The Jewel Thief
Harry Trainer was a centre-forward for Wales and Wrexham, but his dark side ended his career
Police Constable James Owen was on night patrol when he discovered the robbery. It was 1.30am on Sunday morning, 11 November 1900, and the gas-lit streets of Wrexham were empty. PC Owen, in his regulation cape and helmet, was a young recruit who had recently been commended for his brave attempt to rescue a family from a fatal fire. As he turned into Queen Street, Owen noticed the shutters of Williams’ Jeweller’s shop had been removed. One shutter was hanging from its hinges and the other was lying on the pavement. The shop’s plate-glass window had been smashed with a rock. Several yards away, under the flickering street lamps, a man could be seen hurrying away. When Owen called out, the man began to run. Owen set off in pursuit.
Owen followed the man into Lambpit Street and blew his police whistle, alerting a passing fireman named Thomas Humphreys. Owen and Humphreys chased the suspect up Chester Road and down Cooper’s Lane, then over a gate into a dark, tree-lined field. While Owen guarded the gate, Humphreys searched the trees. After a few minutes, Humphreys yelled, “Here he is!” There was a brief struggle as Humphreys restrained the man and Owen placed him in handcuffs. As they pulled him to his feet and moved his face into the moonlight Owen recognised this short, moustachioed figure as a local – and national – celebrity. The suspected jewel thief was the Wrexham and Wales international footballer Harry Trainer.
“What’s this for?” yelled Trainer. “I’ve done nothing.” PC Owen put his hand in Trainer’s pocket and pulled out a ring. More jewellery was lying on the ground, and there were pieces of broken glass on his clothes. “I know nothing about it,” said Trainer. “What I’ve got on me was given me by a bloke.” Trainer, described as “had some drink, but not drunk”, became violent, and resisted all the way as Owen and Humphreys dragged him to the police station. When they got there, Trainer finally gave up and told PC Owen, “I’ll come quiet now, mate.” Searches revealed items of jewellery stuffed in the lining of his jacket and more that had been discarded or dropped during his flight.
In all, Trainer had stolen 42 gold rings, 13 gold brooches, 12 silver watch chains, eight gold pendants, six watches, four silver serviette rings, two silver button hooks, one jewelled gold bracelet, one gold pencil case, one silver fruit knife, one silver matchbox, one scent bottle and one silver medal, worth a total of more than £40, plus several other articles that were never found. “I suppose I’ll have to do time for this,” he said. That seemed highly likely because this was not Trainer’s first offence.
Harry Trainer was born in Wrexham in 1872. He played for local sides Wrexham Victoria, Wrexham Grosvenor and Westminster Rovers before making his debut for Wrexham in 1894. A “crack centre-forward” who was “very accurate in shooting”, Trainer soon attracted the attention of the international selection committee. He played for a North Wales XI and was named as a reserve for the full Wales side. He also attracted the attention of the law. In February 1894, Trainer was charged with assaulting James Holt, the landlord of the Talbot Hotel, following Westminster Rovers’ 5-3 Welsh Cup semi-final win over Wrexham. Trainer apologised and donated £5 to the Wrexham Infirmary, and Holt agreed to drop the case.
Then in March, Trainer was arrested on the platform at Wrexham railway station as he waited to travel with the Westminster Rovers team to Ruabon to play in the Cup Final. He was taken to the police station and charged with breaking and entering, but was swiftly bailed and made it back to the station in time to travel on a supporters’ excursion train. “The affair caused great excitement,” said the Evening Express newspaper. Trainer played well in the final and was said to be unlucky not to have scored, but Rovers lost 2-0 to Billy Meredith’s Chirk.
Two days later, Trainer surrendered to his bail and appeared before magistrates. Trainer and another man, Patrick Prendergast, were accused of unlawfully breaking and entering a house occupied by Alfred Anson. Anson said two intruders entered through a window, came into his bedroom and laughed at him. Anson identified Prendergast as one of the intruders, and Prendergast named Trainer as his accomplice. Nothing had been taken from the house and the owner was reluctant to press the case, so magistrates admonished the men and bound them over for £5 each.
Trainer was transferred to Wrexham that summer. He scored on his debut against Chester in September, then scored past his cousin, the famous Welsh international goalkeeper Jimmy Trainer, against Preston in the following month. He began to attract attention from English clubs and both Leicester Fosse and West Brom tried to sign him. Leicester were “severely censured” for an illegal approach, while West Brom’s offer of £20 in cash plus an agreement to play a friendly match in Wrexham was eventually accepted.
