Clive Sullivan – Britain’s first black sporting captain

Clive Sullivan became first black person to captain any British international sports team when he captained the Great Britain Rugby League team in 1972.

Clive Sullivan pic

We received an enquiry  at Roath Local History Society last month asking if we knew where Clive Sullivan had been born.  I must admit I didn’t and hadn’t even realised his unique achievement.  I’ve enjoyed researching his exploits and have the pleasure of awarding him one of our virtual red plaques, particularly poignant in these days of the Black Lives Matter campaign.

Clive was born in Splott, Cardiff on 9 Apr 1943.  According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he was born at 49 Wimborne Street.

Wimborne Street map

Wimborne Street no longer exists, demolished in the 1970s, along with many neighbouring streets.  The street was originally named Fishguard Street, but later renamed Wimborne Street after Lord Wimborne, owner of the nearby steel works.  The southern edge of Moorland park in Splott follows the line of the former Wimborne Street.

Clive was the second of four children born to Dorothy Eileen Sullivan née Boston.  Doris herself was born to Joseph Donald Boston, a seaman, originally from Antigua and Lily Brain originally from Bristol.  The Brain and Boston families also lived in lower Splott, in Aberdovey and Pontypridd Streets respectively.  I haven’t however found any link between the Boston side of Clive Sullivan’s family and Billy Boston, another great rugby league player from Cardiff.

Wimborne Street 1970s

The caption with this 1972 photo states that it is ‘Mrs Alice Huntley who had lived at 51 Wimborne Street for 48 years’. She would therefore have been a next-door neighbour of the Sullivan family. (pic credit: alamy)

Clive’s father was Charles Henry Sullivan an electrical engineer then serving in the RAF. Charles Sullivan was Jamaican whose family had emigrated to Cardiff before the Second World War. He walked out on Doris when the children were young never to be seen again leaving her to bring up Brian, Clive, Yvonne and Elmyria.

When Clive Sullivan was young he suffered medical problems with his legs and knees necessitating several operations at the Royal Infirmary.  He defied the surgeon who told his mother that he may never walk properly to go on to be an exceptional sprinter and sportsman.

Doris and her young children moved across town to Ronald Place, Ely and the children attended Herbert Thompson Primary School.  By now Clive had recovered from his surgeries and he and his siblings became known in school as the ‘Four Flying Sullivans’ because of their monopoly in sprinting events.

At the same school was Jim Mills, who went onto play rugby league for Widnes.  In the playground Clive used to call Jim ‘lanky’ and make use of this phenomenal speed to get away.  Years later when Clive was playing for Hull he got tackled just before the try-line by Jim Mills who said to him ‘Now, who did you call lanky?’

Clive Sullivan serving in Cyprus

Clive serving in Cyprus (pic credit: R. Daniel)

After leaving school Sullivan worked briefly as a mechanic before he joined the army.  In Catterick he trained as a radio operator and then joined the Parachute Signals Squadron, stationed in Hampshire, and then saw active service in Cyprus with the UN Peacekeeping Force.  Whilst at Catterick he started playing rugby for the army.  His skills were spotted by a Hull FC scout and he was signed up though it was somewhat of a stuttering start to his sporting career, plagued with injuries, knee operations and a bad car crash in 1963.

 

In 1964 he left the army and was able to dedicate himself to his rugby career.  That same year he met his wife Rosalyn Byron in Hull who he married a couple of years later.

download (2)

Clive Sullivan on his wedding day (pic credit: R Daniel)

Clive Sullivan played on the wing and was a prolific try scorer. He had blistering pace, exploiting any gaps in the opposition defence.   In one match against Doncaster in 1968 he scored seven tries, still a Hull FC record.

He first played for Great Britain in 1967.  In 1972 he was selected as Captain of the Great Britain side that went on to win the Rugby League World Cup held in France where he scored a try in each of the four games. He also captained the Wales Rugby League team. In all, Sullivan represented Great Britain 17 times and appeared at three World Cups, 1968 and 1972 with Great Britain, and in 1975 for Wales.  His length of the field try in the 1972 World Cup final against Australia is regarded as one of the game’s finest.  Now here’s a good fact to store up for quizzes: he was the last person to lift the World Cup for Great Britain as since then the home nations have played individually.

Clive Sullivan or ‘Sully’ as he was known, played for Hull FC and later their rivals Hull Kingston Rovers, before returning to Hull FC to complete his career. He played a total of 352 games for Hull FC, scoring 250 tries He was the first player to score over 100 tries for both sides.

Clive Sulllivan at full speed

His achievements were recognised when he was awarded an MBE in 1972 and was the guest on ‘This Is Your Life’ in 1973.

Just six months after retiring from rugby he tragically died of cancer aged just forty two on 8 Oct 1985 in Hull.  Clive and Rosalyn had a son Anthony and a daughter Lisa. Anthony followed in his father’s footsteps playing rugby league for both Hull as well as St Helens  and Wales.  He also did something his father didn’t, he played rugby union for Cardiff and for Wales.

