Dr. Peter Warner, a lecturer at Cambridge University’s Homerton College, explores the links between the famous old academic institution and the O’s….
Who would have guessed that Homerton College was instrumental in the founding of one of England’s most famous football clubs?
Yet this, I am assured, is indeed the case. A suprise visit from Steve Jenkins, Vice-Chairman of the Leyton Orient Supporters’ Club Suddenly brought this to our notice.
Being interested in the history of his club he was aware that the ‘official history’, ‘Leyton Orient 1881-1990’, clearly stated: ‘The club owes its origins to former members of Homerton College, a theological training establishment for the Puritans.’
Steve’s work occasionally takes him to Cambridge and along Hills Road past Homerton College. Knowing the connection, he was puzzled why a Cambridge College should have been involved in the founding of a London football club.
Of course the link is clear enough when you know that Homerton was based in Homerton High Street, London, before 1894 and that Leyton Orient was previously called Clapton Orient.
Clapton Road and Homerton High Street are continuations of the same road, while Leyton Orient’s football ground in Brisbane Road lies on the other side of Hackney Marsh from Homerton.
Mabley Green, otherwise Homerton Recreation Ground, is in close proximity to Clapton Park and still has a football pitch on it. Steve took away a copy of our ‘official’ history by Tom Simms, ‘Homerton 1695-1978’ and communication continued by email. So far so good.
It would seem that John Horobin was the inadvertant supporter of this enterprise. He had been a student at Homerton in 1875/76, graduating from Emmanual College Cambridge in 1888. He returned as Principal of Homerton from 1889-1894 and oversaw the move from London to Cambridge.
Described as “an apostle for health and exercise”, when funds became available after the first government grants for teacher training, he established a tennis court for women students, and the women themselves began a rowing club on the River Lea, which flows through Hackney Marshes.
He built a fives court for men, who in turn established a cricket club in Victoria Park, just half a mile south of the old College, and a football club on Hackney Marsh.
But the key period for the foundation of Leyton Orient comes in 1881, before Horobin’s Principalship, when members of the College established the Glyn Cricket Club.
The name of Glyn’s Bank was synonymous with cricket at this time, when the Bank’s senior partner was the 1st Lord Hillingdon. In 1886 it changed its name to the Eagle Cricket Club and two years later, after a particularly successful season, they formed a football section to keep the players fit during the winter months.
At the same time the club was renamed Clapton Orient, because one of the players worked for the Orient Steam Navigation Company (now P&O). The name also fitted the East End of London.
Names of early players are recorded: Rene Gronland, Jack Bartlett, Harry Lavender, ‘Pomp’ Haines and ‘Teddy’ Wiggins.
A preliminary search of Homerton archives has failed to produce any link between these names and students registered at the College, but we are in the early stages of our investigations and there is no doubt more information will come to light.
Perhaps some of Homerton’s students from the past will know about this link, or they may have a family connection with early players in the club, or know more about the local history of the area.
If so we would very much like to hear from you, also O’s fans are most welcome to contact Steve Jenkins if they have any relevent information.
Both Steve and myself have already begun to think of ways we can celebrate our connections and mutual heritage.
Dr Peter Warner