Lyons Perpetual Challenge Cup

Presented by the Directors of J. Lyons & Co. Ltd. to the WAAA for the 440 yards Ladies Championship

By Dr Jane Ainsworth

Story of the Event

The Women’s Amateur Athletic Association included a one-lap race for women on its programme from the very beginning of its championships, although IAAF did not ratify a world record until 1957. Due to concerns about the impact of the event on the well-being of women, despite the continued good health of WAAA champions, no medals were awarded at major championships for the event until 1958 when it was added to the European programme. The Olympics followed suit in 1964 and the Commonwealth Games in 1966.

Photo credit: Ruth Brennan

One of the earliest stars of the event was Vera Palmer (later Searle), coached by Sam Mussabini who also coached Olympic 100m champion Harold Abrahams on whose story the film Chariots of Fire is based. Palmer won three WAAA titles, set a world record at the age of 20 and topped the British lists at distances from 60m to 440 yards in 1925. The next multiple winner of the title, Nellie Halstead, also set a world record in her championship runs of 1931 and 1932. Valerie Ball (later Winn) won the title six times in succession between 1948-1953.

Several winners have gone on to success in major championships after winning this trophy. Olympic silver medals were won for GB by Ann Packer who also won 800m gold in Tokyo 1964, Lillian Board in Mexico City in 1964. Canadian athlete Yvonne Saunders won Commonwealth gold in 1974 having won the WAAA title that same year. Her successor to Commonwealth gold, Donna Hartley who won in Edmonton, Canada 1978 appears on this trophy in 1975 under her maiden name, D. Murray. While Kathy Cook, who took bronze for Britain in Los Angeles 1984 won this trophy in 1985.

Cathy Freeman’s victory in 1992 would be followed by Commonwealth success in 1994 and, under enormous home pressure in Sydney, an Olympic gold medal in 2000 after lighting the Olympic flame. British athlete Christine Ohuruogu added this trophy to her wide-ranging CV in 2013, to sit alongside individual Olympic, two World, and Commonwealth titles, and a wealth of relay medals.

British relays squads have consistently won medals at major championships, notable names who appear on this trophy who were also part of successful quartets include Joslyn Hoyte-Smith, Micheele Probert, and Phyllis Smith. More recent champions Kelly Massey and Margaret Adeoye continue this tradition of relay success.

The Donors
In the 1920s, at the birth of WAAA, you would find a J. Lyons & Co café on every high street. The company had a wide range of commitments to their employees and the wider community; Lyons held annual athletic competitions for their predominantly female workforce, including a club relay for teams from different cities, and presented a cup for the army territorial athletics championships, as well as funding a ladies rowing team which competed in 1930 in an international regatta at Lucerne against teams from Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland.

In 1924, the year in which this trophy was first awarded, the company ‘rebranded’ the roles and uniform of its waitresses. From this point a Lyon’s waitress was known as a ‘nippy’, and the nippiest of them all was Mary Lines, the outstanding sprinter of her generation, whose day job was as a Lyon’s waitress. At the first Women’s International Games in 1921 at Monte Carlo, Lines won five events, following this up with three wins in the international match between Great Britain and France in 1921, all in world best performances. She was also one of the early administrators within the WAAA.

History of the Trophy
WAAA champions in the 440 yards (1922-1932; 1945; 1952-1967) or 400 metres (1933-1939, 1946-1951; 1968-1995) received this trophy from 1924, although the event was contested from 1922. Since 2010 the trophy has been presented to the winner of the England Senior Championships 400m. 

Previous Winners

1924 Vera Palmer1951 V.M. Ball1973 J.V. Roscoe
1925 Vera Palmer1952 V.M. Ball1974 Y. Saunders
1926 Vera Palmer1953 V.M. Winn1975 D. Murray
1927 D.M. Proctor1954 G. Goldsborough1976 V. Elder
1928 F.C. Haynes1955 J. Ruff1977 J. Hoyte
1929 M.E. King1956 J. Ruff1978 J. Hoyte-Smith
1930 E. Wright1957 J. Ruff1979 J. Hoyte-Smith
1931 N. Halstead1958 S. Pirie1980 M. Probers
1932 N. Halstead1959 M. Pickerell1981 J. Hoyte-Smith
1933 N. Halstead1960 P. Piercy1982 M. Scutt
1934 V. Branch1961 M. Kyle1983 (D. Boyd (AUS))*
1935 O. Hall1962 J. Sorrell1984 T. Lawton
1936 O. Hall1963 J. Grievson1985 M. Chapman
1937 N. Halstead1964 P. Packer1986 K. Cook
1938 O.M. Hall1965 J. Grievson1987 L. Keough
1939 L. Chalmers1966 H. Slaman Van Doorn1988 L. Keough
1945 M. Walker1967 Lillian Board1989 L. Keough
1946 Miss S. Cheeseman1968 W. Heeven Jansen1990 L. Leatherwood
1947 J. Upton1969 J.B. Pawsey1991 M. Malone
1948 V.M. Ball1970 M.F. Neufville1992 C. Freeman
1949 V.M. Ball1971 J.V. Roscoe1993 P. Smith
1950 V.M. Ball1972 Y. Saunders1994 M. Neef
2010 K. Massey2013 C. Ohuruogu2016 P. Lowe
2011 N. Okyere2014 K. Massey2017 M. Adeoye
2012 E. Pullen2015 M. Iheke2018 P. Lowe
  2019 Y. Liverpool

*N.B. Names are as recorded on the trophy and are not always as recorded elsewhere.  No winner is recorded on the trophy for 1983, thus appears here in brackets with an asterisk.  The winner of the 1922-1923 titles was Mary Lines.