Alfred Parker was a man of routine and on the morning of Wednesday, 9th August 1905 he would begin the day as he always did. Up early, washed, made a relatively small breakfast and after saying his goodbyes to his wife, he would set off to work at nearby Carr and Parkers Mill where he was employed as a warehouseman.Leaving the main road that fed off from Peel Street at nearby Deardengate, Haslingden, he would make his way down Charles Lane, passing South Shore Street in the process. In the distance, smoke billowed from the long chimneys that adorned mills that included Hutch Bank, Plantation, Flash and Grane Road. Many faces would be familiar to Alfred and he would swap pleasantries in passing as he slowly made his way down the lane
Now, there where two ways into Carr and Parkers Mill, and often Alfred would cut through a little snicket of sorts that fed off Charles Lane and around the back entrance of the mill. But on the 9th August, he would carry on down the lane and head towards the main entrance that was situated close to Waterside Road.
Upon reaching the mill, Alfred made his way into the yard and on the right hand side there was one of two small lodges, commonly known as Parkers Lodge. Noticing something lying on the bank, he made his way over to which he found a waistcoat which had been placed on a pile of stones.
At first, Alfred thought the waistcoat may have belonged to a family relative as they lived close to where he worked and he would often meet them at the same lodge, but after giving a quick looking over he soon realized it was too big for any of them to own. Perhaps it belonged to a neighbour was his next thought, so, with time to spare, he headed off to his mother’s house which was close by. Leaving the waistcoat with her, he then made his way back into work and when breakfast time came around, and still curious as to the find, he went back to his mothers to take another look at the waistcoat.
Rummaging through the pockets, he quickly came across a small photo which showed the image of a man, a woman and seven children. It was a family photo and the man in the photo, Alfred Parker knew only too well.
The following is the true story of a man named John Usher, who was known as Jack to many. Also, I will be covering this for our youtube channel which will be available from Sunday, 20th June.
Six years prior, and during 1899, Haslingden Cricket Club were floundering in the Lancashire Cricket League, languishing at the bottom of the table, having won just twice all season and seemingly going nowhere. But times where changing and cricket was evolving.
For the first time, clubs where allowed to sign at least one professional player and the new one-pro system had a profound effect on Haslingden as, by the end of 1900, they would be crowned Lancashire League Champions for the very first time in their history.
Jack Usher was a player many years ahead of others in terms of quality and his statistics back that up. After having joined Haslingden Cricket Club from Whalley, he soon established himself as perhaps one of the finest slow-left-arm bowlers that the Lancashire League had ever witnessed.
A native of Liversedge, Usher quickly made a name for himself at several Yorkshire clubs, including Heckmondwike, Holbeck and Holmfirth. It was in 1888 that he was asked to partake in a trial with Yorkshire County which ultimately led to him playing at Lords against Cheshire as well as the Yorkshire Colts at Sheffield.
At some point in the early 1890s, he left Yorkshire and moved to Lancashire where he would become a professional for Bacup in 1892 as well as Rishton in the Lancashire League. He would later move to the Ribblesdale League when he signed for Whalley and he would stay with them for five years, winning the Ribblesdale League Cup in the process.
In 1900, Haslingden would come calling for his services and despite them having one of the worst seasons recorded in Lancashire County Cricket the season before, Usher didn’t hesitate to sign for them.
Less than twelve months later, Usher would be pivotal in them winning the league for the first time in their history.
Both Church and Haslingden ended the 1900 season with the exact same points, both having played twenty-six games, winning seventeen, drawing six and losing three – with finally ending on forty points.
In the end, Haslingden would beat Church by 116 runs over two matches that began on Saturday 8th September and concluded on the following Monday, 10th September. Both innings would be played at Accrington in front of over 10,000 spectator’s.
