In Search of John Houlding

An article not intended to either praise or condemn John Houlding for the role he played in the decision made by Everton Football Club to move away from Anfield but an effort to try and throw some light on this “larger than life character” who played a big part in the establishing the game of Association Football in his home town of Liverpool.

Tomy Onslow 04/05/2016 19comments  |  Jump to last

This article is not intended to either praise or condemn John Houlding for the role he played in the decision made by Everton Football Club to move away from Anfield.  It is merely an effort to try and throw some light on this “larger than life” character who played a big part in the establishing the game of Association Football in his home town of Liverpool.

Local records reveal that John Houlding was baptised on 4th August 1833, at St Martin-in the-Field church and that he was the second of three sons born to Thomas Houlding, a cow keeper, and his wife Alice.  The family resided at 19 Tenderden Street where the income from Thomas Houlding’s occupation enabled him to provide his children with a good standard of education and a comfortable home in which to live.  

The 1851 census revealed that John Houlding was still living in Tenderden Street where, along with his younger brother William, he listed his occupation as “Auditing at home”. He then worked at several occupations before acquiring a job, and accommodation, at Davidson’s Brewery in 111-15 Soho Street, Liverpool. In 1856 he married Jane Lowe at St Peters church on Sackville Street in Everton. The marriage certificate tells us that Jane was also residing in Soho Street and that she was a farmer’s daughter who was born at Thornton.

The couple featured on the 1861 census living at 115 Soho Street and John now listed his occupation as that of a Brewery Manager. They had one daughter whose name was Alice. The 1871 census found the couple had now set up home at 17 Robson Street and they had three children. John Houlding had now opened his own Brewery at 34 Tynemouth Street and owned several outlets in the Breckfield Road area of Liverpool.  He had also expanded his social life by becoming the president of Everton Quoit’s club.

This sport was once quite popular amongst residents of the Mersey Seaport and several clubs were based in the Inns and Taverns on the outskirts of the area. The Everton Club were one of the leading organisations and played their home matches in the Grotto at the Cabbage Hall Tavern on Breck Road. The team was captained by Arthur Boylett, born in 1843 in Everton, who lived at 122 Hamilton Road and ran his own plumbing business. He was a member of the local Conservative Party and is listed, along with John Houlding, amongst vestry records of St Saviour’s church on Breckfield Road.

John Houlding was also a prominent member of Everton Cricket Club who played their home matches on Walton Breck Road. He had been, in his younger days, a keen cricketer himself and played for the Breckfield Club. His involvement in the Summer sport is confirmed by the following newspaper article that appeared when the Everton Club played hosts to the boys from the Bluecoat School in Liverpool…

The juvenile party were amply provided during their visit with substantial refreshments consisting of buns and milk, this department being efficiently superintended by Mr John Houlding.With rain setting in, the cricket match was not played out, but a variety of sports, including football and foot racers were entered in to with great zest. (Liverpool Courier 23 June 1871.)

This report confirms that some primitive form of football had now reached the shores of the Mersey and that John Lowe, the Brother-in-Law of John Houlding, played cricket for the Everton Club. It was at this location that these two men would have possibly first become acquainted with John Clarke and Thomas Evans, both experienced cricketers, and the foundations of an Association Football Club were laid to keep them entertained through the dark days of winter. Houlding then  became the president of the football section and John Lowe deputised in his absence. The club established their headquarters at the Queens Head Tavern before shifting to the Sandon Hotel.

This location was named in deference to the local conservative Member of Parliament, Lord Sandon, who was about to be elevated to the House of Lords. The property, which was owned by John Houlding, was home to the Everton Bowling Club and Arthur Boylett, along with John Lowe, were also prominent members of this organisation. Mr Houlding, president of the Bowling Club, had also been re-elected as president of Everton Football Club while John Lowe continued to deputise in his absence.  

The population of Liverpool, in the meantime, was still increasing and the census, released in 1881, revealed that it had now reached 552,000. (Only London had a larger population.) John Houlding now listed his occupation as that of a Building Contractor and Brewer while residing, within the Township of Walton-on-the Hill, at number 32 Anfield Road. In 1884 he oversaw the re-settlement of the football club to a field near his home where, eventually, he became their Landlord.

