Para Sport in 1870 London

By , 17th July 2017 22:58

The London Stadium, perhaps still better known as the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, hosts the 2017 World Para Athletics Championships between 14 and 23 July.

The 2012 Paralympics highlighted the role of Ludwig Guttman and the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in pioneering the use of sport for the rehabilitation of spinal injuries sustained during the Second World War.

This advert appeared in Sporting Life on Wednesday 3 and Saturday 6 August 1870.

 

 

 

The advert provides evidence that disabled veterans from the armed forces were taking part in sport in public nearly 80 years before the wheelchair archery competition organised by Guttman at Stoke Mandeville on 29 July 1948 – the day of the opening ceremony of the 1948 London Olympics – that the IPC regard as having been an important milestone in the history of the Parlympic Movement.

The Greenwich Pensioners were veterans of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, equivalent to the Chelsea Pensioners of the British Army.

Sadly, although the Sporting Life carried adverts for the ‘Grand Gala Days and Cricket Extraordinary’ it didn’t report on the events after the event, and neither did any of the other London publications of the period.

Lillie Bridge was the home of the Amateur Athletic Club and was something of a Victorian multi-sport venue, hosting a variety of sports including athletics, boxing, cricket, cycling, pony racing and rugby.  Conveniently located next to West Brompton station, Lillie Bridge staged the second F.A. Cup final in 1873.

 

How much history can you cram into a morning run?

By , 17th April 2017 20:51

This blog celebrates places, often forgotten, associated with individuals who made a mark on the history of sport.  In a slight diversion from this theme, this post plots places with some historical significance that I passed on my morning run this Easter Sunday, 2017.

Landmarks along my run included:

Beech Bottom Dyke, an iron age territorial boundary on the northern edge of St Albans dating back to 50 BC

Bernards Heath, site of the Second Battle of St Albans

St Peter’s Church which includes war graves from the First Battle of St Albans

St Albans city centre, site of the First Battle of St Albans (22 May 1455) passing:

  • 22 St Peter’s Street, where in the office of Tom Anderson Davies, Sam Ryder’s son-in-law, the deed of gift for the Ryder Cup was prepared in 1926
  • The old Town Hall, currently being converted into a new museum
  • The former Turf Hotel, whose proprietor, in 1830, founded the Great St Albans Steeple Chase. This race was the inspiration for the Grand National
  • The Clock Tower (built between 1403 and 1412), one of the few secular medieval clock towers in England and before which an Eleanor Cross stood until the early 18th century
  • The Fleur de Lys in which King John of France was detained in 1356 and its medieval neighbours
  • One of the 10 St Albans Abbey Parish war memorials that commemorate those lost from neighbouring streets during the First World War.  Such street-level memorials are very rare. (Hull also had a number of “street shrines“)
  • George Street which was the main road from London to the North West after Watling Street was diverted away from the derelict Roman city of Verulamium up Hollywell Hill and into St Albans in the 10th century. The Tudor Tavern at the top of George Street, (which was named after another travellers’ inn) dates from 14th century.
  • The Abbey Gate (built circa 1360)
  • St Albans Abbey, (founded
  • The White Hart Inn (1500-1700) where Elizabeth Wilson lost her head in 1820 when riding on the top of a stage coach as it turned into the inn’s yard. The incident is said to have been the inspiration for the gory death of Mr Jingle in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers
  • Ryder House and Ryder Exhibition Hall, built by Sam Ryder, who also built a business and made a fortune in St Albans before donating the eponymous cup for the biennial transatlantic golf match
  • The Garibaldi. While the building itself may be of limited historic interest, it commemorates a significant figure in Italian history, and its  a nice pub!

The Sopwell remains, remnants of a Tudor mansion dating from circa 1540 that was built on the site of Sopwell Nunnery which dated back to 1141.

Ye Olde Fighting Cock, which vies with Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham and a handful of other fine hostelries for the title of England’s oldest pub

The London Gate and city walls of Roman Verulamium

Verulamium’s city walls and mosaic

The family vault of the Earls of Grimston at St Michaels Church. More in line with this blog’s usual subject matter, the sometimes eccentric Hon Robert Grimston was a cricketer for MCC, a founder of I Zingari and involved in the formation of Surrey County Cricket Club.  He was also a member of the Amateur Athletic Club.

