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THREE OWENS AT DURHAM UNIVERSITY IN THE EARLY 1890S

Two of my grandfather's brothers, Eyton Pritchard Owen (1868-1950) and Oswald Williams Owen (1870-1939), and their cousin Thomas Edward Owen (1865-1932), all attended Durham University. It was only when looking through the online past University Journals that I realised that their times at Durham overlapped. The journals of the early 1890s record their academic progress but they mainly record their sporting activities; all three were keen sportsmen. Often team lists were not provided so it is likely they were involved on many more occasions than when their names did appear in team lists or in match reports. Often when one was referred to simply as "Owen" it is possible to deduce which Owen it was. Unfortunately the journals from 1888 to early 1890 are not available online so some information may be missing. The name of Os appears first in March 1890, that of Eyton in May 1890 and that of Thomas in October 1890.

ACADEMIC STUDENT CAREERS

The two Owen brothers were at Hatfield College; the university operated a residential, collegiate system, the only other college at that time being University College. Most of Hatfield's students and staff then were associated with theology, the senior staff all being clerics; Os would follow his father into the church, as did his cousin Thomas. In October 1890 Os satisfied the examiners in the "First Year in Arts, Mathematical and Physical Science" [1890-91, p.86] and the following month did likewise in the BA, Theological portion exam [1890-91, p.118]. In June 1891, he passed his "Final BA, Classical portion of the Classical and General literature" exam and was awarded his BA degree on 23 June [1890-91, p.199]. A year later he passed his final in Theology and was awarded his Licence in Theology (L.Th). As a past student, his ordination as a deacon in 1895 and a year later as a priest, both held at at Chester Cathedral, were recorded in the Journal.

Eyton like Os was at Hatfield College and faced the same first two examinations as his brother, in February 1891 [1890-91, p.148] and in December 1891 [1890-91, p.148], respectively. He was awarded his BA degree in Decenber 1892 having passed his Mathematical and Physical Science with a Class vi, less than a week before his cousin, Thomas, was ordained a deacon at Chester Cathedral. [1891-92, p.99 & 115]

What of Thomas? Unlike his cousins, Thomas was never associated with one of the two residential colleges. It is almost certain that he was the Owen (no initials) who on 13 March 1891 was elected onto the committee of the St Cuthbert's Society [1890-91, p.30] (aka "Cuths"). St Cuthbert is buried in Durham and Cuths had been founded in 1888 as an alternative to college living. Its committee was responsible for the organisation of social events, sports fixtures and other clubs as well as managing the Cuths common room, etc.

Before Thomas went to Durham he had been following in the footsteps of his eldest brother, William, and had already passed the preliminary examination of the Incorporated Law Society in 1888 [North Wales Chronicle, 2 June 1888]. He was still pursuing a legal career when he married on 14 December 1889. It was thus a brave decision to change career at that point and to lose his income though it seems his wife generated an income by continuing to work as a schoolteacher (if a women of that era and of that social standing worked at all, she rarely did so once she was married).

The first specific mention of Thomas in the Durham journals was playing for the Varsity football team in late October 1890, less than two weeks before he "Signed the Warden's Book" [1890-91, p.97], presumably marking Thomas's official entry into the university since in those days the warden was the executive head of the university.

In October 1891 Thomas passed his first year exams in Arts, Classical & General Literature, passing "Classical and General Literature", the Theological Portion, at the same time as Eyton, less than two months later. Then in the summer of 1892, just as Os completed his L.Th., Thomas completed his BA by passing the "Classical portion". Unlike Os, Thomas was ordained a deacon just a few months later, at Bangor Cathedral.

FOOTBALL AT DURHAM

The football reports indicate that all three of the Owens regularly represented the university in the Varsity football team; Thomas played a back, and the two Owen brothers played half-backs. Up until the 1890-91 season only the two brothers were mentioned in the football reports. The previous set of journals being unavailable, the first relevant report is in a match against Darlington in February 1890. "... the Varsity defence being exceedingly strong and preventing any score being made against them until within three minutes of time, when Hutchinson scored a lucky goal for Darlington. Owen at "half" played a magnificent game for the Varsity." The following month, "Owen" (again no initials) was one of four players to be awarded his colours; he was described as a "hardworking half" and "much improved since the beginning of the season". The likelihood is that this was Eyton because a year later all three Owens were awrded their football colours, with a note that Eyton was already an 'old palatinate' (A 'palatinate' at Durham was almost equivalent to a 'blue' at Oxford or Cambridge Universities).

