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Interlude 3. An Easter trip to Luton

An Easter visit to Luton, 1887

From the in house magazine “Home Tidings” of The Polytechnic, Young Men’s Christian Institute, 309 Regent Street, London dated 7th May 1887.  The Institutes’ football team, Hanover United, visited Luton to play two matches against Luton Town Football Club.  An additional visitor, “the shouter” came along with the Hanover team to spend a weekend in Luton.  It is set out exactly as it was printed in 1887 except for my notes in square brackets.

“Easter with the Footballers.

Having heard that a Hanover team was going to play Luton Town, at Luton, on the Saturday after Good Friday, also on Easter Monday.  I expressed a desire to a chum, one of the party, to accompany them, and am very pleased that I did so.

Now for a few rough notes having reference to our outing.  King’s Cross (G.N.R.), 2.30 p.m. sharp was the order, and, strange to say, the entire company turned up to time.  The captain (E. C. Ravani) having taken tickets, we (13) secured one compartment, and were soon all comfortably seated and started on our journey.  General conversation was the order, enlivened occasionally by Percy’s laugh.  Oh! Percy, my sides ached, and yet I enjoyed it.  To the uninitiated, lest there should be a query as to the magic of this laugh, I will say it must be heard to be thoroughly appreciated.

Talking, laughing, and enjoying a gentle cigarette we were borne rapidly towards our destination.  We whisked past Hatfield—of this anon—merely hearing a remark about Lord Salisbury’s seat there, and nothing intervened to disturb our flow of spirits until we stopped at Hitchen —by the way the only hitch in our journey, thank goodness—when a porter opened the door of our compartment, thereby nearly precipitating Stanning on to the platform, for he was seated on a portmanteau, leaning against the door.  This porter yelled out, “All change here,” and when told that we were going on to Luton, the man actually laughed.  You see, we should have changed at Hatfield for Luton.  But back once more to this porter.  He seemed thoroughly to enjoy our embarrassment, for he informed us it was 16 miles by road to Luton; also it would take an hour and a half to drive there.  He went to see about a brake[A “break” is a carriage], and in five minutes after, when he came back, the distance had decreased to nine miles. Well, we negotiated with a man to take us 13 and baggage into the town of Luton.  About 4 p.m. (match at 4.30) we started, with four on the box besides the driver, and the rest packed to suit the circumstances.  This drive occupied one hour, and in that time we had helped to push our conveyance up the hills, bent the axle like a bow, and such-like trifles.  Luton at last.  Our fellows hastily stripped, donned their football attire, and were soon on the field, ready to meet their opponents.

The report of the match I leave to one more versed in the subtleties of this most energetic of pastimes.  Still I thoroughly enjoyed the match, more so because Hanover was victorious.  After the play we adjourned for tea at our hotel.  Thanks to the captain’s catering, we soon fell to, and had a most enjoyable tea.  Potter (Angus) and McLaren presiding at the tea-pots.  Thoroughly domesticated they appeared to be.  Grey led off with a growl about the strength of the tea—this growl afterwards gaining him great notoriety.  Tea over, we inspected our sleeping quarters, McLaren dubbing his ” Honeymoon Room.”  After this we sallied out to inspect the town by gaslight, our opinion in the daytime being that Luton was nicely laid out, clean, and respectable.  We find ourselves amid a throng of females, 4, 7, and 11 to 1 being the various ratios offered for our acceptance regarding the population, odds, of course, being girls.  A rather striking fact is that the matrons are, comparatively speaking, conspicuous by their absence.  Indeed, the query respecting the young members, “Where are their mothers?” was perfectly justified by appearances.  Suggestion: ‘That they must ave growed,” like Topsy, is very feasible.

