'FROM THE ARCHIVE'
1891 EARLY DAYS
Back Row (L to R) : Harry Childs, M. Charles, C. Cox, T. Axam, F. Deveraux and A. Fossey
Centre Row : Bill Davis, C. Wright, J. Bowskill and Bill Brady
Front Row : Archie Willliams, Alfred Page
Arlesey of the early 1800's was a small rural community divided into three along the areas of the old Manors, Church End to the north, Dean End mid village, and Green End to the south. The market, one of the earliest in the area, was long gone, but there were many small traders providing the essentials for life in the 19th century which for the majority would have been a pretty harsh existence.
Communications with the outside world would have been by footpath and cart track and most of the villagers would have travelled no farther than the nearby market towns. Things however were to change when the Industrial Revolution arrived in Arlesey in the form of the Great Northern Railway, with Arlesey and Shefford Road Station opening in the early 1850's and Arlesey Sidings Station (Three Counties) in 1866.
Villagers could now travel quickly to Hitchin, Biggleswade, St. Neots etc, London was only just over one hour away, and excursions to Ramsgate for 5s. 6d. would have given many their first glimpse of the sea. It was not, however, the ease of travel for the villagers that had the biggest impact on Arlesey, demand for building materials led to the arrival of Brick and Cement industries who used the railways to transport their products.
Engineering works also opened and the proximity of the railway led to the building of the Three Counties Asylum to the south east of the village. The population grew from 1,401 in 1851 to 2,106 in 1891 and new terraced housing was built for the workers of the newly arrived industries, with the business premises changing the character of Arlesey drastically.
At this time of great change throughout the Nation, the popularity of Association Football was growing, and with many of the new industries allowing workers Saturday afternoons off, became a popular attraction for spectators. Hitchin, Biggleswade and many of the larger local towns had already formed football clubs when in 1891 interest in Arlesey resulted in a meeting called in October for the purpose of forming a football club in Arlesey.
The meeting took place in the Brickground Hotel, one of the twenty-one drinking establishments in the village. The Club's first Secretary was Mr. R. W. Wright and Treasurer, Mr. W. Thompson. With it late in the season, Mr. Wright appealed for any secretary with engagements open to contact him.
On Saturday, November 14th, Arlesey Town F.C.'s first game was against Biggleswade Red Cross. The result a 3 - 1 victory which was most popular with the numerous company who witnessed the game. The next recorded game was against Hitchin Blue Cross on a field lent by Mr. Papworth. Again victory went to Arlesey, this time by 4 - 3. 'This result gave Mr. Wright, the Club's energetic Secretary, reason to be proud. Wright and Bowskill played well forward, though rather selfish. The halves, W. Davis and Childs, played in dashing style, whilst Jack Davies repelled numerous assaults of the opposing forwards with his well known ability', so reported the Biggleswade Chronicle in December 1891.
Much of what is known of the first few years comes from the local press, with the Biggleswade Chronicle, with whom we share 1891 as our Birthday, being particularly helpful and informative. Some things were learnt from talking to the older players and their decendants, which may have more to do with fable than fact, but reflect the atmosphere of the time.
Arlesey's last game of 1891 was a return fixture against Patton played on Mr. Papworth's field. The result, Potton winning with the only goal of the game. Jack Davies again playing in the most brilliant form. Arlesey played their first half uphill, in the second half Bowskill scored a goal, but this was disallowed as one of his own side called hand.
The first game of 1892 was a 6 - 0 home win over a Baldock XI and on February 13th, 1892 the Biggleswade Chronicle reported on the game against Mr. Paisley's XI (Waresley) - 'The match was played on a field near the Three Counties Station on Saturday afternoon in the presence of a considerable number of spectators. 0 - 0 at half time, the visitors won 2 - 0, Jack Davies again the best player on the field. The majority of the Arlesey team are by no means deficient in pluck and with more practice together should make a strong eleven.
It is to be regretted that few of the players of both teams have yet to learn the rules of the game, and were continually wrangling and disputing the decision of the referee, who to the great annoyance of the home captain, left the field shortly before half-time. Mr. Wright thinks it would further the interest already taken in the game if players and spectators would quietly abide by the decision of the referee. In March, Arlesey won the return with Bedford Swifts 3 -1, and their final match of the season was a 3 - 2 defeat at Baldock.
The results very successful for a newly formed club. Arlesey's record for their first season being -
Played 12, Won 5, Drawn 3, Lost 4.
A typical team of that season being:
M. Charles T. Axam
Harry Childs A. Fossey Bill Davis
C. Wright Bill Brady Archie Williams Alf Page
Jack Davies at full back played when not required by Hitchin, where he had built a considerable reputation, and on retirement, he became a respected referee.
Club colours were dark and light blue stripes, although little was available in the way of kit as players took to the field in an assorted collection of shirts, long trousers and working boots. School teacher Archie Williams an exception, as he posed for the Club's first team photo in 1891 immaculately attired.