Harry Garnett’s jug

A silver ewer presented to Harry Garnett of Bradford FC in November, 1880 is being auctioned next month…

Despite the fact that Bradford established an enviable reputation for sporting excellence in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the achievements of its two principal rugby teams Bradford FC and Manningham FC (who later converted to soccer at Park Avenue and Valley Parade respectively) has tended to be overlooked. Artefacts from the era are few and far between and so it is particularly interesting to discover that this item exists and is being auctioned next month.

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The trophy was presented to Harry Garnett on the occasion of his retirement as captain of Bradford FC in November, 1880 occasioned by his marriage the following month. Garnett had been a leading member of the club in the second half of the 1870s and under his captaincy the club had become known as the strongest in Yorkshire. Otley based Garnett had also been the second player from the club to be awarded an England cap by the Rugby Union in 1877.

Garnett (1851-1928) is rightly credited for having pioneered rugby football in Bradford as well as in Yorkshire and he remained influential as a county administrator, president of the Yorkshire governing body between 1876-83 and in 1889 becoming the first Yorkshireman to become president of the RFU. He was also credited with having helped instigate the Yorkshire Challenge Cup competition that was first played for in the 1877/78 season. It says much about the developments at Park Avenue that he chose to sever his connections with Bradford FC completely in 1881, thereafter to all intents and purposes forgotten.

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Having previously been based at Apperley Bridge (at the field adjacent to the Stansfield Arms), Bradford FC moved to the newly constructed Park Avenue ground in 1880 following merger with Bradford Cricket Club. Although relocation brought a new era of sporting glory, Garnett had misgivings about changes that were taking place in the sport at the time. Garnett fell out with other members of Bradford FC and whilst the trophy was a generous gift it is notable that the presentation to him was poorly attended.

His marriage in December, 1880 at the age of 29 years was a high profile affair. Solemnised at the Chapel Royal, Savoy in London, the officiating clergyman was the chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. Garnett was a gentleman and his marriage was the occasion for him to formally leave Bradford FC. However by then relations were already sour.

In November, 1880 the Leeds Times described a presentation to Garnett by ‘several members’ of the Bradford club at the Alexandra Hotel in Bradford – by which was meant that the event was attended by a minority of members. Garnett had made a rather pointed response to the effect that ‘no man played football with any hope of reward, and it was a pleasure to him to know that the club appreciated the services which he had rendered.’ The Bradford Daily Telegraph of 22 November, 1880 was more charitable: ‘There was a nice company of friends, a sumptuous dinner, and conviviality enough to make things pleasant and send home the diners in a happy frame of mind.’ Nonetheless, there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to suggest there having been a falling out. Although Garnett had been elected captain of the club in May, 1880 The Yorkshireman of 14 August, 1880 considered it surprising that ‘the respected captain of the former club was not invited to the Mayoral banquet which graced the inauguration of the new ground.’

Garnett appears to have played only a single game for Bradford FC in the 1880/81 season, as captain against York at Park Avenue in October, 1880 and this was his farewell appearance. According to The Leeds Mercury of 23 November, 1880 in that same month Garnett had spoken ‘on the subject of gate money, and contended that the tendency towards playing matches for the purpose of raising a large amount of gate money without any visible object would in time act prejudicially to the best interests of the game. He suggested that the surplus funds of a club at the close of a season be devoted to some charitable object, and thought that by doing so football would still continue to increase in popularity.’ On this evidence it is clear that Garnett was not in favour of developments at Bradford FC. Whether he was aware of monies being paid to Bradford FC players is unclear (such as the reimbursement of expenses for those new recruits travelling to Apperley Bridge in 1879/80).

There is more about Harry Garnett in my book Room at the Top.

Further details about the auction: http://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/15352925.Piece_of_Bradford__39_s_sporting_history_to_go_under_hammer/

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