Yes it's true the Old Boltonians play on what is regarded as the oldest pitches in the world.
Click here to see a recent article in the Lancashire Telegraph The Oldest Existing Football Club Ground
It was the old roller that started me off. It had lain in the corner of the football field as long as I could remember. I moved some of the grass to look at it more closely, "F. Tootill 1873" was embossed on it.
It occurred to me that if "1873" was the year (and what else could it be?) then our football club ground might possibly be the oldest one still in use in England. Which effectively means, of course, in the world.
The area of Turton Urban District Council where the football ground was situated, stretched from Harwood and Edgworth in the East to Belmont and Egerton in the West, but, after Local Government re-organisation in 1974, much of the built-up parts came into Bolton MBC and Greater Manchester Council, and the more rural areas went into Blackburn District Council and remained in Lancashire. I therefore tried Bolton, Darwen and Blackburn local reference libraries for information. They were most helpful, but the best they came up with was a History of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.
Strangely enough this was not a case of "drawing a blank", because this history recounted how Bolton Wanderers started by changing its name after learning the game from Turton FC.
This was promising stuff, and from material supplied largely by Martin Dowland, the keeper of Turton Tower, and two Old Boltonians, Philip Rawlinson and Alan Mitchell, what follows was put together.
My view is that it is highly probable that the Old Boltonians AFC do play on the oldest football club ground still in use in the world. I have added some of the early history of Turton FC, who now play 2 or 3 miles away at Edgworth, but whose ground this was in the days of "F. Tootill"
Ian Worsley, Bolton
Old Boltonians A.F.C. Football Ground
Tower Street, Chapeltown, Turton, Near Bolton
Old Boltonians A.F.C. have used the football ground at Tower Street, Chapeltown, Turton, since August 1952, and became its owners in 1970.
Chapeltown is a small but distinct village with its own church (St. Anne's) and Public House (Chetham Arms) and a resident policeman. It comprises, in the main, terraces of stone cottages, which have probably changed very little save for modern refurbishment since 1870.
The detailed parts of this story commence in the 1870's at which time Turton was not very accessible. Conditions were not vastly different from a Century earlier when the village was the subject of poetry by William Sheldrake in "A picturesque description of Turton Fair"
Beneath the influence of the northern skies,
A little paltry looking village lies,
In Lancashire (fam'd County) and is known
If named Turton, alias Chapeltown.
Yet all the roads that to this village lead
Do oft the posting traveller impede;
For who existing e'er accounts it good
That lanes be narrow, and knee deep in mud.
(As for the inhabitants)
"They ply their treadles with assiduous care
Weave all night long,
Nor will their pains forego,
To make a splendid and triumphant show"
Early History of the Football Ground
The early history of the football ground is somewhat cloudy and references to it are few, but it is said that as far back as 1856-7, before there was a recognised Club, matches were played "beneath the shadow of the Old Church where Turton F.C. later played"- the village youths sharing the cost of the ball which was made by the village clogger.
It is said that in the 1860's travellers from Bolton to Turton cadged a lift on Mondays, Thursday s or Saturday s from Mr. Jeremy Marsh, the carrier, whose terminus in Bolton was The Bird I'th' Hand. At the beginning of the 1870's communications were improved by the enterprise of a Mr. Holden whose omnibus (horse drawn) ran to and fro several times on Saturday s and Mondays. One of the regulars was Thomas Ogden, Master of the school attached to Christ Church in Blackburn Street, Bolton. Under the direction of his Vicar, Ogden was examining Turton Football with a view to its introduction to those of his scholars and ex-scholars, whose zeal for learning extended to Sundays.
There is also a local rumour of "hacking matches" against Darwen held for many years and with virtually no Rules; probably fairly similar to the Eton Wall Game.
The Formation of Turton F.C.- 1871
In 1871 W.T. Dixon was the Village Schoolmaster, a position he held in the village for more than 40 years. His social habits were obliquely criticised in his soubriquet of Water Tap "Dixon".
James Kay was the Lord of the Manor in residence at Turton Tower, which is nowadays a Museum managed by Lancashire County Council. His sons went to school in Harrow and one of his sons, John Charles Kay, finished his education at Harrow and in 1871 came back to Turton "full of athletic fire".
The Kay family were descendants of John Kay of Bury whose invention if the Flying Shuttle did so much to establish the cotton trade in Lancashire.
John Charles Kay, who was born in 1855, excelled in jumping, running, rackets and football. He moved to Leamington about 1877 and there took up Lawn Tennis. He later became the Captain of the Lancashire Lawn Tennis Team for eleven years and Captained a team for Championship in 1889 partnered by Miss Lottie Dodd, and in 1891 partnered by Miss Jackson.
