Hornchurch stadium is one of my area’s unsung local amenities. Located just beyond Upminster Bridge station it is the home of Hornchurch AFC “the Mighty Urchins”), currently in the lower half of the Ryman’s Premier League and the Havering-Mayesbrook Athletic Club.
It’s never going to host International events but amazingly it has seen at least two world best times since it was opened in 1956.
On 17 May 1956. 22-year old Bristol athlete Phyllis Perkins recorded a time of 4:35.4, beating Nina Pletnyova’s record set in 1952 by 1.6 seconds.
Phyllis Perkins represented the UK in the 800m at the Rome Olympics. Sadly, she failed to qualify from her heat.
The following year (16 May 1957) 24-year old Diane Leather smashed Perkins’s record by over 5 seconds, recording a time of 4:30 dead. She bettered this time at a meet in London in July and remained the record holder until New Zealander Marise Chamberlain clocked a time of 4:19 in December 1962.
Diane Leather was one the finest British female athletes of the 1950s: she was the first woman to break the 5 minute mile mark just three weeks after Roger Bannister went below four minutes. She was silver medallist in the 800m at both the 1954 and 1958 European Championships.
Sadly neither Phyllis Perkins nor Diane Leather were technically world record holders as the IAAF did not recognise female 1500m times until 1967... not that this means that their achievements are diminished in any way