Fred Stoker, surely it’s a name that should be well-known to all Blyth Spartans fans.
It’s a name that is embedded into the clubs history as much as those of Harry Mills, Arthur Sowden, Jim Turney, Eddie Alder, Billy Fenwick, Terry Johnson & Harry Dunn.
Aged only 21 Fred Stoker was the club’s 1st secretary when it was founded in 1899 and he was the person who suggested the iconic name ‘Spartans’, believing it appropriate to name the team after the Greek Spartan army in the hope the players would give their all as they went into battle on the field of play as the ancient Greek army had.
- Many think the Spartans were the first football club in the town however there had been a team in the town since 1892, when Blyth FC joined the Northern Alliance, which had been formed in July 1890 for the 1890/91 season. The Blyth side that entered in 1892/93 ran for 7 years they finished 3rd in the first season despite having 2 point deducted, in 1893/94 they finished 6th in a 10 team league. In 1894/95 they finished runners-up to Sunderland ‘A’ both clubs finished on 34 points but Blyth lost title on goal average after he clubs tied on 37 goal difference.
A protest was lodged by Blyth; they claimed that Sunderland had taken an unfair advantage by using more Football League players than permitted under Alliance rules. A meeting of the Northern Alliance committee was held at the Express Hotel, Newcastle, on 14-5-1895.
Mr Jonathan Ridley, representing Blyth, claimed that Sunderland ‘A’ had fielded three League players for their match against Willington Athletic on Easter Monday. Sunderland repudiated the charge, the matter was put to the vote and the protest was dismissed and Sunderland remained champions on goal average.
In 1895/96 Blyth finished 3rd as Sunderland ‘A’ once again retained their title, but this season had also seen the introduction of a Division 2 it was a competition for the reserve sides of the non-Football League clubs in the Northern Alliance the Blyth Reserve side finished 4th.
1896/97 saw the club struggle and finished 6th despite failing to fulfil an away fixture at Dipton the following season the club finished 2nd bottom and by the league rules the bottom four clubs had to retire from the league, they were entitled to re-apply. Along with Leadgate Exiles & Mickley as new clubs Blyth, Rendel & Sunderland A were all re-elected.
However it was to prove no more than a stay of execution as the club failed to finish the 1898/99 season when with 8 games left of the season the club withdrew from the league and the club folded, a new side was formed in 1899.
- A little known fact is the club was actually founded as Blyth Spartans Athletic Club!, weather this was to account for incorporating more than just football is unknown.
The new club only played friendlies initially, using the Blagdon Terrace Ground that Blyth FC had played at.
The clubs 1st annual meeting was held at the Cairns Café in September 1900 with the club officials being listed as:
Secretary – Fred Stoker, Treasurer – Mr J.R. Parsons, Captain – Mr .R.H. Henderson, Vice Captain – Mr G.C .Robertson, Committee – W.Davis, W. Lumsden, J. Soulsby.
However by the time the next meeting came around in April 1901 a whole new structure to the club was in place in preparation for joining the Northumberland League in September 1901 the club joined as Blyth Spartans, when the ‘Athletic Club’ was dropped in favour of ‘Football Club’ is unknown.
Alderman J. Dent was elected the club’s President, along with 7 other vice presidents there were 3 honorary members Mr J Archbold had become the secretary and Mr J Soulsby was now the treasurer, Fred Stoker was now one of 6 people on the committee.
His name twice appeared listed among club officials at meetings in 1899 & 1901 but there after Fred Stoker disappeared for the club records all together!.
In December 1955 when renowned Blyth News reporter & club historian Robert Thompson aka Crofter, produced a booklet for the Supporters Club on the history of the club from 1899 to 1955, Fred got only scant credit:
“The title was suggested by their secretary, Mr Fred Stoker, of Bath Terrace, Blyth, who afterwards became a Harley Street physician, and died in the South of England about seven years ago.”
The fact he was the club secretary, suggested the name and later became a ‘Harley Street physician’ was almost all that was known about the person credited with founding arguably the most famous Non League football club in the country.
Unsurprisingly it was off the back of an FA Cup run some 68 years after he passed away that it all changed and finally information about Fred surfaced.
November 2011 and Blyth had reached another 1st Round, the club’s 27th appearance in the 1st Round, and drew local rivals Gateshead in a tie at Croft Park, the usual media frenzy around the FA Cup followed and the ‘Real FA Cup’ website followed up on their excellent article about the famous 1978 cup run entitled ‘Blame it on the corner flag’ from the previous February with an article on the forthcoming cup tie.
