|Place Of Birth||Hartlepool|
BORN : 6 Sept 1861, Hartlepool
DIED : 7 July 1904
POSITION : Forward
TEAMS : Hartlepool Rovers, Swansea, Durham County.
HONOURS: Wales (2 caps 1888). Tries: 1
Born in Hartlepool, Co Durham, William “Billy” Hunter Towers was one of five children. He was a Coal Merchant Clerk going on to become a ship broker and own a company called Wedlake, Towers & Co who ran a steamship. Prior to his move to South Wales, Towers played as a forward for his local side of Hartlepool Rovers (1881-1886) and also Durham County who he first represented in November 1883 against Yorkshire. He dropped a goal in that match. He represented Durham County 12 times in all scoring 4 tries in addition to his drop goal against Yorkshire. Billy Towers is known to have captained the Hartlepool Rovers ‘A’ team in 1885, though not the senior fifteen. Both Billy and his younger brother Albert E. Towers were selected for a Northern counties trial (North-East England against North-West England) in Manchester in 1884 but the match was never played. Albert E. Towers also played for Hartlepool Rovers. A description of Billy Towers in those days depicted “a big strong fellow of the sinewy type” and a “truly Durham product”.
Billy Towers moved to Swansea with his business in 1883, a natural move considering the vast amounts of coal needed for the copper smelting and tinplate production in the area. He became Managing Clerk for Messrs. John Wood & Co., steamship owners, eventually forming a joint company (Wedlake, towers & Co.) in 1890. He continued to return to Durham on business and to play for the local and county teams until 1886.
Settled in Swansea, Billy towers gravitated to the “All Whites”, possibly recommended by Newport and Wales half-back Rev. C H “Charlie” Newman, who had become a minister in Durham and played for that county. Towers first played for Swansea at the start of 1886-87 and ran out first against Cardiff Harlequins on 25th September 1886 at St Helen’s in an easy win. After a match with the second fifteen in which he scored four tries against Cardiff Crusaders, Towers was thrown into the maelstrom of a Llanelli versus Swansea encounter at Stradey Park (9th Oct.). The match was drawn but Towers was everywhere for the “All Whites”, spoiling attacking moves and frustrating the home forwards. So impressed were the Llanelli crowd with Towers’ new ‘wing forward’ style of play that he was pelted (along with other Swansea players) with clods of earth all the way back to the brake that carried them away. Towers came in for particular attention and vowed not to play them again.
But he did so, and many times too. Billy Towers was a modern rugby football forward who used his brains to effect attacking moves from lineout, as well as his using his skill in dribbling, spoiling and making openings for his three-quarters to exploit. He was one of the cleverest forwards of his day.
In December 1886 Billy scored two tries against a high flying Cardiff at St Helen’s. Standing listlessly at the edge of the lineout, he took the ball from Bill Gwynn’s throw-in and burst through the players to score before the defence could rush him. This prearranged move was repeated for his second try in a rout of the men on blue and black. When this ploy became well known, Towers developed others.
Towers was a member of the Swansea team that won the South Wales Challenge Cup for the second time in 1887. He was selected ‘reserve’ for the international against Ireland in 1887, but won his cap when W. H. Thomas had to withdraw. Swansea forward Dai Morgan scored a try – the first ever for Wales by a Swansea player, as wales won by a try and Arthur Gould drop goal to three tries, this under the scoring system of the day, being a superior haul of points. Billy Towers won his second and final cap for Wales in December 1888 at St Helen’s when they beat the touring Maoris team. He scored the first of Wales' three tries. Two days later, now captain of Swansea, he led the “All Whites” in their first match against a touring side. Unfortunately, a weakened home side lost 8 – 0 to the tourists from New Zealand. Originally selected as vice-captain for Swansea, Towers had taken the mantle after Evan Richards and then George Bowen had had to withdraw. But Bill Towers led from the front and proved his worth in both leadership and scoring, ending the season as top try scorer (8).
Towers’ formation of a joint company in 1890 ended his footballing days. He had been capped by Wales twice, played 58 games for Swansea and scored 28 tries. His last Swansea appearance was fittingly, on tour at the Vicarage Field ground in a match lost 13 – 6 to his old club of Hartlepool Rovers.
Billy Towers lived in Glanmore Crescent in Swansea and had continued interest in athletics and yachting. He was a familiar figure at the Swansea docks for many years. He died aged just 42 on 6th July 1904, having suffered from paralysis due to peritonitis and other complications. He was described by those close to him in Swansea, as “a difficult man to know, but like all such, to know the man was to be endeared to him. A highly strung nature, a kind heart.”
Swansea RFC gratefully acknowledges the help of rugby historian Howard Evans in discovering some of W H Towers' background.
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