Monday, 9 May 2011

James Ross Williamson

It is generally thought that J.R. Williamson is one of the two lads that handed over to Pa Wilson the one shilling and eightpence (less than ten pence in today’s money) to start up a football club for the old boys of Dulwich Hamlet Elementary School. Williamson would have been about fourteen at the time – the school leaving age.

It was with extremely great pleasure then, that one day, at a Hamlet home match, a man tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself as the grandson of J.R. Williamson.

Tim Williamson, who still lives locally in East Dulwich, is very proud of his association with his grandfather’s club. But he was honest enough to confess that he and his late father were really Millwall supporters who only turned up at Champion Hill on the odd occasion to see the Hamlet. In recent years, however, Tim has become a more frequent visitor and now only watches the occasional Millwall match.

He now regrets not having questioned his father much about his grandfather. Tim showed me a letter he received from his aging aunt Freda, where she mentions her own father J.R. Williamson. She was only eight years old at the time of his death so she couldn’t say much about him, except that he was a “Director of the club.” He was, in fact, for five years in the 1890s the DHFC Secretary. He also appears to have kept goal for the fist team at some stage in those early years.

The letter continues, “I spent many a cold Saturday watching them [the 1920s/30s Hamlet side] with my boyfriend. A football ‘hero’ was Edgar Kail, and his brother Ken was in my class at school and much sought after by the girls – me among them. I thought there was a street named after Edgar Kail but I can’t find it in my A to Z. Oh happy days.” Freda passed away last year aged 96.

Four generations: James Ross Williamson is on the right.

J.R. Williamson, born in 1878, hailed from Scotland and was one of six children born to his parents in Edinburgh. On leaving Dulwich Hamlet School he began to work in the building trade, but eventually ended up working for his younger brother in what became the family business.

Williamson’s Electrical Company was established in 1900 by Wlliam Williamson, J.R.’s younger brother, at a location in Rye Lane, Peckham, that was previously used as a museum and a dance hall.

The landlord of the premises, presumably as part payment, would receive electrical treatment from William to improve his health. Business was flourishing when William took over the lease in 1912, when many of the local houses were wired up for the first time. He also put in the electrics at Dulwich College, Alleyns School, James Allen Girls School, St Stephen’s Church in Dulwich, two Thomas Tilling bus garages and the headquarters of the Football Association in Lancaster Gate.

In the 1930s a shop front was added and goods such as radios, lamps and electric two bar fires were sold. They also ran an accumulator service so customers could keep their radios charged up. Our friend Tim was born above the shop many years later. The company still exists today in East Dulwich.
An early handbook from DHFC's time at Sunray Avenue.

In the very early days the Hamlet played their home matches in Dulwich Park, then Woodwarde Road, on to Burbage Road, then Sunray Avenue before securing Freeman’s Ground at Champion Hill. It was Williamson’s unmarried sisters who had the weekly task of washing the kit. What they muttered when they got the kit bag back after a match played in the ‘part swamp part jungle’ of Sunray Avenue one can only guess.

Sadly, J.R. Williamson passed away in 1922 in his mid forties leaving behind ten children – seven girls and three boys. One of the eldest of these, James junior, the father of Tim, was just fourteen at the time.

Original article from HH23 Summer 2011.
Copyright © Jack McInroy

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