Raising the old ship: The reformation

Hitchin was once a town full of pubs, a lot of which have closed down or changed into other retail outlets. One of the pub names that has lived on in folklore is the Angel Vaults, which stood in Sun Street. This was one of Hitchin’s most historic hostelries, demolished in the 1950s after it was deemed unsafe. In Hitchin Town’s history, the Angel Vaults played an important role – it was at this pub, on May 2 1928, that a group of worthies met to discuss the reformation of a town club. Football in Hitchin had limped on in various guises since the old Hitchin club folded in 1915. The temperance club, Hitchin Blue Cross, playing in the Bedfordshire League, had kept the flag flying, and Hitchin Athletic

The local press contained a story one week after the meeting proclaiming that “Hitchin Town Football Club is to be revived”, as if a long buried corpse was to be exhumed. Harry Cannon was voted to the chair and he was quick to point out that “no-one would look to make a profit out of the new club”. Cannon had some competition for the chair – Mr Frederick Furr had been Chairman of the old club and prominent people like FR Shillitoe were keen to be heard. The latter was fiercely critical of the past administration, claiming that the main problem with the defunct club was that players had been paid. This was certainly true until the turn of the 20th century when the club dropped its professional status and became amateur once more.

This was a key factor in the meeting. Given that “professional” status had been the downfall of the first incarnation of Hitchin Town Football Club, was it wise to go down the same route?. The vote was narrow, however, with 30-24 in favour of the new club being a purely amateur concern.

The subject of a home ground was also a tender topic. It was generally felt that the Bedford Road Ground, which was being used by the Junior Imperial League – better than as “the Imps”, was not a good idea. One Mr Ransom was given the task of checking with the Blue Cross Brigade and the Grammar School Old Boys to see if a groundshare agreement could be reached. But the Blue Cross club was under threat in 1928 and eventually folded after Hitchin Grammar School took over their ground.  After much discussion, the new club eventually struck a deal with the Imps, who sub-let the ground to the club for a fee of £ 30 per year.

A series of meetings were held into early summer, and it was decided that the club should join the Beds & District League and possibly the Herts County League. But the Spartan League was also possible and in the weeks that followed, this became the preferred option. Initially, the club also settled upon all-white as its playing kit, but this soon changed to yellow shirts and blue shorts. The nickname, “Canaries” was also born. Harry Cannon’s position also changed and one L.S. Hart was named chairman of the club with Cannon taking up the President’s role. The Angel Vaults became the club’s official temporary headquarters. At the end of May, the ground situation had still to be clarified, but by August, tenders had been put out for the grandstand.

On June 19 1928, at London’s Great Eastern Hotel in Liverpool Street, Hitchin Town was elected to the Spartan League Second Division. The reputation of Hitchin football teams such as Blue Cross and the convincing argument raised by Hitchin officials meant they were just two votes away from being elected to the first division.  News spread like wildfire around the town and surrounding villages. On August 17, more than 600 people turned up at the Bedford Road Ground to see the club’s first practice match. It was clear that there was a big appetite for the new club.

Players came from all corners of North Hertfordshire and Mid-Bedfordshire. From Ickleford came goalkeeper Tom Olney; from Whitwell came his competitor for the gloves and cap, Jim Garner; Trussell, a hard full back, was from Pirton; a handful of players, such as Wilson Gatward, Eddie Bullard and Tom Ayres were previously with Blue Cross. Cecil Burges, who would be a key figure in the club’s first season, was an experienced player with St.Albans and the county. Bob Allen, who had run team affairs at Hitchin Blue Cross, was named as the Canaries first manager.

1928-29: Game-by-game

August 25: Hitchin Town (1) 5 Waltham Comrades (0)1
Captained by Wilson Gatward, of the famous Hitchin jewellers, Hitchin trounced Waltham Comrades at Top Field in front of 1,500 people. The eager Hitchin public had to wait until just before half-time for the club’s first goal. George Pateman played the ball through to William “Buff” Barker and the inside left ran on beat Waltham keeper Boswell who had come out to meet him. Waltham equalised just after the interval, but Barker restored Hitchin’s lead. The hero of the day, however, was Charlie Davis, who scored a hat-trick in the closing stages to give the Canaries the “happy start” they were looking for.

September 1: Finchley Reserves (1)1 Hitchin Town (1)2
Hitchin’s squad was described as a “very happy family” by the Finchley officials. The Canaries went to Finchley without Bob Grimes and Wilson Gatward, both of whom received injuries in the opening game of the season. But Davis and Stan Brown, elder brother of Reg and Claude Brown, scored the goals as Hitchin continued their 100% record.