Clive Sullivan is remembered with great fondness and respect in his adopted city of Hull. There isn’t any tribute to this fine rugby league player in his native city of Cardiff but in Hull they renamed the A63 dual carriageway Clive Sullivan Way in his honour.

This is your life 2 - Copy

Clive presented with the red book on ‘This Is Your Life’ (pic credit: Hull Museums)

Perhaps next time however you feel like a walk I could encourage you to go to Moorland Park in Splott and trace the line of the former Wimborne Street and remember Clive ‘Sully’ Sullivan, one of our greatest sportsman from the area.

 

References:

One of the most informative and interesting articles I found on Clive Sullivan was from the African Yorkshire Project

 

Remembering Frank Gaccon

The only public war memorial in our ‘area of interest’, the ancient parish of Roath, is the one outside St Saviour’s church in Splott.  That leaves a lot of the people who lost their lives in WWI, WWII and other conflicts not remembered.  One way to rectify that would be to have a ‘virtual’ memorial, in some ways following the good example of Grangetown Local History Society in their work.  I have started to assemble a Roath virtual war memorial but it is early days yet.

One way to derive a list of the war casualties is to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.  There you can search for specific casualties or search by keyword.  We are lucky in that the suburbs we are interested in have fairly unique names; Splott, Adamsdown, Roath, Penylan, Cathays, Cyncoed etc. I looked at the first name on the Cyncoed list and found Francis Wilberforce Gaccon.  As I began to research the person behind the name more deeply I began to uncover his interesting life story.

Francis ‘Frank’ Wilberforce Gaccon was born on 6th April 1888.  His father was Watkin Gaccon, originally from Aberdare and a marine engine engineer.  His mother was Alice Charlotte Morgan originally from Overton, Gloucestershire on the banks of the River Severn. Frank grows up in 96 Habershon Street, Splott where he attended Splottlands School and Cardiff University College (1904-11).

Evening Express 25th Jan 1908

An early picture of Frank Gaccon

He followed his father into engineering receiving his training with Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds.   After holding various positions with this firm he joined the staff of Nash’s Autocars, Cardiff, and after two years started his own business as a garage and engineering works company.  During WWI he worked for Bute Docks Engineers and Shipping Company under the Admiralty fitting engines to lifeboats of hospital ships.

After WWI he worked for a year for the Royal insurance Company before again starting up his own successful company Frank Gaccon & Co Consulting Engineer and Damage Assessors serving all the leading insurance companies for South Wales. In 1926 he was elected as a full member of the Institute of Automobile Engineers  His head office offices were based in Charles Street, Cardiff.

Frank had a very successful sporting career.  He started his career playing football then converted to rugby playing initially for Penylan and in January 1908 is talked about as a promising forward playing for Cardiff Reserves.  By December that year he is already in the Cardiff first team playing against Australia.

Frank Gaccon rugby player

Frank Gaccon in Cardiff Rugby Club shirt (photo credit: Cardiff Fire & Rescue, Gaccon family)

He played 105 times for Cardiff Rugby Club including against Australia in 1908 (Cardiff won 24-8)  and against South Africa in 1912 (Cardiff lost 6-7).  One later newspaper report indicates he may have played for Wales but that appears erroneous.  Frank was elected captain of Cardiff for the first official post-war season 1919-20 but he had to resign after a few games owing to injury.  He was captain Cardiff Rugby (Wartime Charities) XV against the New Zealand Army team in 1919.  The game was played in front of a crowd of 10,000 in Cardiff and ended up scoreless.  He was also Honorary Secretary of the Cardiff Rugby (Wartime Charities) XV charity that raised almost £2000 during the season, £100,000 in today’s money.

 

 

Cardiff Rugby (war charity) Football Team 1919

Frank Gaccon (with rugby ball) captaining Cardiff Rugby (war charity) Football Team 1919 (Photo Credit: Cardiff Rugby Museum)

After finishing his rugby playing career he went onto enjoy yachting and became commodore of Barry Yacht Club.

He married three times.  In 1917 he married Gertrude Alice Hamlin but sadly their marriage was short lived as she passed away a year later. At that time he was living in 8 Agincourt Road, Roath.   In 1920 he marries Lily Rodwell in Leicester and they have a daughter together. Lily passes away in 1939 and in 1940 Frank marries Lilian Plowman.

Daughter of Frank Gaccon visiting Cardiff Fire Brigade HQ 2017

Daughter of Frank Gaccon visiting Cardiff Fire Brigade HQ 2017 (Photo credit: Cardiff Fire and Rescue)

When WWII was declared Frank sacrificed his business and joined Cardiff Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.) and became Divisional Commander of the Cardiff A.F.S.  He was killed in Newport Road whilst on duty on 3rd March, 1941.   That was a heavy night of fire bombing in Cardiff.  It was the night Roath Road Wesleyan church on Newport Road, at the junction of City Road, was destroyed.  There was also damage on Newport Road to the nurse’s hostel and further east along Newport Road  at the junction of Albany Road.  I had assumed he was killed in one of these events so it came as a shock when I later discovered he was killed when the car he was driving whilst on duty was damaged by a bomb. It is reported that after fighting five fires he was motoring to get more hose when the high explosive bomb killed him. He was 53 years of age at the time and living at 153 Cyncoed Road.  He is buried at Cathays Cemetery, Plot: M 948a.