Just off this route but featuring on some of my other regular runs, and indicated by green markers on the map, are:

  • The Roman Theatre
  • Old Gorhambury House, residence of Francis Bacon
  • Batchwood Hall, home of Lord Grimthorpe who, as well as his attempts to restore St Albans Abbey and St Peter’s Church as mentioned above, also designed the clock mechanism that drives Big Ben at the Palace of Westminster.
  • Childwickbury, the home of film director the late Stanley Kubrick and a former residence of Sir John Blundell Maple.

For running history enthusiasts, there are plenty of other places of interest around St Albans to include in a morning run.

Stumbling upon sporting landmarks in London’s docklands

By , 15th March 2017 23:40

Visitors arriving at London’s Excel Centre by the Dockland Light Railway from the City usually alight at the Custom House station.  For the time being, redevelopment of Custom House to accommodate Crossrail – aka the Elizabeth Line which is due to open in 2018, means that visitors are alighting at the Prince Regent station one stop further east.  This means more people will get to see how the London exhibition centre commemorates its role as a sporting landmark: Excel was venue for boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

 

The commemoration includes hand prints of Boris Johnson, London Mayor at the time of the Games, Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee, and for Olympic champions who won gold at the venue: Jade Jones (taekwando 57kg); Nicola Adams (boxing, flyweight); Luke Campbell (boxing, bantamweight) and Anthony Joshua (boxing, super heavyweight)

A short walk further east, just past the London Watersports Center where another Olympian, 2008 double scull gold medallist and Steward of Henley Royal Regatta Mark Hunter is an ambassador for the London Youth Rowing charity, is another unusual sporting landmark commemorating the evolution of the sport of polo.

Polo Royal Albert Dock

The “Polo Group Sculpture” by Chinese artist Huang Jian, was unveiled in 2012 features two ancient Chinese and two modern British polo players playing against each other.  The Chinese statues are said to depict “Emperor Ming Huang and Lady Yang Playing Polo”.

When it was unveiled, the local newspaper, the Newham Recorder, reported that the group sculpture will continue  to expand to mark future Olympic Games.

The plaque alongside the statues reads:

2012 London Polo
China is the birthplace of ancient polo which was popular among royal families during the Tang Dynasty. The U.K. gave birth to modern polo, which became an Olympic sport in 1908 and popular all over the world.  In 2008, famous Chinese sculptress Huang Jian created for the Beijing Olympic Games “Emperor Ming of Tang and His Concubine Yang Yuhuan Playing Polo”, the only permanent large sculpture in the Beijing Olympic Park.  Four years later, Huang created the sculpture of “2012 London Polo”, in which Chinese lovers of ancient polo and British lovers of modern polo travel through time and space to gather in the London Olympic Park for a friendly polo match. 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.K. and is also the year for the London Olympic Games. The sculpture symbolises the friendship and cultural exchange between the two countries.

 

 

Davis Cup visits birthplace of Ryder Cup

By , 18th September 2016 22:17

Great Britain won tennis’ Davis Cup in 2015 – the country’s first victory in 79 years.

The compeition was conceived by four members of the Harvard University tennis team as a competition between the United States and the British Isles.  The tournament’s format was developed by Dwight Davis of Harvard who also bought and donated the eponymous trophy.

During the summer of 2016, the Lawn Tennis Association organised the Davis Cup Trophy Tour to capitalise on the victory and inspire a new generation of players.

On the third day of Great Britain’s semi-final against Argentina on 18 September 2016, the Trophy Tour arrived in front of the old town hall in St Albans.

Davis Cup Trophy Tour, 2016

Davis Cup Trophy Tour, 2016

davis_cup_18092016 davis_cup_stalbans_townhallRather disappointingly, the trophy sat on its plinth beneath a plain black gazeebo with no attempt to share the history and heritage of the compeition.

The organisers also missed a link with another transatlantic sporting event.

The Ryder Cup was first contested between teams of profesional golfers from Great Britain and the United States in 1927.

The trophy was donated by Sam Ryder, a St Albans businessman who had enjoyed considerable success as a mail-order seed retailer and had done much to raise the status of professional golfers.  Ryder also served as a city councillor between 1903 and 1916, as mayor in 1905, and also sat in the courtroom that occupied part of the town hall as a magistrate.