September 8: Hitchin Town (1)4 Ware (1)2
“Victory in spite of accidents,” said the headline as Hitchin won in sweltering heat at Top Field. It was a sorry debut for Tom Ayres, the former Blue Cross right half who injured his shoulder and never played for the club again. Charlie Davis scored to give Hitchin the lead, but by the interval it was 1-1. Davis went on to score another hat-trick with Stan Brown netting for the second game running. Ayres was not the only casualty, however, for Phil Crawley damaging his ankle and was stretchered off.

September 15: Polytechnic (0) 2 Hitchin Town (2)6
The Canaries made the trip to Chiswick to meet Polytechnic. Interestingly, the general public were not allowed to enter the ground, but a small band of Hitchin supporters made the trip to see their team win again. Hitchin conceded a penalty for the first time, but at the other end, Charlie Davis was on form again, scoring three goals with Harry Grimes netting twice and “Buff” Barker adding another. “Davis’ hat-trick habit,” said the headlines as the former Letchworth man made it 10 goals in four games.

September 22: Hitchin Town (1)5 Hoddesdon Town (0)0 - FA Amateur Cup Preliminary Round
A crowd of 1,690 turned up to see the Canaries’ Amateur Cup debut. Hitchin were on the offensive from the start but it took a second half onslaught to see off Hoddesdon. Barker scored two and the other goals came from Davis, Stan Brown and Harry Grimes. Cecil Burges missed a penalty.

September 29: Hitchin Town (2)4 Lea Bridge Gas (0)1
Hitchin went top of the league, taking a two point lead over fierce rivals Metropolitan Police Reserves. A large crowd had turned up to see the Canaries, with George Trussell scoring the club’s first penalty to give them the lead. Davis scored two more and Stan Brown was also on the scoresheet.

October 6: Hitchin Town (0)1 Enfield (0)3 - FA Amateur Cup first qualifying round
Enfield were a high-flying Athenian League side when they came to Hitchin and were too strong and experienced for the fledgling Canaries. A large crowd of 1,500 attended the game and it was only a late penalty by Ben Saggers that provided the consolation for the home side.

October 13: Metropolitan Police Res. (1)4 Hitchin Town (1)3
Hitchin’s first league debut came at Imber Court on a very poor pitch. Hitchin were level at the interval thanks to Albert Tasker’s first goal for the club. The strong police side went 3-1 ahead, but Tasker and Charlie Evans scored to restore parity. As soon as Hitchin had made their dramatic comeback, the police broke away and scored the winner.

October 20: Ware (0)1 Hitchin Town (1)5
Harry Wombwell, who joined the club from Walsworth just a few days earlier, scored four on his debut for the club. Wombwell impressed the local press: “he can shoot with either foot”. Evans gave Hitchin the lead and Wombwell netted four in the second half, his last goal a spectacular overhead kick. Ware were an aggressive side, and Jack Davey was carried off injured.

November 3: Hitchin Town (4)8 Ministry of Health (0)1
The grandstand at Top Field was opened on the day that Wombwell and Evans scored a hat-trick apiece against the civil servants. For the first time, the players could change in the ground. Evans scored a second half hat-trick and Burgess and Barker netted the other goals as Hitchin returned to the top of the table.

November 10: Hitchin Town (2)4 Stevenage Town (0)2 - Herts Charity Shield Round One
Hitchin’s first meeting with Stevenage ended in a bruising yet comfortable victory in the Charity Shield. Hitchin were 4-0 up by the time the visitors netted two late goals. Stevenage were hampered by an injury to goalkeeper Garner. Hitchin’s goals came from Tasker, Evans(2) and Davey.

December 1: Poplar Rovers (1)1 Hitchin Town (2)4
Twenty Hitchin supporters went down to East London to see the Canaries in action and they saw centre half and RAF airman J.C.F Thomson score twice from the penalty spot.

December 11: Hitchin Town (0)4 Baldock Town (1)2 - Herts Charity Shield
Almost 2,000 people turned up at Top Field to see the Canaries come from behind to beat neighbours Baldock. Thomson again scored from the penalty spot - a disputed award -  while Baldock’s goals came from Stan Millard and Jack Oyston, who would both join the Canaries.Tasker (2) and Barker scored Hitchin’s other goals.

December 15: Welwyn Garden City (2)3 Hitchin Town (2)4
A late rally gave Hitchin a narrow victory against Welwyn on a hard and treacherous pitch. Hitchin were level at half-time, with first half goals coming from Evans and Wombwell. Welwyn led 3-2 before Jack Davey netted twice in the last 10 minutes.

