The Life of Bernard Baldwin, Founder of the Nos Galan Races – Part 1

This article is inspired by the objects from the C.V.M. collection, which will be presented throughout. They are concerning an event, Nos Galan founded by Bernard Baldwin in 1958. Some of the objects include a medal, one of many rewarded to competitors, photograph taken throughout the event and a programme including list of some of the teams showing the runners that came from all over the U.K.

Bernard William Leighton-Baldwin M.B.E.,1925 -2017, was born in Barry, one of seven children.

He was an accomplished athlete in his teens, he won the Welsh Junior Men’s Mile Title in 1943, in his last year at school. His brother Branwell won the Title in 1937. In 1943 he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, training as an air gunner and served with an artillery unit until late 1945.

Caerleon Teacher Training College was his next move, while spending 3 years there he competed for the Senior Wales Team at the International Cross-Country Championships in France. He proved to be an able football player and played for Tynte Rovers, Abercynon and Penrhiwceiber in the Welsh League.

 

His first teaching job was at Tintern Village School. When he was 25, he applied and was accepted for a position at Mill Street Secondary Modern School in Pontypridd to teach P.E. games and music.

In 1950, he moved into a house in Mountain Ash, married and had one daughter. The head teacher was very proud to announce to the school that the new teacher was an accomplished athlete.

A few days later a pupil told him about a famous runner who was buried at St Gwynno’s Church, Llanwonno, 3 miles from Mountain Ash. Griffith Morgan was the runner but you may know him as Guto Nyth Bran , Nyth Bran being the name of the sheep farm his parents had. Bernard heard the tales told about Guto, how he could outrun the sheep, run with the local hunt and even catch foxes by the tail. Guto’s prowess as a runner spread and he was challenged to races for remarkable large amounts of prize money.

 

 

Unfortunately, one race was to be his last, he won a 12 mile race for the equivalent of about £60,000 today. The tale goes that his trainer and manager “Sian from the shop” slapped him hard on the back to congratulate him and triggered a fatal heart attack in 1737.

Bernard hit upon the idea of organising some short street races for the pupils to compete in as a way of commemorating Guto’s name. The idea of Nos Galan emerged from a conversation with the 1956 National cross country champion, Ken Norris, at the Merthyr Athletic Club’s Annual Dinner, where Ken was the guest speaker. Ken had won the San Paulo Midnight Race that year, they became good friends and idea began to form with Bernard.

In the summer of 1958, Bernard was press officer for the Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff and Bernard finalised his plan for Mountain Ash. For December 31st 1958 he organised 2 events 100 yards sprint down the main street of Mountain Ash and the run starting near midnight in 1958 and ending in the new year, 1959.

ACVMS 2001.528_001: A signed1958 Programme of Events.

 

Bernard was a persuasive man as the competitors list for the sprint read like a who’s who of British athletics; Peter Radford bronze medal Rome Olympics won, Dave Segal Fellow international came second and Ron Jones, successful Welsh runner, placed third.

The second event, the midnight run of 4 miles started at 11:46 with 101 runners, the race was won by Stan Eldon, a British Team member.

An example of the quality of competitors that Bernard attracted is John Whetton, European indoor champion and double Olympic finalist, who won 7 times between 1962 and 1968.

J.J. Williams won the dash twice, in 1965 and 1971. He said the “atmosphere created was tremendous and all of the leading sprinters of the time wanted to take part”. He added” If you got drawn in one of the outside lanes, you were in the gutter, and didn’t stand a chance of winning”.

The first mystery runner of the races was Tom Richards, a 1948 Olympic Marathon silver medal winner. The mystery runner represented the spirit of Guto Nyth Bran, who after a church service at Llanwynno laid a wreath on the grave of Guto, then lit and carried the torch 4 miles to Mountain Ash and to the start of the races.

 

ACVMS 1995.148.1_001: Programme of Events showing St. Gwynno Church.

 

Many well-known people from the sporting world were mystery runners including David Bedford, Shane Williams , David Hemery, Mary Rand, Alan Wyn Jones, Colin Jackson. Linford Christie and Nigel Owens to name a few.

 

ACVMS 1998 781_001: 1995 Programme of Events, including Mystery Runner, Steve Robinson,
Former WBO World Feather weight Champion

 

Over the years Nos Galan continued to attract more entries up to 800 in fact. It was halted in 1973 for health and safety reasons but with new measures it returned as “Nos Galan reborn “in 1984.

Bernard produced many of the programmes and only gave up organising the race in earlier 2000’s. R.C.T. and a Nos Galan Committee undertook the large amount of work running the Nos Galan.

 

Blog post written by volunteer, Robert Glare.

The second part of this blog is also available on the website. Click on this link to read it.

FURTHER READING:

Nos Galan ‘A Day in the Life’ – Click on this link to visit this online exhibition

The Story of Guto Nyth Bran – Click on this link to visit the blog post

Showing 5 comments
  • alison leighton williams
    Reply

    Hi Robert, Bernard only has one child, Alison. He was also in the Royal Navy not the RAF. Thought I’d mention it so you can correct it. Thank you.

    • Keith Davies
      Reply

      Thanks for the info

  • Barrie Hancock
    Reply

    Bernard was dedicated to developing opportunities for runners. He organized street races around the valleys. Usually 3 milers. It was usually spring time or fall weekday evenings. He transported some of us in his car and did commentaries of the races on his megahorn. I ran the first race and every year for many years and won a small trophy for the first local runner. While warming up for the race one year I met my wife to be. We have been married fifty seven years. I have many memories of Bernard and think about Nos Galan each New Years Eve.

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