In October 1890 the Varsity team lost 0-2 to Scarborough; "Of the 'Varsity team E.P. Owen and T. Owen were decidedly the best .." [1890-91, p.107]. The following week all three Owens played for the Varsity team that won 5-2 against Auckland; "T E. Owen and E.P. Owen showed some brilliant play at the back" [1890-91, p.107]. In mid November 1890 "The backs and half-backs on both sides played a good game, T. Owen being especially prominent" in a 2-2- draw with Darlington [1890-91, p.107] (No team list). In January 1891 the Owen brothers played for Varsity Nondescripts in a 4-2 win over Durham City [1890-91, p.139]. In at least three more games towards the end of the season all three Owens played together.

In the first half of the 1891-92 season, Thomas and Os played regularly with reports saying: "T Owen and Jeffrey, the full backs, played a grand game, and it was mainly through their accurate and vigorous play that no goals were scored against the 'Varsity.": "Smith in goal and T. Owen saved the score from being considerably larger": "If it had not been for T. Owen and J.R. Smith, there is no telling what the score would have been." Then, with the start of 1892, there was the comment: "The loss of L.R. Challen, J.R. Smith, and O.W. Owen, who have gone down, has left us in a rather crippled condition." [1892-93, p.10]

The compliments continued about Thomas: "Owen and Tuson, however, were equal to every call upon them.": "Owen was in grand form and Tuson lent him able assistance." It was no surprise that Thomas was one of three to be re-awarded their palatinates [1892-93, p.35]. Eyton appears to have missed that football season but, although all three Owens had graduated before the end of 1892, Eyton returned to play football from January to March 1993. One wonders if he began a course leading to L.Th. or if he was undergoing some training for his future career as a teacher. His football skills had not diminished having taken a season off. One report stated, "Of the halves, Owen was the pick, being more than a match frequently for J. Hannah, though the latter is one of the finest forwards in England". Unsurprisingly Eyton was one of those who had their paltinates renewed. [1892-93, p.134]

ROWING

Elvet Bridge, Durham Eyton and his brother Os were quite small young men and both were competent coxes. Eyton was named as a cox in the 1890 university regatta held in June; presumably Os was the "Owen" who also coxed since, at the end of the regatta, he was selected to cox in one of the two represenative crews for the University Boat CLub and was awarded his colours. In February the following year Eyton (8st 8lb) coxed for a Hatfield boat at 'The Trial Fours" and was selected to represent the Hatfield Hall Boat Club. In the 1891 University Regatta Senior Inter-Collegiate Fours (Long Course) Eyton was the Hatfield cox. "Hatfield, having won the toss, took the easy arch, starting on the Race-course-side. The two boats got well away together, but Hatfield immediately began to draw away, and outside the Wood were clear of their opponents. They increased their lead to two lengths at Baths' Bridge, St. Cuthberts pulled up a little, but could not get near their opponents, who won easily by two-and-a-half lengths. Time, 6mins. 58 secs." In the final against University College, for which Tyndall was stroke: "Tyndall won the toss and started from he Race-course-side. Both crews got well away. The Castle [i.e. University Coll.], stroking slower than Hatfield, led down to Baths' Bridge by a slight advantage. Rounding the sweep at Henderson's Lodge, the Castle, with the easy arch, passed Elvet with a lead of one-and-a-half lengths, which was increased to two lengths round Bow Corner. Here the Castle slackened a little, and the Hatfield stroke made a determined effort to catch his opponent, but the Castle pulled themselves together again and won by two lengths." However, over the short course, handicap, Cutter competition, Eyton negotiated two qualifying rounds and went on to win the final. [1890-91, p.194]

Durham Map In the 1893 Regatta Scratch Fours, rowed over the short course from the Ash Tree to Baths' bridge, rowing conditions were extremely difficult due to the strong wind up stream creating great waves. "Owen [presumably this was Eyton], Constable, Jeffrey, Pope (str.), Ferris (cox.)" won their first round: "Pope got the race-course side, which under the conditions of wind and river, was easily a length and a half the better side, and with a good start slowly drew ahead, passing the winning post two lengths to the good". In the second round Pope again took advantage of the most favourable side to win by two lengths. Their luck could not last and having drawn the worse side they lost in the semi-final, failing to make up for a poor start. Eyton qualified for the final of the Gabbett Cup but, as he was making up ground on his opponent, "just above Bede College, he had a slight mishap" and he lost. [1892-93, p.133]

ATHLETICS

Another sport in which Os and Eyton excelled was athletics.