December 22: Hitchin Town (5)7 Hoddesdon Town (0)1
Hoddesdon arrived at Hitchin with only six players and kicked off with a distinct disadvantage. Hitchin went a goal ahead after two minutes when Thomson netted from the penalty spot. Hoddesdon missing five eventually turned up but they were 2-0 down by this time. By the interval, Harry Wombwell had scored four times and Hitchin were 5-0 ahead. Davey and Evans added further goals in the second period.

December 26: Hitchin Town (1)1 Metropolitan Police Reserves (0)1
The Boxing Day clash at Top Field attracted over 2,000 people. The Police side was the only one to take points off Hitchin at that point and they had a 100% record. Davey gave Hitchin the lead but after intense pressure, the Police levelled to earn a point. Both teams attended Brakes Theatre in the evening.

January 5: Hitchin Town (3)4 Welwyn Garden City (0)2
A small crowd saw a difficult game for the Canaries on a hard and slippery pitch. Davey, Tasker and Thomson (penalty) all scored before half-time. Welwyn adopted a tough approach in the second half and dragged themselves back into the game, but the referee was given a hard time by the crowd, who continually barracked him - presumably because he refused to penalise the visitors’ rough play. Wombwell added a fourth for Hitchin.

January 12: Waltham Comrades (2)2 Hitchin Town (3)9
A much changed Hitchin forward line trounced Waltham with Ted Bullard scoring four times (all in the second half). Sonny Furr scored twice, Barker, Burgess and Muncey got the other goals. Waltham Comrades actually opened the scoring in this game!

January 19: Letchworth Town (1)2 Hitchin Town (2)8 Herts Senior Cup
If Letchworth had not received an early blow when their key forward was injured, the scoreline might have been a lot closer, said the local press. But Hitchin were in fine form and Wombwell scored four times with Evans (2), Thomson and Tasker netting the others. Cecil Burgess scored an own goal.

January 26: Hoddesdon Town (2)3 Hitchin Town (3)5
Hitchin went top of the table once more, two points ahead of Met.Police Reserves after this victory. Hoddesdon took an early lead, but Hitchin levelled almost immediately through Barker. By the interval, Hitchin were 3-2 ahead after goals by Evans and Davey. Tasker and Davey added further goals in the second half.

February 2: Hitchin Town (4)7 Finchley Reserves (0)0
Hitchin skipper Burgess was missing from this trouncing of Finchley but his replacement Bill Stevens, had a steady debut. Finchley had a setback when their defender Brain was carried off and taken to hospital with a lung injury. It was one way traffic throughout, with Wombwell (2), Barker (2), Evans, Davey and Thomson scoring the goals.

February 9: Hitchin Town (5)8 Boreham Rovers (0)0 Herts Charity Shield
Despite poor weather, this cup tie attracted over 1,000 people. Burgess was still unavailable and early on George Trussell was injured, but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Boreham were completely outplayed and were 5-0 down at the interval. Three more goals came after the break, so Hitchin won through to the Herts Charity Shield final with ease. The goals came from Wombwell (3), Davey (2), Evans, Tasker and Thomson.

February 23: Baldock Town (2) 3 Hitchin Town (1)4 Herts Senior Cup
The British Legion Band provided the entertainment while Hitchin and Baldock served up an exciting cup tie. Not for the first time in the season, Baldock made if hard for the Canaries, going 2-0 up early on and leading 3-2 later in the game. Hitchin’s goals came from Harold Handscombe (2) and Charlie Evans (2), the former scoring the winner.

March 2: Northampton Polytechnic Institute (0)3 Hitchin Town (1)3
Hitchin received a shock from the struggling home side and could only draw in front of a crowd of just 10 people at Palmers Green, North London. Hitchin were 3-1 up, with goals from Barker, Wombwell and Thomson. But Northampton scored two late goals to earn a point.

March 9: St.Albans City (2)6 Hitchin Town (2)2 Herts Senior Cup
Hitchin had no answer to the legendary St.Albans forward Billy Minter, who scored four goals in the second half of this semi-final. Hitchin led 2-1 in the first half, thanks to goals from Davey and Thomson. A crowd of 3,000, of which 10% came from Hitchin, watched the game.

March 16: Hitchin Town (2)5 Northampton Polytechnic Institute (0)1
Hitchin gained revenge on bottom-placed Northampton for the 3-3 draw of two weeks earlier. The visitors had a major setback when two players were carried off with head injuries. Hitchin’s goals came from Evans (2), Barker, Saggers (penalty) and Ted Bullard.

