I’m indebted to Gary Slater for the provision of certain information and support in writing this article.
In 1876 seven young men decided to form a football team, playing under Rugby rules. The club was called Warrington Zingari, although the appendage was dropped after only a season. The Warrington Football Club, more recently known as Warrington Wolves, has a long illustrious history that can be traced back to these Founding Fathers but, until recently, little has been known about them.
Unlike many football teams formed in the middle to late Victorian era, Warrington were not a formal off-shoot of an existing sports club, or the product of a works or church social organisation. Neither were they the brainchild of a wealthy local benefactor or dignitary. It appears the men had social connections and were linked in various ways: some were members of St Paul’s church; some played for Warrington cricket club; others attended the same school; several lived in the same street. Two were brothers, whilst another was connected to them via marriage.
Whilst four of the seven were born and bred in Warrington, three were from outside the town, moving for their own or their father’s employment. All were to establish themselves in middle-class professions as solicitors, accountants and the like, in stark contrast to the working class base the club would go on to build, which would ultimately lead to Warrington being a leading member of the breakaway Northern Rugby Football Union in 1895.
Ernest William Early
Ernest Early was born in 1856 in Witney, Oxfordshire, to a prominent local family. Early’s of Witney were famous for making blankets and were involved in the textile trade from the 16th century; the last remaining factory closed as recently as 2002.
Ernest’s father Richard owned Worsham Mill, which employed nearly 100 people in its heyday. Ernest was the eighth of twelve children, though the family were wealthy enough to send him to board at the recently opened Bedfordshire Middle Class Public School. Almost certainly this would have seen his introduction to football.
Upon completion of his studies, Ernest did not return to join the family business, but instead got a job as a clerk working for the London & North Western Railway (L&NWR) Company. His uncle Charles was a major shareholder in the Witney Railway, which may have led to this career path; whatever the reason, this decision may have been critical to the establishment of rugby in Warrington, as Ernest’s employment meant he relocated to the town.
His likely experience in the sport may have been the deciding factor in him being elected captain of the newly formed club, but his stint was short-lived. Just a few months into Zingari’s opening season he was required to move to Anglesey, where in 1881 he was working as a storekeeper for L&NWR.
The following year Ernest emigrated to Canada aboard the Circassian, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He settled in Saskatchewan, marrying a Canadian lady 18 years his junior, with whom he had a son. He died in his new homeland on 16 August 1938, aged 82.
Worsham Mill, Witney
Bedfordshire Middle Class Public School
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George William Edwards
George Edwards was born in the heartlands of the industrial revolution, to an iron-working father, in 1859. The family relocated from Shropshire to Warrington in the 1860s, and George completed his education in the town, where he excelled enough to start work as a solicitor’s clerk.
The second youngest of seven children, as a young man he played both cricket and rugby for Warrington, demonstrating his footballing versatility by playing in the backs, halves and forwards. Upon the formation of Warrington Zingari, he became the club’s first secretary, and in 1879/80 he took up the mantle of club captain. It proved to be his last season with the club before he moved to Wallasey, Birkenhead to practise as a solicitor.
George went on to have a successful career, employing not just staff at his firm, but a cook and a housemaid at the family home. He had a daughter, and a son who went on to study at Cambridge, but as was often the case in Victorian families, he and his wife suffered the tragedy of the death of another child.
At the age of 52 in 1911 he was still residing in Wallasey with his family, but later moved to Ormskirk, where it is believed he died towards the end of 1925, aged 67.
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George John Brown
George Brown was the third Founding Father from outside Warrington. Hailing from Dukinfield, Ashton-under-Lyne, where he was born in 1857, he moved with his family to Stalybridge, where they lived in Warrington Street, before moving to Warrington itself in the 1870s, by which time his father was a mill manager.
From a typically large family, with seven siblings, George pursued a career as an accountant. Starting out as a clerk around the time Zingari were formed, he went on to become a bookkeeper, and was a cashier and later director at Messrs Clare & Ridgway in Sankey. Clare’s had originally started as ship builders, famed for launching their boats sideways into the canal, but by the time George was working for them in 1901 they were operating as builder’s merchants.
