Tom strikes into Hall of Fame

Tom Hulatt four minute mile fame from Tibshelf
Tom Hulatt four minute mile fame from Tibshelf

The majority of sports fans know that Roger Bannister was the first man on the planet to run a mile in under four minutes.

His achievement at Iffley Road, Oxfordshire, in 1954, saw Bannister earn himself an eternal place the history books.

Tom Hulatt four minute mile fame from Tibshelf

Tom Hulatt four minute mile fame from Tibshelf

Many sports fans will remember that Chris Chataway – the first BBC Sports Personality of the Year who went on to launch London Marathon – finished second on that blustery May evening but ask who came third and most people will be left scratching their heads.

Third place was claimed by a Derbyshire man, Tom Hulatt from Tibshelf who was representing Alfreton AC.

A colliery-worker and council rat catcher, Tom is probably the finest middle-distance runner the county has produced and he would have done better on that fateful night at Oxford if he had not been suffering from the after-effects of a cold.

Fourth place was taken by Alan Dale, a first-year history student at Oxford, who was a member of Chesterfield Harriers and Athletic Club.

Bannister chested the tape in 3-59.4, collapsed into the arms of supporters at the side of the cinder track and earned his place in the annals of athletics.

Tom crossed the line 16 seconds later and in many quarters has largely been forgotten.

Tom was aged 23 at the time and, according to the Derbyshire Times, described the four-lap race as ‘the greatest day of my life’.

Born in Tibshelf in 1930, Tom joined the Army in 1948 where he caught the running bug but he bought himself out of the military and returned to Civvy Street.

Working at local collieries – Williamthorpe and Holmewood – Tom trained along the old Tibshelf-Pilsley railway track which has now been converted into the Five Pits Trail and boasts the Tom Hulatt Mile, a specially-marked 1,760-yard stretch of the trail which commemorates the great man.

When working at Williamthorpe, Tom walked the four miles to the pit at 5.30am, completed his shift – shovelling around 20 tons of coal per day – and ran the four miles home.

Not surprisingly, he said: “When I get home my muscles are tight – a big drawback to my training.’’

Tom swept the board at local athletics events and became the Derbyshire and Northern Counties One-Mile champion in 1953 – which earned him his place in the celebrated race at Iffley Road – and 1954. Throughout the 50s, in fact, he boasted an outstanding track record across the Midlands.

He died suddenly at the age of 59 in May, 1990 and is buried in Tibshelf churchyard.

Tom’s nomination for the North Derbyshire Hall of Fame came from a former runner Cyril Leason who lives at Pilsley and is the mastermind behind the Historic Six-Mile Hardwick Hall Road Race, a popular fixture on the road running calendar which has its 30th outing on Thursday, July 12, at 7.30pm.

Cyril has helped keep the flame burning in Tom’s memory and played a big part in establishing the special Hulatt Mile on the Five Pits Trail.

Cyril, now 73, said: “Tom had seen me out running, I was 15 at the time and we started running together.

“An Achilles injury ended his competitive career but in the early days of the Historic Hardwick Hall Road Race he used to help me out.

“He was very dedicated to running.’’

Cyril introduced Tom to Chesterfield Harriers in the late 1950s and after he finished running he helped coach youngsters.

Away from the track, Tom was described as a gentleman and a modest person. He loved country music and his favourite singer was Slim Whitman.

The world-wide quest to break the four-minute mile barrier, and the part Tom played, is best described in an excellent book by Ilkeston-born twin brothers Peter and Paul Stanley called The First Four-Minute Mile and Tom Hulatt of Tibshelf. It is a tremendous read.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame Tom.

Who would you like to see added to the Hall of Fame? Send your nominations of post-war men and women sporting greats to: andrew.jarvis@derbyshiretimes.co.uk or telephone (01246) 504528.