March 23: Hitchin Town (2)5 Walthamstow Avenue Reserves (1)1
Despite trouncing Walthamstow, Hitchin remained a point behind Metropolitan Police Reserves. It could have been an even bigger victory but form the Londoners’ goalkeeper Cornford. Ted Bullard and Barker were both in fine form, and Bullard netted twice and Barker once. Albert Tasker also scored twice.

 March 30: Hitchin Town (1)5 Letchworth Town (2)3 Herts Charity Shield
The club’s first final since reformation saw the Canaries win the Charity Shield in front of more than 2,000 people. Letchworth went ahead but Albert Tasker equalised only for Ray Dunkley - who would eventually play for Hitchin - restored the visitors’ lead. Tasker again came to Hitchin’s rescue.
Evans, Bullard and Barker gave Hitchin a 5-2 lead before Gray pulled one back for Letchworth. At the end, Hitchin’s skipper for the day, Ben Saggers, was presented with the shield, and said: “A great thing to win a county shield in our first year.”

April 6: Lea Bridge Gas (2)3 Hitchin Town (0)1
A shock defeat for Hitchin, but it could have been worse in what was probably the worst performance of the season . It was only a late goal by Davey that provided any consolation for the Canaries.

April 10: Ministry of Health (1)1 Hitchin Town (2)3
Hitchin secured their promotion place with a comfortable win at Ministry of Health in Gunnersbury Park. On a narrow pitch, Hitchin struggled to get going, but West, Furr and Cheshire scored the goals. Bullard was “in the wars” with a blooded nose.

April 13: Walthamstow Avenue Reserves (3) 6 Hitchin Town (3)6
An amazing game, watched by 1,000 people. Hitchin went 3-0 down but by half-time, it was 3-3 and then the Canaries went 4-3 ahead. At the end, it was Hitchin that had to fight back for a draw, Burges scoring as the referee was looking at his watch. “A ding-dong struggle”, said the local press. Hitchin’s scorers were Barker (3), Burges (2) and Muncey.

April 17: Hitchin Town (0)5 Polytechnic (2) 2
Hitchin were stunned by a first half display from Polytechnic that saw the Canaries go in at the interval two goals down. But a second half comeback saw the gain two more points.Tasker and Thomson brought Hitchin level in the second half, but when Webster put Hitchin ahead, the cheer from the crowd could be heard in Highbury Road. Tasker and Thomson added two more to cap a marvellous second half.

April 20: Hitchin Town (3)5 Poplar Rovers (1)1
Hitchin ended their first season since reformation with a resounding win against Poplar. The Canaries were one point behind the Met.Police, so the Spartan League Division Two (East) title would be decided on the final day of the campaign. Hitchin needed the league leaders to lose at Walthamstow Avenue and had to beat a young Poplar side. Hitchin’s result was never in doubt. Hitchin’s goals in a 5-1 win came from Wombwell (2), Burges, Tasker and Barker. The scene shifted to Brand Street, where a large crowd had gathered to obtain the score from Walthamstow - it was being posted in the window of V.H. Garratt’s shop at 7pm. The Police won, and secured the title. Nevertheless, Hitchin had enjoyed a tremendous first season since reformation!

Player-by-player

Stanley Faulkner
Signed in the summer of 1928 from Meppershall. A steady goalkeeper who was ever-present in the league in 1928-29. Was a fixture between the posts until Cecil Cannon arrived at the club.

Ben Saggers
A tough full back who joined the club from Stevenage Town in September 1928. Captained the Canaries on occasions, including the Herts Charity Shield Final, and was a useful penalty taker. Stayed two seasons with Hitchin before moving on. Could also play right wing.

George Trussell
Trussell was a reliable player who made 184 first team appearances, scoring three goals, for the club. Arrived from Pirton Athletic as a 20 year-old, and was the first Hitchin player to make 100 appearances for the club as well as the first to score an own goal! A popular player, Trussell was said to have a strong kick and “an equally hard head”.

Ted Bullard
Former Hitchin Blue Cross player who made his debut in the club’s first game following reformation and despite a number of injuries, played a part in that debut season.

George Cheshire
R.G. Cheshire was signed from Pirton Athletic and stayed with the club until 1929-30 season. He was mostly an inside right with Pirton, but at Hitchin played right half. He played 45 games for Hitchin, scoring 2 goals. He later became indelibly linked with Arlesey Town and was chairman for some time.