The new article written and researched by Co-editor Damon Threadgold, it delved into the intriguing world of Fred Stoker titled – Fred Stoker: Spartan to Garden
The slightly altered version of Damon’s article also appeared on the IBWM website (In Bed with Maradonna) shortly afterwards under the title:
– The Founding Father of FA Cup Giantkilling.
The article used public records to try to trace the path that had possibly taken a 21-year-old from Blyth to London, and discover more about the clubs first secretary who had apparently become a Harley Street physician.
One item that was uncovered showed that a the “Harley Street physician’ Dr Fred Stoker had become more well-known in the world of horticulture as he had been as a physician.
Damon’s article cast doubts on whether, due to his acclaim as a horticulturist and later lack of any acknowledgment of his earlier life in Northumberland that Dr Fred Stoker was indeed our Fred Stoker.
As good a read as the article is, it asks as many questions as it seems to have set out to answer but lifelong Blyth fan Alisdair Gibbs Barton was also on the trail of Fred at the same time.
Having turned his interest in genealogy into a business www.oth-research.co.uk
Alisdair had tracked down concrete information our Fred Stoker that proved the he was indeed the same person as the famed doctor & horticulturist, Alasdair had even question some of the info raised in the article when it was originally posted on http://therealfacup.co.uk/
So what do we actually know about Fred Stoker, he was born in 1878 his birth was registered at the Tynemouth Registration District which then covered Blyth, he name is actually registered as Fred and not Frederick.
His parents were Robert Stoker who was a draper born in Blyth c1848 and his mother was Ann who was born in Bothal c1842.
In he 1881 census Robert, Anne and their 3-year-old son Fred were recorded as living at 9 Bath Terrace, Blyth one of the oldest streets in the town.
Ten years later the 1891 census shows them living at 13 Bath Terrace however it is unlikely they moved house because it would seem that the house numbers changed between the two census as the town began to grow, that census also has Robert and his 13-year-old son Fred as being born in Earsdon but once again this is because Blyth was in the Earsdon Parish.
It was at their 13 Bath Terrace home that a 21-year-old Fred held the 1st ever meeting of the new Blyth Spartans Athletic Club that would go on to become the famous Blyth Spartans AFC.
What if any involvement either Fred or his father had with the original Blyth FC is unknown or indeed how he came to be the clubs secretary.
The 1901 census shows the family were still at 13 Bath Terrace and the 23-year-old Fred is recorded as a ’Student of Medicine’, his naming of the club proved he was a learned person and he was studying at Kings College, which is now The University of Newcastle
However one or if not his last involvement with the club was at a Testimonial Presentation to versatile player and captain George C. Robertson on December 5th 1903.
The Morpeth Herald and Reporter ‘which recorder him as one of the original promoters of the new club’, reports on an evening to mark Robertson leaving the club due to taking up the post of Bank Manager of Lambton’s Bank in Rothbury.
The event held at The Travellers rest, Cowpen Quay saw him presented with a commemorative cigarette case and cigarette holders.
- There is a claim that the name of George Cockburn Robertson should be equally etched into our clubs history not only because he was the teams 1st captain, there is possibility that he, along with Fred, was also responsible for or at least involved in some way with the choice of the name ‘Spartans’, however time has forgotten any involvement he may have had and its Fred who got the accolade.
George Cockburn Robertson who was born in the second quarter of 1878 in Alnwick, his parent were William and Jane and he was the fifth child having two elder brothers and two sisters.
In 1901 George was boarding at 160 Portland Road Byker while working at a bank in Newcastle when playing for the Spartans it is though he had an involvement with the original Blyth FC. In his speech at his testimonial evening he stated that he had been captain of for 2 years and “closely connected with the management of the team”.
He had played in every position apart from goalkeeper and had even turned down several approaches to turn professional because he played for the love of the game.
By 1911 his father had died and he appears to have taken a demotion from Bank Manager at Rothbury to be a cashier in Alnwick as he was recorded as living with his widowed mother at 8 Clive Terrace Alnwick.
When War broke our in 1914 he seemingly joined the 6th Durham Light Infantry and had become a 2nd Lieutenant by the time they had reached the Western Front.
