Arthur Williams Vears was born in 1849 at Theddingworth, Leicestershire, where his father was the parish clerk, and his mother a laundress. In 1861, at age 12, Arthur was employed as a farmer’s boy, but he went on to join the Royal Navy, where he served for 12 years, reaching the rank of Assistant Paymaster. In 1876, he came out of the Navy, and moved to Gloucester, where by 1881 he was employed as a traveller in the timber trade, and living as a boarder with the Stephens family at 51, Wellington Street, South Hamlet, Gloucester. Arthur married Agnes Mary Brimmell later that year, whose family were also in the timber trade, and he moved into her house at 25, Brunswick Square. They had 3 sons, Lindsay born in 1882, Gordon born in 1884, and Arthur Noel born in 1890, and a daughter, Freda born in 1891. By then Arthur was established as a successful timber merchant at Llanthony.
He was sports mad and, on arrival in Gloucester, he quickly became involved in a wide range of sports clubs, serving on the committees of the rugby, cricket and athletics clubs in the City. He later went on to make his mark on the County committees for rugby and cricket, and was instrumental in organising the county cricket week in Gloucester.
His naval background led to him acquiring the nickname “Commodore”, and probably caused him to promote the adoption by the club of the motto “Palman Qui Meruit Ferat” (Let him bear the palm who deserves it), previously adopted by Admiral Nelson – it certainly encapsulates Vears’ strongly held view that merit should be the principle factor governing the recruitment of players. His paymaster background enabled him to put the finances of the Club on a sound footing during his stint as Treasurer, and he kept them there as Chairman.
In the early days he also proved to be a benefactor willing to put his hand in his pocket to make up financial deficits – for example he made good the loss which the Club suffered in their 1886-7 accounts. He was keen that Club funds should allow a “no cost to play” policy for the players, and was concerned to “cultivate local talent”. Likewise, he consistently challenged policy recommendations regarding gate admission prices and membership subscriptions which he felt disadvantaged working-class spectators.
He was Chairman of the rugby club at an important time in the club’s development, and the policies which he instituted served to turn Gloucester into one of the leading clubs in the land. His visionary leadership led to the Club acquiring its own ground from the Castle Grim Estate, his entrepreneurial skills promoted the development of the Club as a gate-taking commercial entertainment business, and his belief in the inclusion of working men bolstered the playing strength of the Club.
He pushed hard for the admission of working class men into the Club, and as Chairman in 1890, he proposed Tommy Bagwell as the first working class captain. This would have been unlikely to happen without Vears’ active support, but Bagwell went on to lead Gloucester to 2 very successful seasons (when they lost only 8 matches out of 60 played), and to be an inspiration and devoted servant to the club for a further 60 years. The Commodore’s pursuit of a wider player base proved crucial in the Gloucester club achieving standards of play which brought the club to national prominence, and this established Gloucester as a rugby rather than soccer city.
Gloucester were then playing their matches on the Spa, a park ground which was owned by the Gloucester Council, but leased from the Gloucester Cricket Club. In January 1891, the ground was frozen, and salt was applied in order to allow a fixture against Swansea to proceed. The ground was left in an appalling condition, and it became evident that the mix of cricket and rugby was no longer acceptable. Arthur Vears set in motion the process which was to result in the acquisition of the Kingsholm ground with the following letter to Jimmy Boughton:
“My Dear Boughton, –
Referring again to our several conversations respecting the present condition of the Spa field, I am strongly of an opinion that we should at once call together a representative body of the various clubs connected with the Spa, or say, if you like, the full committees of the various clubs, and discuss the situation.
We have now undoubtedly arrived at a climax. The Cricket Club or the Football Club must go. Personally I much regret this, and very much wish the field was a bit bigger so that we could avoid playing football on the cricket pitch, and that the two clubs might go hand in hand on the same field. But this is impossible, and we must face the inevitable. It would be manifestly unfair, looking at it from a football point of view, if the Cricket Club, who are tenants of the ground, were to give the Football Club notice farther on in the summer, or just before the commencement of the football season. That, I think, is a great reason why action should be taken at once.
