BRIDGWATER Town FC club secretary Kerry Miller takes a look at a time when the local sporting scene was beginning to flex its muscles, and new leagues were springing up amid much social upheaval.

The spring and summer of 1911 was as chaotic around the country as anything previously, with a seemingly never-ending list of rail crashes and strikes, a drought which ruined vast swathes of crops and caused an apple shortage, and a long and painful list of brave new aviators who perished in the pursuit of advancement.

Most devastating of all was the outbreak of foot and mouth disease which ravaged the countryside, and caused immense hardship to many communities already struggling under harsh times.

On the local sporting scene Bridgwater AFC were still playing, although largely ignored by most, and their AGM at the Kings Arms on West Quay was again very poorly attended.

Those who bothered heard that the first team had played 30 and won 11 of their Weston League, Highbridge League and friendly games, while the reserves won 12 of 23 - a big improvement on the season before, when neither side won a game.

They carried a deficit of 25/- for the campaign but the meeting was adjourned as another new secretary was required, and they needed to rubber stamp the return to the Westonzoyland Road ground at Redgate.

That ground had not improved but the docks ground at Chilton Street was not available, which meant a change of HQ to the Crown Inn in St John Street.

With neither league starting early, they played friendlies at first, fielding a range of new players, but most eyes were on Bridgwater Thursday FC and the two rugby clubs.

In September Old Morganians FC were formed to play friendlies and cup ties, and they were to shine brightly locally for a brief period, no doubt assisted by a lively and articulate correspondent and a malleable newspaper editor.

Bridgwater RFC’s early season was no less traumatic on many levels, as the first team’s trip to the South Wales valleys to play Blaenavon unravelled in impressive style.

At the time, travel over from Somerset was either a laborious trek by train or, for those with funds, a steamboat from Weston-super-Mare.

The rugby players took the latter option, which involved a train to Weston, boat to Cardiff and then another train up the valley from the pier to play the game.

The trip itself and the game were negotiated, but then the meticulous plans made by the secretary went astray in dramatic fashion as the return train to the pier was half an hour late, meaning the boat was missed.

By the time they reached Weston, the last train to Bridgwater had gone at 10.45pm, leaving the entire bedraggled squad - sore of body from rugby and head from ale - to doss down for the night in the waiting room, arriving home at 8am.

Far more tragic was the news soon after that two young players from the club had died in a week, with Harry Bell - a 28-year-old forward and son of a local mariner - passing away just a day after appearing with the Cavaliers of Charles II at carnival.

Just days later came the news that 20-year-old centre three-quarter Bill Heysham had also passed away, a day after beginning a new job in the town.

Heysham lived with his family in West Street and had just made the first team squad, but succumbed to a bout of epilepsy.

Such was the strength of the handling game at that point, a number of Bridgwater-based men made their debuts for the county that season, including Robert Wade-Gery, Jimmy Jarvis, Bert Gunningham, Arthur Spriggs and Frank Dibble, younger brother of international Bob.

Spriggs was the 20-year-old son of widowed Elizabeth, lived at 110 Bristol Road and was an iron founder when not gracing the rugby field.

The soccer scene, meanwhile, was in the much the same state as previous seasons, holding the coat tails of its bigger rugby brothers, and the ‘town’ team had reluctantly been forced to set up home again at Redgate’s mudheap pitch.

There were some decent results, with a list of men having played growing weekly, with the likes of W Sandy, T Redstone, B Shapter, T Cave, F Manning, FJ Gurney, GH Cox, JW Toms, Bill King, Eddie Wheller, J Yerbury, J Reckless, G and E Slocombe and MJ Eaton just a few.

The opposition, however, was somewhat less daunting than that which was offered further north in the county, with Camden United, Puriton, Wedmore, Brent United and North Curry providing minor cannon fodder, while Radstock Town, Wells City, Paulton Rovers, Street and Glastonbury blazed a trail in and around the North Somerset coalfields area.

One constant emerged from that season, in that as the new year came and went, the sporadic match reports for the town side referred to them as ‘the Robins’ and despite a number of reconstituted clubs rising and falling during the following 110 years, the proud Robin is still at the forefront of the town club.

It was hoped that the proposed Bridgwater & District Junior League would inspire enthusiasm, and Bridgwater AFC’s new secretary Doug Amber called a meeting at the Crown Inn to found the new league, which had a dozen clubs interested.

A 12-mile radius from the town centre was set and there was also speculation of a Bridgwater Thursday League to rival the county town version.

It was agreed that two six-team divisions would provide two finalists for a play-off for the cup.

In February, there was another sporting proposal which was greeted with even more optimism, as the first ever Bridgwater Skittles League was formed, again at the Crown Inn.

On Valentine’s Day 1912 a whole raft of inns, pubs and hotels with alleys entered the league, which was promised up-to-date results, league table and report in the Mercury every week.

The paper was true to its word, while the football world looked on with envy.

The first combatants were the Alexandra Hotel, Bath Bridge Inn, Cross Rifles, Crown Inn, Compass Inn, Cottage Inn (North St), Brewery Club, North Pole, Nags Head, Steam Packet, Mariner’s Arms, Halswell Inn, Malt Shovel and the British Flag.

Next week, Bridgwater Thursday FC embark on their double winning season, and the re-emergence of the medals awarded to one of the squad leads to a fascinating trail from Bridgwater to Chatham via Probus in Cornwall.

Readers are welcome to contact Kerry with any memorabilia or stories connected to sporting personalities mentioned in the series. Email