One of Moseley’s less well-known England internationals was the splendidly named Aubrey Osler Dowson. Rugby was just one of several sports that Dowson excelled at and he also had a distinguished military career.
He was born in 1874 in Gee Cross, near Hyde, Cheshire where his father was the minister of Hyde Unitarian Chapel. Aubrey was educated at Rugby School and prior to university he played rugby for the famous Manchester club and made one appearance for Leicester.
While at Rugby Dowson played cricket for the school as both a batsmen and as a bowler and at Lord’s, in 1892, he scored 76 and 20 in the match against Marlborough College. In the corresponding fixture in the following year, once more played at Lord’s, Dowson opened the batting scoring 39 and 7 and he also took a wicket.
After Rugby Dowson went up to New College, Oxford and first came to prominence in the university sporting arena in July 1895 at Queen’s Club when he won an athletics Blue, coming second in the shot putt and third in the hammer throw. In the following March, again at Queen’s Club, he won another athletics Blue in the same two events, on this occasion finishing fourth in the shot and third in the hammer with exactly the same distance as in the previous year. The shot was won by another sporting all-rounder; Frank Mitchell, who as well as athletics also won Blues for cricket and rugby and captained both the cricket and rugby teams.
Later in 1896 Dowson won his only rugby Blue when he appeared as a forward in the Oxford team that played Cambridge, at Queen’s Club. Also in the side were two other future Moseley and England players, E.M. Baker and G.T. Unwin. The match was a close affair, which the Dark Blues of Oxford won by nine points to eight.
There was a very strange incident during the game when one of the Cambridge backs crossed the Oxford dead ball line in running behind the posts, however, after consulting the Oxford captain, the referee awarded a try as the dead ball line had been marked out too close to the goal line! A similar fate had befallen E.M. Baker in the England v. Ireland match earlier in the year but on that occasion a try was not given.
Dowson’s university athletics career proved to be more successful than his rugby and he won a third athletics Blue in April 1897 again competing in the shot and the hammer, finishing second and third respectively.
For good measure in July 1897 Dowson also rowed in the New College eight that won the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta by beating the famous Leander club crew. So close was the finish to this race that even spectators at the winning post were not sure which crew had won. The decision of the regatta officials was that New College had won by two foot in a record equalling time.
When he came down from university Dowson seems to have selected rugby as his chosen sport and he joined Moseley in 1897/98. Although he concentrated on rugby he also played some cricket and turned out for Edgbaston against Olton and West Warwickshire in 1898.
He seems to have made the right decision as he was soon representing the Midland Counties in the 1897/98 County Championship. The campaign proved to be the Midlands’ best to date and they reached the final beating defending champions Kent on the way. The final was played at Coventry against Northumberland but unfortunately because of a dispute all of the Leicester players chosen declined their invitations and as a result a weakened Midland Counties side that included Dowson and nine Moseley colleagues was well beaten.
Dowson’s play was obviously being noticed and in February 1898 he was selected for the South in their match with the North, at Exeter. Also playing for the South were club mate J.F. Byrne and future Moseley players G.T. Unwin and W.L. Bunting. The South won the game easily by a score of five goals and three tries to nil. This resounding victory gained most of the South pack selection for the England v. Scotland match and Dowson must have been very unlucky not to be selected.
An interesting feature of the game was that in the opening minutes one of the South forwards broke a leg and a replacement was allowed onto the field, seventy-odd years before replacements were officially sanctioned!
In the following November Dowson was once more chosen to play in a representative fixture, this time for London and the South in a victory over Oxford and Cambridge Universities, at Richmond. This was followed in December 1898, by selection along with Unwin for the South in the game against the North, at Bristol when, in drizzly conditions, the South were victorious in a forward dominated game.
Following his appearance for the South, in December 1898, Aubrey Dowson was selected for the season’s second North v. South game, at Newcastle, in February 1899, along with future club colleague W.L. Bunting. The South ‘were the better of two moderate fifteens’ and despite the forwards of both sides not being that impressive Dowson gained selection for England in the forthcoming contest with Scotland.
Thus the pinnacle of Dowson’s representative career was reached on 11th March 1899 when he played in the England pack that opposed Scotland at Rectory Field, Blackheath. Bunting, one of his teammates from the South side was also in the England XV.
As was the case with Moseley colleague Frank Byrne two years earlier it was not a successful international debut for Dowson as the home forwards were completely outplayed by their visitors who triumphed by five points to nil. The score line may give the impression that the game was a close one, however, for much of the game Scotland were virtually reduced to fourteen men as one of their half-backs sustained an injury to his leg and was a virtual spectator for the remainder of the match. He was replaced at halfback by a forward who was withdrawn from the pack, which still managed to outplay its hosts. The loss meant that, for the first time, England had been defeated by the other three home nations in the same season.
The Times blamed the Rugby Football Union (R.F.U.) for this disaster saying that they had tried to imitate the Welsh style of play where the forwards were subservient to the backs. Arthur Budd, a former president of the R.F.U., described the English forwards as a ‘rustic collection’ while The Times referred to them as ‘delinquents’!
Despite playing in this disastrous match Dowson’s representative career was not over and after a season out of the limelight, in November 1900, he was selected for the Rest of the South side that was defeated by London and the Universities, at Richmond. The Times reported that the South’s ‘forward play was not of a very high order’ but noted that Dowson was one of the exceptions.
Despite this good performance Dowson was not selected for the following month’s North v. South match and his next representative appearance was in the corresponding fixture in the following season when the Rest of the South were again defeated at Richmond. Also in the Rest’s side was Dowson’s club colleague, forward G.V. Evers.
Despite the defeat Dowson was selected for another appearance for the South in December 1901. The game took place at Manchester and the South was easily defeated by the North in a game which The Times described as ‘one of the worst disappointments recorded in the annals of Rugby football.’
Because of this disappointment rather than another North v. South contest a match between England and the Rest was arranged for March 1902 at Weston-Super-Mare and Dowson won selection for the Rest. Once more though he was on the losing side.
Dowson made one final representative appearance when he again turned out for the losing Rest of the South team against London and the Universities, at Richmond, in November 1902.
In 1903 Aubrey Dowson married Phillis Atkinson, a campaigner for women’s votes. Mrs Dowson was the editor of the ‘Women’s Suffrage Cookery Book’ (1908) a fund raising project that included recipes from suffragettes throughout the country. So committed to the cause was she that on the 1911 census return she gave her occupation as women’s suffrage worker.
During the Great War, in May 1915, although he was already 40 Dowson insisted on joining up and he went on to serve in France for nearly three years with the 12th Rifle Brigade. He initially served as a second lieutenant and was later promoted to acting captain. In 1917 he was mentioned in despatches for his work as the brigade transport officer and on 1st January 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross.
After a long illness Aubrey Dowson died in 1940 on his farm at Hanging Langford, near Salisbury.
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