Trainer went to West Brom and was all set to make his debut for them when it was discovered that his transfer forms had not been submitted and were still in the club’s office. It was suggested that confusion had arisen because Trainer had already signed forms with another English club – most likely Leicester. Whatever the truth, Trainer ended up back at Wrexham, and re-appeared for a match against Tranmere Rovers, played in “frightful conditions”, in which he “simply revelled in the mud” and scored four goals. Trainer’s “goal-getting” helped Wrexham win the Welsh League in 1895 and won him his first full cap that March.
He scored twice on his debut for Wales – a 2-2 draw with Ireland – alongside cousin Jimmy in goal and Billy Meredith (by then a Manchester City player) on the wing. One reporter described Trainer as “the cleverest centre that has played in Wales for years”. He played in three consecutive internationals in 1895, but that summer left North Wales and finally joined Leicester. “Trainer is comparatively small in stature, but very wiry and tricky in his play,” reported the Leicester Daily Post. “He possesses plenty of pluck, and is not afraid to play a vigorous game, while his shooting abilities are naturally of a high order.”
Trainer was Leicester’s top scorer during his first season as the club finished mid-table in the English second division. But, ahead of the following season, he was in trouble again. In the “Starting the Football Season” column, the Leicester Chronicle reported that Trainer had been charged with being drunk and disorderly and using obscene language in Leicester’s marketplace. He was convicted and given a fine of 10s or seven days in prison if he defaulted. Trainer had embarrassed his club and was dropped. Although he did get back in the team, and scored six goals during the latter part of the campaign, he was released at the end of the season.
His next club was Sheppey United, in the first division of the Southern League. It wasn’t unusual for Football League players to “drop” into the Southern League at that time, in order to avoid the Football League’s maximum wage cap and escape the restrictive retain and transfer system. Once again, Trainer made a good start, being regarded as a “shining light” in his debut against Tottenham Hotspur, then scoring in his second match against Gravesend United. But Sheppey struggled in a competitive league against the likes of Spurs, Southampton, Portsmouth, Reading and Millwall. At the end of the 1899-1900 season, Sheppey lost a test match to Watford and were relegated. Trainer was released and made his way back to Wrexham. On Saturday 10 November 1900, Trainer played for Wrexham Reserves at the Racecourse Ground. A few hours later he tore down the shutters, smashed the window and robbed Williams’ Jeweller’s.
Trainer appeared in county court in Ruthin in January 1901 and pleaded guilty to charges of breaking and entering and theft of jewellery. The crime was described in detail by the prosecutor, Mr RV Bankes, who added that Trainer had previously been bound over in 1894 for breaking and entering. The judge, Captain Griffith-Boscawen, sentenced Trainer to nine calendar months’ imprisonment with hard labour. He was 28 years old.
PC Owen was praised by the court for his efforts in arresting such a “noted character” as Trainer. Owen’s commendation for the attempted fire rescue was mentioned and it was announced that he would have his salary raised to that of a second-grade officer, representing a “considerable increase” in pay. Thomas Humphreys was awarded £1 by the court for his part in Trainer’s arrest.
Trainer said nothing of note during his court appearance and it was unclear why a professional footballer – not highly-paid in comparison to the footballers of today, but likely earning more than the average working man – would commit such an audacious robbery. The fact that he’d had a drink and was a “noted character” suggested it was a crime of opportunity rather than one of desperation. Although newspaper reports at the time of the crime centred around the fact that Trainer was a famous sportsman (“Serious Charge Against a Wrexham Footballer: Alleged Daring Robbery,” read one headline), reports of his conviction ignored that fact and instead gave his profession as “labourer”, indicating that Wrexham had cancelled his football contract, and that his football achievements had been eclipsed by his criminal activities.
The 1901 census, taken in March, records Trainer as a prisoner in Ruthin Gaol. By the end of September, he was out and playing professional football again, in England with Poolsbrook United in the East Derbyshire Championship. He was soon suspended by the Derbyshire FA after multiple cases of misconduct. In the summer of 1903, he was charged with assaulting a man who had called his mother “opprobrious” names. Then in 1905, he was charged with fighting on the highways. Trainer moved to another Derbyshire side, Clowne White Star, and in 1907 was charged with being drunk and disorderly. Then, in 1908, under the headline “A Poolsbrook Fowl Robbery”, it was reported that Trainer had been charged with stealing a cockerel and three hens. He was by then 35 years old and was no longer mentioned in the football columns.
Trainer, it seems, did find some kind of stability in later life. He returned to Wrexham and in 1917 married a local widow, Emily Coathupe. There were no further reports of misdemeanours. He died in May 1924 at the age of 52. Unlike cousin Jimmy Trainer and teammate Billy Meredith, he would not be remembered as an international footballer. Harry Trainer played for eight different clubs and was charged with eight different crimes. Those crimes obscured – and ruined – his football career.