The Luton Charity Cup

Luton Town played just seven competitive games between its formation in April 1885 and the Annual General Meeting in August 1889.  The F.A. Cup was the sole competition the club entered.  All the other games had been friendlies.  If the club were to progress then more competitive games were needed to test the players and raise the profile of the club which would in turn attract better players.

It was decided to enter the Kettering Charity Cup for the 1889/90 season.  This was a knockout tournament competed for by clubs within a certain radius of Kettering.  Charity Cup competitions had become popular with clubs as they added extra competitive games to their diaries.  Moreover, as the title implies, the proceeds of the competition, after expenses, would go to a charity.  The gate money from the semi-finals and final tie would go to, in Kettering’s case, the Northampton Infirmary and the Kettering Dispensary.  At this time people had to pay for their own medical care and a visit to hospital would be expensive for most people.  It appears that, in practice, the hospital took what the patient could afford.  The balance was made up from charitable donations gained from organised events and individuals.  The local newspapers often published details of other donations from individuals such as the following from July 1890.

“The Luton Cottage Hospital report for the week ending 28th July 1890 showed that they “admitted 5, discharged 2, remaining 14, dead 1”.   The hospital received charitable donations from the public and these are listed as follows: “Presents – Mrs Tydeman, pudding, flowers and eggs; Mrs. J.H. Brown, fruit; Horticultural Society, vegetables; Mrs Ward and Mrs Gurney, vegetables; Park-street Primitive Methodist Chapel, flowers; Friends, papers; Mrs Carruthers, papers; Mrs Venus, flowers; House Committee present – Messrs Smart, Ewen, Williams, Lye and Phillips”.  The Medical Officer for the ensuing week was Mr Sworder.”

Luton Town reached the final of the Kettering Charity Cup in the first season, losing to a superb Grantham Rovers team (who won it three years running and kept the trophy) after a replay.  The cup run really captured the imagination of the Luton public with over 500 travelling to Kettering for each of the final games on board specially chartered trains.   The competition had a direct impact on the local press who were often hostile to football.  At last they woke up to the fact that football helped to sell newspapers.  The fact that football was helping raise substantial sums for charity (and the poor) also no doubt influenced the attitude of the newspapers.  The Luton Reporter newspaper soon adopted a football gossip column.  A supporter wasted no time in writing the following letter to the Luton Reporter which was published on the 3rd May 1890.

“Proposed Charity Football Cup.”

“Sir, I must ask you to excuse my again troubling you, but not hearing anything was being done towards getting up a “Cup” for Luton I thought perhaps another reminder would not be out of place.  My idea is that now is the time to get the subscribers.  Just at the close of a very enjoyable and successful season people have more sympathy, and will give more freely now than in three months’ time.  I would suggest that the amount to be raised should not be less than £100 in subscriptions of 10s and 20s., and a committee be formed for the subscribers.  Let it be thoroughly understood that only those that give will have any voice in the management and arrangement of this “Cup,” so as to prevent any packed meeting electing  a committee to have control and perhaps not a man amongst them gave a shilling.

I am surprised that the committee of the Hospital have not taken any interest in this suggested “Charity Cup”, seeing they would be so largely interested.  Perhaps they do not require the monetary assistance, or object to the means by which it is procured.  Any way I don’t suppose the Children’s Home will have any of this feeling, and would suggest if not handing all the proceeds over to them, giving them a good part and securing the co-operation.  To carry this to a successful issue a committee should be formed at once to see about raising the money and getting all in working order before the next football fixtures are arranged.

Before concluding, I should like to make one remark respecting the public meeting that will be called to elect the committee for next season’s football.  I think, sir, it should either be a meeting of those persons that are subscribers, or if a public meeting only subscribers should be allowed to vote.  One hears a lot of talk about these meetings being packed by friends or special players, who never take season tickets, and outvote those who are the support of the club.  Of course this is unfair, and uncivil of the managers to allow it to exist when they have had it brought before their notice.

I am, sir, yours,


Momentum gathered the following week when the Luton Times supported the idea and the editorial of the 10th May Luton Reporter took up the campaign.

“A proposal to establish a Football Challenge Cup for the benefit of local charities, which a correspondent ventured to make through the medium of our columns, has been taken up by a number of gentlemen interested in the game, and we hope soon to be able to say that there is a prospect of the idea being carried out with the success it deserves.  The suggestion is to offer a cup to be played for annually by clubs within a certain radius of Luton, the gate-money collected at the final matches, which would take place in the town, being devoted to the funds of the Cottage Hospital, the Children’s Home, or other public institutions.  The idea, in short, is but to copy a system which is being practiced very successfully in some other parts of the country, and there is no reason to doubt that the result would be any less satisfactory here.”

