Shrewsbury School is credited with being the birthplace of cross-country running. Our running club – the Royal Shrewsbury School Hunt – is the oldest cross-country club in the world, with written records dating back to 1831. ‘The Tucks’ – the annual whole-school race over a distance of some 3¼ miles – is almost as old as the club itself.
The race is named after a friendly local farmer, Mr Tucks, who lived near Meole Village and used to allow the boys to run across his fields. Until the mid-1960s, the start used to be just inside the main school gates, but over the years the route of the race has altered as the town of Shrewsbury has grown larger and the roads around the School have become busier.
A new chapter in the history of the race began in 2018, with its move to the beautiful parkland setting of Attingham Park.
Many of the old traditions of the original Tucks races have remained constant – bound up as they are with the origins of the Royal Shrewsbury School Hunt itself. The race is started with a blast on a bugle horn and the cry “All hounds who wish to run, run well, run hard and may the devil take the hindmost!” bellowed by the Hunt Captain. He is known as the ‘Huntsman’ and is easily distinguishable from among the hordes of runners by his bright red jersey – as is the Huntswoman, the Captain of Girls’ Running.
The unusual hunting terminology and garb dates back to the original concept of the club. Back in the early 1800s, boys at Shrewsbury School petitioned the then Headmaster, Dr Butler, to form a mounted fox-hunting club. Not surprisingly, the request was refused. The proposal was then modified, for a club that was still based on the traditions and rules of hunting, but with boys taking the places of the horses and hounds.
Much of the traditional hunting terminology was used too, so the boys became the ‘pack’ of hounds, the ‘scent’ became torn up strips of paper (later to become known as a Paperchase race, still run to this day), with the lead runners acting as ‘hares’. The Captain of the Club was known as the ‘Huntsman’ and was dressed in traditional hunting garb and carried a whip and bugle.
In March 2019, those earliest origins of cross-country running in the Shropshire countryside were celebrated on the world stage, when the Royal Shrewsbury School Huntsman was invited to Aarhus in Denmark to play a unique role in the World Cross-Country Championships.
An ITN/IAAF Productions film delving further into the fascinating history of the RSSH was broadcast at the World Cross-Country Championshipsmade. It is introduced by two-time World Cross-Country Silver Medallist, Tim Hutchings: