The 8 pointed star badge
I have long been puzzled about the 8 pointed star badge worn by the players from 1892 until 1896. Not only was I puzzled about its significance, but also curious as to why there was no explanation for its use. There is not even a single reasoned theory about the background to the badge. I anticipated that the reason for its use would be published somewhere. I am fortunate to have access to the Club’s minute books where the discussions of the committee (which ran the club) were recorded. The Club committee should have discussed such a badge, its procurement and noted the amount paid. However, there are no mentions of the origins of the badge in the minute book (the minute books are a wonderful resource but frustratingly vague at times). Nor is there any mention in the newspapers of the era or subsequent books. I have therefore had to piece together the evidence I have gathered from two years of research.
The Victorians were tuned into symbolism and the 8 pointed star was popular and features heavily in jewellery and military circles. Many regimental badges contain an 8 pointed star of some description as do many police and fire brigade badges. The Victorian era saw over 70 wars with different countries and factions. There was a great affection for the army and navy and there was barely a street in town that had not lost a serviceman at one time or another. Many football medals of the era were also of an 8 pointed star device including the Luton Charity Cup competition which awarded 8 pointed star medals to the winners and losers. A quick scan of online sale sites show similar medals.
Three questions arise. When did the star badge first appear, why was it worn and why is there no mention anywhere?
I can answer the first question from photographs. The last team photo with no star was taken in November 1891. The first photo we have with the star was taken in April 1893. The unsatisfactory answer gives us an 18 month window when the badge could have been introduced.
St. John’s College and the St. John’s Star
My immediate thought was that St. John’s College in Luton must have had the St. John’s Star as its badge. It was a well regarded college which taught boys from all over the British Empire and prepared many for university. The 8 points of the star represent various qualities which a school and football team would aspire to such as humility, sympathy, gentleness, truth, compassion, unselfishness, peace and endurance. The College had a proud sporting record and provided many players for Luton Town including the inspirational Lomax brothers and Edgar Wright, the son of the headmaster.
This idea that the club took the star from the college was at the forefront of my mind for some time. But the St. John’ Star is very different from the one worn by the players. There is no reason for the club to adopt the star as its badge. No-one at the college died at this time and there is no mention anywhere in the Club minute book or the newspapers.
This is often the default answer to many unsolved issues including the 8 pointed star. There is no evidence that the masons played any part in the club’s affairs. No doubt the committee of the club consisted of some masons. But I doubt there would have been the necessary majority in favour of the use of any masonic symbol . Also there is no mention of such a proposal or discussion.
Temperance Star theory
In the 1893/94 season, Luton Town were drawn away to the Sherwood Foresters who played in Colchester. The club minute book shows that a Temperance hotel was chosen for the players overnight accommodation. Having disposed of the Foresters, the draw for the first round proper was not kind. The Straw Plaiters were drawn away to Middlesbrough Ironopolis which meant another overnight stay. The club committee decided upon Liddle’s Hotel, at 10,11 and 12 Bridge Street West. It was one of three Temperance Hotels in Middlesbrough. There were also five Temperance bars in the town.
I investigated the Temperance Movement and found that it was a powerful and well supported organisation in the country. Various groups under the Temperance umbrella lobbied against alcohol and tried to persuade people to take the pledge not to drink. So popular was the movement that there was an explosion of new Coffee Taverns, where people could meet in a safe environment for a chat, food and non alcoholic beverage. Luton was no exception and the Luton Town Football Club committee often held their meetings in a coffee tavern or at a place where there was no alcohol. (See Chapter 3, pages 2 and 7 for further mentions of the Coffee Tavern Movement in Luton). Temperance meetings regularly took place in Luton. We can see from the photograph, above left, that the Temperance Star has 8 points, similar to the star worn on Luton Town shirts. There were sure to be teetotallers in the team and on the committee but how much influence they had is hard to say. There is no evidence that this is the origin of the star, but it is worth consideration.
Tribute to a prominent member of the committee
I have included this because John Long, one of the founding members of the club and committee members, died in May 1892. This is in the close season and around the time the badge was probably introduced. I also thought that it may be some sort of tribute to the much loved George Deacon who retired in April 1892. Again, there is no record.
It is possible that the star was an early type of sponsorship with it symbolising a local company or shop. However, I have not seen any evidence to support this theory.
