Sir Leslie Ward (‘Spy’) : Famous cartoonist for ‘Vanity Fair’ and the ‘Graphic’ who drew an iconic early representation of the Eton Wall Game in 1874

I have searched for a long time for an original copy of Leslie Ward’s drawing of the Eton Wall Game that first appeared in the ‘Graphic’ newspaper on 29th January 1876, I recently found the same image in the American newspaper ‘Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876) on Ebay and purchased it.

Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876)

Other football drawing had appeared before this , not least the Sheffield FA team in the ‘Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News’ (14th March 1874) but images of a football game (of any version) in progress are less common. Here is a game of Rugby in progress in 1870 depicted in the ‘Graphic’ by W. Thomas:

Leslie Ward (1851- 1922) came from a family of painters and artists who sent him Eton to be schooled making him perfectly placed to create an accurate drawing of the Eton Wall game.

According to his autobiography his time on the fields of Eton may have been short-lived:

In most respects I was the average schoolboy, neither very good, or very bad. Running, jumping, and football I was pretty “nippy” at, until a severe strain prevented (under doctor’s orders) the pursuance of any violent exercises for some time’.

Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876)

Project Gutenberg hold an EBook of his autobiography entitled : Forty Years of ‘Spy’, by Leslie Ward. (‘Spy’ was his pseudonym).

Here he explains how he was introduced to the life of a cartoonist for the ‘Graphic’:

‘In January, 1873, the death of Lord Lytton (whose funeral I attended with my parents, as I had also been present at Thackeray’s) led to my receiving a commission from Mr. Thomas, the editor of the Graphic. Mr. Thomas, knowing that I was acquainted with the great author, sent me a water-colour sketch of the Hall at Knebworth by old Mr. Macquoid (the father of Percy Macquoid), in which I was to place a figure of Lord Lytton. My introduction to the paper came through Luke Fildes, who, besides making the drawing of Charles Dickens’s “Empty Chair” after his death, was then making the very interesting drawing of Napoleon III. on his deathbed. Small, Gregory and Herkomer also helped to make the Graphic, and I produced portrait drawings of celebrated people, including Miss Elizabeth Tompson, Disraeli, Sir John Cockburn, Millais, Gladstone and Leighton.

In the same year he had work accepted by ‘Vanity Fair’:

1873 “My first” in “Vanity Fair“. A little before this, Mr. Gibson Bowles, then editor of Vanity Fair, had become dissatisfied with the artists who were working for him in the absence of Pellegrini, and, owing to a disagreement, was looking for a new cartoonist. Millais, remembering my ambitions in that direction (for when I saw the first numbers of Vanity Fair I was greatly taken with Pellegrini’s caricatures, and, having a book of drawings of a similar character, had thought that if only I could get one drawing in Vanity Fair I should die happy), called to see my book of caricatures. This book contained drawings made at various times, from my early youth up to that period; and when Millais saw the sketch of “Old Bones,” he was very taken with it. “I like so much this one of Professor Owen,” he said. “It’s just the sort of thing that Bowles would delight in. Re-draw it the same size as the cartoons in Vanity Fair and I’ll take it to him.” I called with the cartoon, which was accepted–but was unsigned. I had invented a rather amusing signature in the form of a fool’s bauble, but this did not meet with Mr. Bowles’ approval. After a little discussion he handed me a Johnson’s dictionary, in order that I might search there for some appropriate pseudonym. The dictionary fell open in my hand in a most portentous manner at the “S’s,” and my eye fell with the same promptitude on the word SPY. “How’s that?” I said. “The verb to spy, to observe secretly, or to discover at a distance or in concealment.” “Just the thing,” said Bowles. And so we settled it, and since then, like the Soap man (this is not an advertisement), I have used no other (with one exception, of which I will tell later). Becoming a permanent member of the staff of Vanity Fair and my dream more than realized, I turned my attention to caricature whole-heartedly and with infinite pleasure.

Soon after joining ‘Vanity Fair’ he turned to his old school for inspiration and his autobiography fills in the details:

Some of my subjects had fixed ideas as to their own characteristics. I remember I was bent on doing Dr. Welldon, then Headmaster of Harrow, in profile, but he suddenly wheeled round on his heel and remarked, as if in explanation, “I always look my boys straight in the face.” I endeavoured to persuade him to return to his former position. “You must imagine your boys over there,” I explained, pointing to a distant spot on a far horizon, and the plan worked well. I took the opportunity of informing him that I sketched him in 1874, whilst studying the game of football at “the wall” at Eton, for a full-page drawing which the Graphic had commissioned me to execute. Mr. Frank Tarver refreshed my memory on all the points to enable me to be accurate, and afterwards at his request the team posed and Welldon was one of the group. Mr. Frank Tarver also wrote the letterpress which accompanied the picture.

Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876)

Below is the original drawing as it first appeared in the ‘Graphic’:

Graphic 29th January 1876

There must have been a business relationship between the ‘Graphic’ and America’s ‘Harper’s Weekly’ as the same image appeared in the latter a month later on February 26th, 1876.

Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876)

Below is the ‘Harper’s Weekly’ version with a different title, omitting the word ‘Eton’. This double page version is poster-sized at 40cms by 56cms.

‘Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876)

There were no accompanying words of explanation for the British ‘Graphic’ readers, but the American publication thought it sensible to offer some (author unaccredited) words of explanation, though presumably it was written by Mr. Frank Tarver as mentioned above.

‘Harper’s Weekly’ (February 26th 1876)

The ‘Graphic’ newspaper followed up much later with another story on the Eton Wall Game: the 1908 photograph echos the 1876 drawing wonderfully:

Sir Leslie Ward died in 1922:

Portsmouth Evening News – Tuesday 16 May 1922

Whilst the rules of the Eton Wall game is unintelligible to most mortals our current Prime Minister , Boris Johnson, was captain of the 1982 Wall Game team.

I discuss the importance of Eton School to the history of Association football in my book England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889: New chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association)’