The 1891 census found the Houlding family had now moved to number 73 Anfield Road and Everton Football Club were about to defend their title as champions of the Football League. The campaign however, would be overshadowed by a lot of “off the field activity” with regard to the £250 ground rent that the football club were now requested to pay Houlding while Mr Orrell, who owned the adjacent land, also wanted them to pay him £130 if they wished to extended the ground. (Aston Villa, the next highest, were paying £175.) This request caused some anxiety amongst the club membership and an EGM was called. Mr William Barclay took the chair.

Mr Houlding was represented by John McKenna who was a recent appointee to the Everton board. Born in the Irish County of Monaghan, he had come to Liverpool as a youth to work in the Grocery Shop that was run by his uncle John McArdle at 53 Stanley Road in Kirkdale. He now held the position as Vaccination Officer with the West Derby Board of Guardians.

Mr Barclay, following a heated debate, informed the dissidents that they were wasting time complaining because Mr Houlding would not settle for a penny less than the price he was asking for. George Mahon, seconded by James Griffiths, then moved that the club should de-camp to Goodison Road and the resolution was carried by large majority.  A further resolution was then passed to instruct the solicitors to register the club and draw up the articles of association. John Houlding, however, did not want to relinquish the name of Everton.

He had been the president of Everton Cricket, Quoits and Bowling clubs and was not going to give up the football section without a fight. He called a meeting of his followers and it was decided to form a new company that was to be called Everton Football Club and Athletic Grounds. Houlding then took the train to London and registered the new company at Somerset House before going on to Chancery Lane where he attempted to register his new club with the FA. His actions angered the vast majority of the Everton membership who, after a series of meetings, finally gathered at a School Hall in Liverpool and passed a motion of no confidence in Mr Houlding and several other members of the board.

John Houlding, who made a surprise appearance, was allowed to address the gathering and attempted to justify his actions by suggesting that he wanted to extend the Anfield enclosure to include other sporting activities such as athletics and cycle racing.  (The home the Aston Villa club had already developed along these lines and Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, who were both planning to build a new enclosure, were hoping to do the same.) His words, however, fell on deaf ears and it soon became apparent that his days as president of the Everton Football Club were swiftly coming to an end. The proposal to accept the lease on the land on Goodison Road was then put to the meeting and only 18 people voted against it. The club then completed its list of Football League fixtures which came to an end with the defeat of Accrington at Anfield and then departed the location.

John Houlding had now relinquished all rights to the name of Everton and decided to form Liverpool Football Club. The FA committee then met on the 26th of April in Liverpool and the new name was added to their membership but application to join the Football League was rejected. George Mahon, who was present at the meeting, then put forward the case for compensation with regards to the Everton Club not being allowed to remove the stands and turnstiles from the Anfield ground and re-position them at Goodison Park. The FA committee refused permission to remove any item from what was now the home ground of the Liverpool club but ordered the new organisation to pay, in compensation, the sum of £250. The matter was then brought to an end.

John Houlding now set about building a new football team to occupy the vacant enclosure at Anfield and his side began life playing football in the Lancashire League. Mr Houlding eventually saw his team win the Football League championship in 1901 but his health was by then giving cause for concern. He took a trip to the South of France which he hoped would restore him to convalescence. However, during the second week of March 1902, his condition became so serious that his two children, William and Alice, were summoned to his bedside. Alderman Houlding gradually sank, and died on the morning of March the 18th in Nice. He was 70 years old. Tributes were paid to him in all the local newspapers when the sad news of his death reached Liverpool the next day…

Mr W Stewart, who occupied the bench at the City Police Court, was reported as saying… that he was very much shocked to hear of news which had just reached him of the death of John Houlding. The shock was doubled from the fact that none of them knew he was seriously ill.  He had always heard of him spoken of as “Honest John Houlding” and everyone who came in to contact with him found him to be honest to the backbone. It was a great loss to Liverpool, to which he devoted a very large portion of his life. (Liverpool Daily Post.)