The news column added more details.

“The proposed football charity cup.  The letters which appeared in our columns during the last few weeks in the direction of forming a Charity Cup Association in aid of the Bute Hospital and Children’s Home was discussed at a meeting at the Town Hall last (Thursday) night in furtherance of the object.  The Mayor (Alderman Alexander) occupied the chair, and there was a fair attendance of those interested in football, while the Cottage Hospital was represented by Dr. Sworder and Mr F.W. Back.  The Mayor, in opening the meeting, wished the project success, and trusted that the necessary money would be raised.  Mr G. Fryson said that owing to the success of the Luton team in their recent engagements in the Kettering Cup competition a number of inquiries were made in the town “Cannot we have a Football Charity Cup in Luton?” They had been informed that last year £50 was handed over by Kettering authorities to the charities, and it was anticipated that about £120 would be realised this year.  It had been thought that what could be done at Kettering could be done at Luton and he would add that the two institutions which had been mentioned were very deserving of support.  Mr H. Beecroft suggested that a committee should be formed to make the preliminary inquiries and to collect subscriptions.  He though they would need quite £70 to provide a good cup and to cover the original expense.  Mr F. Scott intimated that the value of the Kettering Cup was stated at £50, and one to represent that value could be obtained for about £35.  Mr H. Beecroft proposed that there should be such a competition, and that the two charities should be the Cottage Hospital and the Children’s Home.  Dr. Sworder seconded.  Mr I. Smith (Secretary to the Town Football Club) proposed as an amendment that the profits should be divided equally between the two charities already named and the Friendly Societies Dispensary.  Mr H. Wilkins seconded, but on the suggestion of Mr F. Beecroft both propositions were withdrawn and substituted by one to the effect that such a competition should take place.  This was unanimously carried.  A lengthy discussion followed, in the course of which it was intimated that the probable expense of starting the scheme would be upwards of £50.  It was agreed that subscriptions of 2 Guineas and upwards should be collected, and a committee was formed to make the necessary preliminary arrangements”.

24th May 1890 Luton Reporter;

“The adjourned public meeting in connection with the proposal to establish a football Charity Cup competition, took place in the Town Hall on Friday night, and there was a good attendance of those interested in the movement, the Mayor (Alderman Alexander) again presiding.  The secretary pro tem (Mr I. Smith secretary of the Town Club) presented a code of rules which had been adopted by the committee, and these were adopted without amendment, though there was a discussion on the proviso that only subscribers of 3s. should be allowed to vote on matters concerning the competition, it being thought that 2s 6d., should be the qualifying sum.  Officers were elected as follows: Presidents, The Mayor; vice-presidents, Messrs A. Carruthers, and F. Beecroft: treasurer Mr G. Ordish; secretary Mr G. Fryson; committee, Messrs H. Beecroft, F. Hucklesby, A. Wilkinson, J. Squires, F.W. Hill, C. Dillingham, G. Squires, C. Plummer and A.F. Booth.”

The Luton Reporter of 13th September 1890 gave an update on the Luton Charity Cup.

“the special committee of the Charity Football Cup Association met at the Cowper Arms coffee-tavern on Monday night under the presidency of Mr F. Beecroft in order to hold the draw for the first round of the competition.  Amongst those present were representatives of the Luton Montrose and Maidenhead clubs.  It was ascertained that there were 20 entries and the draw resulted as follows: Division 1, Luton Montrose v Luton Town; Bedford, Mountaineers and Luton Terriers, byes.  Division 2, Kettering Hawks v Stantonbury; Rushden, Irthlingborough and Kettering Town, byes.  Division 3, Banbury v Wolverton L and N.W. ; Maidenhead, Wolverton Town and Wallingford, byes.  Division 4, Millwall Athletic v City Ramblers; Vulcans, 1st Scots Guards and Windsor Phoenix, byes.  It was decided that the first-named clubs should have choice of grounds, and that the first round should be played on or before Saturday, October 25th.”

The competition was born.  I will not go into the whole history of the competition at this time as that will be told within the main story.  I will instead concentrate of the silverware itself.

From the Luton Reporter 28th February 1891

“The design of the medals to be presented to the players in the final for the Luton Cup have been shown to me, and it is very neat.  The arms of the town are to appear on one side enamelled in their proper colours.”  The Trophy itself was valued at £70.  It was paid for by subscriptions from the public who were paid back over a number of years from the proceeds.

