From The Vaults

22 May 2023
The Battle of the Roses by Andrew Rishworth

A Painting by William Barnes Wollen R.A. (1857-1936)

The Battle of the Roses is a painting by William Barnes Wollen RI that was completed in 1895. Also known as The Roses Match, it is based on the rugby union match played at the ground of the Manchester Athletic Club, at Fallowfleld, Manchester, between the representative sides of Yorkshire and Lancashire on Saturday 24 November 1894.

The Roses Match

The painting depicts a phase in play which ultimately led to a Yorkshire try. The Yorkshire team are shown in an all-white strip while the Lancashire team are in hooped red and white jerseys and black shorts shown trying to halt Yorkshire progress and prevent the pass being made.

After being exhibited in Huddersfield in January 1896 it was subsequently exhibited at the 1896 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. At the time the painting was exhibited in Huddersfield two newspaper reports, from the Huddersfield Daily Examiner dated 23 January 1986 and the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle dated 25 January 1986, provided a detailed description of the painting and the events depicted.

Between 1891 to 1895 the County Championship was determined by the so called 'second system'. This consisted of four regional groupings; North West, South West, North East and South East. The groups were played on a round-robin basis with each county playing each other once. The winners of each of the regional groups then competed in the national Championship Series, again on a round-robin basis, to determine the overall winner of the Championship.

For the 1894-95 season Yorkshire competed in the North Eastern Counties Group alongside Durham and Northumberland. Lancashire competed in the North Western Counties Group alongside Cheshire, Cumberland and Westmoreland.

Yorkshire topped their group having beaten Durham at the Victoria Ground, Hartlepool (now the home of Hartlepool United AFC) on 10 November 1894 and Northumberland at Headingley, Leeds on 17 November 1894. Meanwhile in the North Western Counties group had been won by Cumberland.

As Yorkshire and Lancashire had been kept apart in the regional groupings and by 24 November 1894 Cumberland and Yorkshire had already qualified for the Championship Series it's not clear how the Lancashire v Yorkshire fixture fits into the format of the Championship. That said, various newspaper reports clearly refer to the game being a County Championship fixture and the York Herald of 1 December 1894 noted that the winner of the fixture 'is generally looked upon as the probable winner of the above Championship.'

It is possible that this was a play-off fixture as Yorkshire had qualified from a group of three whereas Lancashire had been runners-up from a group of four. However, what is certain is that the Lancashire v Yorkshire fixture was played on an annual basis independent of the championship. Prior to the meeting of 24 November 1894 the two counties had met on 24 previous occasions; Lancashire winning eight, Yorkshire nine, and seven games had been drawn.

From the newspaper descriptions and with assistance from Tom Broadley's daughter and the 1969 Yorkshire Rugby Union Centenary book, it is possible to identify the players and the prominent dignitaries that have been included in the painting. However, when the line ups from the teams that actually played in the fixture of 24 November 1894 are compared to those identified in the painting it becomes clear that Wollen has applied his artistic licence to create a stylised interpretation to represent the actual game; Barrett and Woodward of Lancashire and Bradshaw, Lockwood, Speed and Wood of Yorkshire are all depicted in the painting but did not actually play.

Given that Wollen painted the picture after the event he would have been aware of the line-ups for both sides, obviously space would not allow all 30 players to be represented on the canvas so he would have had to make some choices about who to leave out and who would feature prominently but why include six players that didn't actually play?

Perhaps the answer is contained in the following quote from the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle:

'The figures have all been drawn from portraits, or from special sittings which a number of the players have given the artist, and included are many of the prominent players who have worn the jerseys of the respective counties at one time or another within the last few years.'

Selection for inclusion may have been based on Wollen's access to photographs or the players themselves from which he could capture their portrait. If a portrait was unavailable or a sitting could not be arranged then maybe the player was either omitted or replaced by a well-known player whose portrait was available.

Interestingly, the description from the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle notes that J Simpson of Rochdale had been included but he did not feature in the match of 24 November 1894 nor has he been identified as being present in the painting.

Wollen's painting may be interpreted as a golden age for rugby but the storm clouds had already begun to gather before the schism.

In his roles as both a historian and 'war correspondent' Wollen would have been aware of the need to accurately represent the facts in artistic form. He was more than just an artist but also reporter of events using pictures and illustrations to tell the story where journalists would use words. As such it is likely that even the smallest details in his paintings would not have been included unless they had significance in the wider context of the story that was being told. Wollen would have been highly accomplished in the art of depicting a single scene to tell the whole story and place it contextually within wider events.

That being the case, the deliberate substitution of the match day referee for Mr Rowland Hill and the prominent position that he has been afforded suggests that this was a conscious act. It also appears that the inclusion and prominence of Rowland Hill has been at the expense of one of the players (the ghost player occupies a similar position on the canvas to the referee to such an extent that he would have overlapped, obscured and detracted attention away from Rowland Hill). It's unlikely that such a measured alteration would have been made unless the inclusion of Rowland Hill was of greater contextual significance beyond the story of the game.

If the inclusion of Rowland Hill wasn't so significant then why not place him in the crowd with the other dignitaries or give him a less prominent position on the field of play? Either option would have maintained the integrity of the original composition. Instead Wollen elected to compromise his original artistic intent to place Rowland Hill at the centre of the story. Whether he made such a decision of his own accord or whether instructed to do so we'll probably never know.

About the Author - Andrew Rishworth hails from the West Riding of Yorkshire. Accidents of history and geography nurtured a lifelong passion for Bradford City AFC, formerly Manningham FC.

In 1903 the members of Manningham FC, a rugby club, voted to switch from the handling game to the dribbling game. Andrew's research into the heritage grounds of Bradford City expanded to include those of the predecessor club. In the course of this research he stumbled across press reports describing the heroics of Alf Barraclough, the Manningham forward and captain, in 'The Roses Match'a painting by WB Wollen that hangs at Twickenham.

The painting now hangs in the President's Suite at Twickenham but how and why did the striking image of Alf Barraclough in full flight end up here? Andrew went in search of why Alf Barraclough ended up in 'The Roses Match'features in the painting and discovered a story with relevance beyond the city of Bradford.

Andrew is the author of All Aboard the Bradford Train published in 2018 and has written several articles for the Bradford City fanzine, The City Gent, on the subject of the club's heritage grounds.