In memory of Steve Maguire, no finer historian of this club, whose pieces in Chairboys Gas in the 1980s first sparked the interest of me, and many others, in the history of this great club.
From previous club histories we know some of the names of the players in the first season but very little else about them. When and where were they born, where did they live, what were their jobs? Were they really all, literally, chairboys?
Thanks to the great popularity of family history in recent years, a number of websites can now give us an insight into the lives of these players. Returns from the Civil Registration Index and the 10-yearly Census prove the most useful. Here then are those 20 first-season players from the seven known line-ups. Their age at the first match in 1887 is in brackets, which supports the general belief that the older ones started playing informally together in 1884. Note that 30 years is the oldest age at which any of these retired from the first team (Ted Webb), perhaps the long working hours and poorer health in those days took its toll.
Jim BALL (15) – b. 1871, Wycombe. Nicknamed “Chummy” and a real legend. Brought up in 7 Railway Place, he then lived for many years in Queen Street. Worked as a cabinet and Windsor Chairmaker, and in 1911 was single and living with his widowed mother and younger brother Albert, at 2 Queen Street. He had a distinguished career as first-choice goalkeeper but, aged only 27/28, he played his last game for the Chairboys in December 1897. Along with Datchet Webb, he was the only remaining player from the first season. Jim died in Wycombe in 1947, aged 75.
Ted BALL(20) – b. 1867, Amersham. Grew up next to his cousin Jim Ball in Queen Street, a butcher’s boy at 14, he also lived in Lower Gordon Road and 62 Totteridge Road, working as a wood machinist in a chair factory. Died in Wycombe in 1938, aged 71.
George BOWLES (18/19) – b.1869, Wycombe. After growing up in Albert Place, he moved to 37 Newland Street and was at 80 Desborough Road in 1911 with his family of seven children. A French polisher by trade, he played in the first seven seasons as a right half-back. Died in Wycombe in 1945, aged 76.
George COOK (20) – b. 1867, Wycombe Marsh. Lived at 10 Pennington Row in 1881 and 1891 before being found at 22 Totteridge Road in 1901, working as a chair polisher. Elected Treasurer in 1887, he died in 1908 aged just 41, leaving widow Ellen and three surviving children at Duke Street. She was still living there in the late 50s.
Albert CURTIS (16) – b. 1871 in Wycombe. Known as Noel, he was a chairmaker who lived in Railway Place (1881) and Queen Street (1891) before we find him in Deritend, Aston in 1901.
Joe GRACE (18/19) – b. 1869, Downley. Grew up in Duke Street before moving to 25 Slater Street (1891), then Totteridge and Sands. Foreman chairmaker.
William GRACE (15/16) – b. 1871, Great Marlow. Centre-forward who led a nomadic existence in the building trade after his last appearance in 1890. He worked as a labourer and scaffolder, lodging in various Home Counties locations. Married with two surviving children.
Bill HATHAWAY (18) – b. 1869, Downley. A chairmaker who lived in Fuller Place and 22 Laura Place before moving to Loudwater.
Jim HEARNE (21)– b. 1866, Wycombe. Chair polisher, lived in Railway Place (1891) and Alma Cottages, London Road (1901).
Alf THORN (18/19) – b. 1869 West Wycombe. Chairmaker, lived in Brook Street (1891) before moving to Shoreditch, London (1901)
George JOHNSON (20) – b. 1867, Wycombe. A 14-year-old hay binder in 1881 at 3 Railway Terrace. Was still there as a chairmaker in 1891 and then at 5 Easton Terrace in 1901.
Bill LUKER (19) – b. 1867, Wycombe. Brother to Thomas. Chairmaker living at 13 Slater Street , 77 Gordon Road and 47 Abercrombie Avenue.
Thomas LUKER (16) – b. 1871, Wycombe. Brother to Bill. Lived at 13 Slater Street and 1 St Ives Cottages, Dashwood Avenue, as a chairmaker.
Joe NORTON (20) – Difficult to pin-point but possibly b. 1867, Calne, Wilts, so he would be the only ‘outsider’ in the team. Trade unknown, the first president of the club, he only played in the first season and we lose track of him after that. Previously the secretary and captain of Wycombe Rangers, he sold goalposts, flags and a ball to Wanderers in 1886 for 18/6d.