But to get beyond the girls, if possible.  We notice in particular, the market clock, also a drinking fountain, surmounted by a lamp—en passant, an idea which might be profitably imitated by the Metropolitan authorities.— Walking towards the Midland Hotel we came across a pillar-box, with a lamp at the top.  Midland Hotel reached, thirst slak’d, proceed on, walk past dressing- room (Crown and Anchor) [Luton Town used the Crown and Anchor Public House as a changing room.  The players had to walk up to Dallow Lane for the game], to the principal promenade.  Here we are met with ‘throngs of strollers, who gaze astonished at us Londoners.  Occasionally we are greeted with ” Well played, Hanover.”  Upon my word, I almost fancied myself a footballer.  After having done due practice to the promenade (Bedford Road) we retrace our steps towards our ” diggings,” the reason for this being partly that by 9.30 p.m. the greater number of the people, old and young, have disappeared for the night, and partly because we begin to feel tired.  All in bed by 10.30 p.m.  Everything in our room in perfect trim, clean as a new pin.  Noticeable also, on our table stands a Bible supplied by the Commercial Travellers’ Association.  We are called at 8.30 a.m. by the ” boots,” and soon there is a stir and bustle.  Some take a constitutional as an appetiser.  Breakfast at 9.  We have another laugh or so from Percy—captain rather impatient.  Mac and Angus again superintended we are all taking the ” vittles ” when the landlady appears, and informs us of church and chapel time respectively (this was meant to shift us, I believe).  Various suggestions as to how we shall occupy the time till dinner finally merge into a resolve for a quiet walk along the Bedford-road.  Well, we all set off, as happy a set of fellows as ever met. Presently Mac says, “Fearful long road this.”  He is hobbling along with the aid of a stick.  However, before long the stick is reserved for ornament only.  Midway between the fourth and fifth milestone we came to a turning leading to a farmhouse.  Several of our party kept on, whilst the rest of us endeavoured to get a drink of milk.  No use, however, so we pushed on for a quarter of a mile, finding ourselves in the village of Sheatly, and at the “Chequers.”  The temptation is too strong to resist, so we go in and crave the wherewithall to allay our thirst.  Turning a corner, we are met with a laugh; the several above referred to are here before us.  We were congratulating ourselves on our cuteness; so much for vanity.  Having rested ourselves we start back to dinner.  Proceeding as suits our leisure, we arrive in time to have a wash before sitting down.  All goes well till we come to the pastry part of the menu. Rice pudding very good, tapioca?  Well, Mac is serving.  He digs in a spoon, and essays to put the contents on a plate, but the glutinous substance is very “chummy.”  It refuses to leave the dish altogether, and hangs, connected by a thread, between dish and spoon.  Waltham makes sundry allusions, backed up by Brunnell and Totman, which starts another roar, and despite Mac’s pressing invitation this conglomeration is at a discount.  Excuse this somewhat lengthy description of the “tapioca,” but it was somewhat lengthy too.  Dinner over, we started off to see McLennan, of the London Scottish F.C., who was lying in a hospital here with a broken leg.  [McLennan had broken his leg at the end of February playing for London Caledonians against Luton Town at Dallow Lane and was in the Bute Hospital].  The matron rather snubbishly refused to let us see him, our number probably frightening her.  E. C. Ravani and Mac, however, managed to get news that he would be out in a fortnight.  We then started off to see the People’s Park.  This is very hilly, commanding a capital view of the town [photo below taken in August 2015].  So we just lay down and enjoyed it for a while.  Returning to our hotel for tea, we spent a quiet evening, nothing calling for especial notice.

Bell's Close, People's Park, Luton

Monday morning. The first thing I remember is being kicked out of bed by my sleeping partner. I return, good for evil and “embrocate” him.  After breakfast we go to the station to meet fresh arrivals—namely, Jack Sullivan, Parker, Saunders and Crick; then at Angus’s special request we repair to the parish church, which is being repared also.  Angus thinks it is very ancient. However, no trustworthy data forthcoming, we make it as old as we like. (Perhaps someone from the neighbourhood can supply direct information.)  The next thing is to get away and see the match with the U. L. S. and L. Town, Saunders and Sullivan playing for the U. L. S.  Soon after the start Saunders had the misfortune to sprain his knee very severely, and Sullivan was seen turning sommersaults or such like.  We did not see the finish of the game, having to hurry off to dinner, for there was now no time to lose, but Sullivan brought the “news of battle,” United London Scottish being beaten by 1 to 0.

After dinner, more embrocation, quiet rest, and the gentle hint from the captain, “no more smoking, you fellows,” gave every evidence that Hanover United were determined, despite their stiffness, to make a bid for victory.  This, however, much to my chagrin, did not come off, though Hanover played a sound game and were within an ace of scoring several times.  The Luton backs, Brothers Taylor, playing in splendid form, kept their goal intact. Hanover was honourably defeated after a very pleasant game by 3 goals to 1. We returned to the dressing room, and then after tea went for a final stroll along the Bedford Road, fraternising with the natives just a little so as to leave a good opinion behind us.  Thence we proceeded to the station and caught the 8.7 p.m. train for King’s Cross.  We again managed to get altogether in one compartment.  The captain’s query, “what is our motto?” being answered with an explosive burst of “Harmony, gents,” gave evidence that singing should enliven our homeward journey.  The captain (really a hard working fellow all the time) proved “Good Company,” and had them “Down on the List.”  His rendering of “Queen of my heart to-night” – not recollections of Luton – was very good indeed.  Percy Dakin with “true till Death” proved a great treat.  J. Newman recounted “Golden Visions” in good style.  Potter (Angus) sang “Anchored” and “Brotherly Love” capitally.  The whole company wound up with “Auld Lang Syne.” Mac was to the fore here.  Mutual hand-shaking and good-byes now took place, and we dispersed severally to our respective ‘roosts.”

I have only to add how very much pleased I, as a visitor, was with the trip.  We, one and all, seemed to have enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and would not, I am sure, be adverse to repeating our visit.  Should such be the case, Hanover United may certainly reckon on having