Charles Cronshaw

Captain, President, Administrator... Friend

How can you start to begin to talk about Charles Augustus Cronshaw? Dubbed the "Grandfather of Rugby Football" in Wigan, Cronshaw holds a key an important part in the history of the Wigan Rugby Football Club. Without him and without any exaggeration, arguably, we would not be a rugby town, quite simply.

Born on 19th March, 1861, Charlie Cronshaw's involvement dates back just after the formation of the club in 1879 (I am a '79er' not '72er'). But before we delve into the life and times of Charlie, a bit of background. Charles was the son of Rev. J. Cronshaw of St. Thomas's church on Caroline Street. The reverend was a very vocal and well-respected clergyman within the town and very popular and opinionated on Church reform. Charles started his rugby career down the road at St. James's rugby club where he found himself playing alongside players such as George Naylor, Ellis Wardle and T. Wilding, who would all later throw their lot in with the new Wigan rugby club.

But before his rugby days, Cronshaw went into the legal profession after leaving school and had his first job under Henry Ackerley. Ironically, this is the same Henry Ackerley who first set up a football club in Wigan in 1862. He quickly became the deputy coroner for Wigan behind Mr. L. Rowbottom. These gentleman had a long and successful career together.

In December 1879, Charlie made his debut for Wigan against Platt Bridge, playing at half-back alongside Alfred Hodgkinson. The match against Platt Bridge was Charlie's first and last game of the inaugural 1879/80 season. The following season, Charlie continued at half-back, appearing alongside his brother Richard and scoring his first tries, both against St. Helens Recreation.

Tragedy struck the Cronshaw family in December 1881 when Charles' brother Richard was killed in an explosion in the Yard mine of the Abram Colliery. Richard was also a part member of the Wigan Football Club, making his debut against Chorley 2nd team in October 1880 playing in the forwards. Richard was apprenticed to the Abram Coal Company to qualify him as a mine manager whilst also obtaining a Gold Medal for proficiency at the Wigan Mining and Mechanical School.

The Captaincy was shared amongst many Wigan ;players in those early days, including James Slevin and Richard St. Valentine Heyes, but by the time the 1882/3 season came, it was firmly in Charlie's hands until February 1884.

On February 2nd, 1884, Wigan travelled to Wavertree. Not soon after the start of the game, Cronshaw received a nasty injury, rendering him unable to continue. It did not seem as serious at first but in the following Friday's Wigan Observer, their comment seemed to have a view of trouble for the Club: "The team can ill afford to lose the services of its captain, who not only plays vigorously and pluckily, but infuses life into the whole team".

Despite this leg injury, Cronshaw returned the following season but only lasted a handful of games between October and November, despite being handy on the goal-kicking side of things. He was re-instated as Captain but had to finally retire due to his ongoing injury sustained the previous February. But that was not the end of Charlie, with rugby football pumping through his veins, Charles' intelligence and skill set made him quite a perfect fit for the fledgling Liverpool and West Lancashire Border Towns Union competitions that were being created. In 1885, Charles was elected as vice-president of the Liverpool and Border Towns Rugby Union Committee and was seen as a real coup for the town of Wigan to have such a representative in that position.

The people of Liverpool were not in favour of the proposal to go forward with the rugby code, but so eloquent was Mr. Cronshaw when the matter was discussed that all opposition vanished and the union came into existence. Charles' speech on that occasion was, at the time, spoken of in admiring terms in the city of Liverpool well into the 1890s.

It was a no-brainer for the Wigan Club, or it's members, to vote in Cronshaw to fill the position of Chairman. But, in 1886, Charles stepped down the chairmanship after a disagreement with the Wigan committee over a fixture against Liverpool Old Boys in February. Wigan had started to see a marked increase in crowds - and that meant money through the gate receipts. On February 6th, the Liverpool Old Boys were due to play Wigan at Folly Field. 6,000 spectators had assembled around the pitch but the game was abandoned due to frost. The following week, Wigan were meant to head up the hill to Aspull but instead, the Wigan committee decided to invited Liverpool Old Boys back instead. 8,000 this time encircled Folly Field. Cronshaw had an obvious disagreement about this practice, thinking that the club were putting profits ahead of, shall we say, sportsmanship. This arrangement furthered the rift and animosity between the Wigan and powerful Aspull clubs.