As club kits became less flamboyant in the late 1880’s and into the 1890’s there is a theory that clubs adopted badges of various devices in order to make their shirts different to others. Luton Town abandoned their distinctive and almost unique pink and dark blue shirt in 1889 for plain cardinal red. Many clubs played in a shade of red thus making club identity an issue. Placing a unique star badge on the shirt would express to everyone that they were playing Luton Town. Again there is no evidence to support this theory.
The Reformers theory
At the beginning of 1892 there was a group of supporters known as the “Reformers’ who wanted the club to take a different direction. They thought that the club was not fulfilling its potential and the committee was playing it too safe. They believed the club was just treading water and not progressing.
The Reformers seized upon two issues. The first was that the early rounds of the Kettering and Luton Charity Cups were a burden on the club. There were at least two or three games in each competition against lowly opposition. These one sided games did not test the team and more importantly only attracted small crowds. The club made a loss on these games. This struck a chord with many and the local football reporters had sympathy with this issue. The Luton Charity Cup committee changed the rules later in the Summer of 1892 under this pressure so that the bigger clubs entered at a later stage.
The Reformers also wanted to employ proper professionals (paying a living wage). Since early 1891 the club had been paying players lost wages for their time on the pitch and travelling (semi professionalism). The club just had its nose ahead of local clubs such as Hitchin, Bedford and St. Albans. It was felt the gap should be wider. The Southern League had been talked about for two years and Luton Town had to be in it. The Reformers did not want to be among the maybe’s for consideration for the League. They wanted to be in the front rank of clubs. The employment of professionals would help the club achieve that goal.
The 1892 Annual General Meeting, held in May, saw a huge change on the committee. Only 5 of the 13 members were re-elected. There were eight new members. The newspapers confirm that at least four “Reformers” were elected onto the committee. They wasted no time in capturing the Royal Arsenal player and former captain, J.W. “Bill” Julian. Julian had been the Royal Arsenal captain but had been replaced by the Preston North End captain. He spent a year in their reserves but looked for a new challenge. His move to Luton Town was a major event in the football world and very popular with the fans. Julian was made captain and he was immediately trusted with many aspects of running the team. Later in the autumn the club signed Hugh Galbraith from Burnley who proved a great success and was considered by many to be the best centre forward in the South of England. These two big signings were all the club could afford but it greatly helped launch the club from also-rans to the third ranked club in the South, behind Royal Arsenal and just behind Millwall.
Without being specific, the local newspapers said that the Reformers made many changes. Was the 8 pointed star badge introduced to symbolise this new regime and era? To turn to religion for a moment, an 8 pointed star in Christianity represents Redemption or Regeneration. Perhaps a regenerated club deserved a star in recognition? Of course there is no record.
The 8 Pointed star badge as an award
I need to give you some background to this theory. By the 1888/89 season football was well established in the North of England and was growing rapidly in the South. The North dominated football with Southern clubs lagging way behind with the possible exception of Royal Arsenal. The Football League had come into operation – solely comprising of Northern and Midlands clubs. These League Clubs were beating the smaller clubs by huge scores and the games were cluttering their fixture lists. As the numbers of clubs entering the F.A. Cup grew to record levels, action was taken. For the 1888/89 season the F.A. introduced qualifying rounds for the smaller clubs. These clubs were divided into “Divisions” of usually 16 clubs who played a knock-out tournament with the winner qualifying for the first round proper of the F.A. Cup. Luton Town were allocated to the 8th Division.
In the 1888/89 competition excitement in the town grew as the club went through the first two qualifying rounds. Letters were written to the local newspapers – a rare occurrence at this time – foretelling how the next opponents, the Old Brightonians, would get a thrashing in the third qualifying round. The Old Brightonians had a strong team (including two outstanding players who had represented the South against the North in a representative game) and won three one at Dallow Lane in front of 2,000 fans.
It was a disappointing end but the first two rounds really did capture the imagination of the Luton faithful. For the club it meant a guaranteed good crowd and extra revenue. For the fans it represented, as it does today, a chance of a giant killing and the possibility of seeing a top team if the Straw Plaiters were successful in qualifying. It was also the chance to see a meaningful competitive game – we were not in a league until 1894. For the players, it represented a test and a chance for glory.
The next two seasons saw humiliating qualifying round defeats to Old St. Paul’s and the 93rd Highlanders when expectations were high.
Then we come to the 1891/92 season. We know for sure that the 1891/92 team photo, taken in November 1891, shows no star badge.
15th December 1891- Luton Town beat Clifton (Bristol) in the final qualifying round to win Division 8 of the qualifying round of the F.A. Cup. The first time we qualify for the first round proper under the qualifying system.
