Bert Taylor: A great servant to Cables and all sport in Prescot

Bert Taylor and four Cables greats at the 1984 Centenary Dinner

16 September 2017 marks the centenary of the birth of Prescot journalist and Cables’ Club President Bert Taylor. When he died suddenly aged 85 in September 2002 he left a void at the club that has never been filled. His association with football at Hope Street went back to the late 1930s when he served as a cub sports writer on the Prescot and District Reporter. After the war, and having done his bit in the Army, he slowly emerged as the public voice of Prescot Cables. Elected President in 1980, he was also one of the club’s most active and loyal servants. Under the penname ‘Bon’ (an acronym for ‘Bert’s Own Notes’) and later his real name, his Friday column in the Reporter soon became essential reading for all Cables’ fans. It usually comprised a detailed report on the previous Saturday’s match (plus midweek games as appropriate) and a preview of coming fixtures. The fans were kept well informed, with plenty of family news (not ‘gossip’ in the modern sense of the word) thrown in for good measure: news that Player X got married the previous Saturday, Player Y had recently completed his National Service and Player Z was being scouted by Leeds and Aston Villa. Not that Bert restricted his column to football, reviewing a range of local sports that included darts, snooker, pigeon racing, cycling and cricket.

Bert Fazakerley Taylor was born in Prescot on Sunday, 16 September 1917. He was the son of Henry Fazakerley Taylor (1854-1920) and his second wife Mary Ellen neé Eaves (born c1876), his first wife Marion (born c1866) having died without issue in 1891. According to the 1911 Census, Bert’s siblings included Henry Fazakerley Junior (born within a year of his parents’ marriage in 1903), John (c1904), ‘Gladis’ (actually Gladys, born c1905), ‘Dris’ (Horace, c1909) and Eric (c1910). Bert’s nephew Maurice Taylor, a retired theatre director now living in Rainhill, described his uncle as ‘a small man in a long coat’. He cannot recall Bert’s brother John, who may have died early in life. An additional daughter Blanche Eaves was born in Prescot in early 1915. At the time of Bert’s birth his father Henry (Senior) was running the Royal Hotel at No.1 High Street – on a site later occupied by Prescot Library. It was a celebrated coaching inn and local landmark for many years before demolition about 1936. It is not certain if Bert was born on the premises, Maurice pointing out that at some stage the family moved to nearby Stanley Crescent. Henry Senior died aged 66 in early 1920, though he was still listed as the Royal Hotel’s licensee on the 1925 Ordnance Survey Map.

Bert’s father Henry had started his working life in the Prescot watch-making industry as a hand-maker at the family house in ‘Kemble Street or Toll Bars’ (the turnpike at the junction of Kemble Street, Warrington Road and Scotchbarn Lane). It was a trade he learned from his father Richard Taylor. Richard was born c1830 and married to Ann (born c1824). Their other children included Elizabeth (c1853), Thomasine (c1856), Ann (c1858), John (c1861) and James F. (c1864). The use of ‘Fazakerley’ as a middle name may well link Bert’s family with the heirs of Sir Nicholas Fazakerley (died 1767), Jacobite lawyer and MP for Preston between 1732 and 1767. According to Maurice Taylor, a member of the Fazakerley family took advantage of a serving maid, who subsequently gave birth to an illegitimate child. The child might have been the Richard Taylor mentioned above. He was certainly the first member of the family to name his children ‘Fazakerley’, which he did in the case of his sons Henry and James. The fact that the Royal Hotel was located on High Street, a thoroughfare previously called ‘Fazakerley Street’, is probably pure coincidence, Henry Senior being born many years before taking charge of the Royal. The original Fazakerley House, owned and occupied by Sir Nicholas and his descendants, was located on the plot of land next to Fazakerley House Care Home. It is now occupied by a large detached house of more recent origin.

By 1881 Richard’s family had moved to 1 St Helens Road, Prescot, Richard still working as a master watch-hand-maker, Henry (Senior) a 26-year-old pursuing the same trade and his younger brother James a 17-year-old apprentice watch-hand-maker. Ten years later, in 1891, Henry was living at the Red Lion Hotel, 21 Market Place, Prescot and had added ‘publican’ to his trade in the watch industry. By now he was married to Marion and assisted in the watch-making business by his sister Thomasine. By the 1901 Census Henry was a widower still residing at the Red Lion Hotel and still filling the dual role of publican and watch-hand-maker, his sister Thomasine working for them as ‘housekeeper domestic’. He married his second wife Mary Ellen (‘Nellie’) Eaves in Liverpool sometime between January and March 1903. Nellie had been born in Farnworth, Bolton c1876, making her about 27 at the time of her marriage. According to Maurice Taylor, Nellie may have been of Irish origin and had worked as a barmaid at the Legs of Man public house on Lime Street, Liverpool. Perhaps she was later employed by Henry at the Red Lion in Market Place, Prescot, which he managed at the times of the 1891 and 1901 census returns. Their first child, a boy named Henry Fazakerley after his father, was born in Prescot on 23 December 1903. After an education at Prescot Grammar School (a privilege also conferred on Bert), young Henry joined Coker Line, a Liverpool shipping company, and worked his way up from junior clerk to company chairman. He married Edna May Birchall in Prescot on 29 October 1932 and three years later the couple had twin sons Michel and Maurice. Henry’s service as an Independent Conservative on Prescot Urban District Council included two terms as Chairman (1936 and 1953). He was also a JP and awarded an MBE for his contribution to local politics. He died in Prescot aged 67 in the early months of 1970.

