George Deacon was born in Luton on the 14th February 1859 and lived at 5 Cobden Street. His father William was a blocker and his mother, Martha, a hat sewer. In 1871 he lived at the back of 200 Old Bedford Road with his parents and brothers William aged ten and Albert aged 6. He had an elder sister, Martha. He married Emma Cherry on the 25th February 1878 at St. Mary’s Parish Church. They lived at 41 Dudley Street, in High Town. He, like his father, was a Straw Hat blocker. Emma was a straw hat sewer. They had 9 children but one died young. George was still a blocker in 1891.
George was a founder member of the Luton Wanderers Football Club which formed in September 1880. He and J.C. Lomax formed a devastating partnership on the wing for the Wanderers. It was George Deacon who put forward the idea of the formation of a Luton Town Football Club. This came after a team of combined players from Luton beat a powerful Newport Pagnell side in 1883. It would take 2 more years and some unpleasantness before his dream would become a reality. He spoke in favour of the formation of a Town Club at the meeting on 11th April 1885 and proved to be a loyal servant to the club. His brother Albert Deacon also played for Luton Town in the early days. George was also a decent cricketer and turned out for Luton Town Cricket Club in the summer.
George served on the club committee until 1890 – at which time players were banned from serving. On the pitch he played in his accustomed position on the wing and was almost ever present every season. It was later said that he only ever missed 6 Wanderers and Luton Town games during his whole career. His dribbling skills were regularly mentioned in reports and he scored the second ever Luton Town hat trick, away to Watford Rovers in October 1886 in a 4 1 victory. Of small stature, he was one of the “little ‘uns” for which the club was famous. He and J.C. Lomax, another man of small stature, played many games on the wing together and the first known Luton Town song was based on them. I believe the song to be based on “Up I came with my little lot” by Herbert Campbell (available on the internet) which was a Music Hall hit at this time.
In May 1938, a correspondent to the Luton News wrote;
“How I loved to see his twinkling feet like an aeroplane propeller in full blast travelling down the wing.”
He added that;
“Chubby was a great favourite.”
From the Luton News of 20th November 1891. Talking about George Deacon when they finally pinned him down to have his photo taken.
“Chubby,” you’re in luck!” Such was my exclamation a day or two since when told that our friend Deacon, who on the right wing of the Luton team has been going through the process, Saturday after Saturday, of making a little man fill as big a space as possible, had been offered an engagement with a notable Birmingham club at the rate of £3 a week and £10 down. But “Chubby” is patriotic, and filthy lucre will not tempt him to desert his old comrades, whom he has accompanied to victory so often.”
We do not know which club approached Chubby, but coming to the end of his career and with so many children to feed, the decision must have been an easy one. The offer was a fitting tribute to his talent.
The Luton News 24th December 1891 gives us a biography.
“George is not a hoary headed old veteran, but still he is a veteran for all that, having first joined a number of frivolous youths in the exciting pursuit of a “bag of wind” as early as the year 1880, and even then his wisdom teeth had been cut some considerable time. He started by playing for the Wanderers, and has been intimately acquainted with Luton football ever since. The first match in which he engaged was against the Luton Excelsior, and the beating of five to nil which the Wanderers sustained on that occasion would have been sufficient to have cooled the ardour of many a bigger fellow than G.D. After trying his fortunes with the Wanderers for four seasons, that club and the Excelsiors agreed to amalgamate their forces under the more ambitious, and at the same tim more satisfactory, title of Luton Town F.C., and George threw in his lot with the newly-formed club, with whom he has been identified from that period up to the present moment. While a member of the Wanderers’ team he played against the Old Etonians in the English Cup Competition. That was the first cup tie ever played in Luton, and the locals retired defeated by three goal to one. Mr Deacon also played for the East Midlands against Cambridgeshire (twice), London Reserves, Leicestershire, and the London West End Association. When he did battle for the Wanderers his position in the field was at outside right, but with Luton Town he had no fixed place until this year, when everything was put in late apple-pie order, and George was located on the inside right. In the English Cup he has played against such clubs as Reading, Chesham, Old Brightonians and Chatham. and he was also in the final for the Kettering Cup against Grantham Rovers. Under the well-know sobriquet of “Chubby,” the subject of our sketch frequently comes in for a large share of encouragement from the crowd which assembles from week to week on the Dunstable-road ground, and “Go it, Chubby,” and Well Done, Chubby,” are some of the commonest cries that are heard. As regards accidents he has been very fortunate, never having had what might be called a serious one. Such an immunity from mishaps is not to be attributed to any unusual carefulness on his part, for he is one of the pluckiest men on the field. Though not standing a great deal about five feet nothing, he has never been known to show the white feather to even the biggest of his opponents, and only on Saturday last he gave a capital exhibition of his dash and go. George is the oldest member in the team, but I have his word for it that he has no intention of giving up the game for as long as there is a vacancy in the Luton Town Football Club.”
