Bill Voisey, the Millwall Footballer from Cubitt Town

The 1911 Census includes details of the Voisey family who lived at 280 Manchester Road.

1911 Census Return. Click for full-sized image.

The family consisted of:

  • Robert Sr (aged 49). Profession: Hammerman, Ship Building Works
  • Alice Sr (aged 46)
  • Alice Junior (aged 21). Profession: Cook, Jam Factory
  • William (aged 19). Profession: Footballer
  • Mary (aged 16). Profession: Cutter, Sack Factory
  • Robert (aged 13)
  • Ellen (aged 11)

It was unusual for the profession of ‘Footballer’ to be specified in a census return. In this case, it concerned the well known Millwall footballer Bill Voisey (incidentally, the census was taken a few months after Millwall Athletic had moved to a new ground in New Cross, in late 1910).

Bill Voisey’s sister Alice was a cook in a ‘Jam Factory’, which could only have been the recently-opened second Morton’s factory in London Yard, not far down Manchester Road.

The Voisey family home was on the east side of Manchester Road, between Samuda Street and Davis Street (two streets which no longer exist), not far from the corner of Manchester Road and Strattondale Street.

280 Manchester Road

The Voiseys shared the address with the four-strong family of ‘waterside worker’, Walter Herbert (whose young daughter was, like Mary Voisey, a sack cutter – an unpleasant job occupied mostly by girls and young women). The terraced houses here were typical of those built by William Cubitt in the 1800s. The following photo shows similar houses in Wint Terrace, which was a little further north up Manchester Road.

Wint Terrace, Manchester Road

Bill Voisey was born on 19th November 1891 – just over five years after the establishment of Millwall Rovers in the west of the Isle of Dogs. He was baptised on 10th December of the same year in St. John’s Church in Roserton Street (where his parents had married).

The Glengall School Admissions register shows Voisey being admitted (or re-admitted) to the school on 3rd July 1899. The register also shows that the family were living at 6 Strattondale Street at the time, just a few yards from their later home in Manchester Road.

Glengall School Admissions

Glengall School (in the 1930s)

Bill Voisey started his football career with Glengall Rovers in 1906 and played for Millwall St John’s in 1907 before joining Southern League hometown club Millwall, making his debut for them in 1908 and playing for them both sides of World War One.

Millwall St. John’s, 1899. Photo: Island History Trust

On 18th September 1912, Bill Voisey married Rose Donovan in St. Edmund’s Church, Westferry Road. Before the marriage Rose lived with her family at 1 Manilla Cottages, one of two houses which were to the rear of the North Pole pub in Manilla Street.

During WWI, Bill was a sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery and for his bravery at Passchendaele he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal and the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920

Most contemporary reports of his awards mistakenly refer to Bill Voisey being awarded the Distinguished Service Medal instead of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The DSM was intended to reward bravery at sea.

When peacetime football resumed in 1919 Voisey played a further season in the Southern League for Millwall before they joined The Football League in August 1920, with Voisey in their team for their inaugural Football League fixture against Bristol Rovers in August 1920. He was also twice selected for England’s full international squad, against Ireland in October 1919 and against Belgium in May 1921, however on both occasions he was a non playing reserve.

1922 Football Card

In 1923, Bill and Rose Voisey were living at 83 Mellish Street along with their children, Rose, William, Henry and Albert. Daughter Gladys had died in 1914, the year of her birth. Albert would die in 1925, aged 4.

Mellish Street in the 1920s (click for full-sized version)

How did Bill get to Millwall’s home matches? Did he go through the foot tunnel? Did he catch a ferry? There was once a ferry from Deptford Ferry Road, behind the Vulcan, to Deptford, but I don’t think it was still running in the 1920s.

He scored 3 goals in 84 appearances during Millwall’s first three Football League seasons before joining Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic for their inaugural Football League season (when known simply as Boscombe) where again he played at Swindon in August 1923 in their first ever League fixture, scoring twice in 26 appearances for The Cherries before retiring from playing in 1924. The Voiseys moved to West Ham a year later.

Bill Voisey coached Great Britain at the 1936 Olympics, and in the 1939 England & Wales Register he described himself as a ‘Professional Footbal Trainer, Coach, and Physical Instructor’.

1939. England & Wales Register

The Voiseys had moved further east, to Leytonstone, by this time. In 2019, if your dad had been a professional footballer for a top team, followed by being coach of the British Olympics team, you’d expect him to have a few bob and be sorted. The address – Chesterfield Road in Leytonstone – is a modest one, and if the professions of their children who still lived with them are anything to go by (Leather Worker and Apprentice Press Tool Maker), they still relied on manual labour for their income.

Bill  Voisey later managed Millwall between 1940 and November 1944, and in May 1941, having only 10 players available, he selected himself aged 50 to play outside right in a London War Cup match for Millwall against West Ham.

The Den escaped the bombings untouched right up until April 1943, when it was all but destroyed in a raid. Bill Voisey, sitting up late in his office, survived the explosion, but his injuries meant he had to stand down as manager and was succeeded by Jack Cock.

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The Den, 1943

1950. Autographs of Millwall players, and of at least one staff member, Bill Voisey bottom right. Photo courtesy of Bob Cottage.

Bill Voisey, still living at Chesterfield Road, died in 1964. He left £3816 to his son, William Jr, ‘Cutting Foreman’.

In 2015, Tower Hamlets Community Housing built new homes in Frank Whipple Place off Carr Street, with one of the blocks being named Bill Voisey Court.

It’s good to hear that he is being commemorated, but it is an odd place to do so, so far from the Island. And, he was awarded a DCM, not a DSM (sorry, had to mention that).

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