Howard Baker Trophy

Amateur Athletic Association trophy for Junior High Jump Championship, later reassigned to the Senior Pole Vault Championship

By Dr Jane Ainsworth

History of the Trophy

This trophy, donated by Howard Baker, was originally awarded to the winners of the junior men’s high jump competition from 1960-1983. From 2010, the AAA trophies have been awarded to the winners of the England Senior Championships. Since the senior men’s pole vault trophy was no longer available, it was decided that the all-round challenges of the event were well suited to the multiple talents of Howard Baker and the trophy has been awarded for pole vault since 2010.

Athletics trophy, ornately cast silver bowl.
Photo credit: Ruth Brennan

Story of the Event
Pole Vault, or pole jumping as it was known in Britain until the inter-war years, has been contested in the Amateur Athletics Association (AAA) Championships from the very beginning. The fact that competitors now compete for height rather than distance is owed to the great Victorian codifier of sports, J.G. Chambers, donor of the trophy for the men’s walk. In putting together the programme for the first Amateur Athletic Club Championship in 1866, Chambers introduced the pole vault for height, despite its inclusion in the Varsity competition between the universities of Cambridge and Oxford being vetoed by the Oxford representatives. No concessions, however, were made to the comfort of the competitors; it was not until 1912 that they were permitted to land on any other surface than grass.

In the nineteenth century the AAA pole vault championships were all won by British competitors, including twelve titles going to the Lake District with Thomas Ray and Richard Dickinson, by the early twentieth century this changed, with only eight English champions between 1900 and 1950.

American athlete and 1900 Olympic champion in Paris, Irving Baxter shrugged off the problem of having no pole at the 1901 AAA championships by making use of a flagpole to tie for first place at 2.99m. His countryman John Pennel set a world record of 5.10m at the 1963 championships and the following year another American athlete, Fred Hansen, won the AAA title before going on to win Olympic gold in Tokyo 1964.

From 1952 Britain’s fortune in pole vault improved again, with multiple victories for Geoffrey Elliott – double Commonwealth champion and the only British pole vault medallist at the European Championships, along with victories for Michael Bull, and Brian Hooper. Hooper was a familiar face on British television screens in the 1970s and 1980s, regularly appearing to great success on the programme ‘Superstars’; in 1982 he won the world title in pole vault. His national record of 5.59m stood for 15 years before being broken by the 1995 champion, Nick Buckfield.

The Donor
Voted no. 15 in Merseyside’s 100 greatest Olympians by the Liverpool Echo, Howard Baker was a flamboyant, multi-talented athlete.  Aged only 18, he won the first of his six high jump championships in 1910, he also set the first English native record of 1.95m for the high jump, as well as another in the triple jump. In addition, he was AAA Northern Champion in sprint hurdles, discus and long jump. The improvement in his personal best was attributed to a change in technique, from the scissors to the ‘cut-off’ technique, suggested by the first national Chief Coach to be employed by the AAA, the equally charismatic Walter Knox. Unfortunately, Baker’s two Olympic performances, Stockholm in 1912 and Antwerp in 1920, ended in disappointment, with 11th and 6th place finishes.

If his records suggest that he should have tried decathlon, Baker’s other activities suggest that he already had a packed schedule. Having served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy during the First World War, he joined his family’s chemical company, but still found the time for a range of sporting activities. Baker was an international at water polo, a champion doubles player in tennis, and also played over 100 times in top-flight football, appearing in goal for Everton, Chelsea – for whom he even scored – and the England National Team. London Underground may have briefly renamed a tube station for Gareth Southgate after the 2018 World Cup, but the express from London used to make an additional stop at the local mainline station for Howard Baker.

Previous Winners of the trophy*

Junior High Jump

1960 G.A. Miller1968 R. Bruynooghe1976 M. Palmer
1961 L.G. Foster1969 D. Wilson1977 M. Palmer
1962 L.G.M. Foster1970 C.J. Youngs1978 T. Foulger
1963 M.J. P. Selby1971 C. Boreham1979 O. Cham
1964 A. Murrell1972 A. McKenzie1980 C. Moseley
1965 Robin G. Souter1973 M. Shorten1981 D. Watson
1966 R.A. Scott1974 M. Palmer1982 M. Lakey
1967 R.L. Taylor1975 M. Palmer1983 J. Hill

Senior Pole Vault  
2010 L. Cutts2013 L. Cutts2016 J. Phipps
2011 M. Eaves2014 S. Lewis2017 N. Southgate
2012 M. Cullen2015 J. Phipps2018 H. Coppell
  2019 J. Thoirs

*N.B. Names are as recorded on the trophy and are not always as recorded elsewhere.