Should We Honour Arthur Wharton?

Today i raised the issue of one of our most prominent former residents, Arthur Wharton, and his legacy. I feel the time is right to at least contemplate commemorating the fact that  the world’s first professional footballer, record breaking sprinter and talented cricketer once lived in Moorthorpe. The 1911 census shows that Arthur Wharton lived, with his wife Emma, at 105 Clifford Street, Moorthorpe. By this time he had already secured his place in history as a professional footballer and all-round sporting great but following his death in 1930 he lay for decades in a pauper’s grave in Edlington. In recent years there has been a high profile campaign to rediscover and celebrate the sporting legacy of Arthur Wharton and his former Moorthorpe home, an unassuming end of terrace, is just as much a part of his narrative as his Tameside home, where a blue plaque already exists. It is the right thing to do, the grown up thing to do, to consider a similar scheme for Moorthorpe.

AW 1911 Census

With this in mind i contacted the Pontefract Civic Society, Wakefield Civic Society, South Kirkby and Moorthorpe Town Council, the West Riding Football Association, the national Football Association, the National Football Museum, Kick it Out and Football Unites, Racism Divides with the following email:

To all parties copied into this email,

I am writing to you today to enquire as to the possibility of exploring the idea of installing a blue plaque on or near to the former residence of Arthur Wharton, in Moorthorpe, South Kirkby. Pontefract Civic Society seem the most likely potential blue plaque scheme for this project, as Moorthorpe is a village that forms part of the civil Parish of South Kirkby and Moorthorpe, nearby to the historic town of Pontefract. Wakefield Civic Society also have a blue plaque scheme and as Moorthorpe is part of the Wakefield district this may be an alternative. Arthur Wharton is widely considered to be the first black, professional footballer in the world. He was also a world record sprinter and very good cricketer. In recent years a great deal of work has been done to recognise the legacy of this great man, who until relatively recently lay in an unmarked grave in Edlington. Since then there have been a number of high profile monuments to the man erected around the country, including a blue plaque in Tameside (so a precedent for such a scheme does exist).

Arthur Wharton was recorded as occupying 105 Clifford Street, Moorthorpe at the time of the 1911 census, along with his wife, Emma. The 1911 census records Arthur’s life as his sporting prowess was on the wane, with his occupation listed as a collier (geographically most likely to be at Frickley Colliery but also possibly at South Kirkby Colliery). Though no evidence exists of Arthur representing Frickley or South Kirkby collieries both had well respected football, cricket and athletics teams and it seems logical that Arthur would have had some connection to the sports team of his employer, as a devout sportsman who continued to play professional cricket until into his forties. It is not clear when Arthur left Clifford Street, though it is known that he continued to work in collieries around South Yorkshire until his death in 1930, when he was buried at Edlington.

At present there is no funding in place for such a scheme, the property in question is privately owned and it is not yet clear how receptive the owners would be to such a scheme though there is a green space (a recreation area) directly adjacent to the property that could also be a good location for a blue plaque. Personally i see this as a very good scheme to explore the merits of and to discuss ways to find the funding and overcome any obstacles to preserve the legacy of this pioneering sportsman who was once a part of our community.

Please do contact me with your thoughts and ideas on the matter.

Kind regards

Matthew Thomas

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