In "The Sports" held in May 1890, Eyton Owen won the mile race. "Among perfomances Owen's mile shewed a creditable time [4m 48s] over a grass course. ... This proved by far the most interesting event of the day. The competitors after getting away kept well together for the first lap; Leonard then began to draw ahead and for some time kept a steady lead. He was, however, passed early in the last lap by Owen and Wansbrough, between whom a fine race ensued. Owen drew clear about 300 yards from home and finished with a fine rush, winning by five yards." [1890-91, p.47] That this was Eyton was confirmed by a letter published in the Journal: "SIR,-In the reports of the Sports which appeared in the last issue of the Journal, a great injustice is done to E.P. Owen, whose running of the mile race was quite the event of the day, and whose lamentable ill-luck in the river the next day drew forth the sympathies of all. The report says Owen won the mile by five yards! Fifty would have been nearer the mark. The distance between him and Wansbrough could not have been less than thirty yards. If this race was only "creditable," what must the other events of the day have been? It is perhaps well to be sparing in the use of epithets, but plausu fremituque virum, "brilliant" would surely have been more accurate. W.C.T." [1890-91, p.57]

On the first day, Os also finished first in his heat of the 1/4 mile handicap but failed to qualify. On the second day Eyton was third in the 1/4 mile scratch and fourth in the steeplechase; he was leading after Pelaw Wood by ten yards but chose to wade the river and was passed by those who took the bridge. [1890-91, p.47]

However he learned from his mistake and in "The Athletic Sports" the following year. "The greatest interest was, as usual, centred on the Steeplechase, which produced one of the grandest contests we have had for the prize presented by the ladies of Durham. Shackel led up to the top of Maiden Castle, but did not put in an early appearance on the other side, where E.P. Owen, O.W. Owen, and Ekins rushed down the steep incline, and led by 30 yards from Bayly and Hulton. Half-a-mile farther on E.P. Owen had a clear lead of 15 yards from Ekins, and Hulton, increasing his pace, looked as if he was going to catch the leaders;... E.P. Owen then made a short cut, and by this means kept his lead, and they passed over Shincliffe Bridge without much alteration. On the return journey on the other side of the river, Ekins began to close up, and in the ploughed field before Pelaw Wood was only two yards behind, with Hulton 30 yards away. Owen then drew away slightly, was four yards ahead half-way through the wood, and 10 yards at Bede College landing stage, while Hulton was quite 120 yards behind. Here Ekins took the water, Owen, with memories of last year's steeplechase, chose to cross by Baths' Bridge. From this point the race was most exciting. Entering the field at the corner, Owen steered badly by the hurdles, while Ekins climbed the palings by the seat, and had some difficulty with the strings marking out the 100 yards course. Putting in all they knew, they were level twenty yards from home, when Owen's superior condition gave him the advantage, and finishing very strongly he won a magnificent race by two feet."

On the previous day Os had won the lomg jump with 19' 2" and Eyton had won the mile: "The mile resulted, as was expected, in a victory for E.P. Owen. The men kept in a body most of the way, Ekins generally leading, till within 150 yards from home. E.P. Owen then made his effort, and, stalling off a determined spurt by Hulton, won by 6 yards. ... The time was slow, as not only was the wind very bad but also Owen and Hulton kept behind, neither of them wishing to make pace, trusting in their sprinting powers to snatch a victory at the end."

