J. A. Mangan, in particular, has shown that eventual enthusiasm for modern ‘English’ games in Europe was far from being a European phenomenon. The global interest in modern games, in general, as every social historian now knows, was inspired, initially, in large measure, by the English public school. A host of former public schoolboys, and others, took athleticism or the ‘games ethic’, as it was also called, to every corner of the Empire and indeed, elsewhere. The imperial ‘gospel of games’ for many of them constituted a self-imposed moral imperative. Many of these men: ‘had a view of education that was not only national but also imperial. They saw it as their duty to give a lead to the imperial world.’This receives ever increasing attention.  However, what has been far less well recorded is the fact that there were men who had received an elementary school education, who were imbued with the same late Victorian and Edwardian certainty in the value of athleticism and who had an impact in imperial places. And one of the ways in which elementary schoolteachers, with others, spread its message was by creating touring clubs that travelled the globe. One of the first and most successful, animated by an elementary schoolteacher, was Middlesex Wanderers.

The Wanderers were founded in 1905, but trace their roots back to the nineteenth century and the British [from being in receipt of grant aid from the British and Foreign School Society] Elementary School in Richmond.  In 1887, James Lancaster, who had trained at Borough Road in 1885, was appointed headteacher, after two years as an assistant teacher in Saltham, Norfolk. It was his first headship. Lancaster was a strong devotee of athleticism, and for this reason, a forceful believer in games rather than drill in the elementary school. He once boasted, in an interview for the Richmond Herald: ‘I introduced…football to the schoolboys of Richmond … a healthy game is recognised by the Education Department as one of the best forms of physical exercise.’Lancaster added that when he first arrived at the school he ‘… took some of the older boys onto the Richmond Green to play soccer, and that was, he believed, the first time a soccer ball had been seen in Richmond.’ Lancaster took this to heart. He also introduced cricket, and was acknowledged by the local Richmond Herald at the turn of the century as one ‘whose heart is in the profession [who] has, moreover, gained for himself the reputation of a man whose interest in the boys under his charge does not cease after they leave their desks. He leads them on to the football and cricket field and then guides their sports with friendly criticism and judicious encouragement.’Robert Alaway, his pupil in the 1890s, later recalled: ‘From the first he was a great believer in sports, with physical fitness and sterling moral qualities as the end in view.’

Lancaster in his inculcation of a love of football in his pupils was practical as well as idealistic. ‘In the late 80’s and 90’s the home soccer international was invariably played at Kennington Oval. Mr. Lancaster always organised a party of boys from the school on these occasions and personally escorted them to the match.’He established an athletics club to fund his school’s fixtures with two thirds of the cost coming from school funds and boys’ subscription making up the remainder. He supplemented these sources on occasion by fundraising. The school log book records: ‘The school was closed on Wednesday afternoon to allow for an entertainment for the benefit of the school football team.’The money was put to good use. In April 1895, he noted that at the half yearly meeting of the athletics club: ‘nearly £7 has been spent during the football season and over £23 during the past two years.’.

His pragmatism was revealed in other ways. Lancaster understood the power of the visual image as a reminder of past, and as an inspiration to future achievements. He took pains to establish a photographic legacy of success. For example, the school log book states: ‘In the afternoon the boys who took part in the recent cricket and swimming competitions were photographed.’ He had no shortage of photo opportunities. In October, 1899 he recorded with justifiable pride: ‘At the Castle Assembly Rooms yesterday evening J. Stewart-Cox Esq., M.P. presented the prizes … in conjunction with the Richmond and District Elementary Schools Athletics Association. The Richmond British School received the Broad Challenge Cup for Cricket and twelve medals, the Newman Challenge Cup for swimming and four medals, several prizes gained in swimming competitions [and] four football caps connected with Corinthian fixtures.’

James Lancaster, Headteacher British Vineyard Elementary School 1887-1917

Lancaster had his own educational priorities and whatever the accepted practice, he was not tardy in asserting them in the face of official policy. Two illustrations must suffice. On the 8th September 1892, he ‘closed the school an hour earlier… This enabled the boys to play their match for the borough Challenge Shield.’ while in November, 1894, he decided that, ‘This being the first fine day we have had in some time I gave the boys a run in the afternoon.’  Furthermore, his boys trained after school, but also during school.