They did not grow old – from Henley-on-Thames to the Somme

By , 26th June 2016 12:14

The start of the Battle of the Somme is the most significant First World War anniversary that falls during Henley Royal Regatta.  In 2016, Henley coincides with the Somme’s centenary commemorations.

Cities, towns and villages mourned the huge losses from this first major action for the thousands who had volunteered for the Army during 1914 and 1915 many of whom joined-up alongside their friends in what became known as Pals Battalions.

Although there wasn’t a Pals Brigade for oarsmen, Henley Races, published in 1919, includes a chapter entitled Last Post which lists of 273 Henley competitors (including 14 coxes) who fell during the war.  It provides an insight into the impact of the Great War on Henley and the place of rowing in Edwardian society.

Educated at Radley and Wadham College Oxford, the book’s author was Sir Theodore A. Cook. He was editor of The Field and a timekeeper at Henley. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that Cook “turned The Field in a propagandist direction” during the First World War. He was also a campaigner for “the preservation of true sportsmanship” and the amateur ethos.

Cook’s list reflects the definitions of “amateur” used by Henley and the Amateur Rowing Association at that time.   “Manual labour” and “menial duty” exclusions effectively restricted the right to compete at Henley and other leading regattas to the universities, public schools and those clubs serving the upper echelons of the middle classes.

Cook doesn’t explain how the list was compiled, but records from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge would appear to have been an important source, as he comments that “Cambridge has made a more complete record of her soldiers than Oxford.”

264 of those listed served in the Army, five in the Navy and 11 are either indicated as having been attached to the Royal Flying Corps or, from 1 April 1918, as serving in the newly constituted Royal Air Force.

Colleges are identified for 180 – two thirds – of the 273.  The largest contribution to the list – 26 – came from Trinity College Cambridge: 16 from First Trinity Boat Club and ten from the Third. Magdalen was the most prominent Oxford college, contributing 14.  E.D. Powell of Trinity College Dublin was the only oarsman identified as having come from a non-Oxbridge UK institution although G.D. East, killed while serving as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, is linked to both St Bart’s Hospital and Thames R.C..

42 individuals had competed in the Boat Race – 21 from each university.  Collectively they had amassed 71 Blues of which 40 were awarded by Oxford. 27 had been members of 40 winning Boat Race crews.

Twelve had competed at either the 1908 or 1912 Olympic Games. G.B Taylor killed serving as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Highlanders and formerly of Trinity Oxford and Argonauts R.C., had competed at both.  Four were Olympic Champions.

There is very much less information about club affiliations. Only thirteen English clubs are named compared with 36 Oxbridge colleges.  Total clubs losses of 67 are headed by London R.C. (15) and Thames (14).

While not all oarsmen get to race at Henley, the limited coverage of clubs suggests that Cook’s list understates the overall loss Henley competitors.   Hear the Boat Sing recounts the stories behind several club war memorials†.  Several oarsmen commemorated by their clubs are mentioned in the detailed records of the regattas from 1903 to 1914 that make up the bulk of the book but are missing from the Last Post chapter.  One example is A.J. Shaw who appears on the joint memorial erected on Trent Bridge by four Nottingham clubs and raced in the Wyfold for Nottingham Union R.C. in 1914 but is missing from the list.

In a similar vein, Chris Dodd’s history of London R.C., Water Boiling Aft, records that 90 members of the club volunteered between the outbreak of war and the end of 1914 and that 50 members did not return.  Only nine London members feature in Last Post.

Seven schools are identified against 91 of the names: Bedford (15),  Cheltenham (1), Eton (41), Radley (19), Shrewsbury (10,) Winchester (1) and Beaumont College (4)‡.

Cook corroborates Chris Dodd’s observation that oarsmen had been quick to join the flood of volunteers after the outbreak of war: “After July 1914, however, all rowing stopped except at schools. Nearly every boat club known at Henley — I am glad to record it — had sent its able-bodied men to the Army or the Navy before a whisper of conscription had been heard.”  He continued, “Both the University crews, and all the British competitors in final heats at the Henley of 1914, were in naval or military training by the Christmas of that year. “

Cross-referencing the Last Post list against the records for the 1914 Regatta reveals that the Christ’s Cambridge Ladies Plate eight and Jesus College Thames Cup crew lost four members each while the London R.C. Grand, Eton and Radley Ladies Plate crews and Selwyn College Thames Cup crews all lost three.  The Brasenose four that raced in both the Wyfold and Vistors lost three members while the 3rd Trinity Goblets pair of E.G. Williams and Le Blanc-Smith were both killed.

