Who was Frederick Whitehead?

Frederick Whitehead (1853-1938) was born in Leamington Spa into a humble family of bricklayers, but his father had a strong interest in painting and set up an art restoration business from the family home. Surrounded by Leamington artists and enthusiasts, Frederick and his sister were encouraged to attend the Leamington School of Art, and subsequently studied in Paris before touring the French countryside together for inspiration. He is known today for his pastoral landscapes, particularly of Warwickshire, where he grew up, and then Dorset, where he settled for the remainder of his life.

Frederick Whitehead 1

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Famous English International Tries in the Amateur Era

Almost 800 tries have been scored by England at Twickenham in more than 320 full international matches over the last one hundred and ten years.  Most of these tries have passed into the rugby history books but a special few are still recalled as defining moments in their eras.

The first international at the new ground in Twickenham took place against Wales on January 15th 1910 and began sensationally.  England’s fly half and captain Adrian Stoop caught the Welsh kick-off and ran to link up with his left winger, Ronald Poulton.  Poulton cross-kicked for the forwards who secured the ball and gave it to scrum half Dai Gent.  He passed the ball to Stoop who passed it on down the backline via the centres Bert Solomon and John Birkett, and Birkett gave the final pass to the Durham winger Fred Chapman who scored in the right-hand corner.  The first English international try at Twickenham had been scored after just one minute of the match and England went on to beat Wales for the first time since 1898.

1910 England 2007-855

Depiction of the first international match at Twickenham Stadium, 1910

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Remembering Prince Alexander Obolensky

Born in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) on 17th February 1916, Prince Alexander Obolensky was the son of an officer of the Tsar’s Imperial Horse Guards and his wife Princess Luba.

Revolutionary upheaval in Russia at the time of the young Prince’s birth forced the family to flee their homeland and they were offered safe passage to England where they made a home in Muswell Hill, North London.


Alexander played his first rugby at Trent College in Nottinghamshire and went on to represent Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Leicester Tigers, Rosslyn Park and Midland Counties. However it was as a sporting blue for Oxford University that he first came to the England selector’s attention in 1935.

A degree of controversy surrounded the granting of British citizenship to the Obolensky family in 1936, but this coincided with the winger representing England against the All Blacks on the 4th January at Twickenham.

The game saw England record their first victory over New Zealand with Alexander Obolensky scoring two sensational tries in a 13-0 victory. He went on to play four times for England, twice for the Barbarians and represented the British Team on their 1936 tour of Argentina and the United States.

Two years later Alexander answered the call of his adopted country and joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. On 29th March 1940, aged just 24, he was tragically killed in a training exercise at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk and buried with full service honours in Ipswich War cemetery.

37 Obolensky

About the Author – Phil McGowan is Curator at the World Rugby Museum. He has published several books about rugby and Twickenham, which are available to purchase on Amazon.

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Remembering Alan Bean

Remembering International Referee Alan Bean (1902 – 1986)

Bean and Auld

Alan Bean (L) and RFU administrator Robin Auld, July 1980, Ashbrooke

Alan Bean gave invaluable service to Sunderland RFC as both honorary secretary and as fixtures secretary, jobs he carried out from his youth.  He was also county representative and it is clear from the club minutes that he was a man who got things done even at a time when he was playing the game and organising tours. This was the case from his return to the club after study at Cambridge during the early 1920s. Like Eric Watts Moses, he also served on the wider club’s governing board.

In addition to all this, Alan Bean was a referee. He took up refereeing in 1926 and rose rapidly in the ranks to be in charge of county games, international trials and, eventually, internationals themselves. He also refereed the Oxford v Cambridge ‘varsity’ match twice and the first ever match between the Barbarians and Australia. Continue reading

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#FromTheVaults – ‘Guinness is Good for You’ Advertising Sign, 1960s

As we say farewell to the Guinness Six Nations (for the time being, at least), this month’s featured object from our collection is a Guinness advertising sign from the 1960s. Made from large wooden boards, the rugby-themed advertisement features the famous Guinness toucans along with the brand’s well-known advertising slogan.

2003-479 Guinness Sign

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Swing Low Uncovered

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was first sung at Twickenham during the ‘Chris Oti match’ of 1988. Or was it? New research by the World Rugby Museum casts doubt on this claim and puts forward a new theory for how and why the song became synonymous with English rugby…

Despite being the largest and arguably the most famous rugby ground in the world, Twickenham for much of its history has not been noted for song. While stirring renditions of Bread of Heaven and Fields of Athenry were performed elsewhere, polite chat in the West Car Park and a hearty round of applause when the teams take the field were historically more in keeping with the spirit at HQ.

Aerial view of Twickenham Stadium

Twickenham Stadium, 1982

But that all changed in the late 1980s when Twickenham belatedly found its voice. The story goes that, inspired by a hat-trick of tries from wing Chris Oti, the Twickenham crowd spontaneously broke into song. Their chosen anthem, ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, established itself, almost overnight, as English rugby’s call to arms.
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Reunited At Last

England and Wales jerseys 1910

England and Wales meet at Twickenham for the 55th time on Saturday. 110 years ago the two sides helped kick off the Twickenham era when Ben Gronow did the honours in the first of his four caps for Wales.

Gronow had come into a strong Welsh side that had dominated the championship for more than a decade and went into Twickenham’s first test-match as favourites. Instead it was England, under the inspirational leadership of Adrian Stoop, who took the game to the visitors. Upon collecting Gronow’s kick, Stoop instigated a quick attacking move that saw Fred Chapman dive over the try-line for England in the first minute.

Chapman then landed a penalty before Wales struck back with a try from Tom Evans and England led 11-3 at half time. In the second half, Wales dominated possession and added a second try through Reggie Gibbs. Thereafter the likes of Cherry Pillman, Len Haigh and Dai Gent offered stout defensive resistance that allowed England to hold on for an 11-6 victory. It was their first win against Wales in more than a decade.

The match would be the last in the storied career of Charlie Pritchard, who at the end of the match is believed to have swapped jerseys with an England player. That jersey, pictured above, is now on display in our Charlie Pritchard exhibition. Alongside it is the jersey worn by Ben Gronow in the same match.

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Posted in England, International Players, Museum Collection, Twickenham, Wales | 4 Comments