Hull City AFCorigins and early history


Ben Crompton

Events involving Ben Crompton some five years after his departure from Hull City in 1904 have shaped perceptions of his (and his associates’) role in the formation of the club. Although there was a gap of several years between his exit and the first published account of the club’s origin, it was still recent enough to influence the writing of the story of the club, and by extension, all subsequent versions who took this text as a faithful chronicle of the club’s start (which is more or less all of them). In effect, this means the club’s formation may well have been deliberately portrayed as a joint and equal endeavour or communal effort, whereas this impression has been created to minimise any bad publicity for the club. It is not unreasonable to assume this version distorts and reduces the major role of the main contributors (Levitt, Andrews & associates), denying them due credit and their rightful place in history.

The share prospectus of the newly- formed Hull City AFC Co. Ltd. published in the local press in September 1904 lists the directors of the enterprise and includes their addresses. Frederick Arnold Levitt, furnisher and decorator resides at 17 Washington Street and his near neighbour Ben Crompton, FCIS, lives at 29 Washington Street (which is also the Registered Office of the new club). They live six houses apart down the same Beverley Road street and this typifies the close local ties between some of the younger founders.

Crompton had been an ally of Levitt for several years since they pooled their talents in running football teams. They had both been secretaries of north Hull amateur teams, arranging fixtures, registering players and renting pitches in the football world of Hull in the late 1800s. If their paths had not crossed previously living in the streets at the southern end of Beverley Road, they certainly did as football secretaries.

Crompton (with younger brother Harold) became associated with Hull Brunswick club in the 1896 season as secretary, on their Newland Park Estate pitch on Cottingham Road. His address at the time was 102, St. Paul’s Street. The average age of this team was 15. Fred Levitt’s Harlequins also used the same venue for his team’s matches around the same time. Crompton, like many young footballers of the time also played cricket in the summer months, turning out for Ramblers (formerly Hull Bethel CC) for several years. One of these games saw Rovers (featuring Mark Andrews) playing Ramblers (featuring Crompton) on the 12th August 1901 on the former’s pitch on Anlaby Road – another example of how the paths of several founders continued to cross on the playing fields of the Third Port.

In July 1899, Hull’s Eastern Morning News announced that some members of the little-known “Comet” Cycling Club were to form a football club, presumably to occupy themselves during the winter months and enjoy the benefits of starting an enterprise with like-minded friends. Committee members were (among others) Mark Andrews and Henry Hay. Fred Levitt was vice-captain of the 1st team, Ernest Frost was vice-captain of the second team and Crompton was to be the secretary. Both Crompton and Levitt were playing for Comet in Hull and District League Division Two, Levitt in goal and Crompton wearing the number 6 shirt, the team playing their home games on the Newland Park Estate. Ernest Frost and the Hay brothers also turned out for this side. The 1900-01 season seems to have been the swansong for Crompton’s footballing exploits with just one appearance as centre-half. By his inclusion in the structure of the club, it is evident that Crompton was a trusted associate of Levitt, Andrews and the Frosts.

Crompton’s focus seems to have become the running of football clubs, specifically as secretary. In August 1900 (now living at Park Row, Park Street) he is appointed hon. Secretary of the Hull Comet A.FC., for whom Fred Levitt is vice-president and also vice-captain of the first team. A contemporary newspaper report of September 1899 mentions Crompton attending a meeting of the “Hull Times” Charity Cup Competition Committee at the offices of J.F. Haller (who ironically would replace him five years later as Hull City secretary). Also in the room that evening was Alf Spring. Crompton is becoming a known figure in local football circles as well as establishing links with leading local football administrators.

Crompton’s father Alfred was a wine and spirit merchant who had at least seven children with his wife Louisa, and their home was Margaret Street off Beverley Road in the 1891 census. Ten years later the family are now resident in Brook Street in Hull’s crowded city-centre. Alfred Crompton is now a pawnbroker, some of his children work in the family pawnbroking business , but oldest son Arthur works as a shipowner’s clerk while Ben works as commission agent clerk for Sommerfield & Mead, Coal, Sand and Stone Merchants at their Princes Dockside office. Ben Crompton displays an aptitude for secretarial work and gains his FCIS qualification, having passed his bookkeeping certificate exam in 1896, together with brother Arthur.

Crompton marries in Goole in 1901 and little is heard of him in a football context until he appears as one of the 16 directors of Hull City in June 1904, as club secretary. His marriage and family life appear to have occupied his energies, and his name disappears from view. There is no record of any involvement with Hessle AFC in 1903/4 unlike Levitt, Andrews, the Hays and the Frosts, who had all joined the club after the demise of the original Hull City in the summer of 1903.

