In 1890 the bath in Littleton Street, which had been in existence for nearly 30 years was no longer viable. Rather than see the facility closed the Executive Committee of the Walsall Swimming Club offered to take over its management. The owners agreed. The committee members shared the work of running the bath on a rota system. They formed a Baths Management Committee and its financial affairs were kept separate from those of the club. It was agreed that they would be liable for any loss and would have no claim on any profit. They made a profit and the money was invested.
When the Tower St Baths were opened in 1895 the Littleton Street Baths were closed. A decision had to be made on what to do with the money. After seeking legal advice it was decided to found the Walsall Aquatic Fund. This was done by a Declaration of Trust on June 26th, 1897. The document gave the Trustees, there were eighteen of them, the power to distribute the money, it amounted to £160, at their own discretion providing it was not contrary to the objects of the club. There was never any doubt about that, before the trust was formed the Management Committee made many grants to swimming organisations and for rewarding acts of bravery in life saving etc. The Trustees have continued to support aquatic sport in various ways over the years.
The Tribute to Ray Aulton
One of the founder members of the Aquatic Trust was a man who was a most enthusiastic worker for the club. The following dedication was inscribed on a bronze tablet to honour his memory.
This tablet was erected in the Public Baths, Walsall, in memory of Henry Raymond Kilbourn Aulton, a native of Walsall, who was General Hon Sec of the Walsall Swimming Club, 1891-1897, an enthusiastic worker for the objects of the Royal Life Saving Society, an International Water Polo player, 1895 and 1900, and Permanent Hon Sec of the Walsall Aquatic Trust, 1896-1924. Died August 3rd 1924.
Sports writers covering Walsall’s polo matches had difficulty spelling the name of the man who played right-forward during the four triple crown years, 1951-54. They produced:- Worrillo, Warrillo, Warrallo, Warralo, Worrilow, Warrallow and even Worrallow. Sometimes they got it right, it was Bill Worrallo.
A Useful Source of Information
The minutes of meetings held many years ago, membership lists and old press cuttings, are proving a useful source of information to those following the modern trend of tracing their family tree.
At the turn of the century some club members emigrated to various parts of the Commonwealth. One of them was Walter Buxton, the younger brother of Tom, who went to South Africa. He won the club’s junior championship in 1894 and 1895. His son wrote to ask if the club’s records showed when he left England. They did; he emigrated in June 1902.
In return, Walter Buxton Jnr provided the following information on his father’s life in South Africa: he settled in Pietermarizburg, Natal; joined the army and fought in the Zulu rebellion of 1906, and in German East Africa during the first World War; became Superintendent at the Municipal Baths at Bloemfontain in the Orange Free State; returned home on a short visit in 1920 and met the lady who became his wife, Miss Florence Bullock; left Bloemfontain in 1927 and settled in Cape Province, later moved to Butterworth, Transkei.
Walter, like his brother Tom, was an hotelier in his later years. He died in 1948 at the age of 67. His son has a leather suitcase that was presented to his father, it bears the inscription – ‘Presented to Walter Buxton, March 1927. P.A.S.C.’ Walter Jnr believes the initials might mean Prince Albert Swimming Club, another possibility is Pietermaritzburg Amateur Swimming Club.
It’s well known that events from the distant past can be distorted, often colourfully, as they are retold over the years. A story was handed down that many years ago Walsall’s Mayor and all the Corporation were drowned when a steam launch was sunk in the Arboretum lake. It seems the tale was a concoction of two separate events, the drowning of John Harvey in 1845 and the sinking of the Lady of the Lake in 1860, in which no-one was drowned. It was believed the launch was still at the bottom. A team of divers went down in 1965 to look for underwater caverns and they were asked to keep an eye open for a boat.
They found a cavern that connected the two lakes, but there was no sign of the Lady of the Lake. The truth is that the launch was raised by Henry Boys a few years after it went down, and in 1886 was advertised as giving excursions on his pool in New Mills at 1d a trip. What a pity that facts have to spoil such a good story.
Fighting for Walsall
Three of Walsall’s polo stars were capable boxers. Mark Ryan Snr was Midland amateur champion at light-heavy and heavyweight, Freddy Lawrence a Navy champion and Bill Worrallo was another with experience in the ring. They found trouble when they used their pugilistic talents in the pool and they were all declared sine die (banned for life), although the authorities relented and they were all allowed back a year or so after their misdemeanours.