W.T. Dixon, in a history he wrote of Turton F.C. in the early years of the 20th Century, observes that when John Charles Kay burst upon the Chapeltown scene with his "athletic fire" he (Mr. Dixon) provided the fuel to keep it alive, and the two of them put their heads together to organise a club of players to "substitute the hitherto desultory meetings of the villagers".
The first General Meeting was held in the old School in December 1871. The first Minute book of the Club was the gift of the Squire's youngest daughter, Miss Emily Kay. She offered it to Mr. Dixon, as a gift to the Club provided she could make the entry of the first Minutes which was agreed.
At the meeting the following were elected:-
James Kay (the Lord of the Manor) was the first President
John C Kay was elected Club Captain
W.T. Dixon was elected Secretary and Treasurer (he continued then as Secretary of Turton F.C. from 1871- 1882, but ultimately held higher office elsewhere )
The Committee Members were:-
A. Anson, Sam Haydock, R. Lowe, Mordecai Waring, Thomas Holden and Charles Tootill.
The Harrow Game
The Club started the season 1872-3 with 48 members each of whom had paid 1s.0d. and it is clear that for the first two full seasons- 1872-3 and 1873-4 - football was played there under the Rules of the Harrow Game.
The Club Strip at this time was white shirts, blue knickers and white stockings.
The ball was flat on two sides (i.e. like a big cheese) and the goal posts were lamps borrowed from the Railway Station.
In the Harrow Game there were a number of variations from modern soccer in that: -
The goal was known as the "base" and although there were goal posts, they were only twelve feet apart, and there was no cross bar. There was an effort to define the maximum length (150 yards) and width (100 yards) of the pitch (as opposed to the earlier "desultory meetings" where the boundaries were "ad hoc").
The ball could be caught from a kick below the knee, but not once it had touched the ground.
If you caught the ball you could have it knocked out of your hand unless, without delay, you called "three yards"; then you had a free kick at the ball with a preliminary run not longer than three yards (three strides).
Otherwise than above the ball could not be touched by hand. All charging was fair, but holding, tripping, pushing with the hands, shinning or back shinning were not allowed.
If the ball went out of play, it had to be kicked straight in again by one of the opposite side to the one that knocked it out. Apparently it had to be kicked straight except if a player kicking the ball from behind his own base (presumably this was so that he was not compelled to score backwards through his own goal).
If a player caught the ball near his opponents' base, he could try to carry the ball through the goal by taking the "three yards". If he found that he could not reach with the three yards (strides) he could still go back and have a free kick (presumably the opposition would then line up to block the goal).
The sides changed ends every time a goal was scored and at half time.
When the ball was caught, any one of the catcher's team who were ahead of him were (effectively) off side until the ball had then been touched by one of the opposition who had to call out "behind" when he touched it.
Players whilst off side must not interfere with the opposite side or in any way prevent or obstruct them from catching or kicking the ball.
The ball had to pass clearly in a line between the goal posts in order to score.
Presumably because of the absence of a cross bar, in any case where a player was going to "try at goal" one player from each side stood behind the kicker, and they were responsible for deciding whether a goal had been scored or not.
N.B. There is no indication of what happened if they disagreed. There appeared to be no rule as to the length of time a game should take, so presumably they agreed that before they started.
It is recounted at this time- in 1872-3- the Football Club was supplied with a reading room in the old free school free of charge by courtesy of H.S. Hoare, Esq. The President, Mr James Kay, saw to it that it was furnished with every comfort. It is said that it was used for the educational side of the men's training, and was a summer link to the winter season.
The Dawn of Soccer in Lancashire
The English Football Association was formed on 23rd October 1863 (the next oldest is the Scottish F.A. formed in 1873). The F.A. Cup Competition was started in 1871 and the Scottish F.A. Cup in 1873, so it can be seen that what we are talking about in Lancashire is the establishment of Rules of Soccer which already existed in other areas of Britain, and, in particular, in the form of the London Football Association Rules.
Nevertheless we can be certain that the football ground at Chapeltown was used for soccer as we know it commencing with the season 1874-5 because at a formal General Meeting of the Club held on the first Monday in August 1874 the Members resolved "that the Rules of the London Football Association be adopted". This Mr. Dixon describes as the dawn of "Soccer" Football in Lancashire, and was the outcome of correspondence which had passed between Mr Dixon and Mr C.W. Alcock, the then Honorary Secretary of the English Association. He was supported in entering into that correspondence by the Captain John C. Kay and also by William Forrest, who later was the President of the Lancashire Association.