The next photo that we can date in the 1892/93 team photo which was taken in April 1893. That photo has the team in regular and over sized badges. So the badges were awarded before April 1893.
Was the badge was awarded to the team to mark winning the division title? But why celebrate such an achievement? We have to bear in mind that over 120 clubs entered the qualifying rounds of the F.A. Cup in ten divisions. Only ten clubs went through to the first round. Luton Town had never qualified before. The excitement of meeting one of the big boys in the first round and possibly being a giant killer is nothing new.
The sports editorial of the Luton Reporter sums up the achievement after the magnificent three nil win away at Clifton (Bristol) in December 1891 with the following:-
“The members of the Town Club eleven are deserving of the heartiest congratulations on the brilliant achievement which they completed last Saturday of working their way into the competition proper for the English Cup. Saturday’s game formed an admirable climax to the performances of the team during the various stages of the qualifying contest. Now that the ordeal is over and Luton has won a distinction which has never previously been obtained it may frankly be confessed that the players have done even better than was hoped. Prior to Saturday they had disposed of some very formidable adversaries, but there were few who dared anticipate that victory awaited them at Clifton. Their position has been obtained through indomitable pluck and they are entitled to plume themselves upon having gained it.”
The week after winning the Division the Luton Reporter included the following in their match report on the game with St. Bart’s Hospital:-
“Anything like precise or pretty play was out of the question, but both sides conducted themselves with credit, and a fairly even contest ended with the victory of the champions of the eighth division by two to nil.”
The club minute book entry for 14th December 1891 reads:-
“as the club had run through the division the event be celebrated by the meeting of players and committee to a social tea at the Midland Hotel on Sat 19th at 5 o’clock for 5.15”
To reinforce this point, Reading F.C. (founded in 1871) struck a medal when they won their division and qualified for the first round of the F.A. Cup in the 1893/94 season. Their team returned from the deciding away game and were met at the station by thousands of fans. The players were paraded shoulder high through the streets with the Town Band playing. Winning the Division Championship was a major achievement to be celebrated.
Why didn’t Luton Town strike medals? 1891/92 was the first full season of semi-professionalism – paying all the players a sum for their time travelling and playing – so the club committee were in uncharted financial territory. Also, there was additional uncertainty as the committee had gambled on getting in two big teams, West Brom and Wolves, to Dallow Lane later in the year. It was a gamble because they had guaranteed, in advance, a large sum in expenses to those clubs for their visit. A big crowd was required to make it pay. The venture failed due to the appalling weather for both games and the club lost £23 on the season. Finances were therefore uncertain in December 1891 and medals were probably a step too far. A nice cup of tea at the Midland Hotel and a cloth badge was the perfect, cheaper solution.
Why keep the badge until 1896? Once sewn on, both badge and shirt would have been affected by the weather and washing. Removing the badges would have left an untidy outline on the shirt and looked shabby. Replacing all the shirts at once would be too expensive. It was cheaper to buy more badges from the supplier. As time passed and one by one new players came into the team, shirts with badges were allocated to them (5 new red shirts were ordered in November 1892). It was only when the shirt changed to black, white and dark red stripes in 1896 that the club were able to change all the badges to “LTFC”.
Problems with the award theory.
While the timing is right and the reason a valid one, there is no mention of the badge either in the club minute book or the newspapers. If the club had authorised the badges then there would have been a record of the selection process, procurement and purchase in the club minute book. More importantly, there would have been a mention in the newspapers. I apologise for the length of this theory but I believe it is important to include it in full.
There is one last theory which accounts for the lack of any mention in the minute book and the newspapers.
The Military theory
In the Summer of 1891, the Dallow Lane ground was being redeveloped. The work over ran so the committee had to locate another ground for their home matches. They turned to Bury Park Farm and the owner, Captain Carruthers (left).
From the Luton Town F.C. minute book of 11th September 1891;
“Scratch game be played on 13th September. The match to be played by permission of Captain Carruthers at Bury Park Farm. Messrs Deacon and Humphrey to captain the teams. That notice be inserted into the Reporter. During the meeting Mr Hunt saw Mr Carruthers who gave his consent for the game to be played on his ground and also for two to three weeks if wanted”.