In The English, A Social History, 1066-1945, Christopher Hibbert states that 750,000 volunteers had enlisted by the end of September 1914 rising to more than a million by the end of that year.

Last Post suggests a high correlation between amateur oarsmen and the officer class.  Just ten of the 273 were privates or non-commissioned officers.

Hibbert notes “A high proportion of the killed and wounded [in the First World War] were officers, many of whom had received their commissions on the strength of certificates granted by the Officer Training Corps of the public schools and universities, and many more of whom had gone straight from school to France as second lieutenants before reaching that not very high standard of efficiency that the getting of a certificate demanded.”  About one in five officers from public schools were killed: the exact numbers for Eton were 1157 fatalities among the 4852 Old Etonians who served overseas.

53 of the 273 – a fifth – held the rank of 2nd Lieutenant while 88 – a third – were Lieutenants.  82 were Captains while 20 had achieved the rank of Major. The list also includes six Lieutenant Colonels and two Colonels.  (There were also four Reverends and one cadet.)

26 of those named had been awarded the Military Cross (one with a Bar), four the Distinguished Service Order, one the Distinguished Service Cross and one the Croix de Guerre.  Medals won on the water at Henley included 27 in the Grand, 32 in the Ladies, 12 in the Thames, 5 in the Stewards, 19 in the Wyfold, 18 in the Visitors, two in the Goblets and four in the Diamonds.

The Somme Campaign

Stretching along 14 miles of the Western Front between Maricourt in the south and Serre in the north, the Somme was one part of an Allied master-plan hatched in December 1915 to defeat Germany with simultaneous large scale attacks on the Western, Russian and Italian fronts during the summer of 1916.

Giuseppe Sinigagli, a member of Lario Club Como, was one of the representatives of overseas clubs mentioned in the list.  The 1914 Diamonds winner died on 10 August 1916 serving as a Lieutenant on the Karts Plateau on the Italian front.

The first day of the Somme offensive resulted in 57,470 British and Commonwealth casualties of whom 19,240 were killed.  July 1st 1916 holds the record for the highest number of casualties suffered by the British Army in a single day.   By the end of the 141-day campaign on 18 November, more than a million men on both sides had been either killed or wounded.

Although Cook’s list doesn’t record where the fallen fell, it has been possible to confirm that at least four of the 273 died on the first day of the Somme.

Two of these four were 2nd Lieutenants.

Charles Treverbyn Gill, was attached to the 22nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment was a graduate of Exeter College Oxford and a member of London R.C.. As a junior officer in an infantry regiment, Gill would almost certainly have led his unit “over the top” when the advance started at 7.30 am on what was a bright summer morning.  As such, there is a high probability he would have been one of the early casualties.  He’s commemorated at the Peronnne Road Cemetery, Maricourt.

In 1915, Christopher Monckton, had raced for Eton II against Beaumont School in one of the private matches that were virtually the only rowing on the Henley reach after the outbreak of war. From two Eton eights that raced that summer, no fewer than six fell in the War. A year later, Monckton was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers but attached to No 13 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corp. He was killed in action while flying BE2c 2648 having taken off from Savy aerodrome on a bombing mission at 14:40. His plane was last observed in combat with a German aircraft.  The 18-year old was laid to rest in Mons-en-Chaussee cemetery.

The other two Henley oarsmen identifiable as having been killed on 1 July were both part of a fatally-flawed and ill-fated “diversionary” attack on Gommecourt.  From this heavily fortified German salient the main British advance towards Serre at the northern end of the Somme front could be threatened by flanking fire.

Bernard Sydney Harvey and John Robert Somers-Smith were both Captains in the London Rifle Brigade which was part of the 56th (1st London) Division deployed with the 46th (North Midland) Division against Gommecourt.


“Gommecourt was particularly easy of defence, and from the shape of the ground it was a most difficult place from which to disengage troops in the event of partial failure or incomplete success.”

Official History of the War, Military Operations: France & Belgium 1916, Vol 1.

