THE STRAW PLAITERS
LUTON TOWN FOOTBALL CLUB IN THE VICTORIAN ERA
“Mr J.C. Lomax was called upon to give his opinion upon the proposed formation of a Town Club, said he was most emphatically in favour of a proposed Luton Town Football Club, not, however, for the breaking up of any other club. The reasons he advanced were that the proposed club would give more scope to find out who were really the best players to play in the town matches: it would give them more opportunity of showing what they were as football players; and it would form a good club for the training of young players, who could thus work up to play in the town matches.”
Quote from the Luton Reporter newspaper of the 11th April 1885 meeting.
“Everyone knows that the clean, busy town, set in the green enamelled country which is framed by wood-crowned hills and the sweeping outline of the Chiltern Range, is the centre of this ancient art and mystery.”
Description of Luton in 1885 referring the hat industry.”
Luton Town Football Club was formed in 1885 as a result of a merger/amalgamation of Luton Excelsior and Luton Wanderers. That is what we are repeatedly told in every football book, programme and website. But I had doubts when I found out that Luton Wanderers played in the 1885/86 FA Cup, after the so called merger. When you typically talk of a joining of two separate entities, usually they either both disappear or the name of the major partner carries on. How could two clubs merge but one of them carry on and play separately? The more I thought about it, the more questions arose. Did the Wanderers reform? Was it a totally new club and team? And what happened to all the players? Presumably Wanderers and Excelsior had first and second teams, that is 44 players. What happened to them? There is very little written on this era so I decided to investigate.
When looking at local newspapers, there is mention of the “merger” of Wanderers and Excelsior as early as 1890. If mentions of a merger were wrong then one would have thought that it would have been corrected. We shall look at this in depth when we consider the events of 11th April 1885. The first mention of a merger I can find in a book is in “Association Football and the Men who made It”. It was published in 1906, just over twenty years after the formation of Luton Town FC. This is, of course, within living memory of 1885 so interviews with those involved would have been possible and accounts corroborated. It is a fascinating and very well respected book so I am guessing it was taken as the definitive account and not to be challenged.
I had intended merely to find out the answer to the merger question and leave it at that. However, like many projects things got a little out of hand. During my first visit to Luton Central Library to view the local newspapers, local and wider history beyond football leapt out from the pages. The local newspapers in 1885 were the Luton Reporter and the Luton Times. They contained news from Luton, the surrounding towns and villages, the United Kingdom, the Empire and the rest of the world. While Luton Town FC were forming, British troops were fighting in Sudan (or Soudan as it was then called), Afghanistan and the Third Burmese war began. There was trouble from the native Indians (referred to today as First Nation people) in Canada. The statue of Liberty was being erected in New York. In London, Fenians were throwing sticks of dynamite around the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London.
I also came across many interesting local stories in my research on all aspects of life. I have decided to include some of these for you. We will see in the Victorian era the same sort of stories that we come across today. These include knife crime, highway robbery, fights, drunkenness, disease, child neglect, corruption and so on. There are many who treat these issues today as if they did not exist in the past. I hope these stories from the Victorian era will help us to realise that people have not, and never will, change. I have inserted these stories by the way of “Interludes” from the main Luton Town Football Club story. You can read the story for the football club without the distraction of the “interludes.”
Another motivation for me, once I got started was the story of the men themselves who built the club. Three of the central figures in the early years, J.C. Lomax, E.H. Lomax and D.A. N. Lomax have not been given the credit they deserve for the immense contribution to football in Luton. The more I learned of the Lomax brothers the more I wanted to find out. These three lads from Bury, Lancashire, are virtually unknown in Luton and the football world. This story will correct that omission.
It is a pity that research was not done in the 1920’s when interviews could be done with all the major figures involved in the football club. I have therefore had to work with what I have, newspapers, books, Ancestry and other websites and the Luton Town FC minute book. I have looked through thousands of newspapers from 1872 up to the 1950’s when some of the players died. Unfortunately obituaries contain little information of their football careers. I have also had the help of the Club’s historian, Roger Wash and have visited the British Library on numerous occasions. The descendants I have contacted have had varying amounts of information on their ancestors. I therefore want to use this website to encourage the gathering of information on the football club and football generally in this era.
I have read every football entry from the local newspapers from 1872 to 1894. These include some minor games from 1880 to 1885. I could have included only the reports from Luton Wanderers and Luton Excelsior in this story. However, I decided to include all the football reports because ancestry is very popular these days. Information on working class people is difficult to find and these football reports include the names of those who played and distinguished themselves so I have included them. I hope this will help people add to their family histories. The reports of park football also helps us understand what the game was like at the time. In any event, as I have researched all park football games it seems a shame to leave them on the cutting room floor. I hope this will help some of you discover more about your ancestors.
Another issue when speaking to a friend whose son asked “when were Luton Town formed?”. The answer “1885” needed expanding so I have included a brief outline of what the town was like.
The evolution of football laws and rules is a long and very complicated one up to the early 1880’s. There are books and websites that set out that history so I will not repeat it all here. Therefore, I have set out the 1885 rules and all the updates thereafter.
Our story begins when football was in its infancy so we need to look at the challenges football faced. There was a strong bias towards cricket which was the national game and the major sport in the town prior to 1885. It was a well ordered game with the national hero W.G. Grace at his peak at this time. During the summer months the newspapers contain reports of the games, details of meetings and social events. Football on the other hand gets very little coverage in the early years and sometimes it is ignored altogether when the newspaper concentrates on other news. Football was considered a rough working class game and was attacked by the media at regular intervals. Football gradually realised that it needed to evolve and more laws were introduced to make it more attractive to players and spectators alike. The football reports in the papers are usually brief and short on detail until Luton Town FC are formed when football usually, but not always, gets a mention.
There are researchers who are looking for information for their own projects. This website will provide much useful information on how a football club developed in this period, the challenges it faced and how it expanded. The Luton Town story is unique as we have all the entries from the Club minute books from day one, something which many clubs do not have. As already mentioned, I have access to local and national newspapers, books and websites and access to family details gathered via ancestry websites. This website also provides useful information on other clubs, the rules and the view of the game from a provincial town.
To help you get what you want from this site, I have included an index which follows this introduction. In addition, at the beginning of each chapter I have given the page numbers of the highlights. You can then scroll down to that highlight if you wish.
The extracts from Luton Town F.C. Minute Books are courtesy of Roger Wash and Luton Town Football Club. Thank you to the Luton News for their kind help in giving permission for various extracts to be used. All the other contributors are credited as they arise.
Finally, the main purpose of this website is to gather information on this period. I have found that researching history can be a like a jigsaw. I have therefore set out all the pieces I have discovered, some of which appear to stand alone and isolated. Hopefully others have pieces to enable us to recreate the full picture. This has been one of the major factors in deciding on a website rather than a book. A website can grow and be amended and I have no outside influences such as a publisher or sponsor. If you have any information then please get in touch.
I have put the facts from various sources into this publication, given explanations where necessary, guided the way and given my own views. I have given you the information in full so you can come to your own conclusion. Where there is a quote which needs an immediate comment you will see my intervention in square brackets – [anything between square brackets are my comments]. Photo’s of any football in Luton are unknown before 1889, unless someone comes forward with some.
I intend to deal with the gap in the football history of the club from 1885 until we join the Southern League in 1894. I may extend this website to cover the entire Victorian era. It depends on a number of factors.