My job is to act as a personal link between sports organisations and the REPORTER, and secretaries are invited to co-operate by sending reports and notes, no matter how concise, to me. … The REPORTER is at your service.

A modest summary of Bert’s duties at the Reporter which ignored his skills as a writer and sports advocate. Writing as ‘Bon’, and calling his column ‘Local Sports Gossip’ or ‘Bon’s Sports Gossip’, he’d joined the staff of the Reporter before the war. The precise date is unknown. He would probably have left Prescot Grammar School aged eighteen in 1935. Phil Taylor reckons he started off in the iron foundry at British Insulated Cables (later BICC), graduating after war service in the Army to the Publicity Department and editorship of the company’s in-house periodical The Link. ‘By the way,’ he added a little mischievously, returning to his point that the Reporter was ‘at your service’, ‘I will also be glad to attend functions when advised.’ A single man living with his mother and sister, he was no doubt glad to extend his association with Cables from professional to social. Here is his report on one such occasion held in May 1952:

Coun. Mrs L. Rainford and her husband were guests of Prescot Cables’ players, who held a tea and social evening at St John’s Hall, on Saturday. After a toast proposed by Mr. Albert Jelly (team captain) to ‘Her Majesty, the Queen,’ Mr R. Jones, club Chairman, thanked the team for their invitation. He explained that the occasion was initiated by the players, who had put aside a weekly collection, among themselves and a few friends, for 17 weeks. … Mrs Rainford … proposed a toast to the team.

It is hard to resist not calling these times ‘quaint’! ‘The Prescot players are a happy crowd,’ he declared a few months later. ‘They enjoy their football … [and] social functions connected with the club.’ His match reports were precise, measured, detailed and studiously unbiased. In addition to this work, he delighted in writing offbeat special features – as in 1947, when he brought readers up-to-date with local boy Derek Hennin’s move to Bolton Wanderers; at various times between 1950 and 1952 when he kept fans informed about Harry Boydell’s football career in the RAF; and in May 1952 when he covered a county youth match played at Hope Street featuring, among others, Duncan Edwards of Manchester United – a young men destined for international honours and a tragic death in 1958. On a more personal note, Bert seemed genuinely sad to see Scottish inside-forward Eddie Fallon, after an outstanding 1951-52 season with Cables, depart for Aston Villa:

He will be missed at Hope Street, and we shall follow his future with deep interest. … Let us hope … Eddie will enjoy a long and distinguished footballing career immune from injury or sickness.

Bert never married. According to Phil Taylor, he had a wartime romance with a young German ballerina but nothing came of it. Family life’s loss was Prescot sport’s gain. He probably retired from his job at the Reporter in the early 1980s (he would have been 65 in 1982). In honour of his constant support and long association with Cables he was elected Club President in 1980, and in 1984 played a leading role in organising the Players’ Reunion Dinner, held on 1 December to mark the club’s centenary. It was a glittering evening attended by Prescot’s football elite, including such stars as Jack Roscoe, Sandy Lyon, Bert Jelly, Bill Rainford, Harry Grisedale, Frank Garton, Jackie Lawton, Freddie Crampton, Frank Phillips, Bill Watkinson and Harry Boydell. His senior years were spent with his mother Mary Ellen and sister Blanche at 129 Warrington Road, Prescot. I visited the area in March 2016. The people living at 129 and 131 were new arrivals and unknown to Bert, but Mrs Case of no.133, a lady in her 90s, remembered him and Blanche well. Edward and Margaret Thompson, who lived next door at 127 Warrington Road, were close friends and neighbours. They looked after Bert in his old age, making him a regular Sunday lunch and generally being kind and helpful. It was Edward, suspicious about several days’ milk accumulating on Bert’s step, who in September 2002 climbed a stepladder and discovered Bert’s badly-scolded body. Bert died in Whiston Hospital – just a few hundred yards from home – aged 85 and two days, on 18 September 2002. He had been severely scolded in his own bathtub and was beyond recovery. Rev. David Rose officiated at his cremation in St Helens on 3 October and Father John Williams at his memorial service at Prescot Parish Church on 10 October.

His sudden death resulted in mountains of personal paperwork left in disarray. These were passed on to the Prescot Museum, and in the course of writing my ‘Cables Greats’ column in the match programme (since August 2012) I have made plentiful use of ‘the Bert Taylor Collection’. In addition to a myriad of match programmes dating from the 1950s to the 1990s, there is a large box containing hundreds of clippings from Bert’s Friday column. It is a treasure trove for anyone interested in studying post-war sport in Prescot, and I for one freely admit that without this stash much of my own research on Cables would have been impossible.

Sporting honours are usually bestowed on players. In this case they go not to the men and women who played but to a talented and impassioned writer who recorded the events for posterity. He was a devoted champion of the game. In his funeral address Phil Taylor made mention of Bert’s original interview for his job on the Reporter. ‘Are you the athletic type?’ the Editor asked him. ‘No, sir,’ Bert replied. ‘Then you will have a long and injury-free career on the Prescot Reporter.’ And so he did.

I am indebted to Phil Taylor for his constant assistance; Vicky Griffiths of Prescot Museum for granting me access to the Bert Taylor Collection; and Bert’s former neighbours on Warrington Road, Prescot Mrs Case and Edward and Margaret Thompson for their help and kindness.

Glyn Williams