Given his chosen profession, it’s understandable that George was elected as the first treasurer of the club. On the field he played in the backs and halves, playing regularly in the first three seasons; on at least one occasion he captained the team.
He fathered two children with his wife Eliza and was still living in Stockton Heath at the age of 54 in 1911. A few years later, on 9 September 1914, he was the first Founding Father to pass away, aged 58, and is buried in Warrington Cemetery on Manchester Road.
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William Henry Wallington
A born and bred Warringtonian, William was one half of the Wallington brothers who helped found the town’s sporting pride. Born in 1856 in the parish of St Paul as a child he lived in the family home on Dallam Lane where the club’s current ground is situated.
He followed in his father’s footsteps starting his working life as an apprentice pattern maker. Census records declare he was an engine model maker in 1881 & a pattern maker in 1891, but by 1901 he was an inspector of weights and measures for Warrington Borough Council.
Having studied at People’s College (later renamed Arpley Street Council School), he was still living at the family home at 26 Bewsey Road around the time Zingari were formed. Three doors up the street at number 32 lived fellow Founding Father Ebenezer England. By 1891 William was living at 30 Bewsey Road; incredibly his neighbour at the time, at number 28, was Thomas Pemberton who served as treasurer of Warrington for over 20 years.
To emphasise the close ties between some of the Founding Fathers, William’s cousin Emily married his near neighbour and fellow founder Ebenezer England. Like Ebenezer, and several other founders he played cricket for Warrington, but it was in football that he proved his athletic prowess most.
He had the honour of being the captain on the field in the first recorded match of the club, as Ernest Early the club captain did not play. When Early moved away from the town during the first season William took over the club captaincy on a full-time basis. He appeared regularly as a back in the club’s first three seasons, before disappearing from the team in 1878.
He lived his whole life in Warrington, and was father to two children, Ethel who became a milliner, and Reginald who worked at a soap & alkali manufacturer. He died on 5 June 1926, aged 70, and his obituary in the Warrington Guardian was the key piece of evidence uncovering the role the Founding Fathers played in the formation of the Warrington club. He is buried in Warrington Cemetery, Manchester Road.
William Wallington's gravestone, Warrington cemetery
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Thomas Hornby Hewitt Rathbone
Thomas Rathbone was another Warringtonian, whose slightly unusual middle names came from both his parents, Hornby being his father’s middle name, and Hewitt his mother’s maiden name.
He was born in 1857, and as a youngster lived in both Howley Lane & Golborne Street. His father was originally a Wire Drawer, providing the first known link to the trade which would ultimately provide the nickname for the local rugby team. Later in life, his father became a manager for the Co-operative.
Thomas, the eldest of eight children, left Warrington to live in Wigan, and went on to become an iron and stone manufacturing manager, and later manager of a forgerolling mill. He did return to the town, to live on Bewsey Road with his brother and sister after his retirement whilst in his early 50s; he appears never to have married.
As well as playing cricket for Warrington, he played as a forward in the club’s first season, but then does not appear to have played again for several seasons until a re-appearance for a single game in 1879.
Despite moving out of the town there was obviously a life-long connection to his fellow founders: when he attended the funeral of his aunt Charlotte, in 1903, he was joined by George Brown & Thomas Wallington.
It is believed he was the last Founding Father to die, at the age of 86 in the first quarter of 1944, in Aled, Denbighshire, North Wales.
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Thomas Wallington was the younger brother of William, born a year later in 1857, and seven years before their only other sibling Mary.
Following in his brother’s footsteps he too played cricket for Warrington as well as rugby. He was the only founder to play in all five recorded games in the club’s first season, but then did not play the following season, before making a comeback, and playing for a couple more years.
He too followed a professional career path, training as a ledger clerk, before becoming an accountant. He also served on the Board of Guardians, and Rural District Council in later life.
He married his wife Elizabeth in the early 1880s, and they had two girls. He continued to live in Warrington until after 1900, but then moved to Northwich, where he died aged 59, 27 October 1916. He is though buried in Warrington Cemetery, Manchester Road, near his brother William.