Lancaster revealed his personal independence and pedagogical commitment to sport in other ways. When important fixtures were played nearby he would alter school hours to allow the boys to watch. In January 1896 the log records: ‘The school opened at 1pm and closed at 3.20 this afternoon as many of the boys had expressed a wish to attend the match Surrey v Devon’ and in February 1900 a log book entry stated, ‘Tomorrow, Shrove Tuesday, the afternoon session will commence at 12.50 to allow the boys to leave early in the afternoon to witness the football match Richmond v Windsor Schools.’ Promotion of school morale was a major purpose on this occasion: ‘Three of our boys are taking part in the game. Our school team has been nominated to compete for the London Schools’ Championship the first round of which will be played on Saturday next.’ His single mindedness in pursuit of success was not restricted to sport. He was proud of the fact that his boys were frequent recipients of County Council Scholarships. Furthermore, he ran a well-attended evening school.  He informed the Richmond Herald in 1899 that the school had taken part in all the scholastic competitions the county offered and had won both scholarships and exhibitions.

Lancaster pursued success in sport tenaciously with both altruistic and less altruistic motives. Sporting success could enhance both his and his school’s status. In 1901, he wrote in the log, ‘The school team won the match on Saturday last when Ealing Wesleyan Higher Grade School lost at Richmond by 5 to 2. This is the first time [emphasis added] that any Richmond school has entered Round Two of the competition.’ A year later the school went one better reaching the semi-final of the London Schools’ Championship losing then to Page Green School in Tottenham. For a school of two hundred and fifty boys this was no mean feat. Page Green, founded by the Tottenham School Board in 1882 had a roll of 1,600 in its boys, girls and infant departments in 1900 and ‘gained a reputation for football, cricket and athletics from the late 1890s first locally…then more widely, with particular success at football in L.S.F.A. competitions. The latter included winning the individual schools championships of London [the Dewar Shield] in 1900/01 and 1901/02.’ Richmond British school lost to it in 1902 but made its mark in elementary school circles. Further recognition came when one of the team represented London Schools v Edinburgh Schools in Edinburgh the following month.

Lancaster was an elementary school headteacher at the apectic moment of imperial confidence, pride and success when: ‘propagandists of imperialism’ motivated by the territorial expansion of the 1880s and 1890s ‘turned their attention to elementary education. Their aim was to give the nation’s children a sense of patriotic mission and a level of physical fitness which would enable them to sustain Britain’s position in the world with all that that entailed.’Furthermore, ‘The moulding of young minds in favour of the imperial ideal was to be achieved in part by the slanting of school syllabuses so as to link them with the idea of colonial expansion.’

As an enthusiastic imperialist Lancaster needed no persuading on both counts. He would have applauded this retrospective view: ‘Empire had the power to regenerate not only the “barbarian” world, but also the British themselves, to raise them from the gloom and apprehension of the latter nineteenth century and by creating a national purpose a high moral content lead to class inculcation.’  Patriotic verse was a regular feature of his class poetry sessions,  the school contributed to the English Education Exhibition at the Imperial Institute , lantern lectures on the imperial armed forces were an occasional highlight of the pupils’ day. His pupils’ physical fitness programme with imperial activities to the fore was exemplary for the time.

‘In the upsurge of patriotism following the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899…’ Pamela Horn has written: ‘…maps of South Africa were prominently displayed…’ In the words of one schoolboy of the time, Horn captures above the appeal imperial dramas had for pupils: ‘“We loved to read about the soldiers fighting in South Africa…The relief of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley were great days for us, a half holiday,”’ Lancaster rode the wave. His log records on March 2nd 1900 ‘A half-day holiday was given yesterday afternoon to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith. The boys are much interested in the doings of our troops in South Africa.’It comes as no surprise either that when the Boer War broke out Lancaster made certain that his pupils were actively involved in the ‘war effort’. ‘A collection in aid of the War Fund and the Royal Hospital Richmond … is being liberally supported.’ Other support was organised: ‘A small entertainment in aid of the funds already mentioned was held in the evening and the proceeds were added to the sum already collected. In all we received £6 and 2/3rds has been sent to the Surrey Fund for Soldiers’ families, the remaining 1/3rd having been given to the local hospital.’ Lancaster encouraged visits from Old Boys who had enlisted. A log entry for January 13th is typical: ‘An Old Boy, H. Humphries visited the school in the dress of a member of Pajet’s Horse. He leaves for South Africa during the week. Another Old Boy, F. Wallard is also going out as a member of Baden-Powell’s Police.’ Lancaster, without question, did his utmost to ensure that his boys, present and past, ‘did their bit’ for the empire.

