Trophy from antiques fair sends Sunderland historian on a trip through time

LASTING REMINDER: The cup presented in memory of Charles Watts Moses.
LASTING REMINDER: The cup presented in memory of Charles Watts Moses.
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A WEARSIDE historian turned detective after a chance find at an antiques fair led to a trip back in time.

Sharon Vincent was inspired to start researching a well-to-do Sunderland family after unearthing a mystery military trophy engraved with three silver rifles on one of the stalls.

GRAVE TRIBUTE: The grave headstone marking the final resting place of Charles Basil Watts Moses at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.

GRAVE TRIBUTE: The grave headstone marking the final resting place of Charles Basil Watts Moses at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.

“I instantly recognised the surname etched on the cup - Watts Moses - as William Watts Moses was a popular Victorian solicitor with a practise in John Street for many years,” she said.

“I was also familiar with stories of his son Eric, who had links with Ashbrooke Sports Club, but this trophy was marked C. Basil Watts Moses - a name I wasn’t familiar with at all.”

Intrigued by the Watts Moses name, as well as the cup’s military connections, Sharon decided to look into the background of the piece - and discovered a story of wartime tragedy and loss.

Her investigations revealed that Charles Basil Watts Moses, oldest son of lawyer William Watts Moses and his wife Florence Mary Ritson, was born into relative wealth in Sunderland in 1889.

The boy’s early years were spent at 19 Azalea Terrace South, before his family - plus their servants - moved to 14 Ashbrooke Mount, on Tunstall Road, around the turn of the century.

“William Watts Moses, the son of a watchmaker, was actually a native of West Auckland - having been born there in 1860. But by 1881, he was working as a solicitor’s clerk in Bishop Auckland,” said Sharon.

“After qualifying as a solicitor, he practised law in Harrogate before moving to Sunderland - where he was able to devote much of his leisure time playing rugby union at Ashbrooke.”

William married his fiancé Florence, a former governess, in Sunderland in 1887. Charles, the first of their two sons, was born two years later - followed by his brother Eric in 1895.

“By 1891 William had set up in business and, as his earnings increased, so the family moved to No. 14, and later No. 1, Ashbrooke Mount - a prosperous area filled with solicitors,” said Sharon.

“It is believed that both Charles and Eric attended Tonstall School, a private school for boys at No. 2 St George’s Square - which held regular sports events at Ashbrooke Sports Club.

“This further cemented the connection between the Watts Moses family and the ground, as William was a dedicated member of the club and a staunch supporter of the local rugby union teams.

“Indeed, his youngest son Eric would go on to become secretary of Durham County Rugby Union and he even spent some time as president of England’s Rugby Football Union too.”

In 1903, 13-year-old Charles was offered a King’s Scholarship to Durham School. Five years later, in 1908, he passed his Stage VI exams and won a place at Cambridge University.

During his undergraduate years he joined the college’s Rugby XV, but gave it up after a year to concentrate on rowing. He was also a member of St Catherine’s College Boating Club.

Much of his leisure time was spent as a member of the university’s Officers’ Training Corps too - a unit which prepared students for a career in the army after finishing academic studies.

But, when Charles graduated with a BA in 1911, he opted for work in the church rather than on the battlefield - studying to become a Church of England minister at Ridley Hall.

“He took up his first job in 1913, as curate of Clifton Parish Church in Bristol, and quickly became involved with the Athletes Battalion of Bristol Volunteer Regiment,” said Sharon.

“He was made junior company commander after his experiences with the OTC at university but, even when war broke out, for some reason Charles did not enlist in the regular army.

“Instead, he continued to support and encourage his volunteer regiment during the crisis - training with the men, as well as helping out with night field operations around Bristol.”

Tragically, on the evening of April 19, 1915, Charles appears to have suffered an abdominal injury during an accident on field operations - and the nest day complained of feeling unwell.

So bad was the wound that the clergyman was rushed to a nursing home in Oakfield Grove, Bristol, for an emergency operation - prompting his father William to rush down to be at his bedside.

The operation was not, however, a success and - after two days of agony - Charles died on April 23 after his intestine twisted, cutting off the blood supply and ending in heart failure.

“He was only 26,” said Sharon. “A memorial service was held at Clifton Parish Church the following Monday, with members of the Athletes Battalion attending in full uniform.

“Eight of the squad carried Charles’s coffin into the church. He had been a well-respected officer among his men, as well as a popular curate, and a large crowd attended the service.”

Charles’s coffin was later taken to Bristol Temple Meads station, where it was placed on a train to Sunderland. The next day he was buried at Bishopwearmouth Cemetery after a church service.

“It was in memory of Charles that the Watts Moses family presented an engraved silver sporting trophy to Durham School’s Officers’ Training Corps - the same one I found at the antiques fair,” said Sharon.

“Designed very much in keeping with the mood of the time, it consists of a silver cup mounted on a base of three silver rifles - which are all bound together by a laurel wreath.”

At around the time of Charles’s death, his younger brother Eric enlisted as an officer in the East Yorkshire Regiment - finishing the war as a captain in the Northern Cyclists Battalion.

On returning to Sunderland at the end of the conflict, Eric threw himself into the sport of rugby union - just like his father - while also studying to become a solicitor as William had done.

“Eric was also a member of Sunderland Antiquarian Society and published a definitive history of Sunderland Cricket and Rugby Football Club at Ashbrooke in 1963,” said Sharon.

“But, although the family name lived on through that book, as well as Watts Moses House in the East End, it is a puzzle as to how the cup dedicated to Charles ended up being sold off.

“At least the story of his life and ultimate sacrifice can now be remembered.”