Tag Archives: City Ground

School Gardener wins F.A.Cup Medal !!!

During the early months of the Easter Term of 1925, the long serving and popular School Gardener, Mr Kidd, was taken seriously ill. He had worked at the High School for thirty-seven years, and “must have been seen by thousands of boys at his work in front of the school.”  Mr Kidd was not well enough to carry on with his job and, poor man, was eventually to succumb to his illness during the early part of the Summer Term.  He was duly succeeded as the School Gardener by Mr Wragg, whom the “Nottinghamian” called “a footballer and cricketer of great prowess”.

Mr Wragg was paid £3 per week, which was a decent wage in 1925. At the same time, my own Grandad was more than happy to earn £2.20 as his weekly wage in a clay works in South Derbyshire. I have done quite a lot of research about who exactly Mr Wragg was.  Of course, nearly a century after the event, it is impossible to establish the truth without the slightest shred of doubt whatsoever, but I am now 99.9% certain that the High School’s new Gardener was William Arthur “Willie” Wragg.

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Willie Wragg was born in Radford, Nottingham in 1875, and initially played local football for Notts Olympic, Sutton-in-Ashfield, Newstead Byron and then Hucknall Portland. He was soon signed by Nottingham Forest and played for them as a professional footballer from 1896-1899. Appearing usually as a left-half, Willie made 48 League appearances in the First Division for Forest and scored one goal. Overall, he played 58 times for Forest in all competitions. This photograph shows the home of Nottingham Forest, the City Ground, during the 1898-1899 season:

City-Ground-1898

Willie made his début at home to Liverpool on November 28th 1896 in a comfortable 2-0 victory. He went on to play a further twelve times in the First Division that season, with a further four appearances in the F.A.Cup. He scored a single goal in a friendly match, a 2-1 victory over Dundee United at Crystal Palace. The following season of 1896-1897, Willie Wragg made 24 appearances in Division One and six in the F.A.Cup. He scored a single goal in the First Division in a 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland. The next season of 1897-1898 was his last at Forest. He played 13 times with most of his games coming as a left fullback. His final appearance came as a left half in a 0-0 draw at home to local rivals Notts County in front of a crowd of some 16,000 spectators. Here is Notts County’s magpie kit on that long ago Saturday, September 4th 1897. The crowd was a very respectable 15,000 spectators:

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As far as the boys are concerned the School Gardener can be a rather anonymous figure, working away quietly at the front of the school, a man whom the majority of pupils would not even notice. They were probably unaware of his lengthy pedigree as a professional footballer, but many hundreds of those unknowing little boys would have given a great deal to get their hands on what Willie Wragg had won during his three years at Forest, namely a Winner’s Medal from an F.A.Cup Final.

Willie had played at Crystal Palace on April 16th 1898 in front of a crowd of 62,017 spectators, when Nottingham Forest beat Derby County, Steve Bloomer and all, by three goals to one. Here is the front of the programme:

programme

And here is the back:$(KGrHqFHJE4FGNV2GFfCBRonbILDSQ~~60_35

From his position as a left-half, Willie actually created Forest’s first goal, for it was from his free kick on the left near the touchline, that the ball eventually reached Arthur Capes who hit  the back of the net through a crowd of defenders.  Here is a picture of the game in progress…IMAGE_386

And here is a second photograph from a little further back…

Capture

Later in the game, Wragg aggravated an injury suffered in the first-half, and, in the days before substitutes, was forced to move out on to the wing, not taking much further part in the game.That did not stop his appearance on the souvenir cigarette card…

$_35

Willie then left Forest, to go and play for Leicester Fosse in the Second Division. He spent two seasons at Leicester, making 50 appearances and scoring four goals. He was perhaps a little slower now and played at full back. Willie also became the club’s free kick specialist. He went on to appear just once for Small Heath (later to become Birmingham City), but he was unfortunately unable to displace George Adey from the team. His footballing career then rather petered out as he played for Watford in the Southern League and then Hinckley Town in the Midland League. His Football League career began again with Chesterfield Town (20 appearances, no goals) before a final return to non-League football with Accrington Stanley, Doncaster Rovers and finally Brighton & Hove Albion. Overall, Willie Wragg had made 119 appearances in the Football League.

Personally I believe that Willie Wragg may well have acquired his job as School Gardener at the High School through his past career at Nottingham Forest. At the time of the Cup win in 1898, the club’s then Chairman was Mr William Thomas Hancock, a prominent Old Boy of the High School, who had retired as Chairman of Nottingham Forest in 1920, only five years before Willie Wragg was appointed as the School Gardener. In 1925 Mr Hancock was still a Life Member of the football club.

