Sports club honour founder 100 years after war death

A memorial plaque featuring the name of Belper Hockey Club founder Henry Gordon Wright, which he had designed and painted as a tribute to others.
A memorial plaque featuring the name of Belper Hockey Club founder Henry Gordon Wright, which he had designed and painted as a tribute to others.

A Belper sports club is to hold a special fixture this weekend to mark the centenary of its founder’s death on a First World War battlefield.

Belper Hockey Club, on Bridge Street, will stage a commemorative friendly match in honour of Henry Gordon Wright on Sunday, April 9, exactly 100 years to the day since he died.

Club chairman Steve Mills, 60, said: “It’s about reconnecting with the community. A lot of people don’t even know there’s a hockey club in Belper - but we’re very much part of the town and its history.

“One of the most important things about sport is its ability to forge and maintain links between people.”

Most of the known details of Henry’s life and role in the club emerged almost by accident, when a club member came across his name while researching another subject.

Steve said: “We knew a little about Henry from a book we put together for our centenary in 2008, but much more of his story has now come to light.”

Born in October 1885 in Canterbury to Joseph and Fanny Wright, Henry later moved to Belper and became an art teacher at Herbert Strutt School when it opened in 1909.

The year before that, in circumstances which have been lost to time, he decided to start a hockey team.

Steve said: “We have very few concrete facts about what was happening in Henry’s life at that moment, we assume he just found himself surrounded by a few like-minded people.

“I’m sure, however, he had no idea that his legacy would be the most successful club in Derbyshire.”

Census records show that in 1911 Henry was boarding with Thomas and Mary Davis at 15 Albert Street.

He married Alethea Bessie Welch, born in Belper 1894, in Stockport in 1914.

A former commander of the Belper Home Guards, when war began Henry joined the Middlesex Regiment.

He was made Second Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion.

The Battle of Arras began on Easter Monday, April 9,1917, and Henry’s company was chosen to lead the first wave of the attack.

The weather was bitterly cold that day. It had been the hardest winter for decades, making life extremely miserable in the trenches.

Henry was killed in action as rain, sleet and snow fell from the sky. He was buried in the Saint Catherine British Cemetery, Arras.

Back in Belper, his name was added to an illuminated scroll for the fallen of the Belper Conservative Club, which Henry had designed and painted himself.

Steve said: “It’s a story which resonates with a lot of club members, he was a young man in education.

“When we look around the changing room, we see people in that same position. It’s a chance to reflect on how things have changed and how fortunate they are.”

Alethea and Henry never had children. Four years after his death she married bus driver Harold Foinquinos, and lived on Crich Lane.

Steve said: “We’ve tried to find living relatives and drawn a blank - but undoubtedly there will be people in the town whose ancestors were taught by Henry.”

The match will bully off at 12.30pm on Sunday, after a wreath-laying ceremony at noon involving mayor Gary Spendlove, leaders of Belper’s First World War commemorations and a standard bearer from the Royal British Legion.

Plans are in place for a new clubhouse to be built later this year, with a permanent plaque to be installed in Henry’s honour.

He said: “One of our responsibilities is to ensure the facilities remain here in future, and remembering our past is a big part of that.”