It clearly took some time for the London Football Association Rules to be adopted generally by other neighbouring Clubs. A General Meeting of the Club was held on 6th October, 1876 to discuss the proposed fixtures for the coming season, and when the match against Darwin was mentioned, a formal Resolution was passed that this match be played according to the Association Rules as interpreted by the London Association, and that the match be "off" if a satisfactory answer as to "hands" was not obtained from the Darwin Hon. Secretary.
At a committee Meeting later in 1876 it was ordered "that C.W. Alcock's answers to the questions put to him by Mr. Dixon be printed and copies sent out to each Club playing to the Association Rules, and especially to Over Darwen". It is clear that at this time the question of "hands" had become a burning issue locally and Turton were trying to ensure that all Clubs played accordingly to the London Association Rules.
Turton enrolled itself in the Football Association with an entrance fee of 5s.0d., and an Annual Subscription of 5s.0d., and new Clubs at this time were springing up in Bolton, Darwen and Blackburn, and seeking guidance as to the Rules from Turton F.C.
Bolton Wanderers F.C.
Mr Dixon remarks that the players of Christ Church FC, which later became Bolton Wanderers FC, were initiated by Turton into the technicalities of the London Association Game.
This information was confirmed by a newspaper cutting obtained from Turton Tower dated 1902 in the following terms:-
"One of the first Clubs in Lancashire was Christ Church School in Bolton. The members took lessons from the Turton players. There was trouble in 1877 when the vicar was insisting that he should be allowed to be present at any Club meetings held in the Church School. At a meeting held on 28th August 1877 a Resolution was passed to alter the name from Christ Church to Bolton Wanderers and thereafter it made its headquarters at the Gladstone Hotel near Pikes Lane, and later in 1895 moved to Burnden Park.
In the early days of Bolton Wanderers each player was allowed 6d. expenses for a match at Turton, and 1s.3d. for a match at Darwen and 1s.6d. at Blackburn. Thus were sown the seeds of professionalism."
John James Bentley
Undoubtedly the most famous Chapeltown inhabitant in the history of the game of football was John James Bentley. He was the third son of the Chapeltown Grocer, who was very keen on the new Harrow game when introduced to Chapeltown. His older sons Tom and William joined in with the first games played under the Harrow rules, but John, who was born in 1860 was too young to play until the Soccer Rules had been introduced. However, in November 1874 when Turton were a man short for a match against Westhoughton, the 14 year old turned out and proved to be an excellent half back. After he had had this chance to "show his paces" he was chosen for a place in the first fifteen from which the eleven were chosen for the season's matches by the captain, subject to alteration by the Committee. By the time he was 20, he was the First Team Captain and later soon became first of all the Secretary and then the Treasurer.
Bentley was the Captain of the team in 1881 when Sheffield Wednesday came to Turton for a match in the FA Cup.
From 1877 onwards he was sending in match reports to local newspapers. He wrote up the Turton matches under the pen name of "Free Critic", and as such was freely critical of his own performances. He also contributed regular articles to the Bolton Weekly Journal "Cricket and Football Field".
He set himself up as an accountant in Acresfield, Bolton at the age of 22. His business thrived, and by 1885 he had given up playing and was a collector of Income Tax and the Secretary of Bolton Wanderers. He was described at this time as "bold but extravagant" A genius who lived in the future, inspired by a vision of what football could become."
In 1886 he left his Bolton accountant's office, and started working in Manchester as Assistant Editor, and later Editor, of "The Athletic News". He spent a short time as Acting Chairman of Manchester United, and became the President of the Football League, and Vice-President of the FA.
Throughout he retained his contact with Turton FC. He was the President of the Club in the early years of the 20th Century, and was buried in St Anne's Churchyard in September 1918.
Lancashire Football Association
Mr Dixon asserts that the real origin of the Lancashire Football Association was due to his meeting with Mr. T. Hindle and John Lewis one Sunday afternoon in 1878 in the old fashioned parlour of the Vounteer Inn in Bromley Cross near Bolton. (Another reference placed this meeting at the Chetham Arms, but, as Mr. Dixon was present, probably the Volunteer Inn is correct).
At a meeting of the Turton Club held on the 9th September 1878, when a special Challenge Cup was organised for local teams, Mr. Dixon and Mr. W. Isherwood were elected to represent the Club at a meeting to be held at Darwen under the auspices of Darwen F.C. to form a Lancashire Football Association.
At a general Meeting of the Club on 27th October, 1878 Mr. J.J. Haworth was appointed Representative of the area to attend a meeting for the organisation of the Lancashire Association of Football Clubs; and ultimately Mr. Dixon became the first Treasurer of the County Association.
The notepaper of the Lancashire Football Association indicates that it was formed on 28th September, 1878.