Cecil E. Burges
Known, for some reason, as “Budger”, Burges joined Hitchin from Cambridge Town, after playing his early football with Hitchin Blue Cross. He captained Hitchin British Schools and was a prolific goalscorer with Blue Cross. He then moved to St.Albans City for two seasons, winning the Herts Senior Cup with the Saints. Burges played left half on his return to his home town club, and went on to appear 40 times between 1928 and 1932. He also played cricket for Hitchin.

George Pateman
Pateman made his debut for Hitchin against Waltham Comrades in their opening game of 1928-29 and went on to make 124 appearances for the club, scoring four goals. Before joining the Canaries, Pateman played for Hitchin Union Jack, Hitchin Blue Cross and Walsworth. A versatile player, his favoured position was left half. He departed Hitchin in November 1933 for Stevenage.

William Barker
Barker was signed from Baldock Town in the summer of 1928 and he had the honour of scoring Hitchin Town’s first goal following reformation. He also played briefly for the club in 1929-30, in total scoring 21 goals in 34 games.

Stan Brown
Stan Brown was one of five Brown brothers to have played for the club (Reg and Claude were two of his younger brothers). He also played for Hertford Town and St.Albans City.

Harold Handscombe
Pirton-born centre forward who was part of an ecclesiastical family, many of whom played for Pirton Athletic.

J.C.F. Thomson
Centre half of left half who played for RAF Henlow.

T.J. West
Left winger who failed to establish himself in two seasons with the club.

Frank Webster
Signed for the club at the back end of 1928-29 from Baldock and went on to play a key role in the
following season at centre half.

Sonny Furr
A member of the Furr family that was indelibly linked with the club for many years. Sonny, or A.S., was a tough tackling full back but was a club official right until the 1970s.

P.A. Millard
A right back from Langford, who played just one game for the club.

Albert Tasker
Tasker was known as “the happy warrior”. Born in Willian, he didn’t start playing football until after his schooldays. His first club was Baldock Athletic after which he joined Norton and then on to Letchworth. He joined Hitchin in October 1928, making his debut in the FA Amateur Cup against Enfield. Although an inside left by trade, Tasker could play in any of the frontline positions and had an excellent scoring record, netting 84 times in 135 first team games for the Canaries between 1928 and 1932-33.

Wilson Gatward
A member of the well-known Hitchin jeweller family, Gatward came to Hitchin Town from Hitchin Blue Cross and was skipper for the club’s first game against Waltham Comrades. A composed left back, he was injured after two games and never played again for the club.

Phil Crawley
Although he played in the club’s first game of the 1928-29 season, Crawley struggled to maintain a first team place at Hitchin after arriving from Pirton Athletic, where he was club captain. But he was to prove to be a great clubman and played for the club until 1934-35.

Jack Davey
A free-scoring right winger with Letchworth, Davey made an instant impact at Hitchin when he joined the club in September 1928. He stayed two seasons, making 42 appearances and scoring 25 goals.

Tom Ayres
Had a short and disastrous career at Hitchin, playing less than half an hour against Ware on September 8 1928 before being carried off to hospital with a badly injured shoulder. He had joined the club in the summer from Hitchin Blue Cross.

Harold Grimes
Grimes was a well known player in local football and played for Arlesey before coming to Hitchin in July 1928. An outside right, he failed to maintain a first team spot and spent most of the season in the reserves. His Hitchin first team career totalled five games and three goals.

Bob Grimes
Signed from Hitchin Athletic in the summer of 1928, Grimes, a left half back, played in Hitchin’s opening game against Waltham Comrades and no more.

Joe Muncey
Right winger Muncey spent three seasons as Hitchin, making his debut and scoring a goal at Waltham Comrades in January 1929.

H.C. “Charlie” Evans
An experienced inside right, Evans joined Hitchin from Leagrave and scored 19 goals in 20 appearances for the club.

Charlie Davis
Centre forward signed from Letchworth in summer of 1928. Scored a hat-trick in Hitchin’s first game against Waltham Comrades and ended the season with 13 goals in seven games.

Vic Cherry
Left back who made just one appearance for the club.

Jack Croft
Inside left who joined the club from Biggleswade and made just two appearances for the Canaries.

William Berry
Played in Hitchin’s first game at inside right, his only appearance for the club.

Cyril Foster
A Hitchin man through and through, Cyril was still attending games at Hitchin in the early 1990s. He also played for Hitchin Blue Cross in the 1920s.

W.Stevens
Left half back who played just one game for the club.

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