Gravestone at Cathays Cemetery

Frank Gaccon Headstone (photo credit: Friends of Cathays Cemetery)

As a slight aside, he may also have been killed if he had still been living in Agincourt Road as it was on that night that residents of numbers 10 and 12 Agincourt Road were killed and the night that neighbouring Marborough Road School was damaged beyond repair.

 

Victorian Pillar Boxes of Roath, Splott and Adamsdown.

I find Victorian pillar boxes strangely fascinating.  I think it’s their rugged steadfast look, their apparent determined attitude that the world around them can change as much as it likes but they’re not going anywhere.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 1

Beresford Road / Spring Gardens Place – CF24 1RA (left) and Connaught Road CF24 3PT (right)

I’ve discovered fourteen Victorian pillar boxes in the Roath/Splott/Adamsdown areas and one Victorian post box.  May be there are a few more hidden away?

Roath Victorian Pillar Boxes map

Positions of Victorian Pillar boxes in Roath, Splott and Adamsdown Cardiff marked in red.

I think we should have a minutes silence for the one I think we lost last year when the Splott Road railway bridge was raised for the electrification scheme.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 12

I think this one on Splott Road / Pearl Street has gone (Photo: Google Streetview 2016)

A pillar box can be dated by the royal motif on the front.  The Victorian pillar boxes have a nice VR (Victoria Regina) ensignia.

The history of pillar boxes go back to the 1850s.  For the first twenty years they weren’t red but green.  There also were not cylindrical but hexagonal.  The oldest pillar box in Cardiff is probably the one at St Fagan’s Museum.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 2

Cyfarthfa Street / City Road – CF24 3DR (left) and Habershon Street / Convey Street – CF24 2JZ (right)

All our pillar boxes have the words POST and OFFICE either side of the opening.  This dates them to between 1883 and 1901, the year Queen Victoria died.  That makes sense as that’s when a lot of the streets in the area were constructed.  Look at the bottom of the pillar boxes and you will see who made them.  I think all ours were made at by A Handyside Foundry & Co of Derby & London.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 3

Hinton Street / Singleton Road – CF24 2EU (left & right) with the old Splott library behind.

Just think for a moment what’s been posted in those pillar boxes over the years.  The letters to relatives, those working away or at war, invitations, love letters, job applications and the Victorian postcards – yesterday’s equivalent to social media.   In the days before the telephone the letter was the main form of communication.  Letters dropped into these old pillar boxes over a hundred years ago were beginning a long journey sometimes over land and sea to faraway places.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 4

Howard Gardens / Moira Terrace CF24 0EF (left) and Orbit Street / Newport Road CF24 0YG (right)

One of our Victorian pillar boxes on Ninian Road hit the news earlier this year when it was taken out of commission, apparently for safety concerns as it is being engulfed by a tree.  My photograph from a five years earlier however also shows it out of commission but in the five intervening years the tree certainly appears to have made progress.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 8

Ninian Road / Morlais Street – CF23 5EP (2013 – left & 2018 – right)

1982 photo by PealandLucy on twitter

And this is what the Ninian Road Pillar Box looked like in 1982 before they started getting amorous. (photo by @PealandLucy on twitter)

 

Every time I pass the Victorian pillar box on Ty Gwyn Road I have a little smile to myself.  Close to there was an large house called Oldwell, built for John Biggs who owned the South Wales Brewery.  One of John’s six sons, Cecil, married a lady called Edith Box, and guess what they christened their daughter;  Pilar.  She was of course Pilar Biggs rather than Pilar Box but I’m sure the novelty of the Victorian pillar box being placed next to their Cecil’s house must have been an influence.  This is where John the brewer would also have posted letters off to his son Norman, the rugby international, when he was serving in the Boer War.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 5

Priest Road / Newport Road – CF24 1YQ (left) and Ty Gwyn Road / Pen-y-lan Road- CF23 5HT (right)

A tour of the area’s Victorian pillar boxes will also take you to some grand buildings.  One box overlooks the Mansion House and another the old Splott library.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 11

West Grove with the Mansion House behind – would make a nice photo if the tree wasn’t there!

But what of the future?  Another generation or two and the need for post boxes may have disappeared all together as we transfer to electronic communication.  If there is ever one going spare I wouldn’t mind one in my garden.  Then again the Post Office might have something to say about that.  The Ordnance Survey weren’t too happy when I tired to get a redundant trig point installed in the garden.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 9

Oakfield Street – CF24 3RF in 2013 (left) and after the pranksters visited in 2018 (right)

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 6

Ty’n-y-Coed Place / Inverness Place – CF24 4SP looking sorry for itself (left) and Walker Road / Splott Road- CF24 2DB (right)

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 7

Clifton Street Post Office – CF24 1LY

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 10

Not quite in our area but worth including or the backdrop:  Senghennydd Road / Llanbleddian Gardens – – CF24 4YE with the Sherman Theatre behind