Sheffield Wednesday FC - The Unusual Death of Walter Holbem

(1884 - 1930)

I am not certain regarding Walter's life before he started playing for Sheffield Wednesday. There is an entry in the GRO registers for the December quarter of 1884 (Ecclesall Bierlow) noting the birth of a WALTER HOLBEM, and another in the 1901 UK Census for a 16 year old table knife grinder living in the Heeley area of Sheffield.  The 1891 Census though places WALTER with his family living in the Heeley district of Sheffield

Dwelling  203 Gleadless Road, Heeley Sheffield (GRO reference RG12/3812Folio 65 Page1)

SURNAME FORENAME Age Status Occupation Place of Birth
HOLBEM William 40 Head - Married Table Blade Grinder Sheffield Yorkshire
HOLBEM Sarah 38 Wife - Married   Sheffield Yorkshire
HOLBEM William 16 Son Table Blade Grinder Sheffield Yorkshire
HOLBEM Thomas 8 Son Scholar Sheffield Yorkshire
HOLBEM Walter 6 Son Scholar Sheffield Yorkshire
HOLBEM Annie 4 Daughter   Sheffield Yorkshire


I can however be more certain of his career at Sheffield Wednesday. He started his career as a halfback with a local team Heeley Friends and joined Wednesday in 1905. The transfer fee was £10.00. His first season was played solely in the reserves and the following two he made just a few appearances mainly due to injuries to the regular half back Tommy Crawshaw. Walter made his debut in the 1-0 away defeat at Preston North End on 26th January 1907 and went on to make a further five appearances that season. The following season he played in a further eight games. However the 1908 - 1909 season seems to be the season when Walter finally established himself in the Wednesday first team. The reason for this was his switch to left back position where he was in direct competition with Harry Burton. He appeared 26 times for the Owls that season and recorded the same number of appearances the following season. Some of the games he played at right back. He was a regular in the 1909- 1910 season, the "highlight" of which was his sending off in the 1910 March local derby match with Sheffield United.

 His last season at Hillsborough was in 1910 - 1911 when he made 20 appearances. His last game was on 11th February 1911 in the 3 - 0 away defeat at Liverpool. "The Wednesday Boys" by Jason Dickinson and John Brodie, reveal that Walter's career ended in dispute with the club. Walter demanded that his benefit game be played before Christmas 1910 instead of after as was the custom at the time. (a game after Xmas always meant smaller crowds).

During his time there, he recorded a total of 89 appearances but did not score a single goal. Of the 89 games, Wednesday won 31 of them, drew 19 and lost 39.

Around the last time he appeared for Sheffield Wednesday the 1911 UK Census was taken which has the following information about Walter

Name Walter Holbem
Relationship to Head of Household Head
Condition Single
Gender Male
Age 26 Estimated Year of Birth 1885
Occupation Professional Footballer
Employed Yes Working at Home No
Place of Birth Sheffield Yorkshire
Enumerator Information
Address 84 Tillotson Road Heeley Sheffield Parish Ecclesall Town Heeley Sheffield
Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms 4
Inhabited Yes
Reference RG14PN27806 RG78PN1591 RD509 SD5 ED28 SN18 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding)
Registration District Ecclesall Bierlow Registration Sub District Ecclesall South Enumeration District 28

After leaving Sheffield Wednesday, he was transferred to Everton for £500. Walter made 11 appearances for Everton in the 1911 - 1912 season and a further 7 the following season, again without scoring. His appearances were restricted due to a series of knee injuries. After Everton he went to the Scottish club St Mirren. but returned to England shortly after as his wife could not settle in Scotland  . The last reference I came across was a brief mention in the Xmas Day edition of The Scotsman newspaper dated Thursday, 25th December 1913 page 9

PAISLEY PLAYER TRANSFERRED TO ENGLAND - Walter Holbem, left back in St Mirren Football Club, Paisley has been transferred to Preston North End, on terms which are stated to be satisfactory to player and club. He went from Everton to Paisley at the close of last summer

He finished his playing career with Preston North End and Southport Central.  

