Wiltshire's Sports Stars

on Friday, 24 January 2014. Posted in Sport

The 2014 Winter Olympics will soon be upon us, and as we'll be cheering on Pewsey’s very own Shelley Rudman, I thought I would bring to light another of Wiltshire’s pioneering sportswomen. Fanny Williams played for Swindon Town ladies football team in the 1920s. Ladies football developed during World War I when the employees of munitions factories formed teams to play each other. The Football Association banned ladies football on their grounds but the English Ladies Football Association was formed in 1921. A national Challenge Cup competition was begun in 1925. Fanny’s boots are kept at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery.

Wiltshire can also be said to possess some famous athletics stars of the past. Walter George was reported to be the finest runner of the Victorian era, with a ‘phenomenal’ performance in 1886. He became a ‘national institution’ and was the sporting world’s very first superstar. His method of training involved brine baths and a ‘100-up’ exercise. He also enjoyed beer drinking and smoking, but still managed to produce a new ‘miracle mile’ that lasted for 29years. He was born in 1858 and suffered from asthma, croup and St. Vitus’ dance as a child. He lived in Calne; his father was a pharmacist whose clients came from many parts of Wiltshire. As a child he was encouraged to get lots of fresh air and went off running for an hour or two, especially around the area from Cherhill to Morgan’s Hill with the white horse and newly erected Lansdowne Monument. It was at Lillie Bridge on August 23rd, 1886 where Walter smashed the mile record by four seconds. One spectator stated that silence prevailed whilst waiting for the time to be displayed onto the board. Then a roar went up ‘Such a roar thrills me now as I write this... thousands broke loose from every quarter and rushed madly across the ground towards the victor’. It was the fastest mile in history at four minutes twelve and three quarters. Walter’s brother Alfred was also a title winning athlete who later managed the British team at the 1924 Olympics.

Purton produced a famous athlete in James Kibblewhite, born in 1866. He began his athletics career in 1884 and enjoyed great success for over 10 years. In 1890 he was selected to run in London in front of King Edward and Queen Alexandra (then the Prince and Princess of Wales). He won many medals but one of his greatest achievements was breaking the three mile English Record and World Record in London. He was employed by the GWR works in Swindon by 1916 and had a son who was also a promising athlete.  Purton Museum holds many items of memorabilia relating to James Kibblewhite, including trophies, medals, gold chain and watch, and newspaper cuttings of his career which are well worth having a look at.

Corsham was the home of two test cricketers, one in the 19th and the other in the 20th century and both were born in the town. Septimus Kinneir was born in 1871. His younger brother Arthur also played for the Corsham 1st team for over twenty years and was selected to play for Wiltshire in 1892, but it was Sep who played for the Corsham 1st side at just 16. His contribution to the Corsham Club was considerable and helped to make it one of the strongest in the area; they took the Wiltshire League title in 1895. Sep played as an amateur and could not afford to take time off work to play as a regular in the Wiltshire Team. He played for Wiltshire at Lords in 1890 but moved on to play for Warwickshire (apparently to make cricket his means of livelihood). His first official appearance was in 1898. In 1911 Sep was selected to play for the ‘Players against Gentlemen’ at The Oval, as a second choice, but he made a century which won him a place on the Ashes tour to Australia and his first test cap. He became a rising star and his face appeared on cigarette cards! He carried his bat on three occasions, including twice in the game against Leicestershire in 1907, which is a very rare feat and has only been achieved once since, and that was in 1911! His overall stylish performance won him admiration. He announced his retirement in 1918.

Jim Smith was born in 1906 as Cedric Ivan James Smith. His father worked as a stone tiler, plasterer and general builder.  Jim started out at Corsham Cricket Club in 1922 (his brother Bill had also done so when he left school). Jim was a 1st team regular at age 16 but only played for Corsham Cricket Team until 9125 when he was recommended to the MCC, probably for his bowling. He was taken on to the ground staff at Lord’s; he also played as a professional for Wiltshire. His first match at Lord’s was in 1926 as a Young Professional against the Young Amateurs. In 1933 his bowling was the main factor in Wiltshire’s undefeated season and second place in the championship. An article from the Sunday Graphic, May 1933 states ‘He bowls fast, and bats in sixes. It is a pity he has been allowed to hide his light in minor counties’ cricket for so long’. He played his only home test for England against New Zealand in 1937 at Old Trafford. He got two wickets in each of the innings and two scores over twenty. In 1937 Wisden chose him as one of his ‘Five Cricketers of the Year’. He was described as ‘a remarkable and outstanding personality in the county cricket season of 1934’. After this he became very popular with the media who caricatured him. A new business meant a move to amateur status after WWII and injuries in the late 1940s found him playing at his pub when he became a publican c. 1950. Prittie wrote about him in 1951 ‘indiscriminate hitting made him the greatest favourite of his day and a subject of fireside talk for the rest of the century’.

It is unsurprising to note that Corsham Cricket Club is one of, if not the oldest club in the County, having been formed in 1848. It is unusual in that for all its history it has remained on the same home ground.

We also send our best wishes to Trowbridge residents John Jackson and Paula Walker of the British bobsleigh team - good luck all for Sochi 2014!  

Julie Davis
Local Studies Assistant

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