The claim has been made that the imperial ideal ‘was reinforced in elementary schools in three ways: through the efforts of concerned propagandists and proselytisers; through the manipulation of the curriculum; and through ritualistic and symbolic acts. This triple assault on the hearts and minds of the nation’s schoolchildren was concerted and…successful.’  This was certainly the case at the Richmond British school. The school scheme of work for 1907 included: ‘Geography- leading to a general knowledge of the earth and its peoples, and a more detailed knowledge of the British Isles, Europe and the British Dominions beyond the seas. History- Lives of Great Men and the lessons learned thereof and a knowledge of the great events of English history. Lessons on citizenship.’ In addition, the school over and above the imperial gestures described earlier, subscribed to the Empire Day Movement. On 27th May 1907, Lancaster described one Empire Day: ‘On Friday 24th the boys met at school at 10.15am. They were addressed by the Rev. Renton Barry. Afterwards the scholars marched to the town hall to join with other elementary schools of Richmond in celebrating Empire Day.’  In addition to the visits of imperial local heroes and attendance at imperial celebrations the curriculum continuously stressed glorious imperial moments. The exploits of heroes were keenly followed not least the archetypical Englishman ‘Scott of the Antarctic’: ‘At the close of morning session the boys read Psalm 90 and heard the story of Captain Scott read to them.’Some three years later: ‘Mr. Green a member of the Shackleton Expedition…told the senior Boys of some of his experiences.’ Lancaster’s pride in the empire, his keenness to share this pride with his pupils and his efforts to ensure their fitness, moral and physical, to ensure its success have been stressed above for a single purpose. These aspects of his headship coalesced into a personal endeavour to promote the virtues of England and Empire now to be discussed.

In 1891 Lancaster established an Old Boys’ Football Club. It was a logical extension of his Hughesian principles and was made up exclusively of ‘ex-pupils of the British school whose Headmaster James Lancaster believed in the concept of a healthy body and a healthy mind and actively encouraged participation in team games’  – after schooldays as well as during schooldays. Restriction to former pupils proved to be impractical. It became increasingly difficult to match the opposition so in 1898 the club went ‘open’ and changed its name to Richmond Old Boys. Then in 1901, in a further attempt to attract good players and thus to improve its performance, the club became Richmond Town Association F. C. It toured France playing matches in Roubaix and Calais. However, in doing so it overstretched its financial resources and disbanded. The remnants of the club joined the Old Palace, another local side. It seemed that Lancaster’s ambitions for his boys and himself had come to an end.

Richmond Old Boys, 1901.

However, two brothers, Robert [always known as Bob] and Horace Alaway, former pupils of the British school, who had been closely involved from the beginning in the original club’s development, in 1905 gave new life to Lancaster’s seemingly extinct ambition. Bob held a meeting at his parents’ house: ‘to form a club known as Richmond Town Wanderers and I was asked to arrange a tour of France for the following Easter.’ The idea was to organise one trip abroad as a kind of swansong: ‘But the meeting laid the foundation of a great club which was destined to carry on the great missionary work commenced by Richmond Old Boys and to greatly influence the further development of the game in Europe’ claimed Alaway, who continued, ‘I would go further. It fashioned the game abroad.’  It was an impressive, even grandiose, claim, but it was not without substance. Alaway neither overlooked nor forgot the club’s progenitor. In an appreciation of Lancaster on his death in 1938 he declared: ‘It is more than of passing interest to recall the first tour, made at Easter 1901, to France, when the game was practically unknown on the continent. James Lancaster travelled as “father” of the party, and little did he or anyone else realise what a great influence the club was to have on the development of “Soccer” abroad.’ Due to Lancaster’s vision, he added, ‘Richmond Town Association F.C. was formed, and from this grew the Middlesex Wanderers’ F.C., an amateur organisation which is world famous having made nearly fifty foreign tours, a record unsurpassed by any other British football club.’

