The discovery of 150-year-old documents has shed new light on the connection between New Ross and Anfield, home of Liverpool FC
Liverpool’s famous stadium has long been associated with ‘Annefield’ in New Ross. David Looby investigates a new discovery which could prove the connection
NEWLY DISCOVERED historical documents could confirm the widely held belief that the Anfield home ground of top English soccer club Liverpool FC was named after an area called Annefield in New Ross.
The documents, which were found in a shed in Carlow, are more than 150 years old, and are expected to shed new light on the connections between New Ross shipping magnate Samuel Robert Graves and the city of Liverpool.
Robert Graves served Mayor of Liverpool and had his business offices directly in front of what became Anfield at a time when the Graves family had acquired Annefield Lane and Rosbercon Castle as their seat of power.
The documents were handed over to former Graves New Ross manager Peter McDonald following their discovery, are currently being analysed at Waterford Institute of Technology, where they will be digitised.
Mr McDonald said they were given to him by Liam Murphy, who previously leased the Graves site for his building providers business.
Mr McDonald said: ‘Robert Graves was a wealthy gentleman and it’s easy enough to believe that he gave a sporting club an area for a pitch.’
Mr McDonald said he took a personal interest in the documents – which include letters from Robert – as he worked at Graves for many years.
‘ They were originally stored in the old office building beside the Blockhouse. They were left behind by the Graves directors in cupboards. Everyone knew about them but they were never to be touched. Liam gave me about 2,000 documents to look after. The professors at WIT couldn’t believe their eyes when I handed them over as they are extremely valuable from a social science point of view between Ireland, Liverpool and the Americas as the Graves were the main shipping company for over 100 years.’
The Graves family home in New Ross was in the townland of Annefield (Gort na hAbhann – the River Field). Annefield Lane ran just above Rosbercon Castle.
Shortened to Anfield, it became the name for part of the city and today survives most famously as the name of the home of Liverpool Football Club – Anfield Stadium, one of the best known sports arenas in the world. The immortal legacy the New Ross man bequeathed to Liverpool is a source of great pride in New Ross to this day.
It seems fitting that one of the fans’ main anthems is The Fields of Anfield Road, sung to the tune of The Fields of Athenry.
Robert Graves was born on June 7, 1818, the son of William Graves and his wife Sarah Elly, who hailed from a wealthy family who imported timbre and staves from Quebec. His parents had both been active in the political life of New Ross, serving on various committees. The family commissioned the building of the Dunbrody ‘Famine’ ship.
Robert was the middle child in a family of three sons. The family were to be at the forefront of business life in the Barrowside town for over 100 years. The movers and shakers of the business world in their time, they had a thriving Builders Providers and Sawmills at Block House Quay, New Ross, where Lidl is located today.
For some part of that time especially before and after the Famine they were renowned as a firm of ship builders and shipping agents.
The Graves were pioneering business people and they manufactured roof felts renowned for their durability.
Robert was educated at a private school in New Ross. He married Elizabeth Haughton, daughter of Samuel Haughton of Burrin House, Carlow, in 1848.
Around this time he moved to Liverpool to develop the family’s business interests in the busy port city, opening offices in Oriel Street near the area which would become the Anfield football grounds.
He took on the running of the Graves shipping company in that city and at its height it had 50 ships leaving Liverpool’s docks bound for destinations across the globe.
Having been narrowly defeated in Parliamentary elections in 1857, Robert moved on and his political ambition found a perfect home in Liverpool which was booming at the time. Liverpool Mayor’s office confirmed that he was Lord Mayor of the city from 1860-1861, making history as the first Irishman to hold the office of mayor in an English city. He bought land in the city, calling it Annefield Farm.
In his capacity as mayor, it was he who put through a proposal to develop grounds on the outskirts of the city which would become the home of Liverpool Football Club. He then sanctioned a proposal to build a roadway up to the new grounds, and named it Annefield Lane. The name was abbreviated over the years and the famous ground of the renowned Liverpool Football Club is now just known as Anfield.
Robert held many important positions and directorships in Liverpool. He was chairman of Liverpool Shipowners’ Association and was elected to Liverpool City Council and was a member of Mersey Docks and Harbour Board in 1858.
He was also a member of the Royal Commission to inquire into the management of lights, buoys and beacons and was commodore of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club and author of National Dangers and A Cruise in the Baltic.
He was reputedly a personal friend of Queen Victoria and entertained her son the Prince of Wales. He was also active in Liverpool Chamber of Commerce.
In the 1865 general election Robert was elected Liberal Member of Parliament for Liverpool and he held the seat until his death in 1873, aged 54.
Queen Victoria sent a letter of condolence to his wife on his death and the people of Liverpool erected a monument in his memory.
The Graves family went on to develop their business interest in America and around the world. Locally they became steel fabricators and builders providers for farmers and industrial businesses, and Graves signs can still be seen in farmyards throughout the country today.
The family connection to the business died out in 1917 but it continued under different owners until the early 1980s.
There is a long-held belief in New Ross that the town should be twinned with Liverpool based on the Graves and Anfield connection and the fact that Liverpool ships stopped in New Ross on their way to America throughout the 1800s.