The Personal Memoirs Of Charlie Westwick, born 1879, The Oldest Gillingham Supporter In The World. (As told to his grandson).
May to August 1893
Grandad rummaged around inside the wooden chest and found what he was looking for – an oilskin document wallet tied around with black ribbon. He spread the documents inside it out on the table, picked up several sheets of paper, and unfolded them. “There SunBoy” he said “What do you think of these?” Initially, the papers looked full of indecipherable squiggles, with crossings out and insertions all over the place, but when I got used to the format the contents became quite easy to read.
“Thursday 18th May 1893, Public Meeting held at the Napier Arms Inn, New Brompton to consider the question of a formation of a Company to be called the New Brompton Football Club Company Limited.
It was proposed by Mr H G Croneen, seconded by Mr Crump that the High Constable of Gillingham (I R Featherby Esq) take the chair.
Mr H G Croneen as Chairman of a Committee nominated to view and report upon various sites offered to the Company having read his report it was proposed by Mr Partridge and seconded by Mr Reed that Mr Lipop’s tender be read, with the others. Proposed as an Amendment by Mr Parker and seconded by Mr W Croneen that it be not entertained. There voted for the amendment – 22, for the original proposition – 30.
Tenders having been read by Mr H G Croneen it was proposed by Mr Passby seconded by Mr Richardson that the tender by Messrs Filley & Randall be accepted. Carried.
Proposed by Mr Thompson seconded by Mr P Little that the following Gentlemen be elected a Committee to promote the Company – Mr James Barnes of The Railway Hotel New Brompton, Licensed Victualler; Mr Frederick Bloor of High Street New Brompton, Wardrobe Dealer; Mr William Herbert Checksfield of The Napier Arms Inn New Brompton, Licensed Victualler; Mr Horace George Croneen of High Street New Brompton, Jeweller; Mr Walter Croneen of The Viscount Hardinge Inn New Brompton; Mr Henry William Elliott of Napier Road New Brompton, Builder; Mr Albert William Partridge of New Brompton, Station Master; Mr Richard James Passby of Beacon Court Canterbury Street New Brompton, Wine Merchant; Mr George Randall of High Street New Brompton, Pawnbroker; Mr Alfred Concannon Richardson of Windmill Road New Brompton, Quarter Master Sergeant RE; Mr William Cornish Snow of Canterbury Street New Brompton, Builder; Edwin Charles Warren Esq High Street New Brompton, Medical Practitioner.
Proposed by Mr H G Croneen, seconded by Mr Evans that the High Constable of Gillingham for the time being be President of the New Brompton Football Club.”
“Reads like a Who’s Who of the local great and good from a hundred years ago doesn’t it?” he said. “The Men Who Made The Gills!” I asked him how on earth he had got possession of these papers.
“Well, it was quite straight-forward really” he said. “As I told you, by 1892 we were regularly watching Chatham Excelsior playing on the Great Lines, and in 1892/93 they had a tremendous season. They won 25 out of 29 games, scored 115 goals and won three trophies, the most important of them being the Kent Junior Cup. They got changed for matches at The Napier Arms, which was on the corner of Britton Farm Street and Paget Street and at that time more or less fronted straight onto the Lines. After the games, and well into Saturday night, they held what they called Smoking Concerts, where basically the players and supporters crammed into the bars and gave renditions of popular songs, recitations and the like. In those days everyone had to be able to do what they called a Party Piece to keep the evening going. No-one cared too much after another big win and plenty of beer if they heard the same renditions week after week. Even though the Napier Arms was quite large by the standards of the time, the place was usually heaving.
“My Aunt Eleanor lived in Paget Street, and she worked for the Checksfields as a general maid. On match-days she helped out with the team laundry and got all the hot water ready for the players baths after the match, and then it was all hands available in the bar. Me and Bert used to hang around after the match to help her, and we pretty soon became part of the Napier Arms furniture. Checksfield didn’t pay us anything, we were just a couple of fourteen year olds wanting to get close to the players. He got good value out of us all though. Aunt Eleanor was a small woman, but she could really belt out Marie Lloyd songs during the Concert. I used to accompany her on the piano. She could chuck out drunks twice her size with no problem too, even Checksfield was impressed with that. So when this Public Meeting was called, Aunt Eleanor went in to help, I tagged along, and got myself a ringside seat in the snug. Afterwards, when the jugs of beer were bought in, the Secretary wanted to write the minute book up, so we showed him into Checksfield’s parlour where it would be quiet. I took him in a bottle of spirits, and went to collect the glasses just as he was finishing. He put those rough notes on the tray for me to throw away, and I didn’t. Simple.”
I asked him what he remembered about the detail of this meeting. “Well, the tender for the grounds got quite lively, as you can see from the minute. There were three plots, six and a half acres on the Beacon Court Estate facing Rock Avenue and Byron Road, a level plot of land in Barnsole Road near the school, and Priestfield, or as it was described in the tender “a section of land in Gillingham Road close to the level crossing.” At £600 it was the cheapest of the three. At that time there was no Linden Road or Ferndale Road, and open fields beyond, and I think a lot of people, me included, thought we were purchasing all that as well, so it seemed a real bargain. In fact, it was only the back piece, in effect a field within a field, and afterwards I sensed there was general disappointment.
“There were lots of meetings in the next few months to settle all the details of getting a new football club up and running. I made sure I got to help out a lot in the Napier Arms during that summer, so I managed to pick up on what was going on. The meetings were in the snug, and I was in and out of there every few minutes making sure they were well supplied with spirits. I earwigged some of the discussions about players. They convinced a lot of the Excelsior players to come and play for New Brompton, which didn’t go down too well. I remember a long debate about goal nets, before they decided Brodie’s Patented ones – the most expensive in fact – and overheard discussions about ticket printing arrangements, and when they bought the original turnstile – cost £10.
“The most fascinating debate was when they talked for nearly an hour about whether they should have a sixteen inch blade lawnmower, or a twenty-four inch blade one. Eventually they put it to the vote, and it was a dead-heat, so the Chairman exercised his casting vote for the cheaper sixteen inch lawnmower. It turned out to be pretty useless, and the following summer they got in a herd of sheep to do the job! I remember Chairman Croneen then saying “Well gentlemen I hope the next item doesn’t cause us such discord, which is…err” and he squinted at the agenda ” purchase of flannel shirts, stockings and knickers.” The big decision on that had already been made, which was that New Brompton would play in black and white stripes. Again it was very much a lift from Excelsior, who played in black and white hoops.
“Anyway, the bottom line was that an awful lot of people worked extremely hard and with tremendous enthusiasm to get everything ready for the beginning of September when the football season started. Me and Bert chipped in with work at the ground, and come the first match, like everyone else, we were up for it. Play Up Brompton!!”