Tributes to Welwyn Garden City cycling club founder

PUBLISHED: 14:35 20 February 2019

Bill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. 
Picture: Supplied by the Furlong family

Bill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. Picture: Supplied by the Furlong family

Archant

Tributes have been paid to a Welwyn Garden City man and RAF veteran who was instrumental in getting local people on their bikes.

Bill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. 
Picture: Supplied by the Furlong familyBill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. Picture: Supplied by the Furlong family

Much-loved grandfather William Furlong, who was known to many as Bill, has died at the age of 97.

Bill was probably best known across Welwyn Hatfield for his dedication to WGC cycling club, The Welwyn Wheelers, which gave rise to four-time Olympic gold medallist Laura Kenny (née Trott).

Bill came to WGC at an early age after being born in Somerset.

He attended Handside School and after leaving school he was a trainee butcher.

Bill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. 
Picture: Supplied by the Furlong familyBill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. Picture: Supplied by the Furlong family

Then he joined the RAF serving in Egypt, Libya and Italy working as an electrician on Spitfires and Hurricanes.

It was after the Second World War that the cycling club became established.

More than 70 years ago, Bill and another gentleman - Mr Duncan - decided to place an ad in the Welwyn Times to gauge the public interest in a cycling club.

Bill, who worked in Welwyn Stores before moving on to ICI Plastics in 1952, placed the advert in April/May of 1947 and that’s how it all began.

Bill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. 
Picture: Supplied by the Furlong familyBill Furlong of Welwyn Garden City. Picture: Supplied by the Furlong family

Prior to his death, Bill told the WHT how cycling brought people together following the war after many had experienced separation from friends and family.

Bill and Mr Duncan held trials to welcome new cyclists in Welwyn Hatfield to join them on their Sunday bike rides.

“It went from there,” said Bill, who quickly gained the role of treasurer.

The group generated much interest locally, attracting young men and women members, including Hatfield man, John Norris who joined the group at 17.

“It was always 100 miles in the summer and 80 miles in the winter. Cycling was what everyone was doing at the time so everyone wanted to join,” said John.

Within a matter of years, the popular group had grown considerably.

John recalls a fond memory of the group cycling around Welwyn to celebrate The Royal Wedding of Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip.

A milestone for the group was when Gosling Sports Park was built, which meant members no longer had to meet in a hut behind the Beehive pub in WGC.

Instead, the group met at a hut donated by the council at the sports club.

Bill eventually left the group but not before cycling alongside Olympians such as Christopher Church and Brendan McKeown.

Dad-of-two John Norris continued to cycle and in his eighties, he still remains a member of the club’s honorary group.

“It was a hobby I kept all my life, ” he said.

John believes if it hadn’t been for the work of Bill encouraging residents to join, the group would not have succeeded.

He admires how the group has attracted all ages, adding “it was never like that in my day, but I’m glad more young people are interested”.

Bill’s sons Andy and Ian paid tribute to their dad. They said: “He was a loving husband father and grandfather. He would always lend a hand to help anybody.

“When asked how do you know that, he just looked at you and smiled and said I went to night school.

“We love you dad.”

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