W. Capel-Kirby, author of The Mighty Kick. Romance, History and Humour of Football, was to write in the 1930s: ‘The Middlesex Wanderers are so important in presenting Amateur Football abroad they deserve more than a passing reference. Their playing members are also worthy of mention, particularly as they are the envy of all full blooded amateurs anxious to secure a place by their side in a match on the Continent.’ Originating from a club, he continued ‘who conceived the idea of devoting themselves to enhancing the knowledge and reputation of the sport abroad, [they] were the first Englishmen ever to play in the majority of the leading Continental towns, but where they did exceptionally fine work was in visiting the smaller towns and villages where the game was little known.’ Lancaster, an elementary schoolteacher, was the inspiration for this ‘exceptionally fine work’.

The club toured Europe every year, but increasingly found the opposition too good! In 1911, for example, on a two game tour in Belgium, the club scored two goals and conceded thirteen. Consequently, the decision was taken to widen the catchment area to cover Middlesex and to affiliate with the Middlesex County Football Association. Now the club ‘was to exist solely for the purpose of touring and playing occasional matches at home: the qualification for membership was county or equivalent representative honours.’Although the Wanderers were ‘crack’ players, the early tours were amateur affairs in the fullest meaning of the term: ‘Some of their earlier excursions abroad were more in the nature of picnics because of their superiority over their rivals in the matter of technique, which was little known to the Continental clubs in those days.’  Indeed in the early days, the Wanderers had a rule that scoring should stop after the ninth goal and the player or players responsible for adding a tenth should be penalised and have to pay for the evening’s drinks and entertainment. However, as the opposition improved, the tours became altogether more serious propositions as the tour of Holland proved in 1932 with ten games in a fortnight against its best teams. One of the players on the tour was J. C. Burns. He trained as an elementary schoolteacher at St Mary’s College, Twickenham and enjoyed a glittering football career. An England Amateur International winning sixteen caps and captaining the side he also played for London Caledonians, Corinthians, Queens Park Rangers and Brentford.

J. C. Burns St. Mary’s College,

London Caledonians, Corinthians, Queens Park Rangers and Brentford.

The Wanderers still exists and has been on over one hundred tours- to Europe, the Empire and beyond – indeed to all parts of the world. The club acknowledged its debt to Lancaster when he was Guest of Honour at the club’s thirtieth anniversary dinner in 1935 with over three hundred and fifty being present. W. A. Hill, an Olympic runner, proposed a toast to Lancaster’s health and informed those present that, ‘it was under Mr. Lancaster’s guidance that the club was started…’ Horace Alaway also recalled that ‘the Wanderers were started by Mr. Lancaster who had gone to Richmond fifty years ago took his boys to play football … at the foot of Queen’s Road and sowed the seeds of what proved to be a very fruitful tree.’  To mark the occasion Lancaster was presented with a gold medal – the only one the club ever struck, as a measure of his importance to it and its global mission.

Harold Perkin once observed, ‘The history of societies is reflected more vividly in the way they spend their leisure than in their politics or work,’  and he added, ‘Sport in particular is much more than a pastime or recreation. It is an integral part of a society’s culture, an expression of its ideal man [and woman] hood, in pursuit of the ends of life rather than the means, an activity one really wants to do with one’s whole self unforced by the constraints of economic necessity or the state.’ Perkin’s words have a poignant relevance to Lancaster. On his death in 1938, Bob Alaway recalled: ‘James Lancaster was a great advocate of the open-air, and not only preached the Gospel of a healthy mind in a healthy body, but applied his ideas in a very practical manner by devoting most of his leisure time to teaching and giving instruction to his pupils in manly… sports. As a result, his is a unique legacy as lodestar teacher at the Richmond ‘British’ School and as administrator of a world famous touring club which has criss-crossed the globe promoting fair play and fellowship through sport. Directly and indirectly, the Wanderers represents several ideological strands woven together: the influence of athleticism on the elementary school, the part the elementary school teacher played in nurturing this among pupils; his role in its global diffusion.And the intermediary was association football. In summary, Middlesex Wanderers was one of the earliest English touring sides; it became the most successful, it grew out of an elementary school old boys’ team, and its primum mobile was an elementary school headteacher.





Middlesex Wanderers on tour in Japan, 2005.