George was killed at the Battle of Armentières on July 21st 1915, there is a plaque in commemoration of him on the wall of
The United Reform Church in Pottergate, Alnwick.
George is understood to be the 1st Blyth Spartans player to serve his country and sadly is also believed to be the first Spartan to fall in the Great War! ———————————————
Fred continued his studies and quickly achieved recognition for his work in 1904 he was listed in the General Medical Register as MB Bac Surgeon at Durham University from were he graduated that year.
He then moved up to Edinburgh taken up a position at the Royal College of Surgeons, while studying Fred meets his wife Mary Wilkie Smith they were married in 1906, Mary who was from Ryton was 4 years younger than her husband they lived in Park Road, Wallsend.
The following year 1907 aged only 27 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh quite an achievement for someone so young!.
It was while living in Wallsend that Mary & Fred became their love affair with gardening, having achieved his Fellowship they began to think about moving to the south of England for Fred’s work opportunities and made several trips to London looking for properties which offered both gardens and practices.
The exact date of their move south is unknown but believed to be around 1909, they took up a house in Acton, West London which they called they named ‘Ackling’ (which Fred named after the suburbs of Acton & Ealing) they had viewed the property and been suitably impressed with it due to its gardens & ability to be a medical practice, but the gardening was becoming a bigger part of their lives.
Fred’s first medical practice didn’t go well there were few patients and medical directories from the time show the Stoker’s lived in 3 addresses in Acton and 1 in Ealing in the next 10 years!.
After spending 14 years in general practice Fred decided to try a venture as a consultant in Harley Street. He gave up his practice in Ealing, sold the house and took up a consulting room in the Harley Street area, during the week Fred & Mary lived in a flat and spent weekends at a farm they had bought in Sussex.
In 1918 Fred had been elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, which is the world’s oldest active biological society, he applied his scientific mind to gardening and the problems of cultivating.
However, Fred & Mary found ‘flat-dwelling’ in the centre of London intolerable and later commented on it stating:
“The towny air, the nightly rumble of traffic, the church clocks chiming every quarter, the amorousness and pugnacity of West End cats, the rattle of the milk carts before winter’s dawn, were too much!”
Within a year the flat was given up, the farm in Sussex sold and a house was bought in Essex just outside the suburban area, but still within easy reach of town, but it didn’t go down well with some questioning whether a surgical consulting practice could be maintained without Fred being on site. Fred took the view that he could reach a night emergency in town within 40 minutes or less after receiving a “tinkle of the telephone!”.
While Fred may have been confident of reaching his practice it wasn’t without its pit falls as he found out in 1923 when the Epping Court fined him £5 for dangerous driving !.
So in around 1924 the Stokers moved to live in Loughton in the centre of Epping Forest, buying Oak Lodge on Baldwins Hill, which had the much sought after acre of garden and faced Epping Forest.
It was here that Fred & Mary really embraced their love of horticulture, a year after arriving at Oak Lodge they bought a five acre plot on which a previous owner had planted a belt of conifers, to create a boundary to screen it from neighbouring Goldings Manor.
They continued to live at Oak Lodge developing their extensive new garden digging & clearing operations went on continuously for 6 years.
In 1926 Fred looked to add another string to his bow when he sought the election to Loughton Council but where as he had been a success in everything else he turned his hand to a career in politics wasn’t to be when he came 8th of 8 candidates for the 4 seats up for election and so ending any political ambitions he may have had.
In 1927 the Stokers decided to build a house on the north-eastern side of the five acre plot they had acquired, Fred attributed this to Mary’s lifelong interest in houses which explained why they had moved so many times since their arrival down south.
The house was called The Summit and contrary to usual procedure but in keeping with their love of gardening the house was designed to match their garden!.
Below it to the north and west were heather beds covering about an acre. To tone with these, the half-timbered walls were bricked in colours ranging from grey through red to orange and had a red-tiled roof though it was soon became covered in lichen.
Among his creations at The Summit were a sandstone rock garden and a plot created from 20 tons of Westmorland limestone especially brought down to the site by lorry.
He created six allotment beds each allocated a certain type of soil for growing plants from various parts of the world and also filled in a nearby bog with “several hundred cartloads of soil”.
A network of greenhouses was set up to house rare specimens and a gardener’s cottage built to house a permanent member of staff to tend the plants.