The scenes where incredible. Haslingden town center was brought to a near standstill as well-wishers and bystanders all took to the streets to welcome home their heroes. Setting off from Accrington and the scene of their triumph, the players all returned by stage coach drawn by six horses. Behind them came the waggonette carrying the committee and board members and as they all arrived at Hudrake, the Haslingden Temperance Band welcomed them by playing a vast number of songs, with one being, “See the conquering hero comes.”
Perhaps the biggest scenes, however, occurred at the four junctions in the center of Haslingden and near to the Commerical Hotel where a sea of people, all laughing, shouting and cheering had congregated. Fireworks were then let off further down Blackburn Road.
The procession made its way around to Bury Road and Manchester Road and returned a short time later at the Commercial Hotel where the team and committee members were treated to an extravagant tea.
It seems everything was going well not only for Haslingden Cricket Club but also for that of Jack Usher. But the title triumph that had amazed everyone within the cricketing world had been overshadowed by controversy when back on Saturday, 18th August, 1900 – a match between Nelson and Haslingden, played over at the Seedhill Ground, resulted in serious accusations of attempted bribery from Usher to a Nelson player being made.
During the match, Usher had asked Nelson professional Riley if he would ‘throw the team over’ and offered a sovereign if he did so. Riley couldn’t grasp what Usher was asking and the suggestion to ‘throw the match’ was again offered up by Usher.
Shocked by what he was being asked, Riley would later report the incident to the first Nelson committee member he saw, which incidentally would be Mr. Nicholas Medley.
During the match interval, Mr Medley, along with a man named Mr. Bolton went into the Haslingden players changing room to speak with Usher about the bribery allegations.
“What do you want to know for?” asked Usher when questioned by Mr. Bolton.
Mr. Bolton explained to Usher that as secretary, he was obliged to investigate the serious matter of bribery to which Usher, surprisingly, admitted to everything!
“It’s true, I did offer him a sovereign.”
Horrified at these charges being made to one of their players, the Haslingden officials would quickly express their deep regret to Mr. Bolton and after speaking with Usher, he would also afterwards offer his regret to W. H. Bowler, the Nelson captain.
However, and whilst the apologies of both Haslingden and that of Usher would be initially accepted by the Nelson board, after a meeting on the following Monday, they would in the end report the incident to the Lancashire League.
An interview with Haslingden captain, Mr. Warburton, would later reveal that whilst Usher had indeed admitted to offering a sovereign to Riley to throw the match, it was done so as a matter of ‘chaff’ – a joke!
Warburton would tell a reporter; “In the first place, if what actually occurred was an attempt to bribe Nelson, the attempt was very clumsily conceived and made. In the second place, as the captain puts it, there is no necessity for it on form. Haslingden have not won their matches by flukes. They had lost matches by flukes. The man who made the offer, I believe, makes no secret of the fact that he indulged in some chaff with Riley.
Just prior to the match, Riley remarked to him, “Two points would be worth something to-day, Jack. He replied quite off-handedly, “Yes, a few loose balls would be worth a sovereign or two.”
A special meeting of the Lancashire League Committee, called by Nelson, would take place at the Commericial Hotel in Accrington on Wednesday, 29th August. Mr. Gill presided over the matter and after several propositions, it was decided that Usher would be fined £10 (around £1,296.42 today) and ordered him to apologise to the League.
Also, it was decided that in the event of Haslingden and Church tied for the championship, as both were doing extremely well in the league, then both clubs would play off at Accrington on September 8th and 10th – with the match and indeed, title, being decided over two innings.
Outside, a huge crowd had convened, all awaiting the final decision from the board and upon hearing the news, many seemed dubious as to the outcome. Haslingden, however, cheered at the news, for obvious reasons as many thought a harsher punishment may have been inflicted onto them which could have resulted in losing the championship to Church.