Feeling his age, and no doubt worn out by fatherhood, George decided to retire in early 1892. He suffered a bad injury in January 1892 and missed a couple of games and played his last game against the 1st Scots Guards on 2nd April 1892. The committee tried to persuade Chubby to play until the end of the season. As a good replacement for him on the wing had been found, he stepped down.
The Luton Reporter of the 7th May 1892 gives us an excellent account of his retirement presentation.
“The termination of a highly successful season was signalled on Saturday by the holding of a tea meeting at the Cowper Arms coffee tavern at which a goodly number of members attended. An excellent repast was provided by Mr S. Heath. At the after meeting the Secretary of the Club (Mr I. Smith) occupied the chair. At the outset it was decided, on the suggestion of Mr Smith, that a wreath should be sent from the members as a token of respect to the late Mr J. Long. Mr Smith thereafter proceeded with the most interesting portion of the evening’s programme – the making of a presentation to Mr G. Deacon, who has recently retired from his place in the team after a lengthened connection with the game. Mr Smith observed that they had met to do honour to one of their oldest players, who from increasing years could no longer do justice to himself by continuing in the ranks. The members of the team were very sorry to lose such an old friend, but at the same time they fully appreciated his motive for retiring. They were amongst the first to acknowledge that a man could not go on playing football for ever and that with increasing years both head and feet lost their cunning. They trusted that when the time came for the other members of the eleven to retire they might have as good a send-off as “Chubby” was having now. Mr Smith subsequently said that to enlarge on the doings of Mr Deacon would simply to give the history of Luton football. Many would remember his play on the left wing in the Wanderers’ ranks with Mr C. Lomax. He joined the Town Club at its formation and the “little un,” as Captain Taylor called him, now considered it time to retire in favour of a younger man. He had on behalf of the members to present £8 17s 1d., the amount received up to date, and he hoped that amounts still to come in would bring up the total to £10. In conclusion the secretary trusted that Mr Deacon might continue to be associated with local football in some capacity. Mr Deacon, who was warmly applauded said he was very much obliged to them for the honour they had shown him and those gentlemen who had subscribed to the testimonial. He received it with the best of thanks. What he had done in the football field he had always enjoyed, and he was only sorry that he had to retire. He thought, however, that in Mr R. Brown they had a young player who would make as good a man as he (the speaker) had been in the past. He again expressed his acknowledgements of the kind feeling which had prompted the gift. The remainder of the evening was given up to the musical selections and recitations. Songs were given by Messrs Heath, A. Sanders, Underwood and other members of the company, and a very pleasant time was passed. Mr S. Baker presided at the pianoforte in very efficient style.”
The Luton News of 21st April 1892 adds;
“I am pleased to say that George Deacon has been appointed “pro” at Norton College for the coming season. I hope he will so coach the boys so that they will have a vey successful season.”
The Luton Reporter football column “With Bat, Ball and Bicycle” commented as follows:
“The close of the season was marked in a very pleasant fashion by members of the Football Club, a number of whom took tea together. A convivial gathering followed, when the chief business was the presentation of a testimonial to Deacon. This plucky little player has now definitely abandoned the “reds,” and it was very fitting that he should receive a tangible recognition of his undoubted merit. The presentation was made in grateful terms by Mr Smith, and all who are acquainted with the recipient will endorse the high encomiums which were passed upon him. He has been connected with Luton football for many years and now only retires because he recognises that he has passed his zenith and is descending into “the sere and yellow leaf.”
Deacon’s recognition of the kindness of his friends was couched in homely phraseology, but it had the right ring about it, and I sympathised very heartily with him in his reluctance to resign his place in the eleven. He feels, however, that the keenness of his regret is to some extent removed by the reflection that his successor has the makings of a competent player. I entirely coincide with this view and hope that the good opinion which I have formed of Brown’s capabilities will be borne out by his play in another season. Deacon has always received a good word in this column and I join with others of his admirers in the wish that he may be long spared to assist in advancing the game locally”.
In September 1892 the committee appointed George to the post of “attendant” at 1/- per week. The following season he was appointed “trainer” at 2/6 per week. He is pictured in this capacity in a number of team photos. Chubby was voted a pay rise by the club committee on the 9th September 1895 – “offer to Deacon of 10/- per week to act as assistant trainer with Lawson.”
George continued to live in Luton. He had nine children with Emma who died in 1901. He remarried, to Emily, and had a further three children. At the time of the 1911 census he was a Straw Hat machinist and lived at 9 Victoria Street. The extract below is from the Luton News 1939.