Turton Football Club
At the same time in 1878 challengers were sent to the Darwen, Manchester Association, Bolton Wanderers, Cob Wall (Blackburn), Blackburn Rovers, Birch Association, Astley Bridge and Christ Church (Blackburn) Clubs for matches.
A number of Turton players figured in County matches thereafter, including Tom Bentley, John James Bentley (before mentioned), H. Brown, J. Hamer, W. Forrest, H. Howarth, James Howarth, W.Mather, C. Tootill, P. Toothill (presumably relatives of the groundsman), William Trainer, T Scowcroft, J. Waddicor, and J.J. Greenhalgh.
Teams from Notts Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Preston North End, Blackburn Rovers, Everton and other noted Clubs played at Turton, and most of them "retired well beaten" until the introduction of professionals "put the boot on the other leg".
By 1883 veiled professionalism had become rampant, and after a game at Turton between Turton and Preston North End, Major Sudell (the President of North End) in the kitchen of the Chetham Arms volunteered the statement that North End were playing paid men, and other Clubs would have to acknowledge the same. This was the beginning of the end of shamateurism, and it was well known at the time that Clubs were keeping two sets of accounts.
Mr Dixon recounts how Turton were drawn against the Rovers at Blackburn in a Lancaster Cup tie. The Rover played players he knew to be professionals, namely Peter Campbell and Hugh McIntyre, but the Turton protest was not upheld.
It was inevitable that teams like Turton and Eagley could not hope to cope with more favourably situated rival when the Professional Game came in.
In 1884 Major Sudell of Preston North End forced the matter into the open. Preston North End were banned from the F.A. Cup for that particular season, but in the summer of 1885, as a result of the agitation of the Lancashire Clubs, professionalism was formally legalised in England.
The Decline of Turton F.C.
Up till this time a village of some 300 people had held its own against teams from Darwen, Bolton, Blackburn, etc., and in 1885 Turton took its only Scottish Tour meeting "Patrick, and Paisley St. Mirrens"; losing one match and drawing the other.
The Football League itself was first formed in 1888 and half of the original twelve member Clubs came form Lancashire- these were Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End. It is interesting to note that Manchester Clubs were not included, nor was Liverpool. Obviously Turton had begun to slip down the list by this relatively early date.
By 1896-7 Turton FC were playing in what Mr Dixon describes as a "Third Rate Competition" namely The Lancashire Combination. This was in existence until fairly recently.
A fixture list for that season shows fixtures against the reserve teams of Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool, Liverpool, Bury, Manchester City, Preston North End and Burnley; the Club colours were by then said to be blue and black striped jerseys and blue knickers.
The President was Mr W.R. Rigg, then in residence at Turton Tower.
In the same fixture list, the fact that the ground is said to be "three minutes walk from Turton Station" reminds us that it was just about this time that the first motor cars were being introduced.
The Turton Club has one further claim to fame in that, sometime in the middle to late 1870's, where previously it had been the custom to play two half backs and six forwards, they introduced the three half back game, which was the standard formation until the 1960's. There is, however a dispute as to whether Turton, Nottingham Forest or Wrexham was the first to introduce the three half back system.
You will remember that the original object of this exercise was to try to establish whether or not the Old Boltonians AFC ground at Chapeltown is the oldest one still in use. In addition to the detailed history I have outlined, it is worth noting the following written comments:
From "The Boltonian" magazines in late 1952 and in 1953, when the ground was first obtained, it is clear that the historic nature of the football ground was well known to the people who were acting for the Old Boys in obtaining a pitch at that time.
The official organ of the FA - "The FA News" - in 1967 contains a photograph of the Old Boltonians Football Ground at Turton under the caption "where the game was first played in Lancashire".
In his book published in 1988 "Football and the Men who Made it" Simon Inglis mentions the return of John Charles Kay from Harrow and refers to the football pitch "which lay directly behind the terraced cottages where Bentley lived. (This pitch is still used today by Old Boltonians and might well claim to be the oldest pitch in continuous use in Britain)."
Who was "F. Tootill"?
The ex-Landlord of the Chetham Arms, Daniel Sencier, knowing of my researches, was kind enough to lend me the "Proposition Book" of an Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Social Lodge which had met at the Chetham Arms from 1832 through to the Second World War.
It is clear that a number of Tootills lived in Chapeltown in the late 1800's, but in particular the book shows that a Frederick Tootill whose occupation was given as "Finisher" joined the Lodge at the age of 20 on 8th October 1853 and was still a member in December 1889.
In December 1990 the "old roller" was moved to Turton Tower for safe keeping. In 2015 plans were arranged to move it back to the ground at Chapeltown.