On the second day, as well as winning the steeplechase: "In the scratch quarter-mile, Walker led off in his old style, and looked certain of victory, but at two-thirds of the distance E.P. Owen spurted in front, and Walker, in his untrained condition, could not pass him, and was beaten by two and a half yards in the slow time of 57 1/2 seconds." The report concluded: "The chief laurels rest with E.P. Owen who won three scratch races and then with CF Constable ....; both ran in exceedingly good form and were deservedly great favourites with the spectators." [1890-91, p.165]

Of the Owens, only Os appears in the 1892 "Annual Athletic Club Sports" being narrowly beaten in the Long Jump; "It was very unfortunate for Owen that he sprained his leg, or he might have beaten his last year's jump; as it was he all but gained the first prize." Despite his injury he finished 2nd in the Quarter Mile (Scratch) next day: "Owen led at first, but after an exciting struggle Constable closed with him and eventually won by some five yards." [1892-93, p.43]

FURTHER NEWS FROM THE JOURNALS

In addition to all the above sports both Os and Eyton were reported as playing 'fives', Os played tennis for his college, and one of the two was involved in at least one game of rugby in November 1890 when Hatfield Hall won by "1 goal 4 minors to 1 try 1 minor" (the scoring system has clearly changed since then!). Thomas played cricket for Varsity, for Varsity Nondescripts and for Durham Colleges and in March 1892, he was one of twelve welshmen who attended the St David's Day dinner at at the Three Tuns Hotal, followed by a musical entertainment. [1892-93, p.25]

In 1890 Durham was one of the first universities to admit women on an equal footing to men so it was interesting to see that the following year Hatfield Hall Debating Society held a debate on the motion, "That in the opinion of this House the higher education of women should be encouraged". One amusing argument in favour of the motion was: "As a wife, higher education raised her to the intellectual level of her husband or enabled her to raise him to hers"! Most of the arguments against now seem incredibly outdated e.g. "With higher education we should have ladies in Parliament" (Of course, it was several decades after this debate that women got the right to vote so the propect of women sitting in Parliament was, at that time, beyond the pale.) and "higher education was productive of blue-stockings and nothing was more objectionable than a strong-minded woman." Some of the remarks may have been made 'tongue in cheek'. Nevertheless, this strong-minded, well-educated (B.Sc. 1st class Hons.) women was appalled to discover that her own kinsman, Os, at that time a postgraduate student, chose to speak AGAINST the motion from the floor! [1891-92, p.235]

GOLD MEDAL FOR BRAVERY

Such news as ordinations and appointments for former students sometimes appears in the Durham University Journals. A report that appeared in November 1893 is worthy of mention. It concerns an event that occured on 17 July that year (it is described in the main section of this site and, in fact, recently acquired information will shortly be added to it):

"GOLD MEDAL FOR BRAVERY.- EP Owen, BA, Hatf.,1892, a master in Waterloo High School, Blundellsands, Liverpool, has received a gold medal from the Royal Humane Society. In July last, three boys (two brothers) were bathing at Blundellsands when there was a rough sea, a gale blowing, and a swift tide. They were on a sand bank, cut off from the beach by a quickly deepening channel. The coastguard spent some time in trying to get off two boats; before they reached the boys a sea swept one of the brothers away from the rest. Owen plunged in after him and brought him to shore more dead than alive, and himself greatly exhausted. The others were drowned. At the inquest the naval men said that only a strong swimmer could wrestle with such a sea: Owen (who was almost spent in swimming across the Wear at the sports of 1890) said he could swim a quarter of a mile, at a pinch. [1892-93, p.184]

POSTSCRIPT

In 1890 Eyton and Os's sister Mary had married into a very wealthy Tyson family of Liverpool and it was interesting to discover from the Journals that her brother-in-law, Henry Tyson, who had graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, was at University College Durham for a year with the three Owens while he studied for his L.Th.; he qualifed in the summer of 1891. He often appeared in the Journals as a rower but, he must have been of a heavier build than the Owen brothers who coxed; Henry Tyson generally rowed at stroke. The father of Eyton and Os was a vicar and did not have sufficient funds to send his two younger sons to university - there were small scholarships but no grants at that time - so it may well be that Henry's father, John Dawson, helped finance Eyton and Os through college.

By coincidence, this page was generated shortly after one of my granddaughters started studying engineering at Durham. She too has taken to rowing so will soon become familiar with the stretches of the Wear these young men rowed.

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