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By Bob Blenkinsop

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Ernest Blenkinsop was born in Cudworth in April 1902, and went on to become one of the most successful footballers of the inter-war period. He won a wide range of domestic and international honours during his long career with Sheffield Wednesday and England, but his first experience of work was gained in the six years he worked at Brierley Colliery from 1915 to 1921.

The Blenkinsop family had been in Cudworth since the early 1800's. Thomas Blenkinsop, an Officer of the Excise from Barnsley, married Sarah Addey in Cudworth in 1804, and it is highly likely that any Blenkinsops in the Barnsley area are descended from them and their four sons. During the 1800's most of the Blenkinsop family worked in farming and then coal mining, but it also included the licensee of the Star Inn, Cudworth during the 1880's and a Butcher who had a shop in Shambles Street, Barnsley for many years from the late 1800's. Ernest was the second son of James and Annie (nee Green) Blenkinsop. Ernest attended school in St John's Road, Cudworth but at the age of 13 followed his father and elder brother into the mines, working at Brierley Colliery

Ernest Blenkinsop during his football days at Cudworth before going on to play for England

Cudworth Village F.C.1921/22. Ernest can be seen back row 5th from the left.

Ernest seen here wearing one of his England caps

In the early 1900's football was increasingly becoming the popular sport of the working classes in the industrial North. Following the introduction of half-day working on Saturday during the late 1800's, the workingman had his first real opportunity for recreation and many turned their attention to playing or watching football. There was a rapid emergence of professional teams and local amateur leagues, particularly in the Mining areas of the North and Scotland, and the textile towns of Lancashire. Barnsley was no exception.  Barnsley FC were formed as Barnsley St Peter in 1887 and enjoyed some significant success prior to the First World War, including victory in the 1912 FA Cup Final. The period following the War saw a further expansion in the number of local leagues and teams in the Barnsley area.

Cudworth St Johns, Cudworth UMC, and Cudworth Industrial all played in the Barnsley Association League, but Cudworth Village was the only Cudworth team to play in the Senior Division of the league. Other prominent teams in the Senior Division included Grimethorpe, Houghton Main Colliery, Darton United, and Monckton Athletic. One correspondent in the Barnsley Independent offered the opinion that "with teams at Cudworth like the Village and the UMC there is no necessity for Cudworthians to go meandering to Monckton to see good football." Ernest first joined his elder brother Herbert Harry (known as Tarry) in the Cudworth Village team at the age of fifteen. By the 1920-21 season eighteen-year-old Ernest was the star of the team that finished fifth in the league and enjoyed a successful run in the Barnsley and District Challenge Cup.

This level of football was well supported by paying customers. Local Cup competitions represented a source of significant revenue for the committees that managed local teams, and the committees would often resort to illegitimate tactics to enable progress in these competitions. The semi-final of the 1920-21 Barnsley Cup between Cudworth and Wombwell was one such instance. Following a Cudworth victory, Wombwell complained that Ernest had played in the Cudworth team while serving a suspension. The league ordered a replay and fined Cudworth 10 shillings and sixpence. Ultimately, this proved to be a very satisfactory outcome for Cudworth as they won the replayed game 2-1 (without the suspended Ernest) and the gate receipts from the crowd of over 2,000 would certainly have more than compensated for the fine incurred for the earlier breach of rules.  Cudworth met Monckton in the final at Oakwell on Easter Tuesday in front of a crowd of 5,800 (paying gate receipts of 227).  According to the Barnsley Independent Monckton were worthy 2-0 winners of a "rough game" in which Ernest "shone in the middle line" for Cudworth. The Cudworth team that day was:

Colbourne, Iveson, H. Blenkinsop, Hunt, Armstrong, E. Blenkinsop, Brown, Driver, Reynolds, Hitchen, and Barber.

At the clubs AGM in May 1921 it was reported that the season had been considered a success, despite the fact that the club had incurred a loss of 8. This was attributed to the fact that a backlog of home games towards the end of the season had unfortunately coincided with a coal strike that had impacted attendances and gate receipts. By the start of the following season the young Cudworth team were starting to attract the attention of a number of professional clubs and in October 1921 Ernest signed for Hull City, who paid Cudworth the unusual transfer fee of 100 and 80 pints of ale! Ernest picked up a signing on fee of 10 and his wages jumped from 30 shillings at Brierley to 5 a week. One account of the transfer describes how Ernest insisted on working out his notice at Brierley, only to be dispatched immediately by the Colliery manager who advised him that "Owt might 'appen down t'pit in a week". The Barnsley Independent reported the transfer under the headline of "Cudworth Player for Hull" and went on to report that "the player is well spoken of, has been sought by several clubs, and his admirers will hope that he develops". 

Although Ernest only made 11 first team appearances for Hull, it was a move that would change his life. He subsequently signed for Sheffield Wednesday in January 1923, and in his 11 years with Wednesday he made over 420 appearances, won two First Division championships, and collected 26 full England caps. He set a record for consecutive international appearances, playing in every England game from 1928 to November 1933, and he captained the national team on 4 occasions. In March 1934 Ernest transferred to Liverpool for 6000, and he moved on to Cardiff City in 1937, where he ended his league career just prior to the war.

A professional footballer during the inter-war period would have enjoyed a reasonable standard of living but it was a far cry from the luxurious life-styles of their modern day counterparts. For the first time football had started to generate significant income, but the players only received a small share of this. Ernest's wages were capped at the maximum wage payable to footballers (8 per week during the season) and he received 6 for each England appearance. For a Wembley international in the early 1930's the Football Association actually paid the Band that provided the pre-match entertainment more than they paid the England team! 

Ernest married Winnie Stewart of Sheffield in 1926 and they had two children, Beryl and Barry. At the outbreak of war in 1939 he returned to Sheffield and worked in the steel industry, and made guest appearances in wartime football for Buxton, Halifax, Bradford City and Bradford Park Avenue. After the war he became a licensee, running the Sportsman's Inn in Crosspool, Sheffield until his death in 1969. 

Most of the Blenkinsop family had migrated from Cudworth by the mid-1900's. The strikes and the economic depression of the 1920's caused many, including Ernest's brother Tarry, to seek jobs away from mining and from Barnsley. There was, however, still a family connection with the next generation of Cudworth footballers. Allan Green who played in the successful Darfield Road Juniors team of the mid-1950's and went on to play for Barnsley and York City was the grandnephew of Annie Blenkinsop, Ernest's mother

Bob Blenkinsop July 2002

Footnote: Ernest Blenkinsop was my grandfather, and I would be very interested in hearing from anybody who has any information about the Blenkinsops of Barnsley or Cudworth. Please don't hesitate to contact me at: bblenkin@bblenkinsop.wanadoo.co.uk 

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