Playing-wise, Charles' greatest achievement came in 1883 when Wigan defeated Pagefield in the inaugural final of the Wigan Charity Cup. Cronshaw was captain that day and was the first to place his hands on the trophy. The Wigan Union Charity Cup Competition would hold a special place in Cronshaw's heart and mind... in some ways forever, as you shall see later.

All was not lost though. Charles remained a Member of the Wigan Club and was soon re-elected back into position where he eventually rose to become Wigan President. Cronshaw had also risen in prominence in West Lancashire circles and was a powerful ally of the Lancashire Rugby Union.

A 'handsome' presentation was made to Charles in October 1889 at the Legs of Man Hotel, Wigan's headquarters. To appreciate the services and work of Cronshaw, the Wigan club had decided to do something for him. A few weeks earlier, Charles had married. Seeing an opportunity for their affection toward him, the members and supporters of Wigan got their heads together. A committee was appointed (they loved a good committee back then), with Mr. Harrison as chair and William Marsden as honourable secretary.

Mr. Cronshaw had married Miss Florence Holloway, who was the only daughter of the Mayor of Wells, Somerset, Mr. J.H. Holloway. They resided at Lindsay House, Poolstock.

In the Legs of Man, plenty of friends saw Charles be presented with a handsome keyless gold hunting watch and an illuminated address. On the watch the following words were inscribed: - "Presented to C.A. Cronshaw, Esq., on the occasion of his marriage by the members and supporters of the Wigan Rugby Football Club. Sept. 25th, 1889". A long inscription to put on a watch. R.T. Johnson was the man responsible for the work. The address was illuminated in a floral Medieval style, with massive borders, shields, and entablatures, bearing the Borough Arms, Mr. and Mrs. C.A. Cronshaw's monogram, the colours of the Wigan Club, and a miniature photo of the Union Charity Cup.

The address was worded as follows: "To Charles A. Cronshaw, Esq., president of the Wigan Football Club. Dear sir, - As members and supporters of the Wigan Rugby Football Club, we take the opportunity of this eventful occasion of expressing the high esteem and respect in which you are held by one and all, and respectfully ask your acceptance of this address and gold hunter watch as a small expression of our appreciation of the valuable services you have so generously rendered the club and Rugby football in general.

It was we feel sure owing to your eloquence and perseverance that the Wigan Charity Cup Competition and the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union were established, which have been the means of raising the Rugby game to its present high standard in West Lancashire, and we are indeed proud that you were on its formation elected and have since held the position of senior vice-president of that union.

To particularise all the acts that you have done and self-sacrifices that you have made on behalf of Rugby Football, and especially your own club, would be impossible, but we have great pleasure in taking this occasion of sincerely informing you that they have been appreciated, and we are sure that the healthy vitality enjoyed by our club is due in a great measure to your straightforward and independent manly action upon al occasions, and your estimable advice and support in times of difficulty and discretion; our life as a club is inextricably intermission, connected with it from its origin and in its very life.

It has been the pleasure of its members to have elected you from time to time to the various positions of committee man, captain of the team, chairman of the committee, and for the last four years to the honourable position of president, which post we hope and trust that you may long continue to occupy.

In conclusion, we wish you much happiness in your married life, and sincerely desire that with increasing years may come increasing prosperity, and hope that you and yours will long live to enjoy the free cup of happiness which we so earnestly desire may be your lot. - On behalf of the subscribers, we remain JAMES HARRISON, chairman; WILLIAM MARSDEN, hon. sec. and treasurer."

Cronshaw of course thanked them for his presents and for their appreciation. He said he was honoured to be at the formation of the Club, captain of the team and the first captain to win silverware, as well as seeing the formation of the Cup competitions and the growth of the Wigan club in Rugby Union circles.

Cronshaw was by now a well-known and popular freemason, and had by now been working for himself in the Quadrant Buildings on King Street, Wigan. Within freemasonry, Charles was the secretary of the Lindsay Lodge, and was highly esteemed by his brethren.

With the Wigan Football Club gaining new heights at the start of the 1890s, things started to get worse. At the end of May, 1891, the Wigan Club held their AGM at the Legs of Man Hotel. Mr. J.W. Clegg read a letter received from Charlie, in which he regretted that an attack of influenza still kept him to his bed and prevented him from being present. This was the only meeting that Charles Cronshaw had missed with regards the Wigan Club since it's formation in 1879! Cronshaw assured them of his best wishes for the continued success of the club. James Slevin later in the evening begged the club for his retirement.