Born in August 1888, Harvey had raced at Henley for Trinity College Oxford in the Wyfold and Visitors in 1908 and in both the Ladies Plate and Thames Cup in 1909.  (Doubling-up was commonplace at Edwardian Henley.) He had also trialed for the Oxford Blue Boat in 1909.

Somers-Smith won the Ladies Plate with Eton in 1905 and competed again as Captain of Boats in 1906.  He stroked and steered Magdalen College Oxford to victory in both the Wyfold and Visitors in 1907 and then the Stewards and Visitors in 1908.

As well as trialling for the Oxford Blue Boat in both 1907 and 1908, he reached the semi-final of the Grand in 1908, losing to Gent. He went on to win gold at the Olympic Regatta of the 1908 London Games – also held at Henley – where he stroked his Magdalen coxless four to victories over Canada in a heat and Leander in the final.

He had been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at the 2nd Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May 1915).  His elder brother Richard, a double rowing blue for Oxford, had been killed at Hooge in the Ypres Salient on 30 June 1915 – a year and a day before the start of the Somme offensive.

The two Captains were among 2,026 who paid the ultimate price at Gommecourt.  Like so many thousands of those who fell on the Western Front, they have no known graves. By coincidence, their names are adjacent to each other on the Thiepval Memorial.

The second overseas club referenced in the list is erroneously named as New South Wales. K. Heritage had been a member of the winning Sydney R.C. Grand crew of 1912 which went on to represent Australia at the Stockholm Olympics.  As a Captain in the Australian Infantry, he was awarded the M.C. He fell on the 26th day of the Somme Campaign and is buried at Pozieres British Cemetery at Ovillers La Boisselle.

Post Script

Nine of the 273 listed succumbed to injuries between the armistice of 11 November 1918 and the publication of the book in mid 1919.  Even while writing the introduction in 1919, the author warned that the list was “subject to revision.”

One of these was W.A.L. Fletcher, DSO, Chairman of the Regatta Committee and Umpire. As an oarsman in the late 1880s and early 1890s, he won four Boat Races with Oxford, two Ladies Plates, and the Thames Cup.  He raced three times for the Grand.

Another Henley official who did not survive the war was W.F.C. Holland, a committee member and judge. Rowing at bow behind Fletcher at stroke in the 1890 Oxford crew, his rowing honours included three Boat Race victories in four appearances, three wins in the Grand and one in the Ladies.

 

Mainzer Ruder-Verein von 1878

In his introduction to the records relating to Henley 1914, Cook wrote, “This Regatta had begun before the murdered Archduke Francis Ferdinand was buried; but the shadow of coming catastrophe was not seen upon the famous racecourse, and we all went home after the meeting without the slightest premonition that it would be some five years before we met again, or that – in the dreadful interval of the coming warfare – so many who were competing in the races of 1914 would be lost to us forever.  In one contest that fateful summer there was, as we look back on it, a very singular prognostication of the results to be shown in 1918.” He was referring to the race in the Grand between Jesus College Cambridge and the German club Mainzer Ruder-Verein von 1878.

Mainzer appeared at Henley several times during the early 20th century.  In 1914, they were quite possibly en-route to Henley to race in the Grand and Stewards as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June lit the fuse that would lead to war.

At that time in Germany, all able bodied men between the ages of 17 and 45 were liable for military service: 17 year olds could be called-up to serve in the Landsturm home defence force, similar to the British Army’s Territorial force.  On his 20th birthday, if not working in an exempt profession, a man would start two-years of active service.  This would be followed by 4-5 years in the reserves with an obligation to attend two-weeks training each year – considered to be something of a holiday from home and work during peace time.  After the reserves, men were attached to the Landwehr for a further 11 years.  Most Mainzer members were attached to the “Grand Duchess” (3rd Großherzoglich Hessian) No. 117 Regiment, which was garrisoned in Mainz.  The regiment had a reputation for its sporting prowess.

The 1914 Grand entry included five members of the Mainzer crew that became the very first of the noble tradition of German eights to take gold at international championships when it won the European Championships in Gent in August 1913. Victory for Mainzer over Jesus College Cambridge by ¾ of a length in their first heat meant that for the first time in its 75-year history, and much to the regret of Cook, all four semi-finalists in the Regatta’s blue-riband event were from overseas. In the closely contested semi-final, Union B.C. Boston, USA, who never led by more than half a length, held on to win by a canvas.

