|Fred Barton by Alex Service |
Fred was the younger brother of a true Saints’ great, Tom Barton and there are interesting facts about his family. The 1892 census shows that Fred was one year old and living with the family in Ryebread Lane in Castleford. He was born there. His father, Thomas, was a Foreman Bricklayer. Tom [jr] became a bricklayer himself in later years and capitalised on the building boom in the USA for a spell. But fast forward ten years and the family are in St. Helens, at an address in New Cross Street. It should be noted that Fred’s parents are both from St. Helens, initially, so there may have been a work-related reason why they went to Castleford in the first place.
By the 1911 Census, Tom had moved away [to New Cross Street] but the address changes to Doulton Street, where Fred is classed as a general labourer, aged 21. As for his rugby, it was certainly in the genes. His eldest brother, Jack, had also played for the Saints as well as the mighty Tom. As a result of such family connections, much interest was centred around his debut against lowly Merthyr Tydfil at Knowsley Road on 12th November 1910 in a league match. Spectators were bemoaning the fact that there had been so many injuries to players, particularly threequarters and the Saints also needed a win! They did so 13-3 and two tries were scored by wingers Flanagan and Barton. Fred’s debut try was just before half-time, when he kicked over the full-back’s head and was obstructed. The referee awarded the three points. The St. Helens Newspaper was suitably encouraged: “Barton did very well for a first appearance, but will be all the better with more experience. Although the experimental threequarter line did very well indeed”. It was also the debut of Billy Belshaw, a Wigan junior and there was much consternation when Jimmy Greenwood was badly hurt and carried off to hospital after just ten minutes. Fortunately, he lived to fight another day.
Fast forward to 4th March and the second round of the Challenge Cup, against Leeds at Knowsley Road. ‘Referee’ the rugby correspondent of the Reporter takes up the story: “I heard a lot of criticism being made as to why Warburton was not playing. But I happen to know he was unfit, while the Rev. CM Chavasse has been informed by his doctor that it would have been very dangerous for him to take part in the game. ‘Val’ Barton has not played badly for a junior and scored a pretty try”.
His more famous brother, Tom, also played in the match, in the centre, but didn’t quite have the same effect as his brother. The account in the St. Helens Newspaper perhaps sheds some light on this: “Tom Barton was obviously out of proper condition and although he showed some of his old dash and cleverness at times, he was not by any means the Barton we saw at the beginning of the season. He should, however, improve with every match and it is pleasing to see his ankle stand the severe ordeal. His brother, on the other wing, played a smart game in the opening half, but in the second he appeared too anxious and was often out of position, while his attempts to assist Turtill were unjudicious, if laudable. There is no doubt that this lad will develop into a really good player with greater experience. His tackling of the weighty Barron on Saturday showed that he knows the proper way to grip”. Tom Barton’s ankle did not take the strain and he didn’t play again for the rest of the season.
Known as ‘Val’, Fred went on to play in the home match against Coventry on 16th December 1911. This time he was in the centres and the knives were out! “As a centre, Barton is a failure”, wrote one correspondent. “He has absolutely no idea of combined work and the wingman who partners him has to make his own play. Val is tricky and resourceful, but his plan of football is not that of a centre. He makes every inch of ground he can, never passes until he is absolutely hemmed in and then simply throws the ball away in the direction of the nearest Saints so that often than not the effort is simply wasted”. Fred died at an early age in St Helens in March 1934 when he was just 44 years of age.
It is therefore interesting to find that there is another case of three brothers playing for the Saints, putting them with the likes of the Barrow boys and the Creeveys!