Crystal Palace: 1861 history
Until recently Crystal Palace Football Club had the legend, largely handed down by word of mouth, that there was a team of casual workers who played at the old Crystal Palace; that team disbanded and all trace of it was lost until our present team was founded in 1905.
With the coming of the internet and, more recently, the digitisation of the British Library’s vast collection of Victorian and Edwardian newspapers, that has all changed. A chance find of an old tankard at an auction led me to start digging into the newspaper archives to try to find out more about its background.
Four years of research and travel, from the National Football Museum’s archives in Preston to Oxford University and reading thousands of pages of old newspapers in between, revealed that the ‘word of mouth’ history had been wide of the mark and a completely different history of the club emerged - a rich and varied one completely unique in world football.
Below, you will see that the club wasn’t formed by casual workers at the Palace, it didn’t disband as had been previously thought, and that its history can be traced from 1861 through to the origins of the club today.
Let me take you back to the earliest history of the Crystal Palace. The story is worth telling because it is the small acorn from which our club today eventually grew; it has a unique history which we should be proud of.
Most people will have heard of the Great Exhibition of 1851, nicknamed ‘The Crystal Palace’, and for good reason. It was the brainchild of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, and was erected in Hyde Park to showcase British industry and inventiveness and to promote world peace and trade. Britain was then the industrial powerhouse of the world, similar to the United States today, and the Crystal Palace was the first World’s Fair.
The exhibition was a resounding success, drawing 6.2 million visitors in under six months. To put this in context, remember that in 1851 the population of Britain was just over 27 million, the car hadn’t been invented and the roads were poor, so most of the visitors arrived by another ground-breaking British invention, the railway.
But there was a problem. When the Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park there was considerable opposition from local residents who feared the damage it would cause, so Parliament decided the building would be demolished and removed by 1st June, 1852.
The exhibition had been a great success, and no one wanted to see it disappear, so what to do with it?
Ultimately the Brighton Railway Company bought the building, dismantled it and moved it to a new site at Sydenham - then part of the Surrey countryside - and formed a new company to run it, the Crystal Palace Company Ltd. It is important to keep the Crystal Palace Company in mind because they are the constant link throughout this story that traces our history back to 1861.
When the new Crystal Palace opened in June 1854 it was much larger than the original and was set in 200 acres of parkland (now Crystal Palace Park). The Crystal Palace Company controlled everything that happened within the building and the surrounding parkland. Like Disney today, visitors were charged an entry fee which allowed them to use or view all of the Palace’s facilities, making this the world’s first major theme park.
The Victorians were heavily interested in what’s been called ‘muscular Christianity’ (good, clean, healthy outdoor sport) so the Company decided to use parts of the parkland to this end.
The first sports introduced at the Palace were archery and cricket, and the Crystal Palace Company laid its own cricket pitch in June 1857 for use by visiting clubs and companies.
In August 1857, the pitch was first used for football when the brewery Truman Hanbury & Buxton staged two cricket matches for their employees’ day out, with the rest of the staff playing football on the edge of the ground.
Always on the lookout for ways of drawing new visitors to the Palace, the Crystal Palace Company decided to dip their toes into the world of football, then a completely disorganised minor sport.
An advertisement appeared in the Morning News on 23rd January, 1858, saying: ‘Experienced Players will be in attendance on Monday next to superintend the GAME of FOOTBALL to be played on the cricket ground.’ We’ll never know just who those ‘experienced players’ were as there were no organised teams in London then, but this shows the Company’s interest in football at a very early stage.
In summer, 1859, the Company took a further step and set up its own cricket club, the Crystal Palace Club. They made Thomas Farquhar, the Chairman of the Crystal Palace Company, its first President and its first members were the sons of the local gentry.
Victorian sportsmen took their cricket seriously and dedicated cricketers kept themselves fit over the winter by rowing, organising athletics and playing football among themselves as there were no organised football teams. But, sometime during 1861, the Crystal Palace cricketers set up their own team: a far cry from the casual workers who, we were always told, founded the club.
