The 1898 Heathen

The reprint of The Heathen for 1898 offers some interesting glimpses of the school and the game of rugby at that time. It appears that in the autumn term of 1897 the school experimented with playing both rugby and association football with five games played at the handling code and four at soccer, with two wins and two draws at the latter. It is not known how long this experiment lasted.

The magazine also makes mention of an Old Boys’ Club which apparently started in 1893, playing 15 rugby fixtures against other old boys’ sides in the first season. It states that the club had permission to use the school field (although it is not said where this was) and also had claret and gold jerseys, indicating that these were already the school’s colours. The Club must have combined the roles of the present Old Boys’ Association with that of the present rugby club as its members played a leading role in raising funds for and celebrating the school’s Tercentenary.

The article about the old boys’ club also mentions Ernest F. Fookes [Heath 1890–1892] and describes him as captain of Yorkshire and an international. A little superficial research shows that he was born in Waverley, New Zealand NI in 1874 and attended Taranaki High School. He must then have travelled to England and entered Heath’s sixth form. From there he appears to have attended Owen’s College in Manchester and to have qualified as a medical doctor from the Royal Infirmary, Manchester in 1899.

His international rugby career involved playing ten games for England between 1896 and 1899, appearing on the wing and scoring five tries. He is shown as playing for Sowerby Bridge RUFC and, later, for Manchester RUFC.

This was a turbulent time for rugby, with the formation of the Northern Rugby League in 1895. Northern clubs were strong at this time and the England side versus Wales in January 1897 included, as well as Ernest Fookes from Sowerby Bridge, players from Seaton; Rockcliffe (Whitley Bay); Bingley; Hartlepool Rovers and Liverpool. Rugby League itself was fully professional by 1898 and by 1910, 200 clubs had elected to play this version of the game.

The 1897 games against Wales was controversial in itself as after it Wales resigned from the International Rugby Board because of a dispute over the captain, Arthur Gould. The other home nations accused him of professionalism as he had come out of retirement after having been brought a house from the proceeds of a testimonial fund in his honour. The matter was resolved the following year and Wales rejoined the fold after Gould undertook to retire from the game permanently.

It seems as though Fookes was back in New Zealand by 1902 and he probably stayed there for the rest of his life, dying in New Plymouth in 1948. He must have been an exotic and impressive figure at Heath Grammar School in last years of Victoria’s reign, coming half way round the world and displaying a wealth of academic and sporting talent. He certainly seems to have been ‘worthy of favour.’

John Bunch [Heath 1972–1985]