Wigan on Tour

This section of earlyWIGANrugby focuses on the annual rugby tours of the Wigan club in the pre-Northern Union era. Wigan were quite late to the party when it came to having rugby tours. In the early 1880s the farthest Wigan had travelled was Liverpool and Haslingden, all within a comfortable train journey's ride. In 1884, Wigan welcomed Kendal Hornets, the club famous for giving the rugby code "Buff" Berry. As we know, Kendal is quite a distance away from Wigan, up in Westmorland and in the mid-1880s, trains weren't as fast as they were at the end of the century! Wigan got a taste of this travel, and returned the favour with Kendal Hornets in April 1884.

Ulverston joined Kendal Hornets the following season, 1884-5 and these clubs became a semi-permanent fixture on the playing cards. Douglas, a touring team from the Isle of Man, journeyed to Wigan on New Years Day, 1886, followed a day later by a team from Beckton in Essex. As the rugby game grew, so did the distance clubs travelled between matches. Beckton were having their own tour in the north and Wigan had by now started to tour Westmorland by including Ulverston and Kendal Hornets on the same long weekend. By 1886-7 season, Wigan had become powerful enough to attract a 'big' name, that of Llanelly, then the Welsh Cup holders. Sadly, fog disrupted this meeting up in Wigan but a return fixture was agreed upon at Easter, 1887, in a tour of South Wales that would include a game against the powerful Cardiff club.

During this time, "Parrot" Anderton had left the Wigan club. Jack was arguably Wigan's first proper fullback during the first half of the 1880s. By April 1887, Wigan were still trying to find a suitable replacement. With a trip to South Wales on the cards, Wigan turned their attention to a Mr. Tom Coop, a young promising fullback from Tottington (later Leigh) who would eventually gain a Rugby Union cap for England in 1892 and become a stalwart of the Lancashire team. It was common for clubs to acquire non-club members for games, and so with expenses assured (of course, it was illegal then but Wigan paid expenses) Tom Coop journeyed to Cardiff with the rest of the Wigan squad.

On Friday, 8th April, shortly after 9am, the Wogan team left for Wales. The itinerary suggested that they would stop at Shrewsbury for four hours before arriving in Cardiff about ten o'clock that evening, before facing Cardiff the next day. These events of the journey were written in the Football Times on Tuesday April 12, 1887:


The Wigan team left the London and North-Western Station by the 9 31 train for Cardiff on Good Friday morning. There was a plentiful display of such necessaries in the refreshment line as would keep a little army going for a short time, and every member of the team seemed to be in the best of spirits.

Coop, from Tottington, who is now a member of the Wigan team, was the oly absentee from the list originally picked by the committee. A the train left the station, Booth played on his tin whistle "The girl I left behind me," and Captain Slevin, who was making his maiden tour, entertained his men to his abilities in the dancing line. The sociable Mr. Gerard lost no time in attending to his duties as comisariat in general. Master Lowe collected for a pack of cards, which he was enabled to purchase at Warrington. "Putt" being deputed to obtain the same, and was severely reprimanded by the noble Jack for bringing no change out of that hard-earned "bob," Putt, however, took the necessary oath that he had expended the whole lot, and the matter was looked over "with suspicion."

Jack Anderton and Sam Kay were with the company on the sick list, Sam swearing that he intended getting ready for the coming Wigan Cup ties. Shrewsbury was reached t 1 30, and dinner partaken of, after which the match between Shrewsbury and the Welsh Druids was visited and was voted a very tame affair. Billy Atkinson, I should say, was under great suspicion of "faking" during the games of nap, which, however, he repudiated. Jack Lowe was a demon at all-fours, and won anyhow. Staying at Hereford, half-an-hour was spent, and everything went as merry as a wedding bell. Sam Kay was all very fine and large, and would persist in standing treat for Jack Lowe, but what a change came over the former's blooming face when the landlady demanded a shilling for a small whiskey and a cup of coffee. Sam swears he will never stand treat at a railway station again.

Cardiff was reached at 10 30, and after a supper, which everybody appeared to be ready for, rest was sought by the majority of the team.

Wigan woke up to fine weather in the Principality capital. Many of the players would have been familiar with the skyline down in South Wales, chimneys and mine shafts aplenty. Jim Slevin took his men to Cardiff Arms Park to face the famous Cardiff Rugby club.

Wigan: Tom Coop, fullback; Jim Slevin (captain), Jack Hunter, Charlie Samuels, three-quarter backs; Tommy Aspinall, Jack Mitchinson, half-backs; Tom Brayshay, Leo Whittle, Jack Lowe, Ellis Wardle, Billy Atkinson, Dempsey, Booth, Ellison, Jack Hatton, forwards

Cardiff: H. Hughes, fullback; W.M. Douglas (captain), C.S. Arthur, A.H. Williams, G.A. Young, three-quarter backs; W. Jarman, A. Price, half-backs; W.R.O. Williams, H.J. Simpson, R.T. Duncan, H.W. Jones, S.H. Nicholls, H.T. Day, Q.D. Kedzlie, A.J. Hybart, forwards.