Mark Ryan might have claimed mitigating circumstances. It was an unwritten rule that when a team lost a player through injury the other team took one of their men out to even things up. On one occasion, Walsall lost a player and their opponents declined to do the honourable thing. Ryan decided they should, and planted a hefty punch on one of them. He was carried out, but the referee insisted the Walsall captain left as well.
The behaviour that brought about Freddy Lawrence’s suspension cannot be taken quite so light heartedly. He got out of the bath and hit the referee. Not only was he banned, he had to pay for the official’s dental treatment as well. Bill Worrallo collected his ban after a full blooded punch-up with Paradise of Derby. They stood toe to toe in the shallow end and slugged it out until they were parted. A crowd pleasing contest, but not one of which the polo authorities approve. There is no record of who was ahead on points when the fight was stopped.
The Youngest Ever
When two 13 year olds, Joy Beasley and Sharron Davis, were selected for the 1976 Olympic team it raised the question of who was the youngest swimmer to represent Britain at the Games. In Swimming Times of August 1976, Austen Rawlinson, a respected swimming historian, awarded this distinction to Margery Minton of South Manchester SC who swam the 200m breaststroke at the 1928 Games aged 13 years, one month and 15 days.
Mr. Rawlinson named June Green as the youngest ever Great Britain internationalist, she competed in the GB v Holland v USA match on March 31st, 1971, at 12 years, one month and 16 days.
Walsall’s B Problem
Water polo has the most complicated set of rules, and they are constantly changing. Walsall did little to make things easier when their B team won the Birmingham League in 1983. Both A and B teams competed in the Midland League in 1984 and the B team finished top. The reason for this anomaly was quite clear to the club, an internal ruling made the B team the stronger side, but it confused some impartial onlookers. Writing in the Express and Star on November 2nd 1984, Eddie Griffiths poked fun at Walsall as the club installed their B team as the A team for the 1985 season.
What will happen if the B team (formerly the A team), win the 1985 Midland League title, and the A team (once the B) finished nowhere? Will that lead to the B team, once the A, becoming A again, and the A team, the ex-B line up, having to settle for the B spot? - the mind boggles at the thought of Walsall coming up with a C team…
Well, the club did not complicate matters further, the B team of 1984 became the A team in 1985 and they won the Midland League that year. What could be clearer?
The diligence of the club’s first administrators have provided us with an excellent record of its activities in the early years. When a certain Terry Mayor phoned the club’s secretary, Valda Davies, in the Spring of 1990 to ask if there was any record of his father having been a member of Walsall, she was able to tell him that he had been a member from 1896 to 1899. Furthermore, that he had been a prominent water polo player and a leading light in several galas, particularly in the comic events that were a feature of galas in those days. On May 17th Mrs. Davies received a letter from Terry Major’s brother, one John Major, then Chancellor of the Exchequer and of course shortly to become Prime Minister. The letter thanked her for the information that he and his brother had found most interesting.
When John Major became Prime Minister there was a sudden interest in his father’s origin. Richard Bond, the Archivist at Walsall’s Local History Centre, provided an insight in an article in the Blackcountryman in 1991.
Tom Major-Ball was born in Bloxwich in 1879, his real name was Abraham Thomas Ball but he became generally known as Tom. His family moved to Walsall in 1896 and young Tom joined Walsall Swimming Club which had just moved into the new baths in Tower St. There is the possibility that the Balls may have spent some time in America prior to that, Bond writes:-
The first documentary proof of their return to the area is in fact in the membership register of the Swimming Club, kept now for safekeeping in the Walsall Local History Centre. The list of active members for the 1896 season includes the name of Tom Ball, whose address was first recorded as 47 Portland St, but 47 was subsequently changed to 103. The archives of the Swimming Club indicate that it was flourishing at the time, with the list of honorary members and patrons suggesting that the club had some social prestige. Tom continued as an active member up to and including the 1899 season and his name is often found in newspaper reports of water polo matches.
Tom Ball adopted the name Major-Ball when he later embarked on a stage career as a music-hall artist. Why Major? Well, one intriguing thought is that Walsall’s swimming instructor in those days was a Sergeant Major Otton and Tom borrowed the name from him. Perhaps he thought Major had just the right ring about it. Although such conjecture has no place in a definitive history it would be nice to think the Prime Minister owes his name to a member of Walsall Swimming Club.