Mr Houlding, since severing his links with the Everton Club, had become a chief magistrate and, in 1897-98, had occupied the office of Lord Mayor of Liverpool. He had, during the last years of his life, practically retired from business and partly devoted his leisure to continental travel. In private life he was a diligent student – a lover of literature – and an unusually good French scholar. His death was received with great sadness in the Everton area of Liverpool and thousands turned out to pay him their last respects.

Mr Houlding was no longer a parishioner of St Saviours and had spent the final years of his life worshipping at the church of St Simon and St Jude. The building, consecrated in 1897, stood not 50 yards from his home on Anfield Road and it was here that his funeral service took place on Friday the 21st of March. The mourners were led by his two children and three grandchildren. The congregation consisted of three Members of Parliament and many local Conservative Councillors of Liverpool. The other main political parties were also well represented. Mr Houlding was also a Freemason and a member of the Orange Order and many members from these respective organisations were present to pay their last respects. Dr James C Baxter, along with Abraham J Coates, attended the service on behalf of Everton Football Club for, despite their differences in the past, the two men had retained a healthy respect for each other.

Thousands of people lined the route when the cortege left church bound for Everton Cemetery in Fazackerley. Alderman John Houlding was laid to rest beside his wife Jane who had predeceased him by six years. The crowds then dispersed.

A most fitting epitaph, with which to end this article, was written by an unnamed journalist who worked for a Bolton-based sports paper…

The demise of John Houlding, the ex-mayor of Liverpool, will be a serious loss to Mersey football, and particularly to the present holders of the League title. Without his help that club would have been practically an impossibility. It is all very well to say that the man who refused to go with “rebelling” Evertonians would have had a club whether Mr John Houlding had ever been with them or not, but the point is whether they would had ever been able to secure the team which took them to the head of the Lancashire League – which at the time – 10 years ago – was a veritable power – and then trust them in to Division One from a lower chamber.

 I know something of the circumstances, and have no hesitation in saying that the golden help which came from Mr Houlding alone enabled them to get their men, and keep their ground, and “face the racket” until they finally established themselves. It might also be ventured that there have been moments since when only the same willingness to help has enabled the now famous reds to tide over the recurring tides of ill-fortune which has come upon them.

We may not all agree as to the certainty of Mr Houldings methods. We may differ in principle from what some have alleged was “behind the friendship”, but when he gets his due he stands forth as the man who made 1st class football possible in the city of shipping years earlier than would otherwise have been the case.

One of the issues raised during the quarrel which led to the separation of the Everton footballers has been settled on lines which at the time did not seem probable, but have made for the strengthening and betterment of the game. Time was when licensed premises were the only resort – or practically the only resort – of our big clubs. Teams dressed in public houses, committees met there, players foregathered there for instruction and during training. Now our clubs keep far away from this sort of thing as they can and change in the best interest of all concerned. The association and the league have had much to do with the change and clubs must now have dressing rooms on the ground. 

This was one of the points at issue in Liverpool, 10 years ago, and the decision in this respect has done much to raise the tone of the game and lessen the temptation which environs it to the young. (Football Field, 22 March 1902.)

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Reader Comments (19)

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John Audsley
1 Posted 04/05/2016 at 19:46:28
Wonderful article, it's always a highlight to read this kind of stuff.

Beats RMs daft soundbites everytime.

I take my hat off to you sir!

Jack Convery
2 Posted 04/05/2016 at 21:31:16
There's a TV drama in this story – someone with the expertise needs to take this on.

A great article – Thanks.

Mick Davies
3 Posted 04/05/2016 at 22:20:45
A Tory, Orange Order member and a Freemason! Nice to see we're a lot more enlightened in our City region now... or are we?
Damian Wilde
4 Posted 04/05/2016 at 00:09:06
Great article, really interesting to hear all this history.

The founder of Liverpool a Tory Orange Lodge member, no wonder they are what they're like now!

Peter Carpenter
5 Posted 04/05/2016 at 00:09:07
So, if Houlding had got his way the team playing Villarreal tomorrow at Anfield would be playing in blue and called Everton and we would all be moaning about a team in another colour with a different name, maybe even Liverpool?