Slevin's men looked quite fresh and dapper in their white costumes. A local, it was reported, remarked that Wigan looked "Quite English"! The following is the report from the Athletic News of Tuesday, April 12, 1887. It sums up the game quite neatly:

...A hearty cheer welcomed the strangers on their appearance in the arena, which was in splendid condition for a fast game, though perhaps a trifle too hard. Wigan won the toss *(Slevin's speciality) and played with the slope and wind in their favour. Almost immediately their defence was tested by smart efforts of Young, Jarman, and Price, and a minor was soon exacted. The scrummagers were evenly matched, but Andrew Price neatly kicked the ball across to Young, who fairly brought down the house by dashing away in splendid form, and, handing off well, planted the leather behind the uprights, Hughes doing the necessary.

On kicking out the game waged fast and furious, the home men keeping up a heavy pressure, and, after Nicholls had a try disallowed, Young forced the visitors to save, Slevin having to run back with the ball. The last-named player, however, showed his mettle, getting the ball at half-way, and made a dashing run for the goal line, and though floored by Hughes, he managed to give Whittle a chance, which the latter utilised by gaining a try. No goal, however, resulted. Soon after half-time was called, leaving the score - Cardiff, one goal; Wigan, one try.

On re-starting, the game was of an open nature, the tackling being of a high order. Minors were given by each side. Again Cardiff came away grandly, and after a series of brilliant passes the home captain dashed behind the post, and Hughes easily converted. Wigan now deemed it necessary to drop a man out of the forwards to strengthen the backs, and for a time the reinforcement proved of service. The swift dribbling of the Lancashire lads evoked applause from the onlookers. W.E.O. Williams burst away from a scrum, and appeared to score a fair try, but it as disallowed. The disappointment of the spectators, however, was quickly changed into joy, as Jarman neatly picked up and dodged through a bunch, and added an additional try which was not converted.

This reverse did not altogether finish the visitors, who rushed away to the other end, and from a line-out in the Cardiff 25, Mitchinson punted easily over the line, and several of the Wigan forwards being well on it, obtained a try. No goal resulted from this try. Thus, inspirited, the visitors defended their lines vigorously, and for a time it seemed as if the scoring was over; but A.H. Williams, receiving the ball, sprinted grandly along the touch-line and scored near the corner. The place seemed hopeless, but Hughes was equal to the arduous task, and loud cheers greeted his success. Several free-kicks took place, with no advantage to either, and Cardiff won a hard game by three goals and one try, to two tries.

Slevin fairly maintained his reputation, but was poorly fed throughout, having to make his own opportunities. Altogether, the visitors made a very favourable impression - both by sterling play, and also a lack of any quibbling or unnecessary disputing. As above remarked, the forwards did their share grandly, but, unfortunately, I am unable to particularise them. The halves did not pass much, but tackled and kicked well. The Cardiff team exhibited a splendid example of combination, and only combined play could beat the vigour of the visitors.


The Cardiff rugby team the following season 1887-88.

Wigan then had a sunday to themselves to enjoy the delights of the Welsh Capital before heading off to face Llanelly on the morning of Easter Monday. Arriving at 11 o'clock, Slevin made his choice for the coin toss just before noon, and of course, Slevin won the toss. Wigan were in much better form, Brayshay starting well for the visitors but a grand tackle from half-back Jack Hunter brought down a Llanelly forward who had made a clean break for the line. It was a 'stubborn' game and no real need to mention the match report. It was like watching a tennis rally. Wigan gained their try through good forward play. Brayshay, Wardle and Whittle dribbling over the line for Charlie Samuels to drop on it. It was an easy conversion for Tom Coop, with Wigan ending up winners by 1 goal to two minor points.

After the game Wigan were entertained by the Llanelly club with a nice late dinner and a few ales before leaving home for Wigan just after 5 o'clock, arriving home just after midnight. The trip to the Welsh rugby hotbed went down splendidly well according to all accounts.

It was to be another three years until Wigan ventured on a Tour again. By now, 1890 had seen Wigan rise to the top of the Lancashire pecking order. They were reigning West Lancashire champions, Wigan Cup holders and had defeated Swinton on New Years Day to claim the right to be considered the best in Lancashire. Slevin was at the peak of his powers. When Easter came around, Wigan had arranged to travel back down to the Cardiff area to face them and also Neath and Penycrag over the holidays.

