Weʼre raising £5,500 to recognise former Chelsea FC player, Jack Whitley, with a memorial on his grave in Brompton Cemetery
In summer 2015 a chance rereading of the Albert Sewell book ‘Chelsea Champions!’ led official Chelsea historian Rick Glanvill to discover that Whitley had specifically requested to be buried at Brompton Cemetery and, with the help of the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, Jack’s grave was ‘unearthed’.
Sadly, at the moment it is a common grave with no stone to acknowledge Jack’s presence and his long association with the club just across the railway line.
As he is the only occupant of the grave, we aim to obtain the relevant permissions and place a ledger (or flat slab) with a suitable inscription on, repaying the commitment Jack showed to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea Football Club.
To do this we need to raise around £5,500, and that is where the great Chelsea family comes in.
The aim of this crowdfunding project is to raise enough money to erect a memorial marking the final resting place of one of Chelsea Football Club’s most loyal servants, Jack Whitley. He is the only Chelsea footballer we know to have been buried in the cemetery next door to Stamford Bridge.
Jack served the club loyally and with distinction from the age of 29 to 61, as first-choice goalkeeper (1907-1914), then as first team trainer (1914-1939).
He had died at Tring in Hertfordshire on 5 July 1955, a few months after the club won the league title for the first time in 1955, aged 77.
As well as chipping in what you can afford yourself, please help make every Chelsea supporter you know aware of the crowdfunding exercise.
Thank you very much,
Chelsea Supporters’ Trust
Jack Whitley – Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Jack’s grave located, and what is there to see at the moment?
Jack’s grave is just off the main path, east of the new Brompton Cemetery visitor centre, close to the north wall. We believe it could become a place of pilgrimage for match-going fans and the perfect place for supporters to begin the tour of the many Chelsea FC-related graves in this beautiful and historic cemetery. The grave is currently marked by nothing except grass, carefully tended by the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust Cemetery Clean-Up Group.
Are you actually entitled to erect a headstone on his grave?
The grave is a common one – not privately owned and paid for. Luckily Jack is the only occupant of this particular plot, so with the correct permissions obtained and an appropriate memorial selected we can go ahead and set a stone on Jack’s grave.
Why did the family not erect a headstone?
Footballers were nothing like as well paid in 1955 as they are now. It is unknown whether Jack’s widow Winifred was unable to afford the expense of a private burial plot and a marker for the burial, or Jack preferred a simple interment in a common grave.
We have attempted to research his family history and find close living relatives, but none has been confirmed to date. We would love to track down next of kin. We know that Jack married twice: firstly to Ellen ‘Nellie’ Edwards in 1897; secondly, in 1942, to Winifred Jessica Farrington. He had at least three children from the first marriage:
Nellie (1902-1983), Ruby (1915-2002) and another child who died young. Nellie married twice (first to tennis star Donald Butcher, then Chelsea footballer Albert Thain) but does not appear to have had children.
Ruby also married twice, to Sidney Upton, then Leslie Keeble, and likewise appears not to have had children. Perhaps someone reading this knew the Whitley family, or their descendants, and can shed more light? If so, we would love to hear from you: [email protected].
How would marking Jack’s grave benefit supporters?
Happily, marking Jack’s grave will add a significant, easily accessible new reference point to the self-guided Chelsea FC Brompton Cemetery tour, which already includes many founding directors as well as former manager Bobby Campbell. Chelsea and Royal Parks co-produced a booklet ‘Final Whistle: The Chelsea Football Club Trail at Brompton Cemetery’ (http://www.chelseafc.com/the-club/history/style/brompton-cemetery-trail.html) in 2009, which will need updating.
Why does Jack deserve a memorial?
Primarily because Jack Whitley is unique – the ONLY Chelsea footballer we know of buried at Brompton Cemetery. He also played a major role throughout the club’s early years.
Firstly, he played 138 times for the Pensioners between his debut on 23 September 1907 and his last match on 4 April 1914, keeping 39 clean sheets, including our first ever in the top flight, on his debut. He was the first goalkeeper to establish himself for longer than one season, and helped Chelsea win promotion to the First Division in 1912.
