Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Actor Russell Crowe invited to retrace Wrexham roots

By Brendon Williams

F. W. Crowe and his family, as pictured in the Evening Leader newspaper on 19 June, 1925. The caption on the photo, by Algernon Smith, Wrexham, read: Mr and Mrs F. W. Crowe and family, of Salisbury Road, Wrexham, who leave Wrexham for Canada today (Friday). Picture courtesy of leaderlive.co.uk
The Crowe family left Wrexham for Canada on 19 June, 1925

It's hard to imagine actor Russell Crowe wearing an apron and flogging fruit and veg on a Wrexham street.

The Oscar-winning Gladiator star is more used to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and rubs shoulders with the world's most famous performers.

But, as records show, it could all have been so different.

Crowe's roots can be traced back to Wrexham, where, in the early 20th Century, his great grandfather ran a fruit and veg wholesale business.

A well-known businessman, William Frederick Crowe was also a respected member of the church, and became a deacon of Chester Street Baptist Church in Wrexham.

When Mr Crowe and his wife, Kezia, decided to emigrate to Canada with 12 of their 13 children, their departure was big news in the local Evening Leader paper.

It reported: "Mr F. W. Crowe, a very well known Wrexhamite, leaves today (Friday) for Calgary, Canada. He will be accompanied by his wife and 12 children."

Russell Crowe's grandfather, John Crowe (believed to be bottom left), pictured in the Grove Park School water polo team in the 1920s. Picture courtesy of leaderlive.co.uk
Russell Crowe's grandfather, John, was a keen sportsman

According to a book called The Old Meeting, by G. Vernon Price, a former minister of Chester Street Baptist Church, members of the congregation were sad to see the Crowes emigrate.

The author quotes a message from the church to the family as they prepared to leave.

Addressed to "F. W. Crowe Esquire," it reads: "On this occasion of your departure to Canada we deeply regret the loss that will be sustained by our church, but while severing your connection as a fellow member we all know that they who love the Lord are one in Christ Jesus."

While most of the family left Wrexham, one of their children, John - Russell Crowe's grandfather - stayed behind to run the family business.

However, the business suffered, and within a few years Frank Crowe - John's older brother - returned to Wrexham to take over, and it later became a successful enterprise called Crofruit.

John Crowe later emigrated to New Zealand where he married and had children, including Alex, Russell's father.

Russell Crowe
Hilary Betts would love to see her famous second cousin for a cup of tea

The rest, as they say, is history.

These days, the old Crowe family home - 13 Salisbury Road - no longer appears to exist and the Crofruit depot is now a Countrywide store.

But just a few miles down the road, in Oswestry, Shropshire, Crowe's second cousin, Hilary Betts, said the kettle is always on if the superstar ever fancies a cuppa.

She said: "We share the same great grandfather.

"My dad and his dad would be cousins, and that would make us second cousins, or something like that - quite close enough for him to come round for a cup of tea."

Ms Betts, 48, a teacher, always knew of the family connection, and was aware Crowe was an actor.

However, it was not until his Oscar-winning performance in Gladiator that she realised just how famous he was.

She has never met the actor. She wrote to an agent once, but never received a reply.

The Countrywide store in Wrexham, once the site of Crofruit, run by Russell Crowe's family
Hilary Betts said Crofruit stood on the site of Wrexham's Countrywide store

However, she says her door is always open, should he wish to return to his roots.

"If he said he would like to come round that would be brilliant, but if that happened I would want it done quietly, because otherwise it would spoil it.

"There's a lot of the family who would like to meet him, but as family, not as a celebrity.

"I'm aware as well that he's been filming down south for Robin Hood, and there are some people round here who have been on set working with him, and I was very tempted to send him a message.

"It would be nice if he wanted to come and see some relatives, or invite us over."

It was Mrs Betts' grandfather, Francis (Frank) that returned from Canada to take over the running of the fruit and veg business.

She said: "Grandpa used to go on about stories and we would think 'Oh no, not another story,' but that was a shame because he had so many tales about what happened in Canada.

"Crofruit started to wind down when my dad died in 1986. They'd had that warehouse purposefully built. I'm sure there were three warehouses at one time.

"I don't know what he [Russell] knows about the fruit business, but he's certainly aware of his roots in Wrexham because he mentioned it somewhere - on a chat show I think."



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