A Victorian Mystery – Ally Sloper “Funeral Cards” discovered

Featherstone Rovers Ally Sloper Funeral Card

The Featherstone Rovers Heritage Project celebrates the history and traditions of a proud northern Rugby League Club and its association with the heritage of coal mining in the West Yorkshire town of Featherstone. The project provides public, quarterly events and exhibitions and hosts a dedicated heritage themed week offering additional activities.

It also provides opportunities for people to come together and share collections at monthly heritage workshops, these workshops allow participants to play an active role in sourcing, preserving, cataloguing and achieving Featherstone Rovers Heritage items whilst sharing and/ or gaining new skills and qualifications.

Recently, Joanne Fitzpatrick, one of the Project’s team members, was handed some cards from the 1880s with an early comics link – ‘Funeral Cards’ featuring the first recurring British comics character Ally Sloper – sent out by Featherstone Rovers  to Rugby teams they’d defeated!

It’s very dark humour – but do any of our readers know if these items were sent out by other clubs of the era?

Featherstone Rovers Ally Sloper Funeral Card

Layabout, fraudster, tippler, womanizer, loudmouth, Ally Sloper was the first of a long line of resilient, optimistic con-men in British comics. His very name announces one of his character traits, derived as it is from his habit of sloping down the alley to avoid the debt collector, and, on occasion, his wife (a theme echoed in the Mirror‘s ongoing strip, Andy Capp, to this day)..

Devised by Charles H. Ross for the comic magazine Judy in 1867, Germany’s Library of the University of Oldenburg notes he was originally drawn from 1869 onwards by Marie Duval (real name Emily Louisa Tessier), Ally Sloper’s comic-strip adventures were gathered into a paperback usually known by its cover title Ally Sloper: A Moral Lesson (the title-page proper has Some Playful Episodes in the Career of Ally Sloper) in 1873.

Ally Sloper

In 1884, Ally Sloper was recreated by cartoonist W. G. Baxter for the new comic paper Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, where for decades he was to appear on the cover page in a large, finely drawn, sophisticated cartoon. In the few years that he drew Sloper (1884 to 1886), while preserving his outward appearance and props, Baxter refashioned him as Ally Sloper F.O.M. (Friend of Man), a mock-gentrified surveyor of, and opinionated commentator on, social life and politics. His role was carried on in Baxter-style by his next illustrator, W. F. Thomas.

Nationally revered by 1890, in the new decade the Sloper craze was to reach its peak, with huge sales of Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday and related print items, plus an astounding variety of spin-off merchandising, and also many appearances in music halls, theatres and cinemas, all of which helped consolidate his status as a beloved British institution.

The Featherstone Project engages with 20 local schools delivering Heritage days at the world famous ‘Post Office Road’ Stadium and providing teacher resource packs to continue learning in school. It also provides a mobile exhibition available on loan to schools. It also hasa dedicated exhibition space within the facility of Featherstone Rovers RLFC Stadium but also uses the internet as a tool to ensure that the club and towns heritage is available to many through a dedicated web site and social media allowing all to celebrate heritage and engage with ‘hard to reach’ groups who wouldn’t usually attend a heritage event.

• More information on the Featherstone Heritage Project: http://featherstoneroversheritageproject.co.uk

Library of the University of Oldenburg’s “Wonderfully Vulgar” Online exhibition of early British comics

Categories: British Comics, Classic British Comics

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