IN the latest in his series, Kerry Miller takes a look at the sporting and social scene in the town as the world geared up for war.

The summer of 1913 was dominated by escalating tensions across the world, which were slowly but inevitably leading to the First World War, the pure awfulness of which could not have been remotely imagined.

In Bridgwater rugby circles it was business as usual, as Albion appointed the one remaining Churchill brother, Edward, as skipper with Bert Jones as his vice-captain, while Tom Billings was made leader of the forwards.

It was announced that, from that season, club blazers would be awarded to players who had made a certain number of appearances, and training would be taken by Cliff Prew.

Across town, Bridgwater RFC began the final peacetime campaign at the Malt Shovel ground under the training tutelage of Mr C Baker, but it was Albion who took the early headlines.

They had provided wooden grating around the ground during the summer, which would accommodate more than 300, keeping their feet dry from the grandstand to the road.

It was another step in that ground taking over as the main sporting arena in the town, with the Malt Shovel eventually losing its grandstand, as road widening and new housing took a sizeable chunk of the playing area, and led eventually to it being rechristened as Victoria Park between the wars.

The terminally unwell Bridgwater AFC stumbled into another football season in October, with membership again of the Weston & District and Highbridge & District Leagues.

They played their first game, a friendly, against the more established Bridgwater Thursdays on the Albion ground.

Their line-up included the players F Growtage, NC Prangley, B Stone, H King, F Poad, D Turner, I Robinson, E Thomas, W Styles, C Bond and L Hayward.

They had also entered the Somerset Junior Cup and were drawn at home to Porlock, but with the Taunton Road ground not available they were forced to endure the trip to that town, no doubt taking the toll route rather than the frightening Porlock Hill in a motor bus with negligible braking at best.

The cup tie was lost 2-0, and soon after Bridgwater were beaten 4-0 at home by Street Reserves in the Churchill Cup (the Weston & District League KO Cup), which meant their season was over almost before it had begun.

Surprisingly, Old Morganians FC had called it a day late in the summer, despite winning a number of trophies in their short history to that point, citing a not inconsiderable debt of £13 and the fact that a number of their playing members had left town.

They would be back stronger after the Great War, albeit with old boys on the memorial stones.

Athletic meetings were still proving popular in many towns and villages in the surrounding area, and many had cups and monetary prizes on offer, which could be lucrative for those with the talent and the ability to get time off work.

One such athlete was Jack Pippin, an all-rounder who played cricket, football and rugby when not running, and he enjoyed a superb summer season.

Pippin journeyed to Milverton, where he won the 440 yards flat race, having previously claimed triumphs at such diverse race settings as Chulmleigh, Cam, Okehampton, Delabole, Yeovil, Yealmpton, Hereford, Blandford, Queen Camel, South Molton, Midsomer Norton and Polden Hill.

All that came despite him missing a month with a tendon injury and having first competed 20 years earlier, in 1893.

There was some indoor sport during that time as, apart from the new skittles league in Bridgwater, in November the Young Men’s Association in St Mary Street staged their second billiards handicap.

Tom Glover played Courtenay Smith in the final before a large gathering.

The 200 up match engendered much interest, and in a fluctuating match Smith took the win by 21 points.

The evangelists and soul savers of the town were never slow in adding new recruits to the cause, and in March 1914 there was a remarkable visit to the Salvation Army by a gentleman by the name of Envoy 'Darkie' Hutton.

By then 65 years old, he was a reformed criminal who had spent 23 years in prison, having had a career as a seaman curtailed by two court martials and a dishonourable discharge before his crime spree.

Rescued by the Salvation Army, Hutton spent the rest of his life preaching and telling the story of his time at special meetings around the country while dressed in prison uniform, chains and leg irons.

He spoke for two hours at the ‘Rink’ in Friarn Street, where a large attendance heard a compelling story of his decades in Dartmoor Prison.

Somerset County Gazette:

REFORMED: Envoy Hutton in his prison uniform and chains, which he had permission to wear when he addressed Salvation Army congregations

As spring approached, Burrowbridge & District Cricket Club held their annual general meeting at the home of captain Harold Sharland, where they heard that the season before was “fairly successful”, with the club having won six and lost six, with one draw.

The club had been unsuccessful in securing a permanent ground, however, as the team had been playing on the farmers’ fields which were often swampy, as are most on the Levels.

In the end a Mr Churchill of Lyng offered a ground, and hurdles were hired to protect what was euphemistically called the playing surface, while Fred Hector was appointed groundsman, to be paid 30 shilllings a term.

Days later came another big rugby match in the town, when Albion played Bridgwater in the semi-final of the Somerset Cup at the Malt Shovel ground.

Rain and gales persisted all day, which ruined the contest and halved the attendance, but 20 minutes before kick-off it eased and supporters flooded to the ground to watch what quickly became a mudbath, with many players unrecognisable.

In the end Albion took the victory by a single try to reach the final, where they would take on Taunton Albion, who had beaten Wiveliscombe.

Next week Albion and their supporters travel to Weston-super-Mare for the big final, and the summer sportsmen and women enjoy the final few months of freedom. Mercury readers are welcome to contact Kerry with any information or memorabilia relating to the articles by email on