Early sporting contests were either trials of strength or speed. Prize fighting and wrestling fell into the former category and running into the latter. Wolverton did not have a running track of any kind until the Park was opened in 1885 and races were largely improvised affairs. A sprint over a short distance, described in those days as a foot race, could be easily organised and a crowd could assemble to watch the outcome.
One that was reported in 1858 took place outside the Locomotive Inn (now the Galleon) at Old Wolverton. It is likely that the field to the east of the Locomotive was used as it was available for other sporting activities. This contest was organised between James Martin, known as “the Wolverton hero” and James Stones, another very fast runner. A prize of £1, about a week’s wages, would go to the winner. Now James Martin was 45 years old and his challenger only 25, so Stones sportingly gave the older man five yards head start. Even so, he was unable to make up any distance on the older sprinter who crossed the finish line five yards ahead. The distance of the race was not specified, but one assumes 100 yards.
A Wolverton Rugby Club was re-formed almost 60 years ago, and I was part of it. We had no facilities. We changed in the Wolverton Baths along the Stratford Road, made our way to the Top Rec, where we played our match, and then back to the Baths to clean ourselves up. Sandwiches and more than one pint of beer at the Craufurd afterwards. Often we had barely enough bodies to make a 15 and there was more than one occasion when we had to “borrow” a player or two from the opposing team.
The story was not dissimilar in 1890, when Wolverton’s first rugby club was making its way in the competitive world of its day. As can be read in this newspaper report from the Northampton Mercury of 4 January 1890, Wolverton was short of players. However, here they are, playing Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens. Northampton is now one of the mightiest teams in the land and it boggles the mind a bit that Wolverton was once thought to be on a more-or-less equal footing. Two week’s later, they travelled to Warwick.
In 1890 Wolverton Rugby Club played on a pitch marked out beside the canal, in the field between the Galleon bridge and the blackboards bridge, now of course a housing development.
In the article below the Wolverton umpire was Mr. F. Swain, a keen sportsman in his day, and the man who founded Swain’s sports shop at 48 Church Street.
WOLVERTON V. NORTHAMPTON
A combination team of Wolverton and Oluey footballera, at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday aftemoou, were beaten by the St. James’s representatives with a try to four minors. The fixture was Nurlhamptou v. Wolverton ; but several of the latter’s men could not play, and so the Oluey Club was drawn upon to fill up the vacancies. ThenWolverton were a man short. The Northampton team, about half-an- hour after the match should have commenced, looked like numbering about twelve players. Eventually, however, by getting several unselected men to play, It was made possible to put a full, although weak, home fifteen in the field. The Wolverton men, with their backs to the lake, started a somewhat poor game—which cost spectators 6d. to witness—something after three o’clock. Williams did some good forward work for Northampton; Allinson made a short run and a useful boundary kick, and Hough—who failed to play up to his previous day’s form—put in a little sprint, but was soon collared. This play was at the home end, where a maul took place later on between Robinson and Hilton, the former proving the stronger, and touching down for his side. On the re-start, Dunham and Hooton tackled well, and the latter, picking up after a dribble by Moring, was promptly pulled down by Golding. A. Farrer. by a long kick, returned the leather to Northampton’s 25, and Allinson had again to touch. Almost immediately Hough nearly scored, but dropped the ball on the line, and only a third touch was credited against. Northampton at half-time. Moring a minute or two later received from a line-out and kicked, but Smith made a pretty return. Shortly after there was a dispute. The ball was kicked over Northampton’s line, and Ruff, who was off-side ran in after it. From the presence of a number of people around the goal line, it was impossible to say what followed. Robinson claimed that be touched down; Ruff that he scored a try by touching the ball after it was handled by Robinson – but it was still in motion. Each umpire, J. Roseblade, (Northampton) and F. Swain (Wolverton) stood by his respective side and eventually the visitors gave way. Hardly was the ball again rolling than C. Stanley got hold and showing the Wolverton backs a clean pair of heels, scored a try, amidst cheering, for Northampton. Moring took the kick, a difficult one, and tailed, and the game shortly after concluded.
Wolverton.—Back, G. Inns ; three-quarter backs, Smith, Hough, and Hooton ; half backs. Gallop and Hllton ; forwards, Ruff (captain). A. Shaw. J. Gardiner, A. Farrer, T. Farrer, W. Cooke, J. Biginton, G. Covington, (one short).
Northampton.—Back. A. Robinson; three-quarter backs, C. Stanley, C. J. Allinson, and A. Orton ; hair backs, W. Moring and T, Phipps ; forwards. C. Phipps, T. Stanley, J. Ayers, A. Dunham. Golding, Drsge, Williams, C. Parr, and W. S. Godfrey.
In the 1880s the Wolverton cricket team took the name of “Wolverton Britannia”. I have no idea where that came from.
At any rate they were distinct from the railway as one of their matches was against a London and North western second XI. The score sheet does not flatter Wolverton. The side scored 55 in the first innings and 21 in the second. The L & NW team needed one innings only, where they scored 103. This was reported in the Northampton Mercury on Saturday 30th July 1887.
On the day that this was reported the side were playing a local match against Newport Pagnell. Once again the results were unflattering to Wolverton. Newport Pagnell scored 189 runs against Wolverton bowling and Wolverton could only manage 37 runs in reply.
I think that the cricket ground in this period was on the field now covered by Green lane and Victoria Street, which, when you think about it, slopes quite steeply in parts. When the Green Lane and Moon Street development started in the 1890s the cricket ground was removed to its present location.