Unfortunately, very little is known about the club’s early years.
One thing we do know is that AW Vears was part of the Club committee and a driving force in the club's early years.
Arthur Williams Vears (born 1849) moved to Gloucester in 1876 and, being sports mad, rapidly became involved in many of the sports clubs in the city, being on the commitees of the rugby, cricket and athletic clubs, as well as latterly the county rugby and cricket associations. He was Chairman of both the Rugby Club and the Ground Company that owned the Kingsholm ground the rugby club moved to from its inception in 1891 to his death in 1917.
In 1883 the club sought to have its own pavilion built and the Architect James Philip Moore was commissioned to design the pavilion. J P Moore moved to Gloucester from Liverpool in 1872 and was obviously a sporting type as he was the Treasurer of the event held in 1880 and competed in some of the events.
Details of this are in the Gloucestershire Archives and will be researched further in due course.
The cricket and rugby clubs shared use of the Spa ground, the cricket club held the lease and used the ground in the summer with the rugby club using it in the winter. The ground was not big enough to accommodate both teams on separate pitches - this was not an ideal situation as the cricket pitch was obviously cut up by the rugby players.
The rugby club started looking for a new ground in 1888 but did not progress further than looking at five sites, as all had drawbacks and were thought to be beyond the club’s financial means, so the club remained at the Spa.
In January 1891, the rugby club were due to play Swansea. The ground was frozen solid, and the club took the initiative and spread 80 tons of salt over the ground in an attempt to thaw the pitch. This worked and the match was played. However, the salt destroyed the grass and left the pitch as having what was described at the time as “the appearance of a newly ploughed piece of arable land”. The cricket club had to dig up and reseed the whole pitch and this led to the rugby club being given their second notice to quit.
It was realised that the two clubs could not co-exist on the same ground, and the rugby club moved very quickly, identifying a piece of land at the Castle Grim Estate at Kingsholm. The club produced a document on 20th July 1891 proposing a company be set up to purchase the land – the proposal document that said “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….., and in addition to this income the Company will let the ground for Cricket, Cycling, Athletics, and other objects of a similar nature, during the summer months.”
The company, the Gloucester Football and Athletic Ground Company Limited, was set up on 5th August 1891 to purchase the land and form a suitable sports ground. The site was chosen as it would be suitable for more than just rugby – rugby would be played in the winter, but then the ground would be hired out to other users in the summer.
Due to the presence of existing buildings on the site, and the need to get the pitch ready for the new season, the pitch was initially sited to the west (Deans Walk) side of the site, orientated north-south as the black dotted lines on the following plan used at the time. This part of the site was levelled and various trees, minor buildings and walls demolished to make the area suitable for play. JP Moore was again the Architect for this and the subsequent ground development. The rugby club played their first match at Kingsholm on 10th October 1891.
In September GFAG commissioned plans to be prepared for the ground including running
track, pavilion and grandstands, with a more favourably located and realigned pitch orientated east-west nearer the north (St Marks Street) side of the site (GFAG minutes 2 Sept 1891). The plans promoting the purchase of Kingsholm were described as showing that “the ground will be one of the best in the West. There will be a cycling and running track a quarter of a mile in circumference, and refreshment stands and pavilions at convenient distances, a large pavilion occupying the centre of the sixpenny part. These works cannot, of course, be all carried out until after this season, meanwhile a contract has been entered into with the Gloucester Wagon Company for the erection of a temporary grand stand.” The layout of the athletics track can clearly be seen in the following rough plan.
The plans for the ground were agreed in January (GFAG minutes 8 Jan 1892) and over the first half of the year the house, stables and pigpen in the middle of the site were demolished and removed, the ground was levelled, fencing and turnstiles installed and the pitch relaid to the new location.
Virtually nothing is known about what the Athletic Club did in competitive terms. However, we have been able to glean a bit about the affairs of the Club from the GFAG Company Minutes and Accounts, and much of the following is taken from these minutes and accounts.
The first mention of the Athletic Club comes in the GFAG minutes of 11 May 1892 “members of Gloucester Athletic Club to be to train for foot racing only on the ground”.
Over the summer, a pavilion and grandstand was constructed ready for the new rugby season (see plan below).
