To mark the 76 years since the death on 14 February 1940 of Henry Clement Francis, the man who gave the land on which the Abbey Stadium stands, we're publishing here an article that appeared in the United club programme on April 11 last year.
If the dark day ever dawns when U’s fans are faced with the terrible task of choosing a successor to I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts as the Abbey’s victory anthem, which song will get your vote? Tiptoe Through the Tulips by the Crooning Troubadour Nick Lucas, perhaps? On the Good Ship Lollipop by Shirley Temple? I bet your finger won’t be hovering anywhere near the Waltzing Matilda button.
Yet that bush ballad about a swagman who prefers topping himself in a billabong to facing justice for nicking a jumbuck has a reasonable claim to the status of United’s hymn. It has a U’s connection, which is more than Coconuts had when it was first dropped on the Tannoy man’s turntable.
Pffffft, you sneer. Justify that ridiculous claim, you demand. I will. Hear and attend and listen; for this befell and behappened and became and was, O my Best Beloved. This is the sort of story that emerges when you start digging around in gloomy archives and little-known corners of the internet. This is the story of Henry Clement Francis.
HC, as we’ll call him, was the Abbey United president who gave the club the land on which you’re probably reading this programme. His daughter, Elizabeth Muriel Saxon, kicked off the first match at the Abbey Stadium on 31 August 1932.
Fifth son of lord of the Quy manor and solicitor of note Clement Francis, HC was a director of the Star Brewery in Newmarket Road, a Cambridge alderman, a county councillor and chairman of the board of guardians for Abbey Ward. Most of that happened in HC’s later years; his younger days were even more interesting.
He’d gone to a posh school, Charterhouse, where he was a classmate of the Boy Scout movement founder Robert Baden-Powell. A dedicated and highly skilled
horseman – he’s pictured with Merryman and Gaylad outside his Burleigh House abode in the late 1930s – he went to Australia in 1876, at the age of 19, to further his farming ambitions. And it was Down Under that he became great mates with the writer and fellow horse devotee Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson.
Banjo was many things – solicitor, journalist, author, poet, Australian icon whose image appears on the $10 note. He also wrote Waltzing Matilda. And there’s your Cambridge United connection.
This is one of many stories Coconutters are uncovering as they delve ever deeper into the social history of Barnwell, Abbey/Cambridge United and their people. They are finding that not all of what we believed about the origins of our club is true, and they are revealing the amazing life stories of extraordinary people – and not many of them are from Henry Clement Francis’s social stratum.
These stories will all be told as the Coconuts project unfolds. Meanwhile, please let us have your stories. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Cambridge United programme for the game against Stevenage on 26 September 2015.
Favourite moment in United history? A certain early summer day at Wembley in 2014, perhaps. A cheeky flick, lob or chip from Dave Kitson? The moment in 1991 when the U’s strode out at Highbury to face the mighty Gunners, roared on by (literally) countless thousands? That unforgettable 5-1 at London Road in 1989? Or perhaps your memory goes back to the day in 1970 when United’s election to the Football League was announced, or further back to the days of Wilf Mannion, the Gallego brothers or even Abbey United’s Wally Wilson and Harvey Cornwell.
The story of the U’s covers a long, long time – 103 years, perhaps even longer – and involves innumerable people, places and events. It’s Coconuts’ aim to cover that entire era and recognise the huge part played by the Cambridge United family in making this the greatest little club in the world.
The first chance to do that in the flesh, as it were, comes next month when a 100 Years of Coconuts display opens at the Museum of Cambridge – the fascinating and inspiring place that used to be known as the Folk Museum. It’s on from October 9 until November 27, and you’ll find the museum at the corner of Castle Hill and Northampton Street.
This will be the first pop-up display in a series enabled by our grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will be followed by a more permanent mini-museum in the Supporters’ Club. We’re talking to other museums that are keen to welcome similar displays. We’re also talking to the Abbey Stadium landlords, Grosvenor, but that’s a story for another time.
The Museum of Cambridge’s Community Cabinet, on the first floor of the ancient building that was once the White Horse Inn, enables many groups to put on this kind of exhibition. The Coconuts display will take visitors (that includes you) on a journey from 1912 to the present day using photographs, rare documents, memorabilia, other precious artefacts, a pair of ladies’ pants and a little imagination. The Coconuts mannequins, whom we’ve named Julian and Sandy in an act of homage to Round the Horne, will model contrasting football fashions from different eras.
While we’re making every effort to make this little exhibition as good as it can be, we’ll also be using it to learn museum-making lessons that will benefit us in formulating future displays. That’s where you come in. Feedback forms will be available at the museum, and we’d also welcome your thoughts in writing on what you’ve seen: please email email@example.com or use the contact form at 100yearsofcoconuts.co.uk/contact-us.html.
While we contemplate the prospect of huge swarms of U’s fans and football historians queuing all the way down to Magdalene Bridge, we’re also wondering where to put all the stuff we’re accumulating when it’s not on display. We’ve been particularly overwhelmed by donations of programmes. While the Coconuts programme collection is in its infancy, it’s fair to say we’ve more than enough from recent years. But please, if you’re thinking of donating or loaning programmes from between the 1940s and the 1980s, go right ahead. You can contact us via the means above, or perhaps leave small donations at the CFU caravan on match days.
See you at the museum.
Happy Harry's blog
I'm the living embodiment of the spirit of the U's, and I'll be blogging whenever I've got news for you, as long as I don't miss my tea.