Shropshire’s Greatest Victorian Sporting Hero or Violent Bank Robbing Crook?
William Snook was one the best runners in the country – but this popular sporting hero had a very dark side. He was scammer, a wife beater and adulterer. He moved to Paris and became embroiled with a notorious criminal and put on trial for a daring bank robbery.
The Little Wonder
He was born in Shrewsbury in 1861 and educated at Admaston College, Wellington. In his teens his athletic ability was clear and he excelled in running longer distances. At one point he’s said to have ran a mile on a stretch of road in under five minutes wearing ‘ordinary shoes’.
In the 1880s he won numerous Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) titles with his club Birchfield Harriers and became a household name known as “The Little Wonder”.
The first stain on his character however came in 1881 in a betting scandal when he was suspended for posing as a professional under another name. Other athletes were warned not to compete against him or face sanctions themselves. This lasted until 1882 when he was allowed to compete again.
He continued to win races and national championships and his rivalry with another runner called Walter George became famous. When George quit the amateur competition to turn professional Snook enjoyed even more success.
But it wasn’t long until he got involved in another betting scandal.
In 1886 he was banned for life from the amateur competitions for throwing a race and coming second despite being in “splendid condition” and much superior to the winner, Hickman of Godiva Harriers from Coventry. He claimed he was innocent and put the losses down to being underweight and having sore feet. He had lots of support among his fellow athletes and the public – but the authorities didn’t believe him, and wanting to clamp down on corruption in the sport which was rife, they banned him.
This forced him into the professional ranks and he continued to complete with some success. Still a popular attraction at races he also became landlord of at least a couple of pubs in Birmingham.