Four from the eight also raced in the Stewards, losing to Leander in their first heat having suffered from steering problems off the start and the collapse of their three-man, Oskar Cordes, as the crews approached Phyllis Court.

Of the Grand eight, we know that Werner Furthmann, Josef Fremersdorf, Oskar Cordes, Lorenz Eismayer and cox Johann Baptist Stohschnitter all survived the war.  However, injuries prevented Fremersdorf from returning to the water until 1921 while Cordes, who went on to become a leading figure in the German rowing federation, lost a leg. Eismayer’s brother Konrad also perished.

George Oertel (7) and Erich Vetter (6) were members of both the 1913 European Championship and 1914 Grand crews.  Oertel served  at Verdun, the Somme and Champagne and was wounded five time, three times seriously.  He survived the hostilities but died suddenly in March 1920.  Vetter was killed in action. Richard Piez, their crew-mate in the 1913 crew, was also killed in March 1917 while serving as a pilot.

In total, Mainzer lost 39 members to the conflict.

(Many thanks to Rolf Stephan, club archivist and Axel Lang curator of an exhibition on the 1913 European Championship crew for their help with information on Mainzer Ruder-Verein 1878.)

 

Links

In this World Rowing article to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Martin Cross describes his own journey in a sculling boat down the Somme and how War and the Somme Campaign has touched the rowing communities of many countries.

For eye-witness accounts of the first day of the Somme, listen to this podcast from the Imperial War Museum

Notes

†The Imperial War Museum website includes a register of war memorials. All clubs which have memorials to members lost to war should check that their’s is included.

‡Beaumont was Jesuit public school in Old Windsor, sometimes known as “the Catholic Eton”. It closed in 1967.

In search of John Graham Chambers: sport’s serial law maker

By , 10th February 2016 09:30

On 10 February 1866, an article appeared on the front page of a new weekly newspaper welcoming the establishment of a new athletics club in London.

The Amateur Athletic Club wouldn’t be an athletic club as we would understand the term today.   It’s “object” was to establish “a ground at which numerous competitions in Amateur Athletic Sports and Foot Races may take place.”  It was also intended that as soon as funding allowed, club members would be able to enjoy the use of “a Club House, Gymnasium, Racquet Courts, Swimming Bath &c.”.

The AAC saw itself assuming the same role in athletics “that the Jockey Club holds toward racing or the Marylebone Club towards cricketers.”  One of its earliest resolutions was to organise “an Annual Champion Meeting for Athletic Sports on the day before the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge”.

Land_And_Water_Masthead

Appearing in just the third issue of Land and Water, the article represents something of a landmark in the history of organised sport.  The article’s author was John Graham Chambers, then 23 years of age and a recent graduate from Cambridge University. A double rowing blue and former president of Cambridge University Boat Club, Chambers had also been one of the instigators of the first Inter-Varsity athletics match in 1864.

Although his personal interest wasn’t declared in the article, Chambers – who would later become editor of Land and Water – was deeply involved in establishing the Amateur Athletic Club. He was appointed to the working committee and would become the general manager of the Club’s grounds, once they had been secured.

Land_and_Water

Chambers’ leading article from Vol I, No.3 of Land and Water, 10 February 1866

He was one of the first to write a rule-book for athletics.  A contemporary at Cambridge and close friend of the Marquess of Queensberry, he was the principle author of the eponymous rules of boxing.  He was part of a group that revised rowing’s rules of racing and also took an interest in the rules of billiards.  As a member of a sub-committee of Stewards, he devised a management structure for Henley Royal Regatta that was later adopted by de Coubertin for the International Olympic Committee.

As well as the first national championships in athletics, Chambers would also stage the first boxing tournaments under the Queensberry rules and some of the earliest track cycling races – when the only bikes were penny farthings.  He would also host the second F.A. Cup Final.

Chambers’ name crops up in all sorts of sporting histories of the 1860s and 1870s but the numerous strands of his own story don’t appear to have been pulled together.

His involvement in sport touches on a number of sporting and societal themes that resonate loudly 150 years later:

  • Governance of sport and governing bodies
  • Betting and its threat to the integrity of sport
  • The close relationship between sport and the media
  • Accessibility and inclusivity
  • Economics and sustainability of sporting venues
  • The influence of Old Etonians
  • Full beards being fashionable!