A year later Walter appears in the Liverpool Echo dated 29th September 1916. He was charged under the Military Services Act with being an absentee from the British Army

I do not have details of Walter's military career or when he played his last game for Southport Central. But after he left the game Walter did became a racecourse bookmaker and it was as a result of this change in career that Walter met his death

In the Times dated June 20th 1930, there is a report of an Inquest that was held the previous evening (19th June 1930)


At the inquest at Ascot last night on the body of WALTER HOLBEM, of Ribble Avenue, Southport, a bookmaker who was killed by lightning on Wednesday while standing in the Tattersalls, Ring, it was stated that there were no witnesses to the actual occurrence. Dr W.H. Brown of St Mary's Hospital, London who was on duty behind the grandstand said that Holbem, was gasping for breath when he was brought in, and died almost immediately. His condition was consistent with his having been struck by lightning. The only mark on his body was an abrasion of the skin on his Adam's apple. Samuel McClarence, who was employed by Holbem, said that he ran for shelter from the rain leaving Holbem standng under his umbrella. Two minutes afterwards he saw him being carried away. A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned


The Daily Herald dated 19th June 1930 however gives a fuller account of the events of the day. It appears that it was the second day of the Royal meeting and the thunderstorm broke just as The Macnab (owner Mr J.A.Dewar) crossed the line in the Royal Hunt Cup, one of the meetings main races. The front page of the Herald gave full prominence to the scenes that followed. It was the first time in over two hundred years that the day's programme was abandoned

Looking at the headline now, it is amusing to note that the paper was more concerned with "terror stricken women" and their ruined frocks than with Walter's death. This is confirmed in an adjacent column when the Herald's "Woman Correspondent" gives a stunning description of events

"In some of the tents women fainted. Four collapsed together in one small tent. Word sped that a man had been hilled by lightening in Tattersall's. The real terror showed then. Men went pale. Women gazed at the storm with fascinated horror, deadly white. Gradually the density of the rain became less. The air became lighter, the thunder less like the crash of a battery of guns. The frigid stare of terror, incongruous in painted eyes, melted. Women pinned up their frocks in the manner of charwomen and trooped out. It was almost impossible to find their motor cars. Once smart men and women jostled, ran, searched. Those who set off down the tunnel to the station found two feet of water. They went across the field  ankle deep in mud. Their clothes? They were past caring for them"

Quite what the Duke of Norfolk thought of women pinning up " their frocks in the manner of charwomen" is not recorded.!!

The Times report of the 19th June 1930 gives the following, more detailed account of the day's events


Yesterday's Ascot programme had to be abandoned for the first time in its long history after only two races-the Coronation Stakes and the Royal Hunt Cup had been run. The course was flooded by torrential rains, which were accompanied by vivid lightning and terrific thunder. So heavy was the rain that at times it was impossible to 
see more than a few yards ahead. A man named Holbem, from Southport, was struck and killed by lightning while standing under an umbrella in Tattersalls' Ring. It is believed that there were no other casualties, but thousands of people were drenched to the skin, and dresses worth thousands of pounds were ruined. There had been a thunderstorm in the early hours of the morning when the roof of one of the stands was struck, and rain was falling lightly when most of the guests were arriving before the afternoon's racing was due to begin. There was then a fine interval ; but while the runners for the Royal Hunt Cup were going down to the start, and 
even before, rain was falling, but no one then could have dreamed of the severity of the storm which was to follow. It was not until the race for the Royal Hunt Cup was over and the horses had returned to the Paddock, and three of them, The MacNab, the winner, and the two placed horses, Grand Idol and Lionhearted, had gone 
into the unsaddling enclosures, that the storm's full fury was let loose. A flash of lightning was followed immediately by loud thunder. Every one who had not before got under shelter now made for cover, if he could. The few trees in the Paddock and on the Lawn quickly had many people under their branches. The visitors out 
on the course sheltered as best they might under umbrellas, coaches, and along the sides of motor-cars, and other carriages. They were soon soaked through. At least one Club tent, out on the far side of the course, threw open its doors to the people round about.