His tenure as secretary of the newly-formed 1904 Hull City lasts long enough for him to be photographed on the historic picture taken by Bob Watson of the players and directors before the inaugural fixture against Notts County on 1st September 1904, a slight moustachioed figure seated on the far right of the front row. On 13th September chairman William Gilyott announces that Crompton has left the club due to ‘pressure of private business’ and was unable to see his way to continue in that position. A letter held in the archives of Hull History Centre to Charles Savage , the secretary of Hull Kingston Rovers, is a rare surviving item from his two and half months as secretary of the club. Dated August 12th 1904 and hand-written on unheaded paper, Crompton states that neither he nor his fellow directors know from where the ‘most absurd article’ in a newspaper report last evening originated. The article in question had stated that City had rejected the chance to play at Rovers’ Craven Park ground in favour of using the Boulevard ground of Rovers’ rivals Hull FC. The letter is early evidence of the code and club rivalry that was now becoming established in the city and was written from City’s then HQ – Crompton’s home on Washington Street off Beverley Road. Above Crompton’s signature is an ink pad stamp of Hull City AFC.

Crompton’s time at the club had lasted just ten weeks and two games, and his low-key departure was just another brief news item in a rapidly-evolving early growth phase of the club which merited barely a mention. His work at Sommerfield and Mead, and his growing family (there were by now 4 small Crompton children) shifted his focus away from football activities. By 1908, the Crompton family have left their terraced house at 29 Washington Street and are living at 2 Coltman Street, a prestigious Hull address, at the Anlaby Road end of the long street full of wealthy Victorian houses and villas. This prosperous domestic existence was soon to be shattered by events at the end of the following year.

Ben Crompton was still employed as a book keeper at Sommerfield and Mead, at Prince’s Dock Street. On November 30th1909, he appeared before Hull Police Court charged with forging a banker’s cheque for £285 17s 8d.

The court heard how he had been arrested the previous day at an office in Hanover Square and had apologised for his actions when the warrant was read out to him by Detective Howgate. In court alongside the prosecution was Dr. Alwyn Smith of the Union and Smith’s Bank and chairman of Hull City. Described in a report of the proceedings as ‘smartly dressed’, Crompton seems to have enjoyed a certain extravagance according to the tone of the article.

As if that were not enough, Thomas Shaw (like Crompton, a founder of the club) was also involved as a witness for the prosecution. Shaw had been Crompton’s boss for several years at Sommerfield and Mead, and now, like Smith, he found himself in court giving evidence to convict their one-time fellow director. Crompton had worked there for 12 years as a cashier and book keeper, and was a trusted employee. Other details of Crompton’s life were read out in court: he was 32 years old and lived in Coltman Street with his wife and five young children.

The arrest and prosecution of Crompton, and the nature of his offences, made headlines nationally as well as locally, as the story was picked up by newspapers up and down the country. The dishonesty element was bad enough, but to be facing directors of Hull City and business associates across the dock compounded the disgrace , although this detail seems to have evaded the reporters covering the story. Some three months later Crompton was sentenced to three years of penal servitude at York assizes for ‘having feloniously uttered an order for Henry George Mead on behalf of Messrs. Sommerfield and Mead for the payment of the sum of £285 17s 8d with intent to defraud’. The sentence was served in Wakefield prison.

For the football club, this would have been a major embarrassment and shameful episode. Crompton’s claim to fame was his involvement with City in their earliest days. It is likely that the club used their relationship with the two local newspapers (the Hull Daily Mail and the Hull Daily News) to ‘manage’ the situation once the initial ‘sensation’ had died down. Influential directors such as Ernest Morison, a former journalist and now manager of an advertising agency would have only too well aware of the damage caused by bad publicity, and the stain it would leave on the club’s name. Perhaps his membership of the Hull District of the Institute of Journalists would also have helped to suppress newspaper coverage of the affair. The local press would also have wanted to remain on good terms with the club and had to consider the maintenance of a good working relationship. Alwyn Smith, scion of a well-known national banking family, was also a wealthy and influential figure locally.

Crompton’s conviction and subsequent imprisonment were also reported nationally. He also appeared in court a few years later in 1914 when convicted of embezzling 12s 3d of his employers’ money (J. Appleton and Co., timber merchants of Hedon Road). Upon his arrest in King Edward street, he said “That’s a pity. The money would have been paid back this weekend.”.

After this second spell in prison at Maidstone, Crompton seems to leave his life and family in Hull and spent the rest of his days in north London where he died aged 68 in 1950, perhaps considering his employment prospects in Hull to be severely diminished given the coverage of his convictions, he had decided to move away for good. A prison census in 1911 described him as 5 ft 0 ins tall and having brown hair.

The bad publicity generated for the club by Crompton or his notoriety meant that it was in the club’s interests to minimise his prominent role in its inception thus distancing itself from the bad publicity, without completely omitting his existence in accounts of its origins. With these events still fresh in the public’s memory, Morison wrote an article in 1913 in the Hull Daily Mail Sports Mail in which he recounted the story of the club’s beginnings. Crucially, Morison does not name ‘the three highly enthusiastic but certainly indiscreet young men in the City of Hull decided to run a ‘class’ Association football team for the benefit of all and sundry’ and in avoiding mention of Crompton, he is also obliged to withhold the identities of the other two, thus denying the trio their rightful fame as the originators of Hull City AFC for posterity.


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