By 1932 Dr Stoker was described as the most successful amateur at The Royal Horticultural Society’s Annual Show, and in 1933 he gave a series of talks for the BBC, the council of the RHS recognised the value of his work by posthumously awarding him the Victoria Medal of honor in 1973.
He would continue to write about his passion for gardening throughout his life and had articles published in various papers including The Times and in 1938 his first book:
‘A Gardener’s Progess’ which was published by Putnam, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons was a major United States book publisher which in 1966 became part of the Penguin Group).
During the war in 1940 The Summit was damaged by a landmine which severely damaged the house and its blast destroyed several of the Stokers prized beds of shrubs, undaunted Fred & Mary carried on their tireless work at The Summit.
Fred Stoker died on 20th July 1943 aged only 65, his will described him as:
“A retired surgeon and horticulturist/botanist” he left an estate valued at £17,297.
Despite dying at such a young age Fred had certainly packed a lot into his 65 years of life from such humble beginnings in Bath Terrace Blyth to an award-winning estate in the Epping Forest, many obituaries written about him all spoke of Fred as a kind man whose enthusiasm was infectious to all who came in contact with him and his garden at The Summit had become a centre for all keen gardeners both amateur & professional.
Following his death Mary continued to live at The Summit and looked after the garden for another 20 years, she died in 1964 and under the terms of her will she left her late husband’s vast library of botanical & horticultural books to the Royal Horticultural Society.
Fred had spent over 30 years collecting 394 works comprising 700 volumes, including many rare early books. The collection in now part of the RHS Lindley Library at Vincent Square, the Stoker bequest forms a lasting memorial to a great gardener and his wife.
What became of pride & joy after her death, Mary left their gardens to the National Trust but they declined the offer and after lying empty and over grown for 7 years The Summit was sold to a developer in 1971.
The developer had obtained planning permission to build 41 detached houses on the five acre plot and to demolish the old house.
However, the local planning authority, Chigwell Urban District Council, included a Tree Preservation Order, as part of the planning approval and the estate agent’s brochure offering the plot for sale included a plan showing these trees in the garden that were to be retained and those that were to be removed, the new houses that now form The Summit Estate houses are of no great architectural distinction, the land was also split by the A121 as well but it is still possible to identify some of the trees that remain from the old estate.
The Baldwins Hills area of Loughton is now a conservation area with many several listed buildings are therefore protected although the Summit house is long gone there are still 2 buildings left from the estate further down Baldwins Hill on the junction with Whitakers Way.
Oak Cottage & Oak Lodge was originally the lodge house and stable block for The Summit.
Loughton now has an active historical society that protects the heritage of the area and it’s clear to see why so many distinguished people choose to live in that part of Epping Forest.
In 1997 Loughton inaugurated the now national scheme to mark the famed residence with blue heritage plaques.
Sure enough our Dr Fred Stoker deservedly achieved a place in the programme with his blue heritage plaque fittingly being placed at the highest point of Baldwins Hills, i.e. The Summit, the plaque can be clearly seen on No. 83 Baldwins Hill.
Dr Fred Stoker received further praise when 2 members of the Loughton & District Historical Society, the Chairman Dr Christopher Charles Pond and the Secretary Richard Sidney Morris who had produced other books on Loughton, wrote a 32 page book about Fred and his famous Loughton garden:
‘Dr Fred Stoker and the Lost Garden of Loughton’
was published on 11th September 2008 and is still available today.
In the south of England the name Dr Fred Stoker leads you to a famed horticulturist however in the North East the name Fred Stoker leads you to a 21-year-old who named a towns famous football club then went on to become a ‘Harley Street Physician’, as proven they are one and the same person.
So the lad from Blyth, did indeed become a Doctor in London and he also went onto a far greater acclaim as a Horticulturist …….. has to be said the boy did good.
- Credits & Thank you’s:
Alisdair Gibbs-Barton, for all his help with this article and allowing use of his research into Fred Stoker & George Cockburn Robertson.
If you’re wanting to trace your family history check out his website:
Damon Threadgold, for his help and for allowing use of information he had researched for his original articles, you can follow him on Twitter: @damon_th
http://therealfacup.co.uk/ for use of their article, check out it’s a great read.
http://inbedwithmaradona.com/ for use of their article, check out it’s another great football website.
http://www.loughtonhistoricalsociety.org.uk/ Has some excellent information on Fred Stoker especially the Newsletter 176 from January/February 2008.