A tribute to Huddersfield’s greatest rugby player

Here at the University of Huddersfield Archives and Special Collections we are always very keen to support and promote all kinds of heritage projects that involve the local area. But with the cataloguing of the Rugby League Archive underway, we’re especially excited when those projects involve our favourite Huddersfield-born game!

Below is a link to an excellent audio feature recorded as part of the Huddersfield Giants’ Rugby League a lasting legacy project. The feature tells the story of possibly Huddersfield’s greatest ever rugby player, Harold Wagstaff (9 May 1891–19 July 1939), who led the Huddersfield team, that became known as The Team of all The Talents, to all four cups during the 1914-15 season before going on to captain England. However the onset of the First World War affected lives throughout society and it would see Harold called up for service through conscription in March 1916. Following training in London, Harold would go on to serve in Palestine from summer 1917 until the end of the war when he returned to Huddersfield to continue his very successful career.

The feature has been made available on the BBC World War I website and demonstrates the amazing stories that are held within the Rugby League Archive Collection.

Listen to the feature here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01yw4yz

The Ernest Parker Collection

Some exciting items have recently been returned to the Rugby League Archive after a long period on loan. The Ernest Parker Collection is a small but important collection within the archive and contains some of the oldest items in the collection.

Wakefield Trinity was founded in 1873 and was formed via the Holy Trinity Church in Wakefield; it went on to become one of the original 22 founding members of the Northern Union (later known as the Rugby Football League) who broke away from the Rugby Football Union in 1895.

Ernest Parker was an important figure in Wakefield Trinity’s early history, supporting the team through the years before and after the break from Rugby Union, and later becoming the club’s treasurer for several years.

The Ernest Parker Collection includes reports and accounts for Wakefield, scorebooks, programmes, guidebooks, and several decades of season tickets. This one from the 1890-1891 season was presented as a booklet – each page had a ticket for a specific match which that could be easily removed using the pre-punched perforations.

Wakefield Trinity season ticket, 1890-1891


Wakefield Trinity season ticket (interior), 1890-1891

New Game, New Rules

Rugby league was initially born out of a desire to pay its players fair compensation if they took time off work to play – something which the strictly amateur code that the group of northern teams broke away from would not allow.

However, the new organisation quickly began to evolve and develop new rules to create a game which, over time, allowed for more open play, less domination by scrums, and a more exciting visual event for spectators.

The many rules and their evolution can be daunting to spectators, like myself, who are new to the game…fortunately rugby league fans are very friendly and will happily explain the ‘play the ball’ rule to you as the game is in play!

For those who are looking for a full and detailed understanding of the rules then the laws of the game can today be found online, but in the past could be purchased in booklets issued by the Rugby Football League. These provided explanations, definitions and illustrations, and a number of them can be viewed here at the University of Huddersfield Archives and Special Collections – this illustrated 1950 guide was designed as a straightforward and entertaining guide for younger players.


Know the Game booklet, c1950


Let’s hear it for the users!

In our last post we explained why cataloguing is an important and exciting part of an archivist’s work but in this post we’ll be handing over to some of our researchers who explain what they get out of using archives:

David Gronow is a historian of Rugby League, a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield, and also does a huge amount of voluntary work on the detailed listing of the Rugby League records:

As historian of Huddersfield Giants Rugby League Club, plus the fact I am on the Steering Committee of the Huddersfield RL Heritage Project, visiting the University Archive has given me a great advantage in gleaming out information on Huddersfield Rugby League that probably no one else has seen …I have unearthed unique items from the early 1900s…documents/photographs/programmes relating to the early history of the Huddersfield club, plus some great memorabilia applicable to the 1946 ‘Idomitables’ Tour to Australia by the England team…fascinating stuff!

And Roger Pugh had the following to report on his experience of using the Rugby League archives:

“Whilst researching for the book I’m writing, the RL archives at Huddersfield University enabled me to access a huge amount of unique material that I’d never have seen otherwise – old Players Registers, notes of the RL sub-committees and the old scrapbooks, for example. Apart from factual information, I got a real insight into what the game was like and how it was run in the early post war period. And the staff at the University have been really helpful!!”

Comments like these are a constant source of inspiration – we want everyone to get as much out of using archives as David and Roger do!

Focus on…Rugby League Registers of Players

The Rugby League archive collection contains Registers of Players dating from 1906-1978. They are some of the most popular records with club historians when researching the early history of their clubs.There is usually one Register of Players volume for each season, with each team having a dedicated section within the volume to record the names of players who joined the club that year. The register also details where a player transferred from (if he had previously been playing for another team) and when they were struck off from a club (for example if he transferred to a different team).

This sort of information is invaluable for investigating the playing history of individual players and for tracking down who was playing for a club at a given point in time.

The volumes also illustrate how rugby league was an international sport from some of its earliest days. On 18th February 1908 one Lance B Todd was signed to Wigan – but is listed as transferred from New Zealand!

Todd came to Britain as part of an All Blacks tour of Great Britain and Australia; but the professional nature of the tour earned Todd, and the rest of the touring team, a lifetime ban from the New Zealand Rugby Union. Having played Rugby League in Britain during the tour Todd opted to stay and play for English teams; he played for Wigan and Dewsbury before going on to manage Salford – the Man-of-the-Match trophy for the Challenge Cup Final is also named after him.

Rugby League Register of Players 1906-1907
Rugby League Register of Players 1906-1907

Rugby League cataloguing project

In November 2013 the Archives and Special Collections team were delighted to learn that their application to the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives to catalogue the records of the Rugby Football League Board had been successful.

My name is Kelda and, with the help of our dedicated volunteers, I’ll be cataloguing the Rugby League Board’s collection until February 2014. By then we will have a structured electronic catalogue which can either be browsed or searched using free text or keywords. Additionally, all of the collection will be stored in archival quality boxes to protect the collection for future generations.

The Rugby Football League was founded in Huddersfield and has fans across the globe. The collection also has great potential for use by a range of researchers, so I am very pleased to be working on this collection and making it more accessible.

Over the next few months there will be more posts about the project and items from the collection – so watch this space!