As promised, we’re going to pop back to just before Rylance disappeared off to America for our next stop and continue with the story.
Born – 1842, Caversham, Oxfordshire
Died – 21st April 1891
Using the Cemetery Map.
The Southport Cricket Club ground on Manchester Road was lost for housing in 1875 and the club had one troubled year at Scarisbrick New Road, near to here before disappearing until 1883, when our friends Joseph Allured and Thomas Burnett were part of a small group of people attempting its revival.
It restarted on the recreation grounds near to the Olympic football field, where Falkland Road and Rutland Road currently stand, but lasted only until 1888.
They chose the Treasurer of Southport Football Club to be the new captain of Southport Cricket Club in 1883…and that man was William Conell.
William was a well-known local journalist, but many people didn’t actually know his name.
Born in Caversham Oxfordshire he became an actor in London and through his stage career became good friends with Charles Dickens and also the greatest showman, P.T.Barnum, who has his own links to Southport through his second wife Nancy Fish.
His first introduction to the press came in London writing articles on theatre production but he first came to the attention of the Southport public when he was promoted to the permanent staff of the Southport Visiter, becoming an assistant reporter in 1873, writing under the pseudonym “The Sandgrounder”.
He became the editor of Southport Visiter and held that post for 10 years, before moving to become the editor of the Southport News and then later the Southport Standard.
It is therefore because of the work this man did that we know so much today about the early years of sport in the town.
Its no surprise given his background that he was a prominent member of the Southport Amateur Dramatic Society but he was also a member of Athletic Society, often acting as a judge at the towns big athletic festivals, and did many years good work for the Ratepayers Association, the Company-house Keepers Association and Licensed Victuallers Association.
Sadly, despite being good at looking after other people’s finances, he was poor at looking after his own and he was considered a bankrupt in 1886.
Struggling with the weight of his troubles it is believed that he took his own life by drinking prussic acid whilst on the train home from London in 1891, being found dead upon arrival at Lord Street Station. The ticket collector who took his ticket from him at Birkdale Palace Station had said he had assumed him to just be asleep.
Upon his death he was described as one of the most popular men in Southport, a bright, clever and genial man. Edward Bland, also a local journalist, whom some of you will know as the author of the annals of Southport, had been a good friend of William for 17 years and described his death as quite unexpected having never shown any signs of wanting to end his life.
Due to his many financial troubles he unfortunately had been unable to leave anything for his wife, so the town rallied round and a large meeting was held to raise funds for her. His last message to his wife upon leaving London had been a telegram to say “It was all right”.
One year before Conells death in 1890, with the original cricket club having stopped playing a couple of years earlier, the Alexandra Cricket Club changed its name and became known as Southport Cricket Club. Alexandra taking on the name of a former club that had died is actually not unusual in our story as you’ll soon discover.
Southport Cricket Club and Birkdale Cricket Club combined to become the Southport & Birkdale Cricket Club in 1902, playing out of the same Trafalgar Road home that they still use today. We’re now going to pick up the rugby story again.