No hard feelings but may I wish the 'recurring tides of ill-fortune' to wash over them tomorrow night like a tidal wave.

Jack Mason
6 Posted 05/05/2016 at 00:20:32
Excellent article, thanks for that.
John Roberts
7 Posted 05/05/2016 at 00:41:17
Terrific post.

Great to read historical articles about the development of the sport in Liverpool – particularly for myself who was born in Everton and lived in Anfield before departing at age 10 for pastures greener.

Dan Davies
8 Posted 05/05/2016 at 00:44:07
C'mon now Mick hush hush. We don't want to be embarrassing the hierarchy at the next Lodge meeting now. Hmmmm.....?
Gerry Morrison
9 Posted 05/05/2016 at 01:45:46
Great stuff Tony. Well done.
Eugene Ruane
10 Posted 05/05/2016 at 10:50:48
Another terrific and genuinely fascinating piece Tony.

Whenever I see you've posted, I think I'll save that 'til I've got ten mins and I can throw the kettle on, grab the digestives and really enjoy it (hard to do that with a 'JUST FUCKING GO MARTINEZ!' rant)

By the way after reading your post, it occurred to me that in 1850-ish, it hadn't been decided (by the public) which games would become national obsessions and which...wouldn't.

"You goin' ye match?"

"Naar, goin' the bowlin' - football's shite"

Strange to think had 'quoits' been a game with more appeal (rather than none) the 1970s could have seen quoits hoolies roaming the country every Saturday.

We could have had 'The County Rd Quoiters'

(I'll get me quoit...COAT!)

Brent Stephens
11 Posted 05/05/2016 at 10:59:42
"We could have had 'The County Rd Quoiters'"

They were actually founded in the 1960's but had to withdraw not long after - Quoiters Interruptus. Too warm for a coat, but...

Bob McEvoy
12 Posted 06/05/2016 at 07:06:40
Always enjoy your stuff Tony... must sdmit didn't realise he was such a self made man but the Orange lodge managed to confirm my prejudice
Tony Onslow
13 Posted 06/05/2016 at 11:01:05
Eugene/Brent, nice to see the genuine , and unprofessional, Liverpool sense of humour is still alive and kicking. County Road Quoiters, brilliant, wished I had thought of that. Mind you I would not like to see one of those large horseshoe shaped lumps of metal whizzing through the air at a local Derby game.
Chris Regan
14 Posted 06/05/2016 at 11:21:29
Very interesting, so they had to pay us compensation when we left. I'll remember that when some RS gob merchant starts going on about couldn't pay the rent.
Dennis Stevens
15 Posted 06/05/2016 at 13:15:05
Great read, as always, Tony. It seems to me, from reading various bits & pieces over the years, that the split owed more than a little to the divide between the Tories & Liberals, often also a divide between brewers/publicans & those who favoured abstinence. Otherwise, Liverpool would have been a one club city - but then again, maybe Everton would have become the Newcastle United of the North West! Perhaps it's that local rivalry that has been key to success of both clubs & part of the reason that Liverpool is the only city never to have had to do without top flight football.
Alan J Thompson
16 Posted 07/05/2016 at 11:16:15
It's great to read the history and to see how things have moved on and wonder what's to come.
Second largest city! What happened and who is responsible? Reminds me of the city being asked to enlarge the Airport but we didn't want the noise and declining to build a container terminal as it would never catch on. At the turn of the 20th century only London had more millionaires than Liverpool. Dare we ask; where are they now?
Don Alexander
17 Posted 07/05/2016 at 22:23:28
Word to the wise Brent, your comments'll be having me classified as a fawner if they make me smile as Eugene does (........but only on occasion "E"!) Behave yourself sir(s)!
Brent Stephens
18 Posted 07/05/2016 at 22:42:14
Don, aye aye, sir.
Peter Mills
19 Posted 10/05/2016 at 21:55:44
I went on a very nice little crawl around some city centre pubs last Friday, it was fascinating to see the Houlding Breweries frosted glass window in the front door of Ye Cracke.

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