History of The Tucks
The cross-country running club at Shrewsbury School is formally known as the Royal Shrewsbury School Hunt, or ‘The Hunt’, whose official records go back to 1831.
Each year the school has run a cross race called the ‘Tucks’. It is named after a friendly farmer who allowed the boys to run across his field, and then according to the story provided refreshments of ‘copious’ quantities of ale! The race today doesn’t have any ale, but plenty of soft drinks and Mars Bars are handed to the finishers.
Of all the athletic activities of the Shrewsbury School, by far the most interesting historically are those of the Royal Shrewsbury School Hunt. Many of The Hunt’s traditions and rituals, although peculiar to Shrewsbury, pioneered some of the events that are now normal activities in many schools. These activities include inter-school track and field competitions (particularly the steeplechase), and interschool cross-country races.
The Hunt consists of a Huntsman, Senior and Junior Whips (captains and vice-captains), a varying number of gentlemen Subscribers (team runners) and an unlimited number of Hounds (runners). In spite of the unvarying fox-hunting terminology, the Hunt has never concerned itself with actual foxes or hounds; foxes and hounds alike have always been boys (and girls too, since our Sixth Form became co-educational in 2008). But so exact has been the use of fox hunting terms, that anyone reading earlier Hound Books, which constitute an unbroken record of the runs at Shrewsbury from 1832 to the present day, would find it difficult to believe that only humans were involved in cross-country runs and steeplechases. The terms, moreover, remain in use today. The pack is actually coupled up before throwing off at the start; the first person home in a run (but not a steeplechase) does not win but ‘kills’.
In the early days the ‘scent’ was actually torn up pieces of paper, but after a few years the runs became established routes, so the torn up paper scent became unnecessary. Of course over the years with the growth of Shrewsbury and the seemingly unending expansion of the bypass road system, most of the traditional routes have had to be abandoned, although the names for the three major routes remain: the Long (a 5¼ mile run which used to finish at the Column) the Bog, and the Tucks.
It is a great tribute to the boys at Shrewsbury that cross-country running has continued over such a long history. In 1845 the then Headmaster, B H Kennedy tried to ban the sport, with little effect (his text books were torn up for scent!). Local farmers and landowners often set their bloodhounds on members of the RSSH. The most recent blow has been the government banning fox hunting! Clearly the club has never killed a fox, and yet there is a whiff of political correctness in the air that wants to change the traditions. In recent years the RSSH has been a force to be reckoned with on the national stage, as its teams have regularly won the county inter schools cross country championships, and then gone on to be in the top half dozen schools in national cross country and road relay races. Former members include Oliver Mott who now represents GB for duathalons, Oli Laws GB cross-country runner and Piers Jones (part of the Olympic Games organising committee).
The particular route we now use now for The Tucks has been run more or less unchanged for the past 30 years. It starts and finishes in Meole village and is about 3¼ miles. 700-odd Hounds (boys and girls) and about 30 gentlemen Subscribers (staff) take part. In order to ‘kill’ (win the race) hounds will have to safely negotiate narrow bridges (over the Rea Brook), stiles, fallen trees, muddy fields, not to mention the bunching up of the ‘pack’ at various ‘bottle-necks’. The race is of course carefully marshalled with over 40 members of staff patrolling the route.
The winner of the race receives the Hector Rose Bowl trophy (a relatively new trophy presented by the Hector family in the 1990’s); the best House wins the golden training shoe!