In his personal life, Chambers missed out on what would have been a substantial inheritance – due to the illegitimacy of his father.  As it happened, he only survived his father by a year: even by Victorian standards, his death at the age of just 40, must be considered premature.  If histories are written by the winners, perhaps Chambers’ story has not been told because he died too young to write it himself.

I’m already indebted to several historians – some professional and others enthusiastic amateurs like myself – who have provided leads, tips, advice and encouragement.  If any readers have come across any other references to Chambers, please share them with me by leaving a comment.

Thanks.

How the Welsh introduced national anthems to international sporting fixtures

By , 11th October 2015 22:31
Originally published on 3 February 2013. Updated 11 October 2015

The tradition of  singing national anthems before international sporting matches is believed to have originated at Cardiff Arms Park  on 16 December 1905.  The occasion was the first rugby match between Wales and New Zealand.

During that year’s home internationals, Wales had won the Triple Crown. (France didn’t play their first match in Britain until 1907 and didn’t officially become part of the Five Nations until 1910.)  By the time New Zealand’s inaugural northern hemisphere tour reached Cardiff for the test against Wales, they were undefeated after 27 matches, including victories against the other three home nations.  801 points had been scored, just 32 conceded.

With two undefeated sides coming face-to-face, the match was billed in the press as the “match of the century”.


The shirt worn by the All Blacks Captain in the 1905 Wales vs New Zealand match was put up for auction in October 2015.  It sold for £180,000 to set a new world record for a rugby shirt.


Their pre-match haka had added to the aura of All Black invincibility.  Having traveled to watch the visitors play at Gloucester, the Welsh Rugby Union decided to undertake their own experiment in psychological warfare at the Arms Park.  At the end of the haka, Teddy Morgan led the Welsh team in singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.  After a few seconds, the capacity crowd of 40,000 picked up the refrain.  The Lyttleton Times reported to its readers in New Zealand that “The effect was intensely thrilling, even awe-inspiring.”

For the record, Wales defeated the All Blacks by 3-0, although the result remains the subject of controversy to this day with allegations that a New Zealand try had not been awarded. The New Zealand Rugby Museum account of the tour can be found here.

Recognition of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau as the Welsh national anthem effectively dates from 1905.  Prior to the match in Cardiff, it had been a popular song, originally called Glan Rhondda, that had been written in 1856 by Evan James from Pontypridd and his son James.  So not only did the “match of the century” at Cardiff Arms Park start the tradition of singing anthems before international fixtures, it also effectively gave Wales its own anthem.

A history of The Welsh National Anthem by Sion Jobbins was published on the eve of the 2013 Six Nations prompting a strange debate on whether it should be sung by non-Welsh speakers on a number of BBC Radio stations on the first Saturday of the tournament.


The Seed Merchant, St Albans & The Ryder Cup

By , 28th September 2014 15:13

A few years ago, I started gathering video footage and other material with the intention of producing a short film on Sam Ryder’s association with St Albans and the origins of the Ryder Cup.

Unfortunately, the day-job and life kept getting in the way.

However, on the occasion of the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, I’ve finally managed to pull something together and here it is:

Part of my day-job involves organising conference sessions for IBC, the leading international broadcast technology exhibition.  At IBC, I have the privilege of seeing some of the best TV and video material produced worldwide.  My first effort pales into insignificance by comparison but having been through the production process, my respect for the professionals has risen considerably.

Thanks to a number of individuals and organisations who have helped in producing the film, notably:

The Samuel Ryder Foundation’s fund-raising for a statue of Sam in St Peter’s Street, St Albans, is gathering pace.  Check out their website and if you’ve enjoyed the drama of the latest Ryder Cup, please consider making a donation!

And for the definitive Ryder biography do get hold of a copy Samuel Ryder – The Man Behind The Ryder Cup by Peter Fry.

 

Silversmiths and FA Cups

By , 17th May 2014 09:01

First published 17 May 2011, Updated: 5 November 2012 & 17 May 2014

The FA Cup celebrated a centenary in 2011.

The silver trophy familiar to football fans worldwide, was designed by Fattorini & Sons of 21 Kirkgate, Bradford and manufactured in Sheffield.

