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A Tribute to

William Herbert Rhodes

1888-1937


A photograph of William Herbert RhodesIntroduction

This latest blue plaque is a celebration of the life and achievements of William Herbert Rhodes. The plaque is located at Stalybridge Celtic Football Club, Bower Fold, Mottram Road, Stalybridge and provides the memorial Rhodes so richly deserves.

The Early Years

Born in Hollingworth in 1888, William Herbert was the eldest son of Mr. Herbert Rhodes, managing director of Messrs. Thomas Rhodes and Sons Ltd, cotton spinners of Hadfield, Glossop. In his early life he lived at The Woodlands in Stalybridge and received a public school education.

He, along with his brother, Mr. Stanley Rhodes, who was killed in a motor accident, succeeded to the directorship of what was locally known as Rhodes’s Top Mills. He knew the 1000 strong workforce personally, having worked alongside them on the shop floor whilst learning the business. On his 21st birthday, he took employees on an outing to Belle Vue, paying for their admission, return train fare and a cream tea. This was to be an early indication of his generosity.

The Benefactor

Membership of the Football League has been a holy grail for Tameside’s clubs since the Victorian era. Applications have been lodged many times, some by sides which folded before the First World War, but only one team has been successful.

As a youth, William Herbert developed a keen interest in sport. He came into the public eye when he founded and financed the Stalybridge Celtic Football Club in 1909, with Mr. J.S. Johnston, of Bury Football Club and formerly of Southampton, as manager. It is estimated that he invested £25,000 of his personal fortune into making the team a success and developed Bower Fold into a properly enclosed ground.

Success For The Club

In the season 1909-1910, the team joined the Lancashire and Cheshire League and subsequently went into the Lancashire Combination, then into the Central League and afterwards in the Second Division of the Southern League. Their record in that league was remarkable. In their second season, 1914-1915, they finished second in the Second Division, qualifying for promotion to the First Division, but owing to the war intervening and difficulties of travel and of keeping players, they resigned from the Southern League and re-entered the Central League.

When Stalybridge Celtic became founder members of the Third Division (Northern Section) in 1921, it was thanks to the vision and belief of William Herbert. Himself an excellent outside left, he was an admirable judge and introduced many promising players to the club.

Celtic spent two seasons in the Football League, finishing a very creditable seventh and eleventh and ahead of clubs which have since gone on to become stalwarts of the lower divisions. They also played First Division West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup, drawing at the Hawthorns and then attracting almost 10,000 spectators to the replay at Bower Fold. Despite this, the Celtic committee believed the club was not attracting big enough attendances and in 1923 they voluntarily resigned from the Football League.

A long period in the Cheshire League followed but in 1992 Celtic once again became pace-setters as the first Tameside club to play in the Conference.

Image of the William Herbert Rhodes Blue PlaqueFamily Life

In 1919 in Bispham, Blackpool, William Herbert had married Miss Margaret Storrs, youngest daughter of Alderman James Storrs of Fern Bank, Stalybridge. The ceremony was quiet owing to the death just previously of Mrs. Rhodes, the bridegroom’s mother. Unfortunately he did not enjoy married life very long, for in January of the following year the death of Mrs. Rhodes at the early age of 23, leaving a baby daughter, Margaret, only about a fortnight old, caused widespread sympathy.

After his wife’s death, William Herbert’s interest in affairs in the area began to wane and a few years later he instructed Mr. Johnston, the manager, to call together a number of friends and supporters of the Club, with a view to forming a committee for the purpose of carrying on the club in the future. This was done and the club today serves as a memorial to William Herbert.

Other Achievements

William Herbert served Celtic as secretary, chairman and president but his interests were not confined to football. He was also a keen cricketer, founding East Cheshire Wanderers and holding the presidency of the Stalybridge club. He also loved horse racing and was the owner of several racehorses including ‘East Cheshire’ and ‘Great Surprise’, the latter being one of the best sprinters of his day. Celtic’s blue and white kit is based on the colours worn by his jockeys.

Apart from his sporting interests and considerable business aptitude, he also served Stalybridge as a town councillor, from 1911 to 1921, when he retired and subsequently became a member of Cheshire County Council.

William Herbert died in 1937 after a long and trying illness, at the age of 48. In his obituary, a close friend said of him: “With his vast means he did for sport that which no one else has ever been able to do, and the Celtic Football Club would never have attained its present position had it not been for him. Stalybridge, in fact, might have been without a town’s club, and in that respect it stands as a tribute to him, and I hope something will be done to perpetuate his memory.”

The Tameside Blue Plaque Scheme

The Tameside Blue Plaque Scheme is managed by the Arts and Events Team.

For a comprehensive listing of further Blue Plaques featured around Tameside please contact us:

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