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.