LAKES ON COURSE The storm never seemed to move. The rain came down straight. The intervals between the flashes were very short; sometimes the lightning and thunder were simultaneous, or seemed to be. Yet for some time nothing and nobody seemed to have been struck. Then came the most vivid flash of all, with a terrific crash of thunder, and a man standing in Tattersalls' Ring was seen to fall. The police were beside him at once, and an ambulance was signaled for, but the signal was quickly cancelled and the man carried out. It was said that other people felt shocks. In time a slight breeze began to blow, the storm shifted, and the rain stopped. Through it all the police on duty stood to their posts admirably, wet through as they were in their capes. When the storm had abated an Ascot was seen such as no one had ever seen before. Large lakes were out on the course, notably at the junction of the courses and just beyond the Winning Post. Smaller pools stood in other places, and everywhere the water came above the walkers' ankles. There was another lake in the Paddock, which was almost all under water. There were lakes on the Lawns and a lagoon by the new archway leading from the Paddock to the West Car Enclosure. Nevertheless, one man had stood out in it all, in the Paddock, with his umbrella up, fascinated by the sight which, it is to be hoped, he will never see again, while the water ran over and into his shoes. He remained so motionless that it was feared that he had been struck by lightning; but when the rain was over he went off, wetter, if possible, than any one. Then one by one, and two by two, and later in crowds out came the visitors. Some who had been lucky were almost dry ; others were partly dry ; others thoroughly wet. The new long dresses might now have been a hindrance, but the wearers had not worn short dresses for nothing. Up went the skirts until they were shorter than ever before. Some had been ruined, but others might be saved with care in the walk to the motor-cars and trains. Not a few were ruined on the way. Shoes and stockings availed not for the rest of the meeting, so much water was there in the Paddock and on the Lawn; indeed, in most places it was inches deep. And there was still the great lake in the Paddock to be crossed by those who would reach the West Enclosure. Chairs were brought. out and a bridge was built. It would have passed no professional test, but it was better than nothing until one was half way across and the lady in front was not too certain. To hesitate was to be lost and nearly drowned; and many hesitated. As the chair legs sank in the mud there were 
many falls and many more dresses ruined. Even when this bridge had been crossed there was another just outside the archway into the car enclosures; it was made of little wooden boxes, none too safe. This second bridge passed, there were no dry feet, no dirty or unspotted stockings, and very few unspoilt dresses. The 
Stewards could not but advise the King that the rest of the programme would have to be abandoned for the dav. It. was decided that the Chesham Stakes and the King Edward VII. Stakes should be run on Friday, thus making nine races for that afternoon, and that the Churchill Stakes, the Bessborough Stakes, and the Fern Hill 
Stakes should be added to, this afternoon's programme, which will now consist of 10 events. To-day racing will begin at 1 o'clock and will continue with only half-hour intervals until half-past 5, when the last race of the day, the Ribblesdale Stakes, will be run. The fiull programme will be found on page 6, together with our Racing 
Correspondent's comments on it and on yesterday's racing. The Southern Railway Company announce that in view of the earlier start at Ascot today and to-morrow, an additional luncheon car express will be run from Waterloo on both days at 11.48 a.m."  

The aftermath of the storm

The Times dated 19th June 1930 also noted the event under the title "A Historic Ascot"


Also see The Death of Leonard Tingle (Sheffield) - July 1955

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In May 2011 I was contacted by the owners of the Everton Former Players Foundation website. The Foundation is a registered charity and officially recognised by Everton FC.
On the website they have biography pages for each Everton player. Walter Holbem was an Everton player and during my web searches I came across your page that mentions how he died from being struck by lightning. I was wondering if I could link this page to the biography page about Walter on the EFPF website?. Consent was very freely given for the excellent endeavour. It looks as though it will be a great resource 


Liverpool Echo 29th September 1916

Daily Herald 19th June 1930

The Times 19th June 1930

 The Times June 20th 1930

The Scotsman  Thursday, 25th December 1913

The Wednesday Boys by Jason Dickinson and John Brodie

Daily Herald 15th July 1955

The Sheffield Wednesday Archive

Wednesday 1867 - 1987 - The Complete Record by Keith Farnsworth

Back Page Racing - George Plumtree

The Times Weather Eye dated June 17 2008

This page was last updated on 28/03/15 12:15