The Bowden Cup

Woodlesford A.F.C. team with George Harland Bowden in 1902. Back row: W. Brown, Harry Chew, Charles Johnson, S. Verender, Thomas Watson, Fred Johnson, Fred Parker. Front row: G. Taylor, Shepherd Tranmer, J. Haigh, Howson McWilliam, George Harland Bowden, G. Taylor, Pickersgill, Thompson, Herbert Tular.

The Bowden Cup was a football trophy first played for in 1902. It was presented to the Woodlesford Associated Football Club by George Harland Bowden, a mechanical engineer who lived in the village for less than three years but whose name lived on through the cup until the 1970s when lack of interest led to the competition’s demise.

Originally the cup was played for by senior teams in the Woodlesford and District League within a radius of 3 and a half miles from the Boot and Shoe Inn with the final taking place every year on a ground in Woodlesford. It included clubs ranging from Garforth and Kippax to Methley and Rothwell. A reference to the competition in the “Football Echoes” column of the Yorkshire Evening Post indicates the distance rule was meant to exclude teams from Altofts and Hunslet which were more successful in the early 1900s and dominated other competitions.

The first final was held on Saturday 26 April 1902 when Rothwell White Rose beat Garforth 1 – 0. It prompted Arthur Batty, the Rothwell registrar of births and deaths and assistant overseer, to write a doggerel poem to celebrate the event which was published in the Rothwell Times.

Where the  battle was fought, Was on Woodlesford ground,

And the crowd of spectators, Enjoyment soon found; 

And as they stood there, At the time to start play

’T was a sight to remember, For many a day.

The “skipper” for Rothwell, With team well in hand,

Placed his men in the field, For a resolute stand;

And as each sturdy scout, Took his usual spot,

“T’owd man,” knocked about, And looked after the lot.

Mr Bowden kicked off, As everyone saw,

But the ball was “called back”, For a “technical flaw,”

Yet what did it matter, All were quickly at alive,

And the time that they played, Was twice “forty-five.”

After the game the Rothwell team went from pub to pub where the cup was filled up with beer for them to drink before returning to their clubhouse at the Bowling Green Hotel. Speaking to the Rothwell Advertiser in 1975 Joss Taylor from Wood Lane said Rothwell White Rose won the cup for three successive years. The only Woodlesford team to win were from the Working Men’s Club which had its headquarters at Highfield House. Joss said his father, Charlie Taylor, an outside right, played for Woodlesford A.F.C. but they never won their own competition. They didn’t have a clubhouse, were based at the White Hart pub, and played on a pitch in a field between the canal and the river.

According to Joss the Bowden competition was a highlight of the local football calendar. The final was always a festive occasion as large crowds turned out to watch the match with entertainment coming from the Oulton Brass Band.

Later as the number of senior teams in the district declined it was decided the Bowden Cup should become a schoolboys competition. In 1944, for instance,  it was won by a team from Oulton St. John’s school which beat a team from Mickletown 2 – 0 with both goals scored by Melvyn Lunn. That year money raised by gate receipts and collections was donated to medical charities in Leeds. The competition continued after the war into the 1970s with the last winners being Rothwell Church of England in 1972.

George Harland Bowden, who gave his name to the cup, was born in Washington in County Durham on 1 January 1873. His father was a land and mining surveyor and after being taught by a private tutor until he was nine he was launched on a busy and highly successful engineering career at St. Bede’s School in Durham. He was only 15 years old when he started working at Lord Durham’s Lambton collieries moving in the 1890s to become assistant engineer and chief draughtsman the Cyfarthfa Iron and Steel Works at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.

By the time he arrived in Woodlesford with a young family in 1900 he was a partner in D.Selby Bigge, a Newcastle engineering company. At that time he specialised in electrical coal conveyors and probably came to Yorkshire to work on contracts in the local collieries, living at Oakdene a stone’s throw from Woodlesford station from where he could travel by train to destinations nationwide within a matter of hours.

After he left Woodlesford in 1903 Bowden set up his own engineering contracting company which had its head office on Deansgate in Manchester although he and his family moved to Gloucester where he became a councillor. By 1911 they had moved again to St. Albans and during the First World War he was commanding officer of the 17th (Empire) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers. From 1914 to 1918 he was also the Conservative M.P. for North East Derbyshire where once again he presented a football trophy – the Harland Bowden Shield. He died in 1927.

The photograph above was taken at Oakdene most likely in 1902. It shows George Harland Bowden, who was about 29 years old, posing with his fine Edwardian moustache, the newly created Bowden Cup, and the Woodlesford A.F.C. team. Some of their names can easily be deduced by comparing the caption printed in the Rothwell Advertiser in 1975 and the census for 1901.

They include: John Henry (Harry) Chew, 30, born Bridlington, an electric engine driver at the brewery lodging at the Boot and Shoe: Herbert Tular, 23, a wood sawyer living on Roberts Street who worked with his father –  a joiner and carpenter: Howson McWilliam, 25, a brewery clerk who lived with his auntie who ran a grocer’s shop on Church Street: Thomas Shepherd Tranmer, 23, a miner who lived at Alma Place; Thomas Watson, 34, brewery clerk, Aberford Road: Charles Johnson, 31, brewery labourer, Beecroft Yard: Fred Parker, 27, stone quarryman, Baden Street. It’s not clear which Taylor in the photo is Joss Taylor’s father.