Apart from its obvious treasures, a central archive is a place where researchers can meet and exchange information. Often these meetings happen by chance…
When I arrived at The Lilla Huset (home to Hammersmith and Fulham’s Archives and Local Studies Service) one day early in 2011, the Archivist, knowing of my work on the foundation of Fulham FC, introduced me to Jackie Spreckley, who was engaged in research for ‘Played in Britain’. This was a ten year project to record the nation’s sporting and recreational heritage. Among its excellent publications was one entitled ‘Engineering Archie’ about Archibald Leitch, who designed Fulham’s 1905 Craven Cottage and many other football grounds in the UK.
A man working at a nearby table overheard our conversation and remarked,
“If you want to know about Craven Cottage, my grandfather built it.”
I could not wait to follow this up! It transpired that his grandfather was Henry Coleman, an ex-Fulham player and professional builder who had led a group of volunteers in 1895 to clear a derelict wilderness (once a stately home called Craven Cottage) and transform it into a football ground. They also built the first dressing rooms and clubhouse there.
Henry’s son was the late Reginald Coleman, a noted local historian. Three years before his death Reginald gave some of his father’s football souvenirs to the Hammersmith & Fulham Library. Reginald’s son Tim, who was making his first visit to the archive, had not been able to see them.
Sure enough the archivist checked the index for H Coleman, Fulham FC and Craven Cottage without finding any reference to them. It took a while for me to realise that we should have tried the name of Reginald Coleman, the donor. That provided an index number and a small folder of treasures. There were two disintegrating cuttings about a match in 1890, but the later items were priceless…
On Monday 16 March 1896, Henry Coleman (then always known as Harry) served as MC at Fulham FC’s annual ball. He meticulously timed the 23 dances, after which most of the participants walked home, washed, changed their clothes and went off to work.
His dance card (roughly 3.5 by 2.5 inches) has the drawing of a footballer on its front cover. Fulham did originally play in black and white striped shirts but the picture seems like an artist’s impression rather than a portrait of any particular player.
The illustration was used for the dance card the following year, by which time the club had almost completed its first season at the new Craven Cottage ground.
Harry didn’t fill in the card except to reserve some dances for his sister Rosie. The programme always included the Fulham FC quadrille.
To acknowledge his leadership and hard work in creating the new ground Harry was made a Vice-President of the club for life. A leather wallet (5 x 3.7 inches unfolded, pictured above) contains his 12 page season ticket for 1897-98 complete with fixtures and lists of members and officials.
In 1903 Fulham became a limited company, able to provide first class football. Craven Cottage was completely rebuilt two years later by Archibald Leitch. However the earlier pioneers were not completely forgotten. The 1910 Fulham FC Handbook, also in this collection, contains a warm tribute to Harry and his peers.
[Morgan, local studies volunteer]