Exploring our City
Martin Weiler, trustee of the Exeter City Football Club Museum Trust, spoke recently to the Devon and Cornwall Record Society about some recent discoveries...
"A few months ago, in the pre Covid era, historians at Exeter City Football Club were busy delivering a Heritage Lottery funded project in partnership with the University of Exeter and other local organisations. One product was a trail around Higher Cemetery in Heavitree, Exeter, based on six graves connected with football. And then came lockdown and these plans were put on ice.
"It is a bit of a cliché to call a setback an opportunity but so it proved. My wife, Ann, and I live close to Higher Cemetery. As a large attractive green space it became a popular choice for our daily walks.
"One day we explored the St Leonard’s Section. To my amazement we came across the grave of Arthur Chadwick, a key figure in Exeter City’s development. A former England International he became City’s first professional manager in 1908 when the Club joined the Southern League. He only stood down in 1922 by which time he had guided The Grecians into the Football League in 1920. He actually died at St James Park watching Exeter playing Clapton Orient in 1936.
"We had been unaware his grave was there so the news was excitedly shared with fellow City historians. This struck a chord with Exeter City Football Club Museum Trustee Aidan Hamilton who was in Lockdown at his home in Marseille. If Chadwick’s grave was there who else might be buried in the Cemetery? Aidan drew up a list of people involved with the rise of football in Exeter and then checked the excellent online Exeter City Council burial record cards to see if they were mentioned.
"As a result a further six graves of interest were located often with the help of the outstanding Friends of Higher Cemetery group. This more than doubled what we had started with. Our original list had included some interesting figures including Alexander Stuart who set up the first community football club in Exeter in 1889, Henry Dyer an Exeter City player who later died on the Titanic and Sid Thomas, a Club legend for seven decades.
"Among the ‘new’ discoveries were Reg Davey who played for Exeter AFC in the first known association football match at St James Park in 1894, Norman Kendall a leading City Director for many years, Thomas Bradford a Sidwell Street butcher who sub leased the ground for football and George Stillings who as ‘Stil’ was a prominent local cartoonist, many on a football theme.
"So now the trail has been greatly expanded and we await with eager anticipation the go ahead to hold guided walks. One grave that we are keen to show off is that of John Dockray who played for Exeter in their first ever Football League game on 28 August 1920. The Museum Trust has arranged for the grave to be cleaned up to mark the centenary of the game – another project now underway as Lockdown eases."