In the early hours of Saturday June 13th, Wigan descended into a state of mourning. Within the town, the announcement was given that Mr. C.A. Cronshaw had died early that morning. Three or so weeks prior, Charlie had complained of being unwell, and Dr. Prosser White was called in. The ailment was thought to be the prevailing disease Influenza, but after a few days symptoms of typhoid fever presented themselves. Due to the serious nature of the developing symptoms, another Doctor from Manchester came in but to no avail. The disease took hold of Cronshaw and at three o'clock, Saturday morning, Charlie passed away.

At the inquest to his death at Wigan Infirmary, the borough coroner, old friend and colleague Mr. L. Rowbottom, was evidently labouring under the stress of very strong emotion. Mr. Rowbottom said "It is so very recently that I have lost my old friend Mr. Charles Cronshaw, that I am not able to make any remarks to you about it this morning"

Grief was also felt across other professions across the town. At the borough magistrates, where Charles Cronshaw practiced, Mr. Benson stated that Cronshaw conducted himself in a most gentlemanly manner and will be sorely missed. In a nutshell.

The remains of the late Mr. C.A. Cronshaw were interred at the Wigan Cemetery on Tuesday June 16th. The hearse, and carriages containing the nearest relatives and friends, left Lindsay House about half past eleven and headed for St. Thomas's Church. The Wigan Club gathered at the Legs of Man and headed down Wallgate for the short trip to the church themselves (Caroline St) for the service. Those included were either captained by Cronshaw or had served under his presidency and included W. Mills, W. Millington, J.W. Clegg, J. Slevin, Leo. Whittle, J. Ingham, C. Holt, C. Samuels, J. Astley, W. Grime, J. Heyes, J Underwood, J. Prestt, T. Brayshay, C. Bachelor, W. Marsden, C. Simm, J. Anderton, E. Wardle, J. Wardle, J. Taylor, J. Knowles, and J. Charnock. Mr. A.M. Crook represented the Lancashire County Football Committee.

After the service, the representatives of the Wigan Club preceded the corpse as it was carried out of the church. Once the giant oak coffin reached Wigan Cemetery in Lower Ince, the older playing members of the Wigan Club carried the coffin form the gates to the chapel.

Today, his resting place has been long forgot. Nestled under a tree close to the War Memorial and a stones throw away from the resting place of Lance Todd (and Charlie Samuels). The base of it has been eroded and one inspiring piece of stonework has long since been lost. As I shall mention next.

Shortly after the death of Charlie, many people promoted that a fund should be promoted to raise a memorial stone in Wigan Cemetery. Nothing much happened. It was a year later in April 1892 that things started to get moving on this front. The match between Wigan and Walkden, 13th April, would see all proceeds be devoted to the fund as well as subscription books and any other donations that people were wishing to donate. It was also stated by the Wigan Club that 'as a means of obtaining the largest amount possible', that the playing members of the club should on this occasion pay for entrance to the ground.

It was another year later at the 1893 General Meeting that discussions came to ahead regarding a permanent memorial to the Wigan Club's late president. Around £30 (£4,061 in today's money) had been raised from the Walkden match and from other donations. The tender had been let to Mr. Crombie, and at the top of the monument would be placed an exact replica design of the Wigan Charity Cup. The Cup was seen as a firm favourite with Charlie Cronshaw. When he was captaining Wigan, Charlie scored the first try .

The unveiling ceremony took place on Sunday 8th October, 1893, with proceedings led by the new president Mr. John Knowles. This now ends his story.

The sad thing is, he is unknown and forgotten. The Wigan Charity Cup replica has since been long lost. I have even scoured the undergrowth and broken bits of masonry in the hope that I could come across it. I know it is gone. But, how nice would it be if we could get his memory back? To recommission a new Wigan Charity Cup and place it atop his resting place once again?

Charles Cronshaw had many firsts for Wigan Warriors. He was a founding member in 1879. He was our first great Captain. He captained the side to win our first piece of silverware. He, aged 24, gave a speech in Liverpool professing why the rugby code should be followed as opposed to association. He was Wigan's president, inaugurator of the Wigan Charity and West Lancashire Cups and oversaw Wigan's rise to the Kings of Lancashire in 1890 and 1891.

The image above is from the 1888-89 season. The trophies in it are the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union, ad the Wigan Union Charity Cups. Charles Cronshaw is sat second from the right. Cronshaw had a ajor hand in the growth of these Cup competitions and more importantly for rugby in Wigan and West Lancashire. Without Charles Augustus Cronshaw, we would not have rugby in Wigan.