The Athletic Club evidently had a base in the ground as the GFAG minutes of 7 Dec 1892 record “Gloucester Athletic Club allowed for the time being to keep their temporary building on the Deans Walk side of the ground for 1s pa rent”. (1s is 1 shilling, decimal 5p, equivalent to around £4.50 today)
A deputation from the Athletic Club met the Company in March to discuss holding their Annual Festival at Kingsholm in August – the Company agreed to let the Athletic Club have the whole ground for 2 days for £30, including a ¼ mile track. (£1 then is worth around £90 today).
From this, it is evident the Club was organising an annual Sports Festival, probably similar to the original one held back in 1880. It was held on the Tuesday following the August Bank Holiday Monday, which fell at the beginning of the month in those times. It is possible the Club wanted to make it a bigger event this year as they were going to use the new ground, and hold it over two days.
The Company agreed to allow the Athletic Club to train at Kingsholm before 10am and after 6.30pm for 2/6 per member (2/6 is 2 shillings and 6 pence, decimal 12½ p, equivalent to over £11 today). It is assumed that this was effectively a season ticket, allowing a member to train throughout the summer period, and not a per session fee.
The Athletic Club wanted to hold 2 to 3 evening meetings, for which the Company set a charge of 4gns (4 gns is 4 guineas or 21 shillings, or £1 1s, decimal £1.05, equivalent to around £95 today).
In July the Company agreed to reduce the charge for the hire of the ground to the Athletic Club for their evening meeting on 22nd June to 2gns as the meeting had resulted in a large loss to the Athletic Club. No further payments appear in the Company’s accounts for evening meetings, so it is assumed the Club thought better of trying to hold any more at the ground.
The Club held it’s Sports Festival on August 7th (Bank Holiday Monday) and 8th (Tuesday).
The Club bought 22 training tickets at 2/6 during the year.
A dispute occurred in July between the Athletic Club and the Company over the condition of the ground. The Athletic Club did not think the Kingsholm track would be fit for their Sports on August 7th, but the Company disagreed and sought to hold the Athletic Club to their agreement.
The Athletic Club suggested the matter be referred to arbitration, putting forward a list of 3 arbitrators (one of whom was Dr WG Grace). The Company agreed on arbitration, but wanted 3 local arbitrators to be used instead, one being the Mayor of Gloucester. The Athletic Club rejected this and proposed that each side appoint 1 arbitrator each, and then the 2 arbitrators to select an umpire. The Company rejected this and returned to their proposal, threatening to publish the whole correspondence and an explanation if the matter wasn’t resolved by 31st July. No reply had been received from the Athletic Club by 31st July. On 1st August the Company agreed to accept the Athletic Club’s proposal for arbitration so long as their officers accepted personal liability for the award, with a Director from each club as arbitrators, who could appoint a referee if necessary. The Athletic Club offered £15 to settle the dispute – the Company accepted this but stated they thought they had been treated discourteously.
The Athletic Club offered 50/- (50 shillings, or £2 10 shillings, decimal £2.50, equivalent to around £225 today) for the hire of seating to be used at the Spa, where they were now going to hold their Sports on August 7th. The Company were evidently not happy by the way the Athletic Club had not taken their hire of the ground for the annual sports, and this was minuted in the Company's AGM minutes for the year.
Walter Henry Taylor, a prominent member of the Gloucester Rugby back line from 1890 to 1903, was a very successful sprinter, and he won both the open and local sprints at the Spa meeting, the former off the 4 ¾ yards mark, and the local event from scratch. His time for the open 120 yards was given as 12 seconds dead (this is equivalent to about 10.9 for 100m), and Taylor later admitted that he never ran better than on this occasion.
Taylor won numerous prizes on the track, including the 100 yards at the Midlands Counties championship. He once competed in the 100 yards Amateur Athletic Championship at Stamford Bridge, but was narrowly beaten in his heat by the ultimate winner, F W Cooper (Abergavenny & Newport). We do not know the years of these performances.
The Club bought 24 training tickets at 2/6 during the year and also paid 3/- for three years rent for their shed.
The Rugby Club were granted permission to hold Athletic Sports on the ground on 8th September.
An interesting entry in the Company minutes is for Gloucester Harriers to be allowed to use the ground for a 10 mile race on 4th May, at a charge of 5gns. No more is presently known about Gloucester Harriers other than their mention in the Company minutes.