It is easy enough to point out many reasons why the Football Club should have a ground of their own. I maintain it is to their direct interest to secure a ground over which they would have entire control; and that they can never have on the Spa. It is quite possible public opinion will be in favour of football being continued on the Spa, because the Gloucester public have been very much spoilt by having such a central ground, and would probably be a bit horrified at first at having to go, say half a mile to the football ground. But all the real supporters of the game would soon get over this feeling in the knowledge of the fact that a properly enclosed ground is necessary for the future welfare and prospects of the club. Football has become such an institution in Gloucester that I question if it would not be well, after the committees have met, to invite a sort of public meeting to consider the matter. Someone must take the initiative, so I address this letter to you with full permission to make what use of it you like, together with your reply.
A. W. VEARS.”
Vears and Boughton worked closely together to plan the purchase of the Kingsholm ground, Vears chaired the meeting at which that was approved, and he signed the contract for the purchase. The two of them issued the prospectus for the Gloucester Football and Athletic Ground Company, which was set up to purchase the Kingsholm ground in 1891:
“GLOUCESTER FOOTBALL CLUB
Bell Lane , Gloucester
20th July, 1891.
PROPOSED NEW GROUND
An opportunity has arisen of purchasing the Castle Grim Estate, situate at Kingsholm, Gloucester, comprising 7a. 0r. 21p., as a Football and General Athletic Ground for £4,400 (of which sum about £3,000 will be borrowed on Mortgage) and a Limited Liability Company, with a Capital of from £2,500 to £3,000 in Shares of £1 each, is to be formed for the purpose of carrying the scheme into effect.
The property comprises (in addition to the house and buildings in the centre of the ground, which will be pulled down) two houses and a builder’s yard fronting Worcester Street, at present bringing in a rental of £39 a year, and which can be sold off without in any way injuring the ground from an Athletic point of view. There will also be a considerable quantity of land, with frontages to Worcester Street and Dean’s Walk, which could at any time be sold off for building purposes if thought desirable.
The Ground is in every way adapted for Football, and with a comparatively small outlay can be made ready for play by the beginning of the coming season. It is only eight minutes’ walk from the Cross and Railway Stations, and will have two entrances, one from Worcester Street and one from Dean’s Walk.
An Agreement has been prepared and is proposed to be entered into between the Company and the Football Club, whereby the former will receive as a rent from the Club one third part of the GROSS ANNUAL INCOME of the Club, such aggregate amount, however, not to exceed in any one year £275, and in addition to this source of income the Company will let the ground for Cricket, Cycling, Athletics, and other objects of similar nature, during the summer months.
The gross income of the Gloucester Football Club last year amounted to £660, and it is estimated that with a ground entirely enclosed, the income will not be less than £1000 during the coming season, especially when taking into consideration the excellent List of Matches which has been arranged; and it is further estimated that with the amount to be received from the Football Club and its income from other sources, the Company will be able to pay to the shareholders a dividend of certainly not less than £5 per cent. per annum.
The Company is not being floated for the purpose of paying large profits, but for securing a permanent and suitable Ground for the use of the Football Club; and it is because of the interest you take in Football, and in the Gloucester Football Club in particular, that we address this Circular to you, in the hope that you may be able to assist the undertaking by subscribing for Shares. We may mention that 1400 shares have already been subscribed for in numbers varying from 1 to 100.
If you are desirous of taking shares, will you kindly fill up and return the annexed form to us at the above address on or before Monday, the 27th day of July, instant.
HUBERT J. BOUGHTON
A W VEARS”
The “Commodore” himself purchased 100 shares in the Company, and was elected as Chairman of the Board of Directors at their first meeting in 1891. Before the first match kicked off at Kingsholm on 10th October 1891, Vears as Chairman of the Ground Company formally handed over the ground to the Rugby Club for the season. He is on record as being determined that Kingsholm should be “the finest football ground in the West”, an ambition which he worked hard to achieve. He remained in post until his death, but before then he enjoyed the pleasure of seeing his sons, Lindsay and Gordon, playing for his beloved Gloucester Rugby Club.
When the “Commodore” died in 1917, aged 67, the following notice of his death and obituary was published:
Wednesday, June 13, 1917.
Death of Mr. A. W. Vears.
A KEEN GLOUCESTER SPORTSMAN.
We regret to announce the death of Mr. A. W. Vears, which occurred at his residence, Minoru, Deans Way, at 7.30 on Wednesday morning. Deceased had been ill for the past three weeks, and a week ago he had to take to his bed, the doctor giving little hope of his recovery.
