The grave of one of the men who contributed to Everton Football Club’s move from Anfield to Goodison Park in 1892 has recently been restored. After being hidden behind bushes for many years the memorial to the club’s director William Whitford is now fully visible again and has been restored by Sarsfield Memorials on behalf of his family.
Whitford was born in 1845 in County Armagh and educated at Queens College, Belfast and London Hospital. He then came to Liverpool, setting up a medical practice at 37 Shaw Street.
In February 1884 Whitford was a key witness in one of Liverpool’s most notorious murder cases. As medical officer for the parish, he had attended to Thomas Higgins the previous October and issued a death certificate after he died of what was believed to be dysentery. After Thomas’s brother raised suspicions due to his brother being a strong healthy man who had recently had his life insured by his wife, Whitford alerted the coroner. Thomas’s funeral was halted and a postmortem found he had died of arsenic poisoning.
This led to the arrest of his wife Margaret and apprehension ten days later of her sister Catherine Flanagan. The bodies of three others, who had died in recent years soon after life insurance policies were taken out against them, including Catherine’s 22 year old son, were exhumed and traces of arsenic found in each one. Whitford was present at these examinations so he could give a corroborating opinion to what was found by Frederick Lowndes. After a trial at St George’s Hall the two sisters were found guilty of murder and hanged at Kirkdale gaol.
Later that decade Whitford qualified became a consulting surgeon at the Stanley Hospital and Liverpool Skin Cancer Hospital. He married and moved to 47 Shaw Street, where the 1891 census shows him as living with his wife, three young children and four servants. By now he was also involved with the Liberal Party and was chairman of its Everton parliamentary division. He was also a justice of the peace, serving on the licencing bench. As a medical man he had seen the effects of excess alcohol consumption in Liverpool’s courts and was very much one of the Temperance Movement.
Whitford also became involved with the city’s only Football League club, Everton, who won their first championship in 1891. In the second half of the 1891-92 football season the club were in a dispute with John Houlding, the owner of their Anfield ground, over the rent. Matters cam to a head and on 18th April 1892 the Liverpool Echo reported that guarantees of £1,500 had now been received from a number of gentlemen towards the cost of a new ground for the club. Whitford was one of those who had pledged money towards the cost, his contribution being £50 which equates to £5,850 in 2017.
Rent was not the only issue however, as extensive research by Merseyside football historian Peter Lupson demonstrated in 2009. Many of those who made pledges were, like Whitford, members of the Liberal Party and Temperance Movement. For over a century it was accepted that rent was the sole reason for Everton’s move away from Anfield, but Lupson showed that Houlding’s occupation as a brewer and owner of the Sandon Hotel near the ground was the root cause of the problem. When Goodison Park opened in September 1892 there was significantly no provision made for the sale of alcohol.
Whitford remained a director of Everton for over twenty years and retired to Sandymount Drive in Wallasey. He died on 15th June 1930 at his home, aged 85. The following day at the police court in Dale Street a vote of condolence to his relatives was proposed by the Chief Magistrate Mr R J Ward.
After several decades of being hidden by bushes William Whitford’s grave in Anfield Cemetery has now been restored on behalf of family members by Sarsfield Memorials. The memorial makes no reference to his Everton connection, simply referring to him as an MD and JP. Also buried there is his youngest son Herbert, who as part of the Manchester Regiment served in Ypres, Gallipoli and Passchendaele during the First World War and died in 1979.