The Company agreed that "tickets to be issued to athletes for 2/6 to train on Kingsholm 1st May to 31st August 1985."
The Company proposed to the Athletic Club that they could use the ground for their Sports on 6th August if they prepared the ¼ mile track, paid £25 rent including use of a horse roller, and paid for the groundkeeper’s time in preparing the track at 3/- per day from 1st July. The Club declined the use of the ground.
It is assumed the Club used the Spa for their Sports instead, and, as there are no further mentions of hiring the Kingsholm ground in any subsequent Company minutes or accounts, the Club probably used the Spa for their annual Sports Festival from now on.
The Club bought 35 training tickets at 2/6 during the year and also paid 1/- for one years rent for their shed.
The Company agreed that training tickets would be issued to athletes as last year.
The Club bought 104 training tickets at 2/6 during the year and also paid 1/- for one years rent for their shed.
Again, the Gloucester Harriers hired the ground for their sports on 1st May, at a charge of 7gns.
The Company’s minutes say that tickets for training and bicycling would be issued at 2/6 each. It is not known from this point whether the cycling was an integral part of the Athletic Club or a separate club, though it is quite likely it was an integral part of the Athletic Club as there is no mention anywhere in the minutes of any cycling clubs, and it is known that cycling events formed a part of the Athletic Club's Sports events.
50 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year. There is no mention from this year on of any payment for rent for the shed, so this may possibly have been vacated or removed.
52 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
46 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
23 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
32 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
A vacancy occurred on the Company Board. The Board Chairman stated that, as the Athletic Club had become proprietors of over 70 shares in the Company, he thought they should be represented on the Board. The Board agreed and Mr Trevor Powell of the Athletic Club was elected to the Company Board. The Company Chairman welcomed him and expressed the Director’s gratification at having a representative from the Athletic Club on the Board. This was acknowledged by Mr Powell. Powell is known to have played for the Rugby Club in at least the 1890/91 and 91/92 seasons.
32 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
19 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
19 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
At the end of the year, the Rugby Club put forward their case for the provision of a gymnasium with bath rooms, changing and offices to better provide for the needs of the club.
The Company agreed to the Rugby Club’s request for the construction of the gymnasium building, with the Rugby Club paying an increased rent, and the building works commenced with a view to completing for the start of the 1905-06 rugby season.
Mr Trevor Powell resigned from the Company Board in September.
Extra works were asked for by the Rugby Club to complete the new gymnasium, and it was agreed to raise an extra £150 share capital, with the shares to be offered £100 to the Rugby Club and £50 to the Athletic Club.
50 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
In the end, the Rugby Club took all of the £150 of shares, with the agreement of the Athletic Club.
In March, the Gloucester Amateur Walking and Athletic Society enquired about use of the ground and the gymnasium for an Athletic Sports on Easter Tuesday afternoon, and for an evening meeting on some other date. The Company offered terms, but the Society gave up the idea of the meeting on Easter Tuesday, but still hoped to hold an evening meeting later in the season.
It was decided by the Company that training tickets be issued as in previous years and that the new Gymnasium be kept locked and not used by athletes during the summer months.
The Great Western Railway Cricket Club applied for use of the ground, but their request was denied due to, amongst others, the interference it would have with bicycling, running, tennis and volunteer drilling.
In December, the Company agreed to let the Rugby Club hold an Athletic Sports on the ground on Whit Monday (1907) as the Rugby Club were doing very badly financially this season, the ground to be let free of charge.
86 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
In February, the Company agreed that "Training Tickets be issued at 2/6 each for Running and Cycling if the Gloucester Athletic Club will subscibe £2, as a fee for all athletes to have the use of the new Gymnasium."
40 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year. The Club also paid £2-0-0 for hiring the new gymnasium for their members.
27 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year. The Club also paid £2-0-0 for hiring the new gymnasium for their members.
20 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year. The Club also paid £2-0-0 for hiring the new gymnasium for their members.
Mr AC Williams was appointed as the Rugby Club's representative on the Company Board, the Company Chairman welcoming him feeling sure he "would be a useful member being so thoroughly acquainted with Football (i.e. rugby) and all athletic matters." Whether from this statement in can be construed that Mr Williams had any link with the Athletic Club is not known, but it is conceivable.