Jim PUTNAM (17) – b.1870, Wycombe. Son of a watercress grower, Jim turned to this occupation after a stint as chairmaker. The Wye is known to have had cress beds at this time and shows how clean it was. Lived at 3 Bull Lane in the town centre and was a regular in seven of the first eight seasons, usually as centre half-back. Died in London in 1947, aged 81.
John RANDALL (20) – b. 1867, Wycombe. Lived at St Mary Street in 1881 and 1891 and was a chair back maker, before progressing to cabinet maker in 1901 at 7 Duke Street. In 1911 he had moved two doors down to 9 Duke Street with wife Melinda and three children. Ted Rolph interviewed him in the club’s 75th anniversary year, and he was the last player from 1887 then still alive. In goal for the infamous first season 14-0 Wycombe Cup defeat to Ramblers, John memorably describes how a strong wind down the pitch and no nets meant he had to run a long way to retrieve the ball after a goal! John died in 1960 in Wycombe, aged 93.
Jim RAY (18) – b. 1868, Wycombe. A key figure in that first season as club secretary and was one of the few players able to read. We know that he was living at that time in 6 Aveling Villas. He moved around Wycombe, living at 6 Easton Terrace, 4 Frogmoor, 1 Aveling Road and 115 Hughenden Road. Worked as a wheelwright and a coach painter. Club’s first scorer, the first of many as a left winger in his six seasons.
Ralph STALLWOOD (18) - b. 1869, Bradenham. Brought up in Water Lane, we lose track of him until 1911 when found at Lily’s Walk working as a carman.
Ted WEBB (19) b. 1868, Wycombe. Full name Edward Emanuel Webb, popularly known as “Datchet”. The original legend, he was the captain and regular centre-forward/inside-right in those early years, playing his last game in December 1897 at the age of 30. Born to a cane seat framer father and a laundress mother, he grew up in 29 Duke Street and was a Windsor Chair maker living in Gordon Road in 1891 with his widowed mother. In 1901 we find him at 4 Ash Terrace, off Desborough Street, now married to Ann with one son. At 9 Cedar Terrace in 1911, son Edward is now a 15-year-old errand boy in the furniture trade, and he has two daughters as well, Ivy and Gladys. Ted died in Wycombe in 1947, aged 78.
John WILKS (15) – b.1871, Fingest, Bucks. Grew up in Vine Terrace, before moving to Gordon Road and 13 Lower Gordon Road. Employed as a bricklayer/builder and played in the first four seasons. Died in Wycombe in 1944, aged 72.
There are two others important characters at that time:
Bill DIMMOCK (29) – b.1858, Wycombe. Chairman in the first season, aged 29. Grew up in Railway Place, moved to Baines Cottages (off Peterborough Avenue) and 7 George Street. Goods carman by trade, club historian Ted Rolph describes him as a brewer’s drayman. He had 10 surviving children. Died in Wycombe in 1935, aged 76.
Harry ROLPH (27/28) – b. 1859, Sherington, Bucks as Henry Goode Rolph. Was the team’s first coach and won a Bucks & Berks Senior Cup medal with Marlow in 1881. Was considered the best player on the Rye at the time. Employed as a coachman (domestic), we find him living in 4 Gordon Road and 30 Saffron Road. Died in Wycombe in 1942, aged 83.
The vast majority of the players lived in the North Town area, many in the streets below, and were employed in the chair industry in or way or another. Not surprising given that this area had 14 chair manufacturers in 1883 - according to Kelly’s Directory of Buckinghamshire - out of a total of 68 in the town.
These were as follows:
Duke Street: Joseph Hawkins, Thomas Hearne
Queen Street: Jones Brothers
Queens’ Road: Charles Birch, William Collins & Son, William Dudley, James Smith
Railway Place: James Oxlade, Joseph White
Totteridge Road: John Crook, George Hobbs (also in Slater Street), Solomon Smith
Slater Street: Richard Mead, William Tilbury
With many thanks to Dave Finch for his research on the complete player line-ups, which we hope to publish in full soon. If anyone has any further information on these players, or any queries on any player, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.