By Brian Hayhurst

Decades of my life revolved around Huddersfield Gym Club so I was saddened to learn that this iconic club has now shut down.

The club was based in Kirklees Council-owned premises in Paddock and the cash-strapped council decided to sell the building, leaving the club homeless.

The club, which had 60 gymnasts, desperately tried to seek a new venue to continue developing our beautiful sport – artistic gymnastics – but to no avail.

Now the huge stock of specialised equipment has been gifted to other UK clubs and Huddersfield Gym Club is no more.

The club, which has raised dozens of top national gymnasts from grassroots to British champions and Olympians, was based in the former Paddock Youth Centre, which had fallen into a state of disrepair.

Faced with making savings of £47 million, Kirklees Council is selling buildings seen as a financial liability. The Paddock hall needs over £1 million spending, just to make it safe. It will be sold on or demolished.

It all began for Huddersfield Gym Club back in the 1950s in the tiny Crow Lane School hall (25ft x 60ft) with a former paratrooper called Stan Booth.

Stan strictly took classes of young lads basic V&A (vaulting and agility) surrounded by dozens of other Youth Club members in the classrooms around the hall, sometimes sharing with boppers to loud music!

Like many other local youngsters in 1952, I was immediately impressed and joined those pioneers with the pyramid building, vaulting and basic acrobatics. Stan quickly became the father figure amongst the many young people he welcomed to his classes.

Little did the youth leader Richard Grace and Stan realise that it was to emerge into a leading, famous club attracting other budding gymnasts from across the country giving them opportunities in life.

To prepare for major competitions on the six apparatus in this cramped space and growing numbers, was difficult to say the least. Nevertheless, in 1967 a Huddersfield squad won the prestigious title of British Team Champions.

As the club grew rapidly through the 60s another phenomenon was about to hit the world of gymnastics when at the 1972 Munich Olympics Olga Korbut captured the hearts of millions.

Suddenly the hall was swamped with, not only the enthusiastic boys/men’s group, but masses of girls all eager to emulate Olga.

The Milnsbridge Civic Youth Club gymnastics team in the late 1950s in Crow Lane School yard. The gymnasts are (back row, from left) Alan Day, Bill McLoughlin, Barry Burdett, Brian Hayhurst and Melvyn Parr with front row (from left) Bobby Foster, unknown, Mike Booth and Roger Bamforth. Image courtesy: Huddersfield Examiner

The lifeline, and incredible future came when the Fidler family stepped through the door offering to coach!  What a saviour, as daughter of Ken and Ruth – Janet – took over and began to nurture a massive group of enthusiastic would be gymnasts, quickly creating formidable leading girls and ladies national teams.

By 1975 it became impossible to make headway and we were offered the sports hall at Paddock and the club became one of only a few in the UK with a full 12m floor area permanently laid down and now room to vault properly, housing several beams, ring frame and a foam safety pit.

A vast amount of competitions and displays helped to stimulate camaraderie at home and abroad. It brought families and friends together to share the sometimes madcap nonsense, along with the occasionally sad times.

By 1976 as Nadia Comaneci appeared, the Fidler family definitely made their mark in Yorkshire, being the main organisers in the closely fought regional competitions.

It was in 1980 that a bombshell announcement came from Janet – then Mitchell – that she had accepted an invitation from South Africa to become their national coach!

Ken and Janet Fidler who played a key role at Huddersfield Gym Club

This left the growing number of her star performers and dozens of younger gymnasts bewildered. Other coaches were enlisted to carry on the upward trends, but no one had that firm oversight of the girls’ side of the club.

Sadly, Janet passed away in South Africa last year, leaving family, gymnasts and colleagues devastated.

The closure last month of this remarkable sporting institution marks the end of an era. The club had given a lifeline to so many. It got kids off the streets – including me – and gave them the ability to deal with tough times in future life.

Gymnastics is a very demanding sport, both mentally and physically, and I know most of my gym mates who are still alive would salute the pioneer efforts of this great club and are glad to have been part of it.

The main image (top) is the only known photo of Stan Booth in his Crow Lane class in the early 1950s. The photo was taken by Alan Burrows. The image above inside the hall was taken by Meg Warren.


A caricature of some of the lads at Huddersfield Gym Club in action in the 1950s by Allen Conroy