8 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
The Citizen report at the end of the 1910-11 rugby season said “What the City want is some speedy and clever players in the three-quarter line. The suggestion that some of the men should do a bit of track running in the summer to pick up pace is a good one; it is understood running pumps will be provided if the players will only take the trouble to turn out.”
12 training tickets were bought at 2/6 during the year.
No further entries in the accounts appear for anything to do with the Athletic Club after 1911. In 1912 Mr Arthur Hudson (a prominent member of the Rugby Club and eight-times England international, and also the original co-founder of Hudson Sports Outfitters in 1908) enquired about leasing the ground from the Company for the four sumer months (May to August) for Cricket, Tennis and Athletic Training. The Company did not want conflict between the two parties with one letting for some things and the other for other things, but they would consider an offer from Mr Hudson for full rights to let it for what he could get. Hudson offered £10-10-0 for the sole right of the field during the summer months and additionally to pay the groundsman, but the Company refused what they considered to be such a low offer but stated they would accept £34. Hudson declined.
The Midland Railway Cricket Club applied to use the ground. The Company discussed this and thought that if they were allowed to use the ground, then "training round the track would have to be stopped." The Company decided to go back to Mr Hudson and see if he would stand by his original offer. Hudson agreed to stand by his offer and his offer was accepted, Hudson having the right for "Cricket, Training, Tennis, Pony Grazing, School Treats, Drilling, and Sports, inclusive."
The £10-10-0 appears in the Company accounts for 1912, so any use of the ground by the Athletic Club would have been via Arthur Hudson and we do not know how much the Athletic Club actually used the ground.
The Company agreed to let the ground to Arthur Hudson for the summer months for £10-10-0 on the same terms as in 1912. Again, we do not know how much the Athletic Club used the ground.
The Rugby Club were given permission to erect new grandstands on the opposite side of the pitch to the present pavilion, so long as they took them down for the summer months.
Hudson, now a Rugby Club Committee member, applied to let the ground for the 1914 summer months and was going to see if he could arrange with the Rugby Club that the new stands would remain in position over the summer months. The Company would not allow him to make this agreement with the Rugby Club, and Hudson agreed to letting the field on the same conditions as previous years.
Hudson paid his £10-10-0 for the letting of the ground for the summer months. As before, we do not know how much the Athletic Club used the ground.
The outbreak of the First World War in August saw the cancellation of the forthcoming season's rugby fixtures.
Hudson offered £5-5-0 for use of the ground for the summer months for "Cricket, Training, Tennis, Pony Grazing, School Treats, and Cycle Sports inclusive." This was accepted by the Company. We do not know how much the Athletic Club used the ground, or whether the club was actually active during the War.
Hudson took the ground for the four summer months on the same terms as last year. Again, use by the Athletic Club is unknown.
Some sports evidently continued, as the Company agreed to let the ground to Mr Hudson from 1st September 1916 to 30th April 1917 for Hockey.
Hudson had taken on part of the ground for Tennis. The ground was also used for a number of Sports events in aid of the Gloucester Infirmary and the Red Cross.
In June, AW Vears (Chairman of the Company from it's inception until his death) passed away. The Athletic Club was represented at his funeral by "A Hudson, hon sec, and W Bailey," so we know that Arthur Hudson was Secretary in 1917.
In September, the Athletic Club wrote a letter to the Company stating the shares belonging to the Athletic Club were to be transferred from the late Mr Vears and Mr Lovesy (who became Deputy Chairman) to Mr Lovesy and a Mr Frank Tandy. The link between Vears, Lovesy, Tandy and the Athletic Club is unknown, though Vears is known to have been a committee member of the Athletic Club - whether he was so at the time of his death is not known.
It was agreed that Hudson could arrange hockey on the ground from 1st September 1917 to 1st September 1918.
The Atlas Works Athletic Club applied to use part of the ground for Association Football.
Mr Watkins, General manager of the Gloucester National Filling Factory in Quedgeley, applied to take over the ground for all kinds of outdoor Games & Sports, effectively replacing the Rugby Club as main tenants who were unable to contribute much due to the cessation of the rugby fixture calender during the War. Terms were eventually agreed, but as the War ended in November, Mr Watkins gave notice to terminate his tenancy.