By Stephen Mills
For a sleepy little village, we have had our share of well known connections from farther afield. For example, Henry Hicks (Lord of the Manor and mill owner) built Eastington Park and was a close friend of Edward Jenner of smallpox fame, and the De Lyle Bush family were pals with the legendary cricketer W G Grace.
But some of our residents became notable in their own right, perhaps none more so than Edwin Budding. Born in Eastington, he went on to invent the lawn mower and adjustable spanner. ( See page opposite)
However, there were others who have slipped into the mists of time, only to be remebered perhaps as a result of some strange twist of fate or odd coincidence. This is about one such Eastingtonian, a member of a privileged family that kept countless villagers employed for many decades. The patriarch was Charles Hooper, who ran the village cloth mills for much of the 19th century. He was followed by his son, Charles Henry Hooper, who carried on running the business. However, the present story is about one of his sons, Charles (a bit of a pattern emerging here…) Alexander Hooper, born in July 1869.
He lived with his parents, Charles Henry and Julia, at Eastington Lodge, along with the usual retinue of cooks and maids, before he was packed off in 1880 to Clifton College, where he stayed until 1888, before moving on to Cambridge University. In 1891, he was 22 and recorded on the Eastington census as a ‘Cambridge Undergraduate’. But it wasn’t for his academic career that he became famous, it was for his prowess on the rugby field, particularly during the 1890s.
The Cambridge XV rugby team of 1890. Charles Alexander Hooper is sitting front left
Over the years, he played for a number of notable teams that included Clifton RFC, Gloucestershire, Cambridge University, and Middlesex Wanderers. It was when playing for the latter that he was selected to play for England.
He was also an original member of the fabled Barbarians, an invitational team set up in 1890 with the club mantra of:
Rugby football is a game for gentlemen in all classes, but never for a bad sportsman in any class.
Their aim was to avoid any discrimination as a result of class, race, creed or colour. The only qualification to be a member was to be a good rugby player and a good sportsman – which, clearly, Hooper was.
The Middlesex team of 1895-96, with Hooper as captain – seated in the middle.The photograph formed part of a series called ‘Famous Footballers’, issued by a national newspaper in 1895.
Hooper went on to work as a solicitor and in 1914, emigrated to Hong Kong where he served in the Hong Kong Special Police Force during the First World War. He died in London in 1950, aged 81.
Now, why after all these years, has his name suddenly cropped up?
It was one of those strange coincidences that I mentioned earlier and actually came to light as a result of a programme on one of Sky’s more obscure channels. The programme is called Irish Pickers, and essentially involves two men driving round Ireland buying and selling antiques and collectibles. On this particular occasion, they were at a fair in Bantry, a small town in the south of the country, where they came across a wooden box with a brass plaque engraved C A Hooper. At this point, my ears pricked up – Hooper is not a common name and I wondered if there might be a connection with ‘our’ family. The programme’s researcher discovered that boys at Clifton College were issued with such boxes to hold their personal and valuable belongings – there was the link! It appears that the box was Charles Alexander’s from his days at Clifton.
Two pictures from ‘Irish Pickers’, showing the deal and brass plaque. Excuse the poor quality – copied from the TV!
So, a purchase from a seaside flea market in Ireland triggered memories of a long-forgotten Eastingtonian rugby player who was good enough to represent his country.
A cigarette card of Charles Hooper from 1902, wearing a Middlesex shirt. Unfortunately, his initial was misspelt as an E!
Let’s face it, you’ve got to be good to get your own cigarette card – perhaps it’s time to check granddad’s cigarette card collection that’s been languishing in the attic and see if you’ve got one of CAH!