The following is an account of the trip by a gentleman who travelled with the Wigan club, as published in the Wigan Observer the friday after the trip:

"As is usual with the leading football clubs, Wigan had a tour in South Wales, playing Cardiff on the 5th, Neath on the 7th, and Pen-y-craig on the 8th. The team and a few supporters, numbering in all 25, left Wigan (L and N.-W. Station) at 9.55 a.m. on Good Friday, a goodly sized crowd watching their departure. A saloon having been placed at the disposal of the team, the party settled down for fun, which raged fast and furious till the good things provided by Mr. Blaylock were produced, to which full justice was done.

Shrewsbury was reached at 1 30 p.m., and a good dinner was partaken of at the Clarendon Hotel. There being four hours of a wait, the party amused themselves by a walk through the quarry, led by Sequah (Master Jack Lowe), who was the life and soul of the party. Leaving Shrewsbury at 4 55 p.m., Hereford was the next stop, and there being forty minutes to spare a number of the players visited the cathedral, and were well repaid for their visit.

The train reached Cardiff at 10 15 p.m., and tracks were at once made for the Angel Hotel, at which we were to put up, and there a good supper was awaiting us, after which "Sequah" established himself in Mitchinson's room, and drew as many teeth as were required. He did a grand business, for all his patients were supplied with "Fairy Flower," which on examination turned out to be St. Patrick's eye water.

All hands were astir pretty early on Saturday morning, and after a good breakfast enjoyed themselves as they thought fit till lunch. The genial captain, secretary, and three others went sporting their figures on tricycles. In each instance the record for road riding was easily broken, at least the machines were nearly broken.

As for the match in the afternoon I need say very little about it. The Wigan forwards romped away with the Cardiff pack, but the latter's backs were a grand quartette; the score does not reflect the game. Wigan had hard luck on many occasions, forcing five touchdowns out of eight minors. For Wigan, Halliwell, at back, was as safe as a house, his kicking being good and well-timed. Of the three-quarters Anderton's style was best liked, but they all played well, whilst Atkinson was the best forward on the field. The Cardiffians state that it was the finest exhibition of football seen on that ground this season.

Sunday being wet in the morning kept the majority of the party indoors, but some of the hardier went for a stroll in the rain; in the afternoon the party went by waggonette to Penarth, and enjoyed the drive very much. The pleasure in many instances was so intense as to be intoxicating. We had to be up for a seven o'clock breakfast on Monday to catch the 8 a.m. train for Neath, which was reached a few minutes past ten, after a pleasant run, the only incident which marred the journey being a large piece of orange peel reaching my right optic.

The match at Neath was a very good one. Wigan were in form, and before many minutes had passed, Brayshay picked up and dashed over the line, but Atkinson's boot could not direct the ball over. I wonder if it was the remembrance of his bed falling to pieces that caused him to fail. Four times Wigan scored tries, but none of them were converted.

On the left, here is "Sequah", or Jack Lowe, the energetic and amusing Wigan forward-cum-mobile-dentist. Jack had been known to do somersaults after scoring tries too.

Neath play a fast open game, and were well worth any Lancashire club playing. Their back are light, but tackle well, and their forwards are led on by a medical man (Dr. Pegge), who sets them a good example by getting his head down in the front rank of the "scrum." Two or three times Neath were near scoring, but J. Halliwell was always there when wanted.

On Tuesday, the match at Pen-y-Crag was a failure; some of the Wigan players being scarcely fit to play, and one especially was properly "poorly." Anderton missed a grand chance of scoring right under the posts, but the captain moved his No. 9's and got in at the corner, the kick failing. The least said about the match the best, I think. Perhaps certain players will bear it in mind for the future, and not to hold the Welshmen too cheap.

It was now all our thought to catch the train for home. We were ten minutes late leaving Pen-Y-Crag, but just got in Cardiff in time to get our train for the ancient and loyal borough. The journey back was very lively, Sequah again causing great amusement with his teeth extracting and his chewing gum. Some of the lads wanted an hour or two for a sleep, but the kings of mischief (Atkinson and Anderton) would not allow it. Wigan was reached at a few minutes to one on Wednesday morning, and the party separated to their respective homes after spending one of the pleasantest trips that it has ever been my lot to participate in.

Queries: Who borrowed the reporter's puch? How is Sequah's son? Who flattened Atkinson's bed? Who wanted to borrow the loaf from Hereford Cathedral? Who won the tricycle race? Mind the umpire's bag; he's at Swansea. Wanted to know: Who dropped the bed downstairs?"

Apologies for the poor image of the Neath team via Rugby Relics. Remember, Wigan once played with a red maltese cross on white jerseys in the earlier days! The team above was predominantly the same to which Wigan faced during that Easter Monday tussle.

With the emergence of the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union competition turning it's focus to a league-based system, and latterly the formation of a Lancashire league in the mid-1890s, tours to south wales stopped in the pre-Northern Union days. Of course, Wigan would journey south once more when they faced clubs such as Aberdare, Ebbw Vale and Merthyr Tydfil in the Northern Union.