On the 11th April 1891 Windsor Phoenix won their Luton Charity Cup semi-final 2 0 against Wolverton L. and N.W. (played at Dallow Lane) though not as easily as some thought.  The Luton Times estimated the crowd at 800.  This set up the final on the 18th April.  The Luton Reporter anticipated a record crowd with 1,500 expected from Kettering “as well as contingents from other parts of the district.”  The presentation of the cup and medals would take place in the Town Hall.  We get a few more details as the paper continues;

“The medals, which were on view in Messrs. Beecroft and Co’s window last week, are 22 in number.  The centre bears the borough arms in enamel, and an inscription runs around the border.  The design is very pretty, and the medals, which are of sterling silver, are well worth winning.”

From the Luton Reporter April 1891 talking about the impending presentation to Kettering, the first winners of the Luton Charity Cup.

“The cup and medals were presented immediately after the match in the Town Hall.  There was a very large crowd outside the hall to listen to a performance by the Kettering Town Prize Band, while inside there was a large number of supporters of the winning team and others interested in the matter.  Mr F. Beecroft presided, and those present on the platform, in addition to the members of the team, included Messrs. N. Newman, H.T. Favell, C. Henson, F. Barlow (Kettering), Alderman Alexander (ex-Mayor), Mr G. Sell (Deputy Town Clerk), Councillor Dillingham, Messrs H. Beecroft, G. Ordish, G. Fryson, F. Hucklesby, G.H. Small, S.W. Smith, T. Cain, J.G. Hurst, C. Plummer, F.W. Hill, T.N. Hughes, A. Wilkinson, F. Pitkin, I. Smith, W. Smith, J. Squires, G. Squires and C. Squires (referee).  The teams were loudly applauded on taking their places.  The cup stood on the edge of the platform, and it presented an attractive appearance.  It is a handsome trophy, and well worth winning.  It bears upon one side the name of the competition, and on the other a capitally executed illustration of a struggle on the football field.  The borough arms appear on a shield, and upon a couple of blocks at the sides are representations of a lion and a greyhound, these denoting strength and fleetness.  Over all appears the figure of Victory.  The medals were arranged on the chairman’s table; they are of silver with the town arms in coloured enamel.”

The ex-mayor, Alderman Alexander included the following in his long speech before presenting the trophy to the Kettering captain.

“Allow me to congratulate all players who have taken part in the competition for this cup: all cannot be successful but the motto is “Try and try again.”  Referring afterwards to the medals, the speaker said the motto which they bore was good – “We live and rise by our industry.”  Might that motto inspire them all to do their duty (loud applause).”

The first year of the competition saw £45 go to each of the three charities – the Bute Hospital, the Children’s Home and the Friendly Institute.  The amounts increased over the next few years.

Luton Town were the winners of the Luton Charity Cup in 1894, pictured below.


The Luton Charity Cup competition seems to have died out in the late 1890’s as Luton Town concentrated on the league.  It is a handsome trophy and I wondered what happened to it.  I was inspired to trace it after I managed to acquire a Luton Charity Cup medal from 1894 below;

Luton Charity Cup medal

It is missing the central disc with the coat of arms and motto in enamel.  The medal was made by Vaughton’s of Birmingham.  I contacted them to obtain more information but was told that the original company had been sold and the present company has no records.

The design of the medal had changed from 1892.  Below is a medal won by F. McCullough of Millwall Athletic.

Luton Charity Cup medal 1892Luton Charity Cup medal 1892 2

Vaughton's advert from 1892

I kept an eye out for the trophy and by chance I saw the postcard below from 1906.

Tradesmen's Cup - the Grocers beat the Hirdressers 3 0 in the final

The trophy had been recycled into the Tradesman’s Cup and the Grocers beat the Hairdresser’s 3 0 in the final at Kenilworth Road.  The Grocers team was Culham, Inns, Primett, Willison, Evans, French, Morris, Linger, Boston, Hewitt and Shane.  Morris, Boston and Shane scored the goals.  The trophy was presented to P. Boston by the Chief Constable, Mr Teale.

I next spotted the trophy in the 9th May 1922 Pictorial, below.  Apologies for the poor quality of the photo.

IMG_3537 (1)

Tracing the trophy to 1922 was fine but what happened to it after that.  My guess was that it had been melted down.  However, the mystery was solved thanks to a Luton Town messageboard known for its full and frank discussions on every topic known to man and troll.  Someone had enjoyed their experience in Luton Town’s new Trophy Room and posted a photo of the silverware cabinet.  The photo showed a tantalising glimpse of a familiar sight.  A quick search on the net produced a clearer photo and revealed that the Luton Charity Cup was in the cabinet in the Trophy Room at Kenilworth Road.  It is now known as the Bedfordshire Premier Cup.

Luton Town 2013

My thanks to Roger Wash and the club for providing access to the trophy.  Who dropped the lid and bent Victory’s arm is not known. It has also lost some height but remains in remarkably good condition bearing in mind it was made in 1890.

Luton Charity Cup