During the 1870s one of the many famous players who played for the Crystal Palace football team was Charles Alcock. Alcock was the great driver and innovator of Association Football of his day and was known as ‘the King of Football’. He was Secretary of the FA for 25 years, creator of the FA Cup and came up with the idea of international matches, initially against Scotland.
A journalist by profession, he also edited The Football Annual from 1868 until his death in 1907. In the Football Annual he included a directory of clubs which provided detailed information, including their formation dates. He lists Crystal Palace among those clubs and gives our foundation date as 1861.
Football historians rely heavily on Alcock’s Football Annuals for information about the earliest clubs and, given the fact he also played for Crystal Palace, we can rely on Charles Alcock as being a reliable and accurate source for our founding date.
Yes. Club colours were another piece of information that was provided in the Football Annual and Palace’s were given as “blue and white jerseys, blue serge knickerbockers and stockings.” What we don’t know, however, is exactly which shade of blue this was and how the shirts were designed because to date no photograph of our early Victorian team is known to exist. That said, by deduction, we can make a pretty good guess.
What we do know is the external ironwork of the Crystal Palace itself was painted blue and white to give the impression that the entire building was made of glass, and surviving colour prints of the time suggest the blue was a shade of sky blue. So, it seems pretty likely that the football team chose that same shade of blue and white, which visitors to the Palace would have been familiar with, for their own club colours.
For the possible design of the shirt, we can again look to the Football Annual. Charles Alcock is silent on the design of the Crystal Palace shirts, but that is helpful. Where clubs’ shirt colours were made up of hoops, stripes or bars Alcock invariably said so. But for Palace he said nothing. That leads us to conclude that the shirt was a simple bicolour, with one half white and the other half blue - a common design in Victorian football and very similar to Blackburn Rovers’ traditional kit today.
It’s reasonable to rely on Alcock’s information because he actually played for Palace and was therefore familiar with our colours and shirts.
Crystal Palace’s first reported match was on 15th March, 1862, and is a highly significant one in football history. We played a club called Forest, who played in east London, and it was the first recorded game between two clubs who would go on to found the Football Association.
Remember there were no organised football teams around London at that time other than the public schools and universities, but we know that serious club cricketers used to play football among themselves to keep fit during the winter, making up their own internal teams. We find reports of games between Married v Single, A-L v The Rest and even Handsome v Ugly playing football against each other!
But, in March, 1862, we find the first report of a match between two organised teams in London: Forest v Crystal Palace. Forest were a club formed by several Old Harrovians of Harrow School, including the Alcock brothers, John Forster and Charles, and others who were old boys of the nearby Forest School, still in existence today. Forest played their football at Snaresbrook in Essex.
This match proved to be doubly important because it was the first reported game between two teams that later formed the core of the clubs that founded the Football Association and developed the game some know as ‘soccer’.
We don’t know the precise reason but the most likely one is because both clubs had links through old boys of the Forest School. The most likely link seems to be the Cutbill family, some of whom went to Forest School and whose family moved close to Crystal Palace while retaining links with their old school friends.
The father of the family, Thomas Cutbill, was a civil engineer and the London agent for Brassey & Wythes. Thomas Brassey was one of the principal builders of Britain’s railways and one of the first directors of the Crystal Palace Company, so here was his Crystal Palace link.
Thomas Cutbill had moved his family to Lawrie Park in Sydenham some time before 1861. He had four sons, and at least three, Walter, Arthur and Reginald, attended Forest School before the family moved to Sydenham and all played cricket and football for Crystal Palace. We also know that Arthur played for Forest as he’s shown in their earliest known photograph, taken in October, 1863.
The first match was 15-a-side (there were no formal football rules at this stage). Apart from two of the Cutbill brothers, the Palace team included Club Secretary, Francis (‘Frank’) Day, a master brewer whose family were part of the company, Day, Noakes and Co Ltd. which owned the Black Eagle Brewery in Bermondsey; James Turner – a wine merchant like our own Stephen Browett - whose father was the first President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and three brothers named Lloyd.
