Northampton Saints: Portrait of first Saints rugby captain unveiled

image copyrightNorthampton Saints
image captionJim Barker was "quite a tough character" said the artist Mark Eastbrooke

A portrait of Northampton Saints' first-ever captain has been unveiled by the club to mark what would have been his 162nd birthday.

Jim Barker, who lived from 1859 to 1929, was elected captain when the rugby union club was founded in 1880, a role he kept until the following year.

The portrait was painted by Long Buckby artist Mark Eastbrooke.

"I've always been a Saints fan, so it was a privilege to be able to do this," he said.

Barker, from St James in Northampton, worked as a painter and decorator during the week, before leading the team out on a Saturday afternoon.

He moved to the town as a teenager and joined the St James Church choir.

Barker had also joined a boys' "improvement class" which was run out of the church by its curate, the Reverend Samuel Wathen Wigg.

It was that class that formed the Northampton St James rugby club, which eventually changed its name to Northampton Saints.

image copyrightNorthampton Saints
image captionA team photo, with Jim Barker pictured top right in 1886, was the only picture available to the artist Mark Eastbrooke

According to the Saints website, "the class was started as a way to let the area's 'high-spirited' boys let off steam in a constructive way".

Unlike the curate and many other Saints' captains down the decades, Barker had been largely forgotten, despite being the first captain, the Saints historian Graham McKechnie said.

'Pretty special'

Mr Eastbrooke said he had "never hear of him at all, which is a bit of shame really".

Painting the portrait was "a bit different" because he only had a grainy team photograph from 1880 to use as reference.

He said he had to "look back to people who looked like that - Victorian gentleman with moustaches".

As well as the photo there was a newspaper description of Barker as having "cauliflower ears and a gnarled nose".

"He was quite a tough character, you wouldn't mess with him, would you?" the artist added.

Earlier this year, current club captain Alex Waller pledged to help renovate Barker's grave.

The grave is covered in weeds and has no headstone, following his burial at Dallington Cemetery in 1929.

Waller, who has captained Saints since 2018, said "as the first captain, he's pretty special".

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