeal to the market might have been limited.

[68] ‘I really think I could help every games master in every school.’ (AN to PNB (n.d. August?) 1935 NBKR papers 6/54.

[69] Alec Nelson certainly encountered members of the social elite. At the Sports, he reported to his mentor on March 14, 1934 (NBKR papers 6/14): ‘Lord Burghley ran up to me and we had a little chat about the meeting, followed by Mr Baldwin.  Lord Desborough also came and spoke to me.’  He wrote to both Lord Aberdare and Lord Astor in connection with his ideas for the ‘A1 Nation’, the concept of which much appealed to him.

[70] AN to PNB, October 3, 1935 NBKR papers 6/15.  In response, Baker tried to restrain Nelson’s enthusiasm, on the grounds that the Central Council of Recreative Physical Training was only just beginning its work. ‘I am sure to meet Lord Astor casually somewhere, and I therefore think it is better not to write to him specially about it, but to wait until I can first have a talk’ (PNB to AN October 4, 1935)

[71] AN to PNB June 17, 1937 NBKR papers 6/14

73 AN to PNB, October 2, 1933 NBKR papers 6/14

[73] AN to PNB July 3, 1935 NBKR papers 6/54

[74] ‘The Alec Nelson Appeal’, The Times, October 24, 1934, 5.  Through PNB’s press contacts, such as Guy Butler, it appeared in a number of dailies, including the Morning Post and News Chronicle.  Signatories were: A.E.D. Anderson, J. Noel Baker, R. Salisbury Woods, Guy M. Butler, W.R. Seagrove, Harold M. Abrahams, Henry B. Stallard, Wilfred G. Tatham, D.G.A. Lowe, Burghley, J.W.J Rinkel, M.H.C. Gutteridge, and CUAC President E.I. Davis.

[75] PNB personally sent a cheque to Rex Woods for the Appeal: Five guineas from him, four guineas from his wife and one guinea from well-known Cambridge economist, Professor A.C. Pigou. PNB’s former teacher (PNB to Rex Woods July 24, 1936, NBKR papers 6/14).  Today’s equivalent sum is based upon wage inflation indices; the amount was considerably less in terms of retail inflation – below £25,000.

[76] This was probably an exaggeration for the sake of marketing, since, in the event, Elizabeth outlived her husband by seven years, and even then did not succumb to the her heart ailment, but to complications of influenza.

[77] AN to PNB, March 22, 1937, NBKR 6/14

[78] Named ‘Leobeth’, based on their given names.

[79] The address used on letters in 1939-40 suggests that he indeed did rent out the house, on a short-term basis.