Andrew Carruthers had been appointed Second Lieutenant in November 1878 and by 1891 was Captain of the 1st Bedfordshire Volunteers Rifle Corps company for Luton. This unit was part of the Bedfordshire Regiment – which had a Maltese style star over an 8 pointed Garter star as it’s badge (you can see the badge on his cap, and in detail below). He was made honorary Major in 1894 so had a long and distinguished military service. Carruthers was also a Justice of the Peace. The Star of Bath is also an 8 pointed star and is associated with police and law and order. It may these combined factors persuaded him to adopt the 8 pointed star badge for his team.
Captain Carruthers had a love of football and had his own pitch on his land at Bury Farm. He volunteered his time to sit on the Luton Charity Cup committee and he presented the trophy to Millwall Athletic in 1892. He chaired the Luton Town AGM in 1892. His hat company in King Street had it’s own football team in 1893 for whom his son played.
Bury Park F.C. were formed in September 1891. Their home ground was Captain Carruthers’ football pitch on Bury Farm which even had a grandstand. It is likely he played a big part in the formation of the club and maybe he gave Bury Park F.C. the 8 pointed star badge. Or the team adopted the badge as a tribute to him.
The Luton Reporter of the 14th November 1891 covered the Luton Town v Bury Park match in the Luton Charity Cup. It says;
“A narrow escape was witnessed immediately afterwards, the goal-keeper for the wearers of the “claret” only disposing of a hot shot from Frank Whitby by conceding a “corner.”
As Whitby was a Luton player this means that Bury Park played in claret. Bury Park F.C. did not last very long as they did not fulfil a fixture in February 1892 and stopped playing around that time. They sold off their assets when they were eventually dissolved in November.
The Luton Times of 25th November 1892 says that the
“Bury Park Cricket and Football Club has dissolved and handed over £6 2s 6d to the Children’s Home.”
That they raised this money by selling off their assets is revealed by Luton Town’s minute book entry of 10th August 1892 which says;
“Resolved that Hon Sec offer the Bury Park Football Club £3 0s 0d for their caps, shirts and goals”
The Luton News of 8th September 1892 says the following when talking about Luton Town’s first game of the season against the reserves;
“One other point I must mention and that is the change of colours adopted by the first eleven. The shirts now used are more of a claret than a red but I suppose the team may be dubbed the “Reds” all the same. The change is a distinct improvement, for last season’s colours were not wonderfully taking to the eye.”
Did the Bury Park F.C. shirts have the 8 pointed star on them when Luton Town bought them? Taking them off would have left an untidy mark caused by washing and the weather. The club ordered more shirts as the squad changed. The minute book entry for 28th November 1892 says;
“Hon Sec obtain 6 red shirts and 12 white for players use.”
These new shirts were probably allocated with new stars. Hence the regular and oversized stars in the 1892/93 team photo (below) taken in April 1893.
This theory does answer all three questions. Captain Carruthers issued the star badges to his club who wore them throughout the 1891/92 season. Luton Town bought them and wore them as they were. Taking the stars off the shirts would have left a mark so they kept them on. This theory also answers the question as to why is there no mention of the star badge in the press or minute book. Bury Park F.C. usually received two line reports on their games so their new badge would not have made the papers. But all football lovers in the town would have seen Bury Park play in the badges and be familiar with it. When Luton Town turned out in their claret shirts in September 1892, the badge was not therefore news, so was not mentioned in the newspapers. As the badges were already on the newly purchased shirts there was no debate in the Luton Town minute book about selection, procurement and purchase.
Problems with the military theory.
There is no confirmation anywhere that I can find. I am also slightly concerned that the newspaper mentions the change of Luton shirts to claret but does not mention the badge. Surely the reporter would have put two and two together and realised that Luton had purchased, and were wearing, the old Bury Park F.C. shirts, complete with the badge. Perhaps he did, but space prevented any mention.
Finally, I should also mention for completeness that in 1891-94 there was a club called Luton Star but I cannot make out any sort of case to connect them in any way to the Luton Town star badge.
I prefer the military theory. It all fits and makes sense. I may be proved wrong – I do not mind as long as we solve the mystery of the 8 pointed star badge. Though inconclusive, I thought I would publish this article and all the facts in the hope that it starts a discussion on the subject and some more evidence surfaces. If you have any evidence or comments please get in touch via the contact button or via the facebook page – search for “Luton Town F.C. The Straw Plaiters” and like the page.
Luton Town F.C. Minute Book entries 1891 to Summer 1894
The Luton Reporter Newspaper 1891 to Summer 1894
The Luton Times Newspaper 1891 and 1892
The Luton News 1891 and 1892