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Chicky won the draw for Cornwall's Olympic medal

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: August 16, 2012

  • The Cornwall team (not in order): Edward (John) Jackett (Falmouth), Barney Solomon (Redruth), Bert Solomon (Redruth), LF Dean (Plymouth Albion), Jimmy Jose (Plymouth Albion), James Davey (Cornwall), Thomas Wedge (St Ives), John Trevaskis (St Ives), J Wilcocks (Plymouth Albion), CR Marshall (Plymouth Albion), A Lawrey (Redruth), Nicholas Tregurtha (St Ives), Arthur Wilson (Camborne Students), EJ Jones (Plymouth Albion) and Richard Jackett (Falmouth).

  • 1908 Olympics rugby final. ****Photo from Wikipedia , where it says the copyright has run out so it is OK to use: "This image was created in Australia and is now classified as being in the public domain because its term of copyright has now expired."****

  • Betty Toman holds the silver medal won by the Cornish team and given to her grandad Chicky Wedge, whose name was drawn from a hat. Emily Whitfield-Wicks

  • Photograph by Emily Whitfield-Wicks Olympic medal from 1908. Plymouth. Collect of Betty Toman's Grandad Chicky Wedge (mid-front).

  • Betty Toman's grandad Chicky Wedge, 'The First of the Stars', from a portrait by his daughter Mrs Bowtell. Emily Whitfield-Wicks.

  • Chicky Wedge in later life.

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IT ISN'T often you get to hold an Olympic medal – particularly one presented as far back as 1908 – so it's a moment to savour, to consider the athlete into whose hand it was originally placed, the roar and adulation of the home crowd.

British sportsmen and women lining up at the opening ceremony were dreaming of such things. For Chicky Wedge, holding that solid silver disc was the rarest of honours because it marked the day Cornwall took on Australia in the Olympic rugby final. The silver medal Chicky took home to St Ives after his name was picked out of a hat ahead of his team-mates' lay largely forgotten in the town's rugby club for years, before it was returned to his family. Today it's the turn of Chicky's granddaughter to look after the family silver.

"I've always thought it a pity they didn't get one each," said Betty Toman, turning the medal over in her hand.

"It's been in our family since that day in 1908, and my father in particular was very proud of his father's role in winning it."

Chicky Wedge – or Thomas Grenfell Wedge, to give him his proper title – was a member of the Cornish squad at the time of the Olympics. They were county champions and had in their ranks several internationals. As the best in the land, the members were selected to represent their country.

Only the fourth "modern" Games, they were held in London. Unlike this year's events, however, they were a fairly home-spun affair, with several countries dropping out at the last minute – to such an extent that by the time the rugby tournament kicked off there were only two teams left, Australia and Cornwall.

So, on the afternoon of Tuesday, October 27, 1908, thirty men from opposite sides of the globe went head to head in a muddy field at White City. With visibility down to just a few feet, it was a pretty messy game, with newspaper accounts of the time recording that the 32-3 final score reflected the atrocious playing conditions. A slippery ball, handled more expertly by the Australian players, even ended up in an Olympic pool that ran alongside the pitch. Despite their best efforts, Cornwall took a battering.

As well as Chicky Wedge, playing at scrum-half, the Cornish squad – who had gone down 18-5 to Australia at Camborne a few weeks earlier – fielded four other England internationals: Arthur Wilson, a student at Camborne School of Mines; captain John Jackett of Falmouth at full back; Redruth's Bert Solomon in the centre; and the British Lions' John 'Maffer' Davey at fly-half. The full line-up was Edward (John) Jackett, Barney Solomon, Bert Solomon, LF Dean, Jimmy Jose, Thomas Wedge, James Davey, Richard Jackett, EJ Jones, Arthur Wilson, Nicholas Tregurtha, A Lawrey, CR Marshall, A Wilcocks and John Trevaskis.

Rugby at the turn of the century was almost a religion and even as recently as the 1950s, when Chicky was an old man, he was treated as something of a god in St Ives.

Betty Toman's husband, William, recalls talking to him on several occasions: "Everyone knew Chicky," he said.

"St Ives was a small town back then and rugby in the 1950s and 1960s was a big thing. He was a little, short man, very quiet, modest and dignified. I remember going down to his house one evening when I was courting Betty and he really opened up to me about his time playing rugby.

"He was an old chap by that time, but when he showed me how he'd pass the ball his movements were like lightning. He was a special player and a special man."

After their brief moment in the international spotlight, the 15 Cornish Olympians returned to their lives, which in Chicky's case meant the family fishing boat.

He emigrated to America for a few years and later served as a coastguard during the Second World War. He died in 1964 at the age of 83.

But how, you may be wondering, did he come by that distinctive nickname? Chicky's grandson, Charles Nicholls, takes up the story.

"They say Tommy had a ball in his hand from as soon as he could walk and he and the other children loved to chase about the beach," he said. "He would run and jink and throw the ball. One day a local woman commented that Tommy ran 'like a little chicky' and the name stuck."

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