For many, many, years the history of Southport Football Club was tied heavily to this man Ralph Rylance, and if you dig out the brief history of the club written into many an article over the years, by myself and many others you will find his name.
Born: 1842 (Prestolee, Bolton)
Died: 30th January 1915 (Southport)
Using the Cemetery Map.
Born as Ralph Leather in a small village in Bolton he was brought up by his mother Margaret Rylance as his father passed away before he was born.
Ralph became an Attorneys Clerk in Blackburn and married Margaret Parkinson in 1863.
By 1871 Ralph had extended his own name to include his mother’s maiden name (she had since remarried to become Margaret Whalley).
He was a very clever, enterprising man and this can be seen quite early on as in 1881 he filed a patent application for the first artificial multi-sport playing surface.
“Improvements in the formation of floors or surfaces to be used for football, bowling, lawn-tennis, racquet, croquet” etc.
When you look at the patent application it doesn’t look like the forerunner to 3G grass but looks more a slightly springy wooden floor, the sort you might find in a sports hall.
Ralph and his wife had a LOT of children – 9 in total – , one of whom Walter we will come to later.
Whilst working as a Solicitors Clerk he played football for Blackburn Law.
The first time we come across him related to Southport Football Club was in December 1881. However, this was when he lined up in opposition against Southport for Blackburn Law.
The family moved to Birkdale around this time, and bought 126 Eastbourne Road, which is still standing, his brother-in-law moved too and bought next door.
Rylance then joined Southport Football Club playing his first game for them in January of 1882. He played a small number of games at the end of that season but continued to turn out on occasion for Blackburn Law.
In September 1883, with the sport of football still growing quote rapidly 2 years after the club had been formed and switched over from rugby, Rylance was made captain, showing that he was starting to use his experience to help the club to grow.
We’re going to come back to the story at around this time on our next stop but for now let me tell you a bit more about what we discovered about Ralph and why he’s such an important character in our story.
What we hadn’t appreciated until last year was that Rylance lasted only until March before disappearing from the club altogether.
We now know because we’ve seen him on a ship’s passenger list arriving in New York in 1884, that he had gone to America to seek business opportunities.
What we also didn’t know until last year was that scandal seemed to follow Mr Rylance. In October of that year there a court case heard in his absence at the Liverpool Chancery Court where an injunction was being requested against him by the family of a lady called Isabelle Parkinson.
Parkinson as you’ll remember was his wife’s maiden name.
Rylance had been alleged to have forcebly moved an old lady of unsound mind from Blackburn to the property next door to him on Eastbourne Road in order to marry his brother-in-law…hence the name.
She had apparently not even understood that she was married. Rylance was wanting to sell her house worth £6,000 and her family and friends wanted to stop him.
A friend of Isabellas petitioned to have her classified as a lunatic and pending the outcome of those proceedings the judge did grant the prevention order.
What makes that even more interesting is that when he returned to England from his trip to America, he placed an advert in a trade journal asking for 6 gentlemen to put forward £1000 each to become directors of a company he had set up.
He clearly wanted £6,000 from somewhere as he intended to work phosphate lands in Charleston, South Carolina to make and sell high class fertilisers, describing the opportunity as with no risk and profits of over 100%.
We don’t know if that particular venture paid off, however we do know that he did become financially successful, something you can probably tell from the scale of his monument here.
By the time of the next census in 1891 he was listed as an Oakum manufacturer as part of a firm called Rylance, Medd and Company and after buying Mr Medd out of their partnership in 1897 he continued to run the business with his sons James and Walter.
He passed away in 1915 leaving his estate, worth just over £1m in today’s money to his wife.
And so, we circle back to his son Walter.
In 1931, Walter Rylance presented a giant red flag, emblazoned with 1881, to Southport Football Club to celebrate 50 years since his father had “founded the club”.
This was picked up by the newspapers, and over the years that passed since the belief was perpetuated by scores of journalists that Ralph Rylance had been a key part of the transition from Rugby to Football in the formation of the club. This was a claim repeated in good faith time and time again throughout Southport’s history, by many people – myself amongst them.
Whilst he may have been a good player and perhaps came with a lot of experience, what we know now is that he was certainly not the person who founded the club.
- The original association club was started by Thomas Burnett, of that there is no doubt. Ralph Rylance joined after a few games had already been played.
As we will learn as we continue on this tour….the Southport Fc that existed in 1931 wasn’t even the same club that his father had been involved in.
As a little side note, just because of the proximity, the man who took over as captain from Rylance when he departed for America, is buried alongside him. It’s quite a coincidence