The inclusion of the Lloyd brothers adds another twist to Palace’s history. Palace fans will no doubt remember the demonstration outside Lloyds Bank’s Head Office in the dark days of administration in 2010 that helped force the sale of the club to our present owners. Little did Lloyds know that the earliest Crystal Palace club was almost a Lloyd family club as the three brothers, Theodore, Harry and Alfred, were the great-great-grandsons of Sampson Lloyd, who founded Lloyds Bank. Furthermore, James Turner was their brother-in-law, having married their sister Rachel.
As you can see, those earliest members of the club were far from the casual workers we have always held to be our history.
The match on 15th March lasted a marathon two and a half hours. A brief newspaper report says it was a tight affair with Forest managing the only goal after 90 minutes. It was obviously considered a success however as a return match was organised straight away at the Palace on 5th April, just three weeks later.
Football was a disorganised game in 1862. It tended to be played by the public schools and by cricketers who wanted to keep fit in the winter and even then, this was only among themselves. There were no organised clubs that played each other until Forest and Crystal Palace’s first game in 1862.
Crystal Palace counted among their numbers the Cutbill brothers, and at least one of the brothers, Arthur Lockett Cutbill, had also played for Forest as he is shown in the oldest known photograph of a football club, one of Forest taken in October 1863.
In 1863 Crystal Palace played a third, newly organised team, the N.N’s (or No Names) team of Kilburn. Among their players was Alex Morten, who also played cricket for Crystal Palace. Also playing for the N.N’s in that match were Arthur Pember and Ebenezer Morley who respectively became the first President and Secretary of the newly formed Football Association. In those first two Crystal Palace matches we find five of the eight Founding Fathers of the FA – Pember, Morley, the two Alcock brothers of Forest, and Crystal Palace’s own James Turner, playing against each other and no doubt talking about the future of football over post-match drinks.
These three clubs, together with the Barnes club, which Morley went on to found, comprised the core sides who formed the Football Association. This was no easy task, as the founders had a head-to-head battle with other clubs whose game was based on the Rugby code and who wanted their brand of football to become the accepted version. After six acrimonious meetings the ‘soccer’ code won the battle and gave us our football of today.
The Football Association was a very fragile body in its early years and Crystal Palace, as one of the four core soccer clubs, played their part in keeping it going.
In an effort to widen football’s appeal Charles Alcock launched the FA Cup in 1871, which was open to all clubs affiliated to the FA, with the winner being effectively crowned the country’s top club.
Again, Crystal Palace were heavily involved, with club captain, Douglas Allport, being one of the three FA Committee members who chose and bought the first FA Cup trophy. Palace entered the very first FA Cup competition in 1871 but were unfortunately knocked out in the semi-final by the Royal Engineers.
Having gone from strength to strength, suddenly Crystal Palace stopped playing football in 1876.
In 1892, the FA Cup final was expelled from Surrey’s cricket ground, the Kennington Oval, because of the damage it caused to the cricket pitch. With two exceptions, the final had been played there since its inauguration in 1872.
The Crystal Palace Company’s Entertainments Manager, Henry Gillman, seeing an opportunity to bring even larger crowds into the Crystal Palace, had the brainwave of filling in the Palace’s two neglected fountains and building England’s first national football stadium at Sydenham to host the final.
The stadium’s first FA Cup final, between Aston Villa and West Brom, was held in April 1895 and was a roaring success. It was the first of 20 finals that would be played there until 1915. The final would become an event of such national importance that it was considered an unofficial bank holiday.
Naturally, the Crystal Palace Company wanted to squeeze more revenue out of its new stadium, so the amateur Crystal Palace football team took to the field again and played friendlies against the top teams in the country. But they didn’t attract the crowds the Crystal Palace Company wanted.
The company glanced enviously across south London at its Football League neighbours, Woolwich Arsenal, and saw them drawing crowds of 25,000; so decided the way forward was to turn the amateur Crystal Palace football club into a professional outfit. They did so in 1905, with the help of cricketing legend Dr W.G. Grace, the company’s Sporting Director.