William Ashburner


Midlands Rugby Union
22-01-1921 v Hunslet
1922- Wigan Highfield
20 (0)

Biography of William Ashburner

William Ashburner by Alex Service

William Ashburner joined the Saints in the early years after the First World War as a right centre threequarter. He played two seasons at Knowsley Road, although he switched to the left flank in the 1921-22 campaign. He came from Millom and in his early teenage years [13] was involved in a dramatic situation when he and the group of lads he was with, got into difficulties whilst swimming in the Irish Sea off Millom beach. There were four in the group. William, although exhausted himself, managed to help two of the others to safety. One boy, unfortunately, drowned. As a result of his actions, he was awarded a certificate from the Royal Humane Society for his undoubted courage. To our knowledge, one other Saint, Matt Creevey, was also presented with a similar award, as was Bill Mulvanney of the Recs, although they were well into adulthood.

William was one of three players who had a First Team trial with St. Helens in the game against Hunslet in January 1921 at Knowsley Road. There were three trialists: one named McLachlan, on the wing, the next was called Johnson, a centre and finally Donaldson, who played at stand-off half.

McLachlan turned out to be a winger called Henry Burrows, aged 22. Johnson was Ashburner himself. No reference was made in the St. Helens Newspaper to the half-back, who was not signed on. Ashburner and Burrows, according to the paper came from a well-known Midlands team. Given his calling as a schoolmaster, it could well have been a teacher training establishment of some sort, but that is pure speculation.

William Ashburner’s address is given as Oxford Street, St. Helens in the Rugby League Registers of the time, which was a Saints club house for players to live in who signed from a relatively large distance away, such as Wales. William played for his native Cumberland while at St. Helens and generally gave a good account of himself in his new colours, but there were dark clouds on the horizon and he ended up playing back in Cumbria, as the Millom Gazette explained on 13th October 1922: “We are informed on very good authority that W. Ashburner of St Helens will in the near future be seen in the ranks of the local side. Ashburner, who is stated to have had a difference with the Treasurer of the St Helens club last season, was suspended by the club at the time. No settlement has since been arrived at and ashburner has decided to throw in his lot with the Millom club. Full particulars have been taken with regard to this player’s eligibility and Millom club has been assured by the powers that be that Ashburner will be fully eligible to play for Millom in league and cup games.”

By the start of the 1923-24 season, he was involved in a transfer deal which saw him go to Wigan Highfield, with Welsh flying wingman Charles Pitman coming to Knowsley Road. William won further county honours at the Wigan club, but the Liverpool Echo stated that there was an unforeseen legacy preventing his debut for his new club, at home to Wigan: “It was unfortunate for Highfield that they were unable to play their new man, Ashburner of St Helens, who, on arriving at the ground found that he had been suspended for three weeks as the result of an incident in a Cumbrian League match at the close of last season.”

In terms of the town and the Saints, however, there was more to come from William. By January 1937, William had been a member of the St. Helens Committee and was appointed Secretary of the club in succession to Mr. A. Robinson, the late Secretary-Manager of the club. An article in the St. Helens Newspaper tells us that:

"Mr. Ashburner it will be remembered occupied the post of Secretary for a short period before resigning in the position and is the Headmaster of a Huyton school. He is a well-known figure in the Volunteers. Last season he made rugby league history when he organised and conducted a tour of France with a party of St. Helens schoolboys."

In fact, in September 1931 he was appointed as Headmaster at the Huyton and Roby C of E school after being Senior Assistant Master at Knowsley Road junior school, where he had been for fourteen years. He was the Secretary and Organiser of the St Helens Schoolboy’s Rugby League for twelve years and it appears that William was not the only member of his family who had moved to the wider St Helens area. His brother Rev GB Ashburner was the Vicar of Rainhill for many years and in September 1931 his other brother C Ashburner was married at Rainhill Parish Church, with William as Best Man. Further details of the wedding reached the Millom Gazette and clearly rugby was in the family’s DNA: “Mr C Ashburner is still a keen enthusiast of rugby football and plays in the threequarter position for the Rainhill County Mental Hospital, where he is engaged as a nurse.”

The SHS would like to thank Mike Latham for his information and details of Ashburner’s bravery can be found in the Yorkshire Post 12-10-1910.


Season (Official Matches)TriesGoalsDGoalsMatches
1920~21 2 1 0 12
1921~22 0 1 0 8
TOTALS:2 2 0 20
Season (Other Matches)TriesGoalsDGoalsMatches
1921~22 1001


22nd Jan 1921 1
2 Hunslet L H 8 7 1 VIEW
29th Jan 1921 2
3 Warrington L A 2 15 VIEW
5th Feb 1921 3
3 Rochdale Hornets L H 0 10 VIEW
12th Feb 1921 4
3 Keighley L A 0 9 VIEW
19th Feb 1921 5
3 Barrow L A 5 25 VIEW
5th Mar 1921 6
3 Oldham L H 11 3 1 VIEW
19th Mar 1921 7
3 Hunslet L A 5 7 VIEW
25th Mar 1921 8
3 Wigan L A 3 24 VIEW
26th Mar 1921 9
3 Oldham L A 0 28 VIEW
28th Mar 1921 10
3 Broughton Rangers L H 9 7 VIEW
2nd Apr 1921 11
3 Salford L A 10 5 VIEW
22nd Apr 1921 12
3 Leigh L H 15 8 1 VIEW
3rd Sep 1921 13
4 Huddersfield L A 3 38 VIEW
10th Sep 1921 14
4 Salford L H 16 6 1 VIEW
22nd Oct 1921 15
6 Warrington L A 0 11 VIEW
29th Oct 1921 --
6 Hull * Fr H 12 29 1 VIEW
24th Dec 1921 16
4 St. Helens Recs L A 0 6 VIEW
26th Dec 1921 17
4 Wigan L H 5 10 VIEW
4th Feb 1922 18
5 Huddersfield L H 5 27 VIEW
11th Feb 1922 19
4 Oldham L A 8 34 VIEW
18th Feb 1922 20
4 Leigh L H 3 11 VIEW
*Unofficial Match. **Non Playing Sub.
WINS : 6 | LOSSES : 15 | DRAWS :

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