22 January 2017

Ted Howell - The Man Who Beat The Saints

Edwin John Howell, or 'Ted' as he was known, was born on January 25th 1904 in Cogan, a small suburb of the Welsh seaside town of Penarth. He was the ninth of ten children to dock labourer Henry Howell and his wife Sarah Ann Liles, and a great nephew of Comfort Howell, the subject of my first Ancestor Story post only a few weeks ago.

Ted was brought up in a house almost completely full of boys. Although his parents had three daughters, sadly none of them survived until adulthood, leaving Ted to grow up with his six brothers Joe, Harry, William, Bob, George and Jim. George was tragically killed in France in 1918 in the closing months of the First World War, tearing a hole in the heart of the family.

After attending Penarth Boy's School, Ted went to work as a railway porter at Penarth. It was here that he met a young girl from Tredegar called Beatrice Lillian Griffiths, who had come to Penarth to work for a wealthy lady named Mrs. Rhys-Jones. He offered to carry her bags for her and the rest is history; they married on Christmas Eve 1925 in Cardiff Registry Office and had four of their five children in Penarth.

The Howell family in Penarth, 1934-5
Ted lost his father just before he married Beatrice and his mum passed away six years later. At this time, Britain was in the midst of The Great Depression, which saw wages plummet and work disappear for thousands of workers, mainly industrial. Wanting the best for his family, Ted must have heard about fellow Welshmen and women leaving for Corby in Northamptonshire, where the erection of a steelworks in the town offered secure employment, higher pay and of course, the clincher - a house that practically came with the job.

On April 7th 1936, Ted and the Howell family left Penarth behind and made the move to Corby, changing trains at Leicester. They settled briefly in Deene Close and later Wheatley Avenue before moving to Lindisfarne Road. During World War 2, Beatty gave birth to her fifth and final child in 1942, completing the family.

While family was his greatest love, however, Ted had another great passion - Rugby. Perhaps unsurprising for a young working class Welshman, the game with the funny-shaped ball was Ted's biggest pastime, having played since his days as a teenager in Penarth. When he came to Corby, one of the first things he did was to help set up a rugby club there, which was called Stewarts & Lloyds after the steelworks. It was the first such club to be set up in the town.

Having set up the club, Ted became its first ever fixtures secretary, a position he held for many years. A few of the minute papers from the early meetings have survived and are treasured family heirlooms. One such record states that the committee decided the 'knickers' for the players should be black, and the shirts striped. Ted also kept a collection of newspaper cuttings from his rugby career which again are an invaluable source of information.

But researching Ted through online newspapers, I found a mention of him partaking in another community endeavour. An article in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in November 1936 states he sponsored the attempted formation of a Welsh Exiles Society, a social and philanthropist club for those Welsh expats who wanted to give something back. I've never heard of this society, so might have to do some more research to find out if it actually got off the ground!

Ted played rugby until at least the late 1940s, one article in particular referencing his appearance at a Corby game where they beat the Northampton Saints, always the formidable side. This was most likely the highlight of his career, and occurred in January of 1946.

Interestingly, despite the war being on and Ted making a note of the fact that minutes weren't kept for 1942-1944 due to a shortage of paper, the team still played and didn't abandon a single match. That's quite something. His scrapbook ends in 1951, indicating that may have been the year he retired from the game. That would have made him 46 years old, which is an advanced age to be playing a sport like rugby.

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As his attempt to set up a Welsh Exiles Society in Corby suggests, Ted was a man who believed in community. He was a socialist and a supporter of the Labour Party in Corby. Like many left-leaning Welshmen, Ted looked up to fellow lefty and founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan, who, apparently worked down the same pit as one of Ted's relatives before entering Parliament.

Another family story is that, during the Second World War, Ted apparently came rather close to being arrested after a local policeman overheard him inferring that Churchill should be sent to the battlefields of Europe instead of ordinary men and women. As controversial and outspoken as this would have been at such a time, it is understandable that Ted felt some anger towards men like Churchill, especially given the fact that his brother George and some of his cousins had been killed during the First World War.

Ted seems to have been a firm but fair man, and obviously cared a great deal about his Welsh roots and the community in Corby. As a local Councillor myself, perhaps there's a little bit of him in me too. Who knows...

When he died in July 1961 aged just 57, his funeral was well attended by not only family but members of the Corby community and of course, his rugby teammates. The tributes were led in the local paper by his brother in-law Richard Stanley 'Stan Price', who was a former Labour Councillor in the town.

All in all, the rugby community in Corby owes Ted Howell almost as much as I do, and I'm quite proud about that.