The few who felt that Haslingden had gotten off lightly were told that Haslingden themselves had done nothing wrong and were blameless in the entire affair and to punish them would have been unfair. They also told those who felt harsher punishments should have been put into place that by making Haslingden play a possible title decider in Accrington, it would favor Church more as the pitch wasn’t suited to Usher’s style of play, where-as Jack Mee (one of the Church players) knew it better than most.
Nevertheless, it would be Haslingden that would win the deciding match against Church over two innings and for large parts, it was all down to Jack Usher and his unquestionable gift as a Cricketer.
Usher would stay with the Haslingden club for a further two years before a disagreement saw both parties part waves.
It’s unclear as to why, but it seems that the Haslingden committee had asked Usher to respect his duties on the cricket field but Usher himself told them that he could not fulfill the conditions being asked of him.
Usher would shortly later on write a letter to Haslingden asking them to release him from any further duties with the club to which they reluctantly accepted.
We can only speculate, but Usher apparently had an habit of placing bets, not just on horse racing events but also on the results of upcoming cricket games. Perhaps Haslingden had asked him to refrain from any future betting that could perhaps bring the club into disrepute with the Lancashire League?
From Haslingden, he would re-join Whalley Cricket Club in 1902, after already having played for them for 5 years between 1894 and 1899 during which time he had helped them win the Ribblesdale League Cup.
On the 21st April 1904, Rishton Cricket Club would try to sign Usher for the upcoming season but during a telephone conversation with the Lancashire Committee, they were informed that a tacit understanding was that Usher would not be allowed to play for any Lancashire League club. In April, Rishton informed Usher via telegram that he was ineligible to play for them and understandably, he was confused as to why.
Shocked at what he had been told, on the 22nd April, 1904, Usher sent a letter to Mr. Barlow, secretary of the League, asking for a hearing and wanting to know why he could not play for any club in the league. After all, he had not heard that he was boycotted or black-listed by the league, or that there was any reason why he could not play.
On May 4th 1904, Usher represented himself at a meeting with the governing body of the league, and expressed his desire to know what the charge against him was but strangely, his request was refused. With this being the case, he thought it was perhaps the friction between himself and Haslingden during 1902, that might have caused the issue.
In fact, and only a few weeks later, Haslingden would come calling for Usher’s signature once again, with Usher and committee members from the Haslingden club having managed to sort out their indifferences. Terms were quickly agreed between both parties, with Usher said to have agreed on being paid £125 a season from 1905 to play for them, and a contract was signed on June 13th.
It seems Usher himself perhaps had some doubts in re-signing for Haslingden as he replied to a question insinuating that the league wouldn’t allow him to play and what would he do if that was the case.
“I could not consciously expect you to keep me.” he was reported as saying.
On the 14th June, Haslingden duly sent off the agreement signed by Usher to the Lancashire League but it would soon be returned with the league stating they could not accept it.
The league would also question Haslingden’s attitude and wanted to know why they had defied the League’s position in that Usher would not be allowed to play for any club in the league. They would also arrange a meeting to discuss the possibility of expelling Haslingden from the league.
On June 28th, the secretary of Haslingden informed Usher that they would not accept their original agreement, and after expressing their sorrow at the decision they would also send a letter to the league stating that they had no intention of defying the league and if they had possession of certain facts, they would never had re-signed Usher.
The league accepted their explanation but at the same time strongly censured the club for their action.
Meanwhile, Usher was still unaware as to what the real reason was for his expulsion from the league. This would become personal to him and because he was an excellent professional and a fine bowler, he knew he would have to seek smaller clubs lower down the leagues which consequently meant a smaller wage. The clubs in the Lancashire League were the principal clubs – the top dogs so-to-speak, as well as the most wealthy. Therefore, Usher knew that by being banned from playing for any of them, it potentially meant losing a lot of money in earnings.
Despite many attempts to try and find the cause of his expulsion from the Lancashire League and what seemed a ban or ‘black-listing’, Usher would never get to the bottom of why he was not allowed to play for any club in the league.
