John Ness Dransfield

John Dransfield - Illustration by Lucy Pimpernel Wood

Born Penistone 1839; died Penistone 1930.

Educated at PGS – Sam Sunderland, headmaster.
Member of Sheffield Foot Ball Club 1860-61. (He became a member whilst completing his articles for qualification in law.)
Clerk to the governors at PGS for many years and was a partner in the law firm. (Initially Dransfield & Son, then Dransfield & Sons and finally Dransfield & Hodgkinson.)
Captain of his school football team Windermere 1859.
Left much of the materials used in the research.

During his research Kevin also came across the world’s oldest existing correspondence relating to organised football clubs, written to John Ness Dransfield and signed by two of the biggest names:  Nathaniel Creswick, founder of the world’s oldest existing club – Sheffield Football Club 1857 and John Charles Shaw, founder of the world’s second oldest existing club – Hallam Football Club 1860. Originally in Penistone for around 150 years they are currently held in the Barnsley archives.

John Ness Dransfield was born in Penistone in 1839. He was the first born of John Dransfield a Penistone solicitor and Elizabeth Dransfield. Ness was his grandmother’s maiden name on his father’s side. A sister of his father married into the Favell family of Sheffield and Charles Favell, John Ness Favell, Thomas Favell and William Fisher Favell of Norfolk Street were his cousins and members of the Sheffield Football Club in 1859. He was baptised by the Reverend Samuel Sunderland at St John the Baptist Church in Penistone, and he was educated by Sunderland who was also the Headmaster of Penistone Grammar School.

Like several young men in Penistone John Ness became very adept at the game of football introduced by Sunderland on his arrival as a Curate in 1829. Dransfield’s educational history is interesting regarding football connections throughout. He began his studies at Penistone Grammar School in 1847, leaving in 1852 and under Sunderland’s influence developed a fondness for cricket and football. He was then placed as a boarder at George Ryder’s Grenoside Boarding School, where Dransfield names one of the other boarders at the time as Frederick Vickers, the brother of Thomas Edward Vickers, one of the co-founders of the Hallam Football Club and both members of Sheffield FC.

On leaving Grenoside Dransfield went to the Liverpool Royal Institution. It was here that Dransfield claims he first came across the large footballs that were in use that lent themselves to a hug-ball type of game as opposed to the smaller footballs he had experienced whilst at Penistone. Two teachers from this school went on to purchase their own school at Windermere. One of these people was known to Dransfield, a Benjamin Atkinson Irving, who originally came from Deepcar, a small village between Penistone and Sheffield. The other teacher was a William Hale Puckle, who had attended St John’s Cambridge and was a contemporary of John Charles Thring who was a central figure in the rules debate in the 1860s, and a confirmed supporter of the kicking game. Dransfield finished his education at Windermere College and fondly recalls his football experience there, he was captain of the school team.

Dransfield was articled to his father’s practice in 1856, and in 1860, spent his final year in the office of Smith and Burdekin in Sheffield. He lodged at Western House which is now the site of the Western Museum and whilst he resided in Sheffield, he joined the Sheffield Football Club. Dransfield’s appetite for keeping diaries and notes have provided much information regarding early football in Sheffield and an insight into the club itself. A major discovery in one of his scrapbooks revealed letters he had received from both the Sheffield and the Hallam clubs and signed by their respective captains of the day Nathaiel Creswick and John Charles Shaw. It is believed that these letters are the oldest adult football club letters in the world.

Both the letters were written in 1861 and records show that Dransfield did play in the game against Hallam FC on 12th February 1861 as invited by Creswick but he did not play in the game later the same year as invited by John Charles Shaw. He received another letter written by Arthur Wightman inviting him for a day’s hare coursing at Whiston which gives an insight into the social aspect of the club. The paper chase, details of which were advertised in a local newspaper, gives another interesting aspect of the social side of the club but also reinforces the importance held regarding the athletic prowess of its members. Interestingly, Tom Browns Schooldays had been published in April of 1857, giving details not only of the football side of a public school but also the cross country runs, and the Crick run, which was originally 13 miles in distance. The book was an international best seller at the time of publishing and would undoubtedly have been read by the Sheffield elite.

Dransfield was a very good footballer in his own right and maintained his membership of the Sheffield club in the 1862 season. However, he chose to follow his career route as a solicitor based in Penistone and did not play in any games. He played cricket for the local team and eventually was recorded as a vice-president for a football team in Penistone in 1875. It is through his various writings and newspaper cuttings, contained in numerous scrapbooks, that he has made a huge contribution towards our understanding of the development of early football.

John Ness Dransfield died in 1930 aged 91. Whilst his parents are buried in Penistone churchyard, Dransfield himself is interred at the Stottercliffe cemetery, located not too far away.

Do you have more information about this that we could add? Are any of the facts wrong? Please get in touch if so.

Source: Kevin Neill /
Translate »