(Re)Formation 1908

How the Bedfordshire Mercury for 7 August 1908 announced the formation of Bedford Town FC just before their first season in the Northants League


Although for many years accounts of the history of Bedford Town began with the “formation” of the club in 1908, the memory of an earlier club using the same name never entirely died out, and my most recent research has uncovered at the least the outlines of the story of what appears to be two clubs between about 1884 and 1899 (see Earliest Days-before 1908). Those who decided to form a “new” Bedford Town club in 1908 saw themselves as reviving the “old” club and felt entitled to use the £2 which had remained in its funds since, it seems, early 1899.

However, the new club was from the first intended to be very different from its predecessor. The old club had been a bastion of amateurism and never joined a League; the new one would employ professionals and compete in the Northants League, which had begun in 1896.

How did the (re)formation come about? A press announcement appeared on 19 June 1908 about the new venture[1] , and there must have been discussions between the people who decided to call a public meeting in the Association Rooms in Harpur Street on 31 July 1908, but they seem to have left no trace. By then, admission had already been obtained to the Northants League and “about 20 players” had been signed[2].

In any event, the promoters had secured a well-known local figure to take the chair at the meeting-Charles Benjamin Lutyens, a 54 year old retired tea planter who had spent his career in Ceylon and now lived at St Mary’s House, opposite the church of the same name just south of the Town Bridge[3]. He seems to have spent much of his time writing long letters to the local press about ecclesiastical controversies[4] and the only other sporting context in which his name appears is as a member of the Bedford Golf Club. He does not figure again in the club’s story but he may have been the kind of “respectable” name a new venture needed to impress the public. His offer of a silver cup for outstanding playing performances will have gone down well, although there’s no trace of its being awarded to anyone.

The “Mr Prince” who spoke at the first meeting was probably Samuel Ernest Prince, aged about 32 and from Ilkeston in Derbyshire, a schoolmaster employed by the Borough Council who lived[5] in Aspley Road with his wife and two small sons. He became the first chairman of the club, assisted by Russell Sprague, a 25 year old accounts clerk from Sidney Road[6]. “Mr Manning”, the new club secretary, was said in 1952 to have been A W Manning, possibly a decorator from Harpur Street. Others also recalled in 1952 as key people in the very early days were Murray Jeffs, a 26 year old gas fitter who was a well-known performer at concert parties[7] , David Wilson, a 35 year old policeman[8] who may have played in goal for the club a few times in the earliest seasons, and W Dillingham, who also played regularly in the early years[9].

Someone who didn’t feature in the reports of the first meetings, but who was to serve the new club from the start for the rest of his life, was Charles Chester, a 35 year old boiler riveter from Marlborough Road, Queen’s Park, formerly a regular player for Queen’s Works but by now a “trainer”, in those days a blend of physio and coach, who was to be a constant presence despite many other changes of personnel on and off the field.

Secretary Manning reported “a good list of fixtures” and said that “the field was on the London Road”-exactly where this was is explored under The first two Bedford Towns). The new club would wear amber and black stripes and “if they all pulled well together… the club would go on successfully”. This was to prove, over the next 74 years, to have been an enormous “if”……”Almost every year saw a new secretary and committee members”, recalled the 1952 historian, and the first few playing seasons were to prove dismal in the extreme for the fledgling club.

To continue the story see Seasons on the Field, 1908-39

[1] According to the brief history in the 1952 Supporters Club handbook, although I haven’t been able to trace it.

[2] Bedford Record, 30 June 1908, which added “The formation of the new club is now an established fact”.

[3] By the time of the 1911 census he had moved to Great Amwell, Herts.

[4] For example, see Bedfordshire Times for 19 October 1906

[5] By 1911, according to the census

[6] According to Charlie Chester’s interview in the Bedford Record for 13 December 1932. Sprague became a very well known local referee who eventually reached the Football League linesmens’ list.

[7] In 1911 he was living in Ouseland Road with his wife Florence, whom he married the prevous year

[8] In 1911 he lived in Southville Road, having been born in Rossendale, Lancashire.

[9] Possibly the Wallace Dillingham recorded in 1911 as about 29, a foundry rurner living in Greyfriars Walk.