Tony Fattorini, a member of the Bradford branch of the Fattorini dynasty in the 1890s, was a major force in the Yorkshire city’s sporting life. He represented Manningham Rugby Club when it joined the 1895 breakaway from the Rugby Union that ultimately led to the formation of the Rugby League. In 1903, he was involved when Manningham changed codes again, dropping rugby in favour of association football to become Bradford City AFC. Also involved in athletics – he is listed as a timekeeper for athletics and gymnastics in the official report of the 1908 London Olympics – Tony emphasised the importance of fitness and stamina conditioning at the young football club. The team’s endurance played a significant role in the 1911 FA Cup run that made Bradford City the first winners of the Fattorini-designed Cup: City beat Newcastle United 1-0 in a replay at Old Trafford after a goalless draw at Crystal Palace. The Centenary of Bradford City’s FA Cup victory was celebrated with an exhibition in Bradford Museum.

Fattorini had secured the commission to create a new FA Cup through a national competition after the Football Association decided to retire the previous trophy on the grounds that its design had been pirated: even a century ago, sporting authorities had an eye on protecting their commercial rights! Fattorini had already established credentials in sport having made Rugby League’s Challenge Cup in 1897. The present day business, Thomas Fattorini Ltd, now headquartered on Regent Street in Birmingham’s Jewelry Quarter, continues to maintain the Challenge Cup to this day. Fattorini’s have also produced Lonsdale Belts [pdf] for British boxing champions since they were instigated in 1909.

This advert shows Fattorini’s two Bradford premises in the late Victorian period. The properties occupying these sites today can be seen on StreetView:

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The Westgate/Goodwin Street building appears to be still standing.


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After 80 years of wear and tear at the hands of sometimes over exuberant Cup winners, the original Fattorini FA Cup was retired after the 1991 Final. The Cup presented to winners from the 1992 Final is an exact replica of the Fattorini trophy commissioned by the FA from Toye, Kenning & Spencer. Toye’s London showroom on Great Queen Street is opposite the Grand Connaught Rooms built on the site of the Freemasons’ Tavern where the FA was founded at a meeting on 26 October 1863.

On the eve of the 2014 Cup Final between Arsenal & Hull City, the FA announced that silversmiths Thomas Lyte of London had crafted a third edition of the Fattorini design.  Thanks to this FA video, we can learn something about the individual silversmiths – Kevin Williams, Chris Hurley and Colin Hines – and the silversmithing, chasing, polishing and plating crafts employed in creating this latest FA Cup.

The ThomasLyte website reveals that the company also cares for the Ryder Cup and the William Webb Ellis Rugby World Cup.

The original FA Cup

First presented to the Wanderers at the Oval in 1872, the original Football Association Challenge Cup measured 18 inches tall and was made at a cost of £20 by Martin, Hall & Co at the Shrewsbury Works, 53 Broad Street, Sheffield Park. Known as the ‘the little tin idol‘, it was famously stolen on 11 September 1895 from the premises of William Shillcock, a football outfitter at 73 Newtown Road in Birmingham. It had been on public display following Aston Villa’s victory in the tournament that year and was never recovered.

Fortunately, Wolverhampton Wanderers had commissioned Birmingham silversmith, and former Aston Villa player & England international Oliver Howard Vaughton to create miniatures of the original cup to celebrate their 1893 victory. From these Vaughton was able to manufacture a replacement which was used until 1910.

This second FA Cup was subsequently presented to Lord Kinnaird in recognition of long service as FA president. It was eventually sold at auction in 2005 to David Gold, currently one of the co-owners of West Ham United, for $478,400. Gold loaned the Cup to the National Football Museum where it is on permanent public display.

So the trophy presented at Wembley in 2014 becomes the fifth FA Cup presented to a winning finalist.

The complete list of FA Cup winners since 1872 can be found here.

George Hotel Huddersfield – Birthplace of the Rugby League

By , 25th October 2013 17:51

Saturday 26th October 2013 may mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association at the Freemason’s Tavern in London, but it is also the opening day of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

The sport of rugby league was effectively born on 29 August 1895 when representatives of twenty-two clubs met at the George Hotel, Huddersfield and formed the Northern Rugby Football Union.  The clubs, mostly from Yorkshire and Lancashire, wanted to have the option of compensating players for taking time off work to play in Saturday matches.  “Broken time” payments were outlawed by the then Rugby Football Union.


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The Rugby League World Cup dates back to an inaugural tournament in France in 1954 – predating its Rugby Union counterpart by some 33 years.

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