This is a revised version of an article that appeared in the Cambridge United matchday programme for the game against Cochester United on 2 September 2017.
They’re off … and as they pass the Abbey Church in Newmarket Road it’s Warren and Ellis jostling for the lead. Ellis last year’s winner, of course.
Past the brickyards, and at the Paper Mills it’s Warren making the pace. Out on the muddy Quy road it’s still Warren, looking remarkably fresh. He reaches the turn at Bottisham Swan in style, with Ellis looking good too, but trailing. My word, this is fast.
The runners are facing a stiff headwind on the return leg, but that doesn’t bother Warren.
The Boxing Day costers’ barrow ‘marathon’ of 1913 was dominated by Ben Warren from gun to tape, and his one hour, 26 minutes was indeed a record for the annual event.
It was a remarkable performance in heavy going – Newmarket Road was not the free-flowing highway we know today – and he picked up £2 5s 0d for his efforts.
Along the 12-mile route the 14 competitors pushed their costermongers’ barrows past builder William Sindall’s joinery works. If the race had been run in 1932, the contenders might have encountered Abbey United supporters on their way to prepare their pitch behind the works for the following day’s friendly against Bottisham.
The 1913 race attracted a large crowd – it was by then established as one of Cambridge’s festive season highlights, having started around 1890 – and volunteer collectors gathered a goodly sum for Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Another volunteer, the Newmarket Road shoemaker Thomas Thickpenny Cash, acted as timekeeper. His father Isaac Thickpenny Cash was active in the organisation of the race, and several other Cashes were involved.
Coconuts is very interested in the Cash families of early 20th century Barnwell. In fact, a small group of researchers has been delving into the archives in search of two family members who played for Abbey United in 1913, and may have been among the crowd cheering the barrow racers on.
The work was part of a research project run in partnership with Wolfson College and funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. The aim was to throw some light on the everyday lives of working-class east Cambridge during World War I, and knowing what happened to the lads who played for the pre-Great War Abbey was part of that.
We know that two young men called Cash, one with the initial H, turned out for the club in a 3-2 defeat to Watts & Sons on Midsummer Common on 29 November 1913. It seems likely that 16-year-old Harry Cash was the ‘H’ in question; in 1911 he was living at 147 Newmarket Road with aunt and uncle Catherine and William Bruce.
Young Harry was killed in France in 1917, while fighting with the Cambridgeshire Regiment, but his older brother William, who was also living with the Bruces in 1911, survived the war.
Were these Cash brothers Abbey United pioneers? We need to know, and if you have any information that could help, please get in touch at email@example.com.
Meanwhile, the outcomes of the Coconuts research are nearing fulfilment: a booklet will be published in the coming months, and there will also be a display at the Museum of Cambridge.
Before I go, I should tell you who finished third in that 1913 costers’ race: a certain J Doggett.