Most romantically of all though, perhaps ex-Chairman Hancock still remembered his day of glory when he posed on the Official Photograph of the F.A.Cup Winners of 1898 and knew exactly who had done more than his share to make possible that unique and unrepeatable thrill of being a winner. Mr Hancock is the gentleman third from the left on the back row.

forest team

Indeed, in 1898, when this photograph was taken of the players in the victorious team at Crystal Palace, how proud Mr Hancock must have been to stand with them:

back row: H.Hallam (Secretary), T.McInnes, Mr W. T. Hancock (Chairman), A.Ritchie, D.Allsop, unknown, A.Scott, unknown, A.Spouncer, G.Bee (Trainer)

front row:  C.H.Richards, Frank Forman, J.McPherson, W.A.Wragg, A.Capes

sitting:  L.Benbow

The photograph is, in itself, quite interesting, because it is one of two very similar photographs. In one of them, Forest posed with the cup, and in the other, they were photographed without it. The reason for this was that the crowd for the F.A.Cup Final was 62,000 spectators and almost all of them invariably invaded the playing area after the end of the game. This made it quite impossible to take a proper photograph of the winning team. And certainly the crowds do look huge and they seem to be pretty much left to their own devices…

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The usual convention, therefore, was that both teams were photographed before the match, in conditions of complete calm, the photographers taking two pictures of each, one as victors with the trophy, the other as losers without it.  Afterwards, the two irrelevant photos were destroyed, although this has clearly not happened in this case.

It is also known that in this particular year, enormous problems were experienced with Forest’s red shirts and blue shorts, which did not show up particularly well in the comparatively dull weather conditions.

forest kit

The photographers therefore asked them to pose in Derby’s kit, wearing white shirts and black shorts. Perhaps this is why they look especially miserable, although, of course, Forest were certainly to have the last laugh.

Whatever the reason for Willie Wragg becoming the School Gardener, though, there was certainly an enormous connection between the football club and the High School. Almost forty Old Nottinghamians had already played for Forest, especially in the 1880s, and many of them had represented the club in important cup games, including semi-finals. By 1925, they were all just of the age to occupy important administrative posts in the club and certainly Tinsley Lindley had been a Committee member at Forest.

tinsley

Another familiar face at the City Ground was an Old Nottinghamian who had made his England début alongside Tinsley Lindley in a 6-1 victory over Ireland in Belfast. This was John Edward Leighton, called “Teddy” when he was at school, or, when he played for Forest, “Kipper”, because of his incredible ability to fall asleep in the dressing room before games. Indeed, old Mr Leighton was to fall asleep for the very last time at the City Ground, on the afternoon of Saturday, April 15th 1944, at the age of seventy-nine after a fatal seizure. His sudden demise occurred during a Wartime Cup tie between Nottingham Forest and Northampton Town, a fixture in which the Reds were eventually to triumph by 1-0. Here is “Kipper” though, on a better, and younger, day, sitting with all his pals, it is thought, in the Church Cemetery on Forest Road. They are all wearing the same bright scarlet shirts, and they are universally known as “The Garibaldi Reds” One day they will win the European Cup. Twice.

teddy

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Filed under Derby County, Football, History, Nottingham, The High School

“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”

Over the centuries, the weather can often be extreme, and some amazingly strange things have happened. In 1110, nearly a thousand years ago, Nottingham experienced a terrifying earthquake. Bizarrely, the River Trent dried up for several hours, presumably as it drained into, and then eventually filled up, a huge new crack in the ground that it had created somewhere upstream.

In the Nottingham of 1682, extremely low temperatures lasted from September until February of the next year. Shortages of coal, wood and food were caused by difficulties in the transport system, and  the fields, roads and rivers were all frozen up. The Trent, for example, was completely impossible to navigate throughout the entire period of the freeze.

It was equally cold in 1855 when a cricket match was played on the frozen River Trent. The victors roasted, and ate, the greater part of a whole sheep without the ice either melting or giving way. When the thaw set in, an iceberg weighing many tons was unleashed in the river and it destroyed a bridge downstream when it crashed into it.

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A local solicitor, William Parsons, recorded the weather’s outrages in his diary:

“In 1814, we had so severe a frost as to freeze the Trent over, the first time I believe. It continued 16 weeks. The Trent was then so frozen that a fair was held and oxen, sheep and pigs were roasted.”

In 1838, the River Trent froze over at the beginning of the year. William’s entry for January 20th reads:

“The frost has now continued about twelve days but with greater severity than is remembered. Many thousands from Nottingham went to see the Trent today. The frost continues extremely severe. The Trent this afternoon is now frozen completely over and I was sliding upon it just above Trent Bridge.  I shall visit it tomorrow again it being of rare occurrence to be frozen. The snow continues upon the ground about six inches deep. My hands are very severely chapped that I am now writing in kid gloves”.

