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1893 - William Humphreys - International Referee

Over the years, Durham Rugby has produced ten Match Officials who have gone on to Referee at International level, with the latest being Nikki O’Donnell in the Women’s game in 2021.

The first person to gain the honour was from West Hartlepool when William Humphreys, a West member, officiated at the Scotland v Wales game in Edinburgh and shortly afterwards the Wales v Ireland match at Llanelli, both in Spring of 1893.

Born in Hartlepool in 1859, his father, also William, was a watchmaker who had moved from Barnard Castle and his father Thomas Humphreys, also ran a Watchmakers business in that town and was the inspiration for Charles Dickens to name his story collection “Master Humphrey’s Clock”, which were to introduce “Old Curiosity Shop”,” Barnaby Rudge” and “Pickwick Papers” to English Literature.

William Henry Humphreys captained the West Hartlepool Wanderers 2nd XV., in 1881 and West 1st XV in 1884/1885 season. By 1893 he had become a proficient Referee, in addition to his two Internationals that season, he officiated in the Yorkshire v Middlesex County Championship Final at Richmond and ended his season taking the Yorkshire Cup Final, Halifax v Batley at Headingley.

It was the following year that Wm Humphreys came to the fore in the County Union, when in January 1894, he took over as County Sec in place of Arthur Hill from Rovers. This season of 93 into 94 was a time of upheaval both at national and local level. At the 1893 AGM of the RFU, the rules on Amateurism had been defined, locally clubs were demanding Leagues to counter the popularity of Soccer, the Junior Clubs (around 40 of them at the time in the County) had been agitating for representation on the Union, the County Championship had ceased, and a new system initiated, the Referees Society had been formed (both Humphrey’s and Albert Boddy from West being at the forefront in that initiative). In addition, there were complaints of the domination of the County XV system by Rovers and Sunderland.

Against this background, Humphreys oversaw a major response by Durham County to the challenges, the system introduced under Humphrey’s tutelage saw the end of the Ashbrooke/Friarage fiefdom with the County matches and Trials and Cup Finals being staged throughout the County and not just at the Big Two.  The 1897 2nd Teams Cup Final being a good example of the policy, the Final was at Hetton, the replay at Sherburn House. Likewise, County Championship games came to the Victoria Ground, Spennymoor, South Shields, and Low Fell Gateshead, Trials at Tyne Dock and South Shields. The Junior clubs did get the representation they sought, the Referees became part of the Union, and went from strength to strength. Eventually Leagues were introduced in 1902 but by then Humphrey’s had left the town and County.

He had been employed by the Hartlepool Gas & Water Company from around 1880 and in 1899 was one of 50 applicants for the post of Secretary to the York Water Company in that City, he was successful with his application, to end a successful decade both in Rugby and his professional life. He served in the 5th DLI rising to Captain and died in York in 1934.

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