By August of that year, Usher hadn’t played for a league club for almost two seasons and with a family to feed he knew he had to go somewhere and luckily for him, Crompton Cricket Club welcomed him with open arms.
Crompton played in the Central Lancashire League, a league much lower down the ranking order than that of the Lancashire League. Crowds were much lower as were the fees paid to players and Usher was dependent on the fees paid to him whilst employed as a professional.
However, Crompton still had the resources for the luxury of paying him £102 10s for his services – around £12, 722 in today’s money!
Whilst content with life in the Central League, behind the scenes Usher was still seething at the treatment the committee members of the Lancashire League had given him. He wanted straight answers as to why he had been black-listed from ever playing in their league again.
He was about to take on the might of the Lancashire League.
On Thursday, 8th March 1905 – Usher would seek legal recourse and sue the Lancashire League for damages from loss of earnings to the sum of £50 as well as apply for an injunction restraining them from acting against him in the future. In other words, he wanted to be removed from any blacklist they had put him on!
Beginning on Monday, 8th May, the case of Usher v Lancashire Cricket League would commence at the Accrington Country Court.
After four days of protracted talks, and on Thursday, 11th May, the case would finally come to an end with Judge Coventry delivering his final judgement.
As we now know, Usher was claiming £50 damages for loss of wages and for malicious and unlawful conspiracy against the chairman, secretary and committee of the Lancashire Cricket League for black-listing or banning him from playing for any club within their league.
After a protracted hearing and after listening and reading all the information put before him, Judge Coventry said that the Lancashire League was one of those bodies whose legal status was hard to define.
He would refer to the bribery accusations made by Riley when Haslingden met Nelson for a match back in 1900, saying that there could be no two opinions about the conduct of Usher as well as saying that Haslingden would have been fully justified in dismissing Usher on the spot when hearing of the news he had tried to bribe Riley. Likewise, he would also go on to imply that the league would have been justified in suspending him from playing league matches for a considerable period.
Judge Coventry would also talk about Usher’s off-field antics and how he was a man prone to bet on any event that came his way. He would also imply that perhaps Usher may have backed his own team or that of an opponent when playing in matches.
As for the malicious conspiracy, he could find no suggestion that any personal grudges had been made towards Usher by any member of the league committee.
He would also back the league by explaining to Usher that the committee were only acting in the best interests of the league and not out to harm Usher in any way just out of spite.
The proceedings of the committee were therefore lawful and justifiable.
The end result would leave Usher devastated as Judge Coventry gave judgement in favour for the league committee, meaning not only had Usher failed in his case against them but he would also have to pay legal costs that totalled £54. However, the league would voluntarily lower this to £15. Other debts related to the case would also be lowered.
Usher would over the coming weeks and months carry on playing for Crompton right up until Monday July 31st when he would return home and telling his wife, Emily, he was feeling unwell.
And on Friday, 4th August, he left his home in the morning without first having any breakfast and only returned at around 10.30pm later that evening.
Whatever had transpired during the day, Usher had obviously been carrying with him the weight of perhaps, regret and remorse for his actions that had seen him discredited from the Lancashire County League and whilst his reputation may well have taken a beating, he was still a well thought of character in and around Haslingden. He was largely known for having a temperament that was very hard to ruffle and very little seemed to bother him.
Several people would later say that they had spoken with Jack late on the Friday evening as well as on the Saturday (5th August) in a public house in Haslingden. One person in particular would tell of how they had spoken to him when he was leaving the pub. “Well, good-bye, Jack.” to which he replied, “Yes. Good-bye for a long time.”
Jack would remain missing from his home for the next four days, only returning late in the evening on Tuesday, 8th August. He spent some time talking to Emily, but she wasn’t interested in what he had to say, possibly annoyed and rightly fuming at him for staying away for so long.
Obviously curious as to his whereabouts, she asked him where he had been and he replied saying he had been over to Ripon to watch the races and telling her it didn’t matter much where he had been.