The death of Mr. Vears removes one of the most familiar figures in sport and athletics in Gloucester. The Gloucester Cricket Club, Athletic Club, and Football Club had the full benefit of the “Commodore’s” invaluable services in an official capacity for many years; he was one of the founders and chairman of Directors of the Kingsholm Football and Athletic Ground Company – in which concern he always took the greatest interest – and he had also been on the Committee of the Gloucester County Cricket Club, and was responsible for the arrangements for the annual cricket week at the Spa during his term of office. In many other ways Mr. Vears advanced the interests of amateur sport, and he enjoyed a wide popularity as was evidenced by his annual election to a seat on the Gloucester F.C. Committee.
Deceased was a native of Market Harborough, and served for 12 years in the Royal Navy, retiring with the rank of Assistant Paymaster. He was attached to the Flying Squadron, and served on board the Monarch, Valarge, and Enchantress. Whilst in the Service Mr. Vears wrote an interesting book “In Besika Bay” which was subsequently published, and later in life he contributed a series of letters descriptive of a “Trip in the Mediterranean” to the Gloucester Journal. He came to Gloucester about 1876, and went into business as a timber merchant at Llanthony. He retired some years ago. Deceased was 67 years of age.
Deceased leaves a widow and family of three sons (Second-Lieut. L. Vears, Mr. Gordon Vears, and Second-Lieut. Noel Vears and one daughter, Miss Freda Vears). Lieut. L. Vears is on service overseas and Lieut. Noel Vears is still suffering from the severe wound in the arm he sustained in the Somme fighting last year. Mr. Gordon Vears holds an important position in an engineering works at Walsall. The “boys” were as keen as their late father in sport, and their performances on the cricket and football field and in rowing and boxing are well-known locally.
The funeral will take place at Barnwood on Friday, the service being held in the church at 3 o’clock.”
This was followed by a report on his funeral:
Saturday, June 16, 1917.
The Late Mr. A. W. Vears.
FUNERAL AT BARNWOOD.
The funeral of the late Mr. A. W. Vears, Minoru, Deans Way, Gloucester, took place at Barnwood Churchyard on Thursday afternoon, the Rev. F. H. Fowler (vicar), and the Rev. S. R. Robertson (vicar of St. Catherine’s) being the officiating clergymen. The family mourners were the two sons of the deceased – Mr. Gordon Vears and Sec. Lieut. Noel Vears – the eldest son, Sec.-Lieut L. Vears being on active service. Among those attending were Messrs. H. F. Blizzard, S. Halsey, H. W. Grimes, H. Godwin Chance, Nigel D. Haines, S. Millard, G. R. Bonnor, J. Hanman, G. J. Dewey, Hubert Lane; S. W. Bingle, H. J. Berry, F. W. Lovesy, A. C. Williams, Sidney S. Starr, secretary, and W. Dancey agent, representing the Gloucester Football and Athletic Ground Co., Ltd., of which concern deceased was Chairman of Directors; F. Tandy, Gloucester Cricket, Tennis and Bowling Club; A. Hudson, hon. sec., and W. Bailey, Gloucester Athletic Club; H. C. Williams, Gloucester Rowing Club and Football Club; E. J. Baldwin and G . Leaver, Gloucester Football Club; H. W. Bennett, Cheltenham Cricket and Football Clubs; H. Benfield, Sir T. Rich’s School; and A. V. Bright, Cheltenham. The Mayor of Gloucester (Sir James Bruton) much regretted being unavoidably prevented from attending, and apologies were also sent by Messrs. Arthur F. Fielding, F. H. Bretherton, H. A. Dancey, directors, and J. E. Dutton, auditor, of the Gloucester Football and Athletic Ground Company, Limited.
Wreaths were sent by the following: Wife, Noel and Girlie; Gordon, Grace, and Michael; Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Grimes; Mr. and Mrs. H. Knowles; Mr. and Mrs. John Fielding; Mr. & Mrs. R. F. Smart; Directors and Officials of the Gloucester Football and Athletic Ground Company; Committee of the Gloucester Football Club; Committee and members of the Gloucester Athletic Club; and Members of the Gloucester Cricket, Bowling, and Tennis Club.
The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. J. F. Brassington, Henry-road, Gloucester.”
[I am grateful to John Cowen for supplying the family history information and for transcribing the Citizen articles on Vears’ death and funeral.]