In 1894, Wigan travelled to South Wales once more, and for the last time in the pre-Northern Union days. They were down to face Pontypridd, Swansea and Cardiff. Gone are the days of a full on account of events to romanticise the trips, sadly, although from all accounts the players enjoyed their tours. The following is a concise summary of the Wigan tour of South Wales of 1894, taken from the Wigan Observer. Not much more needs to be said:

Although Wigan only won one match out of three played in South Wales, they undoubtedly had a very fine holiday and enjoyed themselves immensely. Of course, they tried their best in all the encounters, but I cannot help coming to the conclusion that they went down to Wales more to have a real good time than win their engagements, and that, in fact, they were in every way entitled to a good holiday during Easter time after the hard tussles they have had to undergo lately. It can hardly be supposed for a moment that the Wiganers were in their very best form, but under all the circumstances they played surprisingly well.

Mitchinson was unable to play against Pontypridd, and this weakened the Wigan team to some extent, but they fairly showed their opponents that they could play football. They waltzed round the Welshmen, and after playing by far the better game won by a goal and two tries, to one try. Halliwell, Unsworth and Whitehead were the scorers. The news of this fine victory soon spread to Cardiff, and in glorious weather the game was witness by ten thousand people. Winstanley, who had got hurt in the previous match, was absent, and this rather handicapped Wigan; but they found Cardiff plenty to do, and when half-time arrived with a try each the Wiganers began to think that they had a chance in. The International backs of Wales, however, fairly got into their stride afterwards and the Wiganers had a warm time of it. Several times they were completely bamboozled by fine passing. anyhow the Wiganers earned great praise for their splendid defence, and though beaten they were by no means disgraced. It must have been a source of considerable satisfaction to hear the Cardiff players and officials saw that they thought Wigan was the strongest team that had been there from the North. Swansea put a big score against the wiganers who entered the field without Seddon and Mitchinson, but it does not by any means represent the game.

James Walkden, the Wigan back, later discussed his playing career "Once, when I went on tour with Wigan in South Wales, we were billed a 'The Champions of Lancashire'. In our match with Cardiff I had to face the great Welsh International, Fitzgerald, who had helped Wales to beat England, Scotland, and Ireland, and had just been presented with a gold watch and chain and a purse of gold, a a public testimonial for having done so much for Wales. We only scored one try in that match. From a drop at goal on my part the ball hit the post and rebounded, and I was fortunate enough to secure it again and run behind the goals"

There was less 'romance' shall we say compared to the Tours half a decade earlier. The game of course was changing at an alarming rate. The Wigan tea left for Devon on thursday evening, 11th April, 1895. After a journey of some 15 hours to Plymouth overnight, the team stayed at the Farley Hotel.

The first match of the tour was with Devonport Albion, the leading club of the County Devon, who had an excellent reputation. Played at Braderley, a small village 3 miles from the centre of Plymouth, around 6,000 spectators assembled to see these northerners in their cherry and white hooped jerseys in fine weather. Both sides were at their best, and a good game was expected. Billy "smiler" Halliwell made a welcome return to the Wigan team after an injury yet lost the toss (by now he was captain). From the off, Wigan were dangerous and the gulf between northern and southern rugby teams were evident. Try as Wigan could, the likes of Jago, Webster and Unsworth could not break through the stubborn Devonport defence for a while up until half time. Eventually Wigan broke through after a break by Flowers saw him run up field, kicking the ball across to the goal, Johnny Roberts securing and the latter scoring near the corner flag. Wigan continued their onslaught throughout the match by when time arrived, Wigan edged it by a try to nil. Devonport certainly, y all accounts, defended like they were possessed and I am sure the 6,000 crowd enjoyed their money's worth.

Having a day free on the Sunday to mooch around the delights of late-victorian Plymouth, the Wiganers headed for Barnstaple on Monday morning. Again, with the weather being favourable a large crowd gathered in northern Devon. Basically Wigan won the match, which was also considered to be the best game played at Barnstaple that season. Wigan winning by 2 goals (1 dropped), to 1 try. Rigby gaining the try and Walkden kicking the necessary goals.

Before you leave... you may be thinking why Jack Lowe as nicknamed "Sequah". In 1887, a gentleman from Portsmouth gained a cult-like following by entertaining crowds with miraculous cures, wild-west entertainment and affordable medicines. He built up his hype and performed 'speed dentistry' for cheering crowds. Sounds weird doesn't it. With Jack Lowe's 'fun' of tooth extraction and the banter they'd have assumably gone through, it seemed an obvious nickname. This image comes from the Cheshire Observer, 15 March 1890. Sequah pulls a tooth while his brass band plays in the background.(for more, i dont know why, click the image)