Frank Hartley was the moving force in the formation of Gloucester Rugby Club. He was captain of the club in its first 3 seasons, and a useful half-back, who was notable as a good runner. But his lasting contributions were as an organiser and as a strong advocate for the game of rugby.
Francis Philip Hartley was born into a prosperous family, and received a private education, which resulted in his graduation from LondonUniversity in 1867, and his entry into the legal profession. Whilst in London he joined the Flamingoes, one of the leading early rugby clubs, founded in 1867, which played in BatterseaPark. He became captain, and represented the Flamingoes at the first general meeting, which marked the foundation of the Rugby Football Union, at the Pall Mall restaurant, Charing Cross, on 26th January 1871.
This meeting appointed the first RFU committee, and Frank was amongst the 13 selected. They were charged with organising the game, and in particular with proposing the laws of the game. In December 1871, Frank was also chosen to be a member of the selection committee. Frank thus played a significant part in establishing the role of the RFU as the premier body in English rugby, and in determining how the game should be played. This was a subject on which he had firm views – he was particularly concerned that hacking and tripping should be outlawed.
In 1873, he came to Gloucester to work as a solicitor at the law firm, Haines and Riddiford. The handling game of football had been played for some years in an unorganised fashion in the parks of Gloucester, but Frank soon applied himself to the task of adding some structure, and roped in one of the partners in his law firm, J P Riddiford to assist. On 15th September, a meeting was called at the Spread Eagle Hotel to recruit members into a [rugby] football club – about 45 gentlemen attended, and they appointed Frank Hartley as captain, and J P Riddiford as secretary.
So the Gloucester Football Club (as it was known for many years) was born. The first match was against the College (King’s) School on 4th October 1873. Despite Gloucester managing to field only 10 against the 15 of the College, Gloucester’s weight and experience told to the extent of a victory by 2 goals and 6 tries to nil, with Frank Hartley and J P Riddiford each scoring 3 tries. And thus the great journey of Gloucester RFC was underway.
Frank brought with him the principles on which the RFU was establishing the game nationally, and with this background, and as captain, he would have been a major influence on the way in which Gloucester sought to play. He influenced their playing skills and techniques, and Gloucester soon acquired a reputation for the “short-passing game”.
The club which Frank created was socially exclusive, being drawn only from the middle classes to which Frank himself belonged. The founding members had strong associations with the church and Gloucester Cricket Club, and included 3 solicitors, 2 corn merchants, and several clerks. This exclusivity was reinforced by the cost of membership (5/- entrance and 5/- annual fee), by holding practices and matches on weekdays, and by a 2 black ball system to keep out undesirables. However, this membership did ensure sound financial and commercial management of the club, which was a significant factor in the subsequent success of the club.
In February 1876, Frank’s old team, the Flamingoes, travelled down from London to take on Gloucester. Financial guarantees were the norm for visiting teams, and this probably accounted for the fact that this match was the first for which Gloucester charged admission. Even in those early days, the social side of rugby was regarded as important, and Frank would certainly have wanted to make his old friends and relatives welcome. The match was played on a Saturday, and the post-match socialising was held at the Ram Inn. It seems to have gone extraordinarily well, if only judged by the fact that, whilst one of the Flamingoes made it back to London on the Saturday night, the rest of the team didn’t make it home until the following Tuesday.
Frank stood down as captain at the end of the 1875-6 season, when the club presented him with a gold watch in recognition of his contributions. It was left to his successor as captain, Frank Brown, to build on Frank’s foundations to establish Gloucester as one of the most successful clubs in England, and to start sowing the seeds from which Gloucester grew to be a club for all.