George Deacon died in 1943 and his obituary from the Luton News is reproduced, left. A Lutonian, he was the inspiration behind the formation of the club, a player, committee member and trainer. The word “legend” is applied too easily these days. George Deacon is a true Luton Town legend.
The following is an account of George by his family
George Deacon as recalled by his family
Many thanks to Carole Stroud for this wonderful account which has been handed down through the family. I have produced it warts and all which is my duty to history. The reference to, presumably, Asher Hucklesby the five times Mayor is interesting. I have not been able to independently confirm whether this is correct but I feel it is important to share. If anyone has any information they would like to add please let me know and I will happily publish.
“When George was about 14 years old, he had grown as tall as his father. In the family there were his mother and younger children, Arthur, Anne & Nancy (and may be others). His father seems to have made life difficult, drinking, bullying his mother and keeping the children frightened and hungry. One day it became too much for George and, anticipating a violent return at night, he stood behind the door and hit his father over the head as he entered. His mother insisted he should leave before he regained consciousness.
The parents of his father lived in Luton and were sad about their son’s behaviour, and accepted George to live with them. His grandfather was a builder and George worked with him. Several of the buildings at the lower end of Wellington Street and Manchester Street have what they called “gingering” at the base of the exposed upright, which I was shown proudly be my mother, as their work.
When George had his own children he vowed that they would never go hungry and there would be a whole guinea at the age of 21 for each child who had never touched alcohol. All of the children gained the guinea (wealth in those days!) When I knew Louis, he was an elderly man who had survived in the trenches of the First World War, and he had a drinking habit. Mum used to deliberately not have money when he accosted her in Pope’s Meadow, near where they lived, but would always give his wife, Annie, money when they met.
George taught himself to read by going to the library in Luton, none of my grandparents went to school, except my maternal grandmother. At some point he learnt to play the fiddle and accordion. He married Emma when they were both quite young, and had a child every 18 months or so- George, Sydney (who had what I think from descriptions, had hydrocephalus and died in infancy, George recounted this as a heartbreak), Louis, Ernest, Maud, Jessica, Beatrice, Olive and Albert. At this point two disasters, Emma’s kidneys gave up and she died from dropsy. The second was that the hat company which he had built up as a family firm met a large order for straw boaters from a local exporter to the colonies, Mr Hucklesby. However, the order was cancelled at the last minute, leaving a year of inability to sell them, till the next season – this drove George into bankruptcy in 1889. This man had done the same to others. (When I started school I had his daughter, then very elderly, as my teacher at Stopsley and my Dad had to be persuaded to let me be taught by her!)
He moved the family to a rented terrace in Jubilee Street, off High Town Road, which at that stage was run down and regarded as a bad area. Olive was sent to stay with George’s sister Nancy and her husband, Charlie. They had no children and were well off and spoilt her, already a determined child. Beatrice was sent to Aunty Anne, the other sister, and joined a big unruly family with strict paternal discipline. She was slightly deaf (measles?) and very timid and withdrew from the shock of it all. Maud was almost 12 and passed the labour exam staying at home to look after baby Albert and run the house.
Some months after this, George had gathered his children up and taken them to one of the many village fetes, where he often won a silver (plated!) spoon, or pot, and a young woman, Emily was there and noticed him jump over a bar and then walk under it. She, being an observant person, watched him with his little children and was filled with compassion for the little ones and admiration of his attempts to care for them. She enquired after his situation and gradually, I suspect not with romantic passion as they were not young, she became involved and loved them all.
My mother remembers that when times were hard, George would take a piece of bread and a small piece of cheese to work, so that the men would see he had lunch, but each day he returned with the cheese uneaten until Friday, when they could eat it in the family. He worked various odd jobs, steward at the Liberal club, during the war travelling on the milk train to London to work in supplies to the forces.
The influenza epidemic after the war caused grief, Emily almost died as she suffered from asthma. My Mum, Elsie went to stay with her maternal aunt, Kitty, (for whom she had been named Elsie Kate) Nellie (Ellen Clara) went to another aunt, Albert, just home, died in Papworth, Jessica whose fiancé had been an officer and had died in the war, also died. My mother remembers each day a wooden trolley rumbling over the cobbles of Wellington Street, where they now lived, to collect the bodies each day. They put straw on the cobbles so that those very ill would not be aware of what was happening.
When my parents married, George and Nellie moved in with them because George only had 10 shillings a week pension, and they would not be financially able to stay in Wellington Street. Emily had died three years earlier. He looked after my brother when, due to the depression, my Dad had no regular work and so Mum went back to millinery with Brown’s. he died in 1944, 10 months before I was born!”
Below is a photo of George and his brother Arthur taken in the 1930’s.