Thomas Wallington's gravestone, Warrington cemetery
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Ebenezer England spent most of his 81 years in Warrington, holding several prominent positions in the town. Upon his death on 9 March 1939 several newspapers ran his obituary under the headline ‘Founder of rugby league club dies’
Out of all the founders, Ebenezer had the longest association with the club, regularly attending games throughout his life. He was also the last of the Founding Fathers to represent the club on the field, and is recorded as playing in games in each of the first five seasons, across all positions in the team. In 1879/80 he was elected as honorary secretary.
Ebenezer played in a match against Runcorn at Sankey Street on Saturday, 10 January 1880 that ended in tragedy when one of the Runcorn players, 22-year-old Alfred Bibby, died after being injured trying to tackle a Warrington player. Ebenezer was called upon to give evidence at the inquest at the White Hart pub two days later.
Off the field, Ebenezer had a varied career, just like his father, James, who held jobs as a glassmaker, paraffin oil dealer and bookkeeper at various times. Born in 1857, Ebenezer was one of just three children, and by the age of 14 was working as an office boy, having previously attended People’s College along with his near neighbours the Wallington brothers. Aged 24, he was a solicitor’s clerk like fellow founder George Edwards, making him one of four clerks amongst the founders in the 1881 census (along with George Brown & Thomas Wallington).
By 1891, Ebenezer had relocated to Wallasey, just 10 minutes’ walk from George Edwards’ residence, though he was no long practising law, but was now working as an auctioneer. He had returned to the Warrington area, and was living in Stockton Heath by the turn of the century, acting as a cashier at a solicitors, and by 1911 was living in Walden House, Fearnhead, being described as a land & estate agent.
His wife of 56 years Emily was the cousin of William & Thomas Wallington, whom he also played alongside at Warrington Cricket Club. He wrote about William in his obituary in 1926. With Emily he had five children, the youngest of whom, George Nicholas, went on to become a prominent barrister.
As well as referring to his important role as one of the founders of the Warrington club, his obituary also states that he represented Poulton-with-Fearnhead on Warrington Rural Council and was a member of Lancashire Education Committee and Public Assurance Committee. He left a gross £1,931 in his will, prior to paying £39 estate duty. The value of his contribution, together with that of the other Founding Fathers, to future generations’ enjoyment of the club they created cannot be so easily measured.
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Padgate Excelsior and Arthur Bennett
Whilst the seven Founding Fathers of Warrington Zingari are recognised on the current Warrington Wolves badge, one equally important founder has so far been overlooked. Unlike Zingari, a single individual appears to have been the driving force behind the formation of Padgate Excelsior, who in 1881 merged with Warrington, providing key players and officials, and helping to create the dominant rugby team in the town.
In a speech at a reception recognising his 21 years of service to the Warrington club, Thomas Pemberton referred to the fact that he started playing in 1878 when Padgate Excelsior was formed by Arthur Bennett.
Bennett was a prominent Warringtonian, described by a contemporary as ‘Warrington’s second greatest citizen’ (presumably after William Beaumont). Born in 1862 he qualified as a chartered accountant, before embarking on a life centred on civic duty and cultural and literary advancement. He was an alderman, magistrate, politician and served as Major of Warrington from 1925-1927; he was also secretary of Padgate Wesleyan Mutual Improvement Society, President of the Warrington Literary and Philosophical Society, a founder member of the Warrington Poetry Society and a key member of the Liverpool Press Club. Seven volumes of his work, including one titled “Songs of a Chartered Accountant” were released, and he founded 'Sunrise' magazine, designed 'to encourage civic improvement and the arts', and 'The Dawn: a monthly magazine of progress'.
Bennett would have been just 16 at the time Padgate Excelsior was formed, though newspaper evidence of the time confirms he was Honorary Secretary. He was later renowned for securing buildings and public spaces throughout the town, including Orford Hall and Park, Victoria Park, Bruche Park, Queen’s Gardens & part of St Elphin’s Park. One such space, in his home district of Padgate, still bears his name: Bennett’s Recreation Ground, which was for many years the home of Woolston Rovers Amateur Rugby League Football Club.
A plaque to his memory exists on the side of the Warrington Academy building in Bridge Street, and he is buried in Warrington Cemetery, Manchester Road.
Plaque to Arthur Bennett, Warrington Academy Building
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