After sitting in the living room only for a few minutes, he stood and made his way out into the hall. Taking his hat from a stand, he would return to the kitchen where he stood for a few seconds before saying to Emily, “Goodbye.”
So it came as not only a great surprise but also a huge shock to the people of Haslingden, and indeed the cricketing world when his body would be dragged out from Parker’s Lodge, just off Waterside Road and parallel to Charles Lane in Haslingden on Wednesday 9th August 1905.
Alfred Parker, having taken the vest and its belongings to the police station in Haslingden, Inspector McVey would make his way down to where Usher lived with his wife and children at number one Whittle Street.
He would show Emily what had been found lying on the embankment and she would quickly identify them to belonging to her husband, Jack.
She would tell McVey that Jack had been unsettled for a few days and acting in a strange manner for a long while. She would also tell him that he had missed a game for Crompton by visiting Ripon the previous weekend.
At the same time, at around 10am that morning, Police Constable Hudson had quickly make his way down to Parker’s Lodge, armed with a set of grappling irons.
It would take two attempts to recover Usher’s body. The first attempt at dragging the irons across the lodge brought nothing and it was only when he threw them into another area of the lodge that the irons snagged onto something heavy. After a few minutes of pulling on the heavy chains, the body of Usher would soon become visible.
Jack was lying on the floor of the lodge, just six yards from the embankment but once free of the water, his body would be transported to his home on the ambulance litter that had arrived just minutes after Hudson.
As soon as news had spread around Haslingden that the body of Jack Usher had been found, the flags of the Haslingden Conservative Club, of which he was a member, were put at half-mast as mark of respect. Shop keepers, traders, the public all came together as one to share their thoughts and feelings of the tragic events that had occurred, with many unable to accept that ‘one of their own’ had taken his own life.
The resulting inquest into the suicide of Jack Usher would take place on Thursday, 10th August within the Bay Horse Hotel, Haslingden before Mr. H. J. Robinson – North East Lancashire Coroner, and after a relatively quick summoning up, the jury would return a verdict of suicide by means of unsound mind.
His funeral would take place within the grounds of Whalley Churchyard on Saturday 12th August 1905.
The departure of the procession that would take place in Haslingden right through to Whalley would see a mass of people all lining the streets to pay their final respects. The hearse was drawn by four horses, two of which had been specially added by Mr. J. W. Myers of Accrington as a token of sympathy.
Four carriages contained the family and relatives, and also that of Mr. J. J. Hamer, representing the committee of Haslingden Cricket Club as well as that of Mr. Constantine, the Haslingden representative to the Lancashire League.
At the church gates, there were hundreds more people all waiting to pay their final respects with every man and woman bowing their heads as the coffin was removed from the hearse.
Wreaths were sent by Crompton, Haslingden and Whalley Cricket Clubs that contained many lilies, chrysanthemums and maiden-hair ferns with yellow chrysanthemums in the center arranged in a novel but appropriate form of three wickets.
The wreath from his wife and children was inscribed : “In loving memory of John Usher, died August 8th, 1905, aged 46 years.”
Perhaps the saddest feature of this story is that Jack left seven children, as well as his wife, behind. The oldest child being eighteen.
William, Tom, James, Harriet, George, Percy and John would all have to live with his legacy as best they could and despite their fathers flaws, they would still be rightly proud of what he had achieved in life. He was one of the elite cricketers for the time, breaking records for all of the clubs he played for.
But he will perhaps be best remembered for helping Haslingden win their first ever title in such dramatic fashion back on that famous autumn afternoon on Monday, 10th September 1900.
Lancashire Evening Post – Saturday 11 August 1900
Burnley Express – Saturday 18 June 1904
Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 09 August 1902
Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 11 March 1905
Lancashire Evening Post – Saturday 12 August 1905
Athletic News – Monday 27 June 1904
+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive – www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
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