He described the river as:

“in that state frozen it appeared like a frothy, foaming river of snow. Many people were crossing on the ice. I walked down to the bridge and crossed the river just above it where numbers were also winding their way through projecting masses of snow covered in ice. The river was more rough and picturesque in this part than in any other.”

The most charming thing about William’s diary is his great honesty. As regards the consumption of alcohol in very large quantities, he was a man many years before his time:

“Time worse than wasted, money spent, health injured, myself debased! Let these days of drunken, senseless riot be remembered only as incitements to become a rigid teetotaller”.

We’ve all been there.

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The River Trent was a very different river in those days and that is why it used to freeze fairly regularly during exceptionally cold weather. There were, of course, no power stations releasing huge quantities of warm water which might increase the natural temperature of the river, but that is not the most fundamental reason for the change. Nowadays, the waters of the Trent have been for the most part  tamed and confined firmly in great ramparts of concrete. Because of the way in which the river has been turned into a giant canal, it is now much deeper and fast flowing than it used to be. The edges of the river do not extend outwards in leisurely fashion into marshes or shallow ponds with very little flow. The modern Trent no longer stretches, as it did in primeval times, from the sandstone cliffs south of St Mary’s Church for many, many hundreds of yards into present day West Bridgford. And the old wide river, of course, was a shallow, more slow flowing river, the kind of waterway that was much more likely to freeze in severe weather.

St Mary’s Church is in the top left of the map, near to the word “Museum”. It is represented by a cross and a square joined together. Trent Bridge is indicated by the orange arrow, and the southern edge of the waters centuries ago would have been well to the south of the present day B679 (bottom left of the map) or the Trent Valley Way (top middle right of the map).

old trent bridge

In those ancient of days, when the river was so very much wider, the only safe crossing, either on  foot or on horseback, was across the band of harder rock where Trent Bridge now stands.

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On January 16th 1892, on a “piercingly cold” Saturday, Nottingham Forest played Newcastle East End at the City Ground. When the crowd arrived at Trent Bridge, they were surprised to see “skating in progress on the old course of the River Trent.”  Because of the recent introduction of the penalty kick, the frozen football pitch had some new markings, which in this case were made of broad strips of black soot. Newcastle changed from their normal crimson shirts into black and white stripes. Hopefully, before the game, Old Nottinghamian Tinsley Lindley, Forest’s centre forward, was able to walk across the Trent to the game, just like Brian Clough used to do.

NTGM006720

Three years later, in 1895, the river froze for the last time. Again, the region’s economy suffered. Numerous tributary rivers smaller than the Trent were also frozen, and many jetties and warehouses became unusable. This caused huge job losses in local industry.

MS 258/3

The river was caught in this devastating frost for almost a fortnight.  Skaters were able to venture onto the safe and solid ice over many miles of the Trent’s length. The ice was thick enough to allow a hockey game between teams from Newark and Burton-on-Trent to take place on a pitch somewhere upstream from Averham Weirs.

Here a huge crowd of boys are standing on the thick ice. Everybody looks very happy, but there were several fatalities, as people contrived to find excessively thin ice to stand on. Lady Bay Bridge can just be seen through the arches of Trent Bridge.

freezes caption 1

And not a scarf or a pair of gloves in sight. Kids were tough, and Health and Safety hadn’t even been thought of yet.

The photograph above was taken from opposite the West Bridgford embankment, to the south of Trent Bridge, near to the present day County Hall. Look for the orange arrow:

county hall

In places the extreme frost, the most severe in living memory, penetrated into the ground so deeply that it froze the tap water in the mains. Ordinary people suffered greatly and many had no water supply whatsoever, a parlous situation which was to last for several weeks. To overcome this most basic of problems, stand-pipes fitted with taps were set up at various places in the streets, and buckets could be filled up there. January and February of 1895 was a time of difficulty and danger for ordinary people and those who survived it were to remember it for the rest of their lives.
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In the photograph above, a fire can be seen burning against the bridge, one of the many which blazed happily on the surface of the ice. The river’s rate of flow is reduced by the ice floes so much that it is almost reminiscent of a river during a drought.

During these bitterly cold winters at the turn of the twentieth century, my grandfather, Will, who had emigrated to Canada around 1905, saw Niagara Falls, for the large part frozen, on at least one occasion, this postcard dating most probably from 1911.

naiagara

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Filed under History, Nottingham, Science, Wildlife and Nature