The Gloucester Rugby Heritage project – from an unlikely start to a thriving initiative
5 February 2020
With the Exeter Chiefs fixture on 14 February 2020 being designated as the “Gloucester Rugby Heritage” match, we wanted to take a look back on how the Heritage Project came into being. And who better to talk to than Malc King?
Malc, the Chairman & Researcher, has been involved since day one and cast his mind back recently to how it all started.
“The key event was the demolition of the old wooden stand on the South side of the ground which had been here since 1933. The demolition team moved in fairly quickly and, as the work progressed, one of the contractors discovered some old boxes and bags of stuff which had clearly been stored away by former administrators of the club.
“All of this material was being thrown into skips and, fortunately, Gary Little, who was the club’s Community Manager at the time, was passing by, took a look and had the wherewithal to pop around the corner to Gloucestershire Archives to see if they’d be interested.
“This resulted in more than 30 boxes of materials being taken around to the Archives who then had to decide what to do with it.”
Fortunately, Malc was in a position to help out – and he had some friends who proved to be willing accomplices!
“I’d retired by then, and had been doing some family history research which took me to the Archives. I’d become Secretary of the Friends of the Archives, they knew that I was a fan of Gloucester Rugby and asked if I could look through it all and advise them.
“I called upon a number of my friends, including John Theyers and John Cowan, and we got to work. From day one, part of the inducement was, apart from the obvious Gloucester Rugby interest, that we could go to a good real ale pub at lunchtime – the Queen’s Head.
“Once we got going, we were astonished what a wealth of information there was, including some going back to the 19th century. A lot of clubs don’t have this treasure trove of information, we’re very lucky.”
The next step was to decide what to do with it all. The material had already been stored away for many years, and the consensus was that this shouldn’t happen again.
“Having looked through it all the material, we had to decide what to do with it and we felt it would be a pity if the public couldn’t look at it. So, we decided we should have a project to share this history.
“The club and the Archives were very supportive, and we identified that there was a real educational opportunity. But we needed money, so put together a bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2008.
“We were quite pessimistic because, at the time, the 2012 Olympic bid and delivery was using huge amounts of lottery generated money. But HLF were very helpful and what helped us was that they hadn’t funded anything in Gloucester for some time.
“So, it all fell into place, and our funding application was approved and we had three years to deliver the project which included developing a website, preparing more than 100 lesson plans and supporting materials for schools and creating displays for the public.”
Things haven’t stood still. In fact, the collection has grown over the years as awareness of the Heritage Project has grown.
“We’ve received additional donations over the years, many from former players, and we now have 3,800 items – documents and photographs – in the Archives. At Kingsholm, we have 338 artifacts on display and another 494 in storage.
“In addition to all the memorabilia, we decided that we should research the history of the club. A lot of our information, on microfilm in the Archives, has come from the Citizen, which has been the daily newspaper of Gloucester since 1876, only three years after the rugby club was formed.
“At this point, a chap called Chris Collier, who has been attending matches since the early 1950s, got in touch and told us that he’d kept records of all matches since 1973. We looked at what he’d done and asked him to get involved with the project and promptly challenged him to compile data for the matches from 1873 to 1973! Five years later, he completed his work!”
And this has led to the next chapter in the story of the Heritage Project – a series of books about Gloucester Rugby.
“We felt that we’d gathered so much information, that we ought to get it recorded for posterity and initially just produced a 40 page Heritage booklet. That went down quite well, so we thought we ought to get more serious and produce something more authoritative.
“I offered to write a book about Kingsholm the ground because I’d done so much research on the early days, including the acquisition of the land and development of the stadium. And that led to the first hard-back book.
“I had planned to include a lot in that book about visiting sides, especially those from overseas, representative matches played here etc. As I compiled that first book, I quickly realised that I had too much material to reasonably include in one book!
“So, I decided to strip out that material as I had enough for a second book, and the book about representative matches at Kingsholm came out a couple of years ago – and it’s almost as big as the first book!
“Having done those, we decided that there was another category of matches which justified their own book – Cup matches – and that one should come out in about a month’s time. It will cover every cup match Gloucester Rugby has played.”
And the committee have shown no signs of slowing up just yet.
“We’ve already done a lot of work on the next book, which will be about Gloucester Rugby players. We have criteria about who we think should be included and we think we’ll end up with about 330 individual player profiles.
“It will doubtless cause some debate, but we do have the criteria in place. And the back section of the book will be a record of every player to have played for Gloucester Rugby and the season they played etc. Chris (Collier) has worked incredibly hard to identify every single player.
“And this led in a way to Elite Pro Sports producing the Heritage shirt that will be worn against Exeter and which has been on sale this season, which was based on the shirt worn back in 1873 when they didn’t have any choice. They needed a set of shirts and all that was on offers was black and purple!
“I genuinely didn’t think Elite Pro Sports could get all the names on to one shirt, there are 1935 of them! But I’m pleasantly surprised at how clearly they can all be seen.
“We’re hoping to the get the players book out by the end of the year. After that, we’re intending to produce a book on the playing history of the club since 1873, details of every match Gloucester Rugby has ever played.”
However, it’s all underpinned by the Gloucester Rugby Heritage website – www.gloucesterrugbyheritage.org – which goes from strength to strength.
“Perhaps the biggest success story has been the website. There is so much information on there, match records, interviews, player biographies etc. It’s been going for perhaps 20 years now, and we thought that interest might fade away, but Dick Williams tells me that last year alone there were 23,000 separate visits and that the annual traffic figures remain constant.
“But it’s the volunteers that are at the heart of this. I’m the only one who has been there since day one, quickly joined by John Theyers and John Cowan.
“But there are now seven of us as trustees of the charity, and last year we had 12 volunteers who contributed over 4,000 hours of work last year. It’s a real team effort.”