Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back at the life and career of Billy Batten, 133 years since the day he was born.
William Batten was born 26th May 1889 in Kinsley, a small mining town near Hemsworth in West Yorkshire.
At the age of just 14, he began work down the mines for a shilling a day. Such an attitude helped develop him into the ultimate professional – he had a pure obsession for physical fitness and lived his life as a non-smoker and teetotaler.
He took up rugby with Kinsley and later Ackworth United, and he was spotted by Hunslet who struck first and signed him up for the sum of a new suit, valued at £5!
After disappointing in hi first two appearances, he was listed on the transfer market for merely £15! But after a turn of form, Hunslet decided to hang fire on the flash sale, and Batten was back on the wing for the start of the 1907/08 season, during which year he won the Challenge Cup and represented England. Batten’s appearances on the international stage didn’t stop there – he was selected as a member of the first ‘Lions’ tour to Australasia in 1910 where he played in all four test matches in Australia and New Zealand.
Early in April 1913, Hull were relieved to secure the transfer of Batten from Hunslet after a series of negotiations with other clubs – at the time, the £600 fee was a world record for a rugby player and it was a colossal sum of money in those days, approximating to £240,000 in present day valuations.
There is no dispute, though, that the magnificent service he gave to hull justified the price tag. His presence in the team would guarantee several thousand extra on the attendance figure. To this end, Hull would employ ‘sandwich board’ men to tour the city centre proclaiming that “BATTEN PLAYS TODAY!”
It was an inescapable fact that when Batten arrived at the Boulevard, Hull has never won a trophy. By the time he left in 1924, Hull had won them all, with Batten making 226 apperances for the club and scoring 89 tries in the process. Those claimed by the Black & Whites were the Challenge Cup in 1914, the Yorkshire League Championship in 1918/19, the Championship in 1920 and 1921, and finally the Yorkshire Cup in 1923. For good measure, he also won another Yorkshire Cup medal after moving to Wakefield Trinity.
Billy’s benefit match in April 1920 against York raised some £1,079 – an astronomical sum in those days, and eloquent testimony to the esteem in which he was held.
After a short spell with the fledgling Castleford in 1926, Billy returned but continued to give great support ot testimonials of other players. He was known as a tremendously generous man and it was reported that he gave some £350 of his own testimonial money to suffering villagers and children in Kinsley and Fitzwilliam in 2921, when the miners were locked out of the pits.
Billy sadly passed away on 26th January 1959. The Batten legacy didn’t stop there, however. His son, William Junior, played for Hull for a short while. His younger son, Eric, had a great career with Featherstone and Bradford Northern. Also, his grandson, Ray, was a long-standing servant of Leeds. In 1995, the Rugby Football League instituted a Hall of Fame on the occasion of the game’s centenary. Deservedly, Batten was one of the nine founder inductees.