When his time between the posts came to an end in 1914 he became our first team trainer. Apart from responsibility for the players’ training regime and fitness, he attended to their injuries on match days. Generations of supporters fondly recalled the sight of Jack galloping onto the pitch to attend the fallen with a wet sponge, the tails of his tweed jacket flapping as he ran.
As a well-respected figure throughout the game he also played a part in negotiating some of the great transfers signings of the day, and was part sergeant-major, part father figure to the squad. He served Chelsea for 32 years, from 1907 to May 1939, when incoming manager Billy Birrell let all the coaching staff go.
It is a rare and wonderful sign of his undimmed affection for the club that when he died in Hertfordshire, just a few months after the Pensioners’ longed-for first league championship win in 1955, he left specific instructions to his wife Winifred that he should be buried next to his beloved Stamford Bridge.
We believe an unmarked grave does not do justice to a man who had Chelsea in his heart for so many decades.
What kind of grave marker are you proposing?
There are regulations and conventions that must be adhered to. We have consulted various monumental masons who work closely with Brompton Cemetery and the most suitable memorial will be a subtle, ledger (flat slab) memorial.
We propose an inscription along the following lines:
In affectionate memory of
JOHN ‘JACK’ WHITLEY
11 Apr 1908 – 5 Jul 1955
Loyal servant of Chelsea FC for 32 years
Goalkeeper and first team trainer
Who asked to be buried
next to his beloved Stamford Bridge.
Funded by Chelsea FC supporters 2017
How much do you need to raise?
There are three main expenses:
- Administration fee to place 5’ by 2’ ledger on plot (Royal Parks).
- 5’ by 2’ ledger, plus inscription and setting (local monumental mason).
- 50-year lease on plot (Brompton Cemetery).
The total comes to £5,500.
Any donations above this will be given go towards the Cemetery Clean-Up Group, who tend all the Chelsea FC-related graves at Brompton and many elsewhere, and a new edition of the ‘Final Whistle’ cemetery tour booklet.
Why doesn’t Chelsea FC just pay for it?
We have not asked them to. With support from the club, Chelsea Supporters’ Trust has led the way in keeping the Chelsea FC-related graves free of overgrowth and in good condition.
We feel it would be nice to make this another fan-led project, and that this should be noted in the inscription. We know of no next of kin to Jack, so it falls to us, the great Chelsea family, to do right by him. Of course we welcome donations from anyone.
The Jack Whitley timeline 1878-1955
– 11 Apr 1878 • John Whitley, known as Jack, is born at Seacombe, Cheshire, England
– Aug 1907 • Signs for Chelsea from Leeds City aged 29, having played for the Pensioners’ secretary-manager David Calderhead at Lincoln City.
– 23 Sep 1907 • As goalkeeper, helps Chelsea to the club’s first ever top flight victory at home to Newcastle – and keeps a clean sheet on his debut.
– 1907-1914 • First-choice goalie and almost ever-present for first three seasons until the arrival of Jim Molyneux in 1910. Makes a total of 138 appearances for the Pensioners: 39 of them without conceding a goal.
– 1912 • Plays 26 of 38 games as the Londoners are promoted back to Division One.
– 1914 • Joins backroom staff as first team trainer aged 36, attending to the injured, assisting in transfer negotiations, and becoming father figure to generations of Stamford Bridge players.
– 1929 • Travels with rest of Chelsea team on the ground-breaking tour of Argentina, Brazil and Ururguay as trainer and emergency goalkeeper.
– May 1939 • New manager Billy Birrell dispenses with his services as trainer, ending 32-year association with Chelsea FC.
– 5 Jul 1955 • Jack dies at Tring, Hertfordshire, aged 77, but has specifically requested to be interred next to his beloved Stamford Bridge.
– 11 Jul 1955 • Buried at the north end of Brompton Cemetery in a common, unmarked grave.