Epilogue (Last Thoughts on Bart Wilson)
When I began writing this centenary celebration, I knew very little about the founder of Cardiff City. From what I'd read, I was aware that Bart Wilson was a disabled lithographic artist from Bristol who had started it all in the summer of 1899.
There was a very grainy photograph of him sitting in full kit in the middle of the Riverside Club's cricketers and he could later be spotted - usually standing on the end of the back row wearing a flat cap or a hat - in Cardiff City's team line-ups. There were a few pictures of him working in the club office in the early Fifties just before his death, but that was about all. That Bart Wilson was the driving force behind the formation of Riverside F.C. is beyond dispute. The books and pamphlets about the club all pay tribute to his pioneering work at the turn of the century.
A slim paperback published by the Western Mail and Echo after the 1947 Third Division South championship success is typical. A Short History of Cardiff City A.F.C. was compiled by 'Citizen' of the Football Echo and produced by public demand: No one dreamt in those days that Riverside was really the seed which would give birth to a club whose meteoric rise to fame was to astound the football world. Mr. Bartley Wilson was undoubtedly the soul of this amateur organisation.
In fact, Bart Wilson was the one person who allowed himself to dream. He was the soul - and the heart - of the club which became Cardiff City. As I started to work on the centenary book, a couple of questions nagged away at me. Who was Bart Wilson and why did he want to set up a football team in the Welsh capital at the turn of the last century?
The more I thought about them, the more inquisitive I became and the more determined to find out more about Bart and the origins of Cardiff City. I decided to begin at the end - with Bart's death. Having discovered a tribute in a club matchday programme, I knew he had died some time between two home games on the 13th and 27th November 1954.
Cardiff Central Library was my first port of call and the South Wales Echo my starting point. Sure enough, on page 3 of Friday 19th November edition, I found what I was looking for - 'Bart Wilson, 'G.O.M.' Cardiff City, dies' read the headline. There followed a short article about the Grand Old Man's life and times, details of the funeral arrangements and a clue or two to Bart's immediate family. The service at St John's Church in Canton had been followed by burial at Western Cemetery. t was a start - something to work on.
Western Cemetery lies on the outskirts of Cardiff - not far from the Culverhouse Cross roundabout and the Ely Link Road. The next day, as I drove along Cowbridge Road, I decided to try to find Bart Wilson's grave. The assistant on duty that early December day, Keith Chadwick, couldn't have been more helpful. Within a couple of minutes, we were striding through the middle of the cemetery towards Section I where Bart was buried. As we approached the area, I wondered what we were going to find? Keith looked at his piece of paper on which the section was divided into plots - number by number - and then he looked at me.
This is where it should be, he said, pointing to the two numbers of the headstones either side of Plot 246. We bent down to confirm their position in relation to Bart's grave. It was nothing more than a mound. "Are you sure?" I said, half-anticipating the answer to my question. "Yes, I'm sure", Keith replied, "I'm afraid this is Plot 246".
My heart sank. How desperately sad! The man who was responsible for forming Cardiff City lay in an unmarked grave. How could this have happened? But in half a minute, the journalist in me took over. What a story! In the year of the club's centenary, their founder was lying in one of the city's cemeteries but nobody knew he was there.
My immediate concern was to contact any surviving relatives and, through them, to discover more about Bart Wilson. Several people had told me that Bart's son Jim had died in the early Nineties in a Cardiff nursing home but I wondered if there were any living grandchildren?
The newspaper report of Bart's death mentioned a daughter, a Mrs. S. Head, and her two children, John and Alma. There were quite a few Heads scattered around the city and the first one I rang initially didn't sound too hopeful. Eventually, she told me that John Head lived in Wenvoe, a village about a mile from Western Cemetery.
I returned to the phone book. She was right. I dialled the number, mentioned the name Bart Wilson and struck gold. I was talking to the grandson of the founder of Cardiff City. After explaining the reason for my call, I broached the question of the unmarked grave. From the moment I told John, and later his sister Alma Vosper, about my discovery, I received nothing but their co-operation and support. Initial shock soon gave way to appreciation and when I suggested that a new headstone should be commissioned as part of Cardiff City's centenary celebrations, they were immediately enthusiastic - as were the club's officials.
From her home in Croydon, Alma proved a tremendous source of encouragement. After providing valuable information about Bart's early life, she then unearthed details of his marriage to Sarah Ellen and the Wilson family tree. She told me she that remembered visiting her grandmother's grave with her mother but when they returned to lay flowers after Bart's death, they couldn't find either the grave or the headstone.
I then enlisted the help of Simon Morgan, managing director of Mossfords, the monumental masons, who had provided the original headstone and Cardiff City's chaplain, Father Joe Jordan. A plan gradually evolved to ask representatives of the club and close members of the family to attend a short re-dedication ceremony in early June which would be filmed as part of my BBC Wales television documentary to accompany the book.
A month before the service, cameraman Tony Yates and I visited the cemetery to plan our schedule. It was pouring with rain - as it had been on the day in 1954 when Bart should have been buried. We searched in vain for the grave, looking for plots 245 or 247. After about ten minutes, Tony drew my attention to a plinth with some writing on it which lay at the base of a nearby tree.
My heart started to pound as I went to investigate. The base provided conclusive evidence - 'Mossfords', 'I', and '246' were the crucial pieces of information it contained. We had found one part of the memorial but where was the headstone? As we started to look around, Tony noticed a slab of marble, largely covered by grass, lying a few yards from the plinth. My pulse was racing.
It was too heavy to lift so Tony borrowed a crowbar from a nearby skip and carefully eased up a corner. I grabbed another one and, as we pushed the headstone up to rest it against the tree, all was revealed. Sarah Ellen Wilson's details were dis-played on the stone Above an empty space left for those of her husband.
It took only a few moments to take in what we had stumbled across. After nearly forty-five years, the mystery of the missing headstone had been solved. There would be no need for a new one now that the original had been found. With the family's full backing, the headstone was refurbished with Bart's details being carved by hand above a simple tribute: 'The founder of Cardiff City A.F.C.'
On June 7th 1999, the re-dedication service took place at Western Cemetery and Bart Wilson finally received his long overdue recognition. The other mystery I was keen to unravel was the origin of Cardiff City's nickname, 'The Bluebirds'. From my research, I knew that it had started being used, along with 'The Cardiffians', 'The City' and 'The Citizens', after the club changed their colours from chocolate and amber to blue, sometime around 1910.
The South Wales Echo again came up with the answer - or at least the most likely one. An appeal through their sports pages led to two readers suggesting there might be a connection with a classic children's play, The Blue Bird written by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck in 1909. The bird, a symbol of happiness, is pursued by children who want to imprison it in a cage and the play's theme urges us not to try to hoard happiness for ourselves.
My consultant, Richard Shepherd, suggested I should look through the Echo archives to discover whether the play had been performed in Cardiff after 1910. So, back to Cardiff Central Library I went and, after a day's searching through the paper's back pages, I discovered that the play had indeed come to the New Theatre in late October 1911. It received good reviews during its six-night run and a week after the production had left town, Maeterlinck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his symbolist plays including The Blue Bird and Pelleas and Mesilande.
No positive proof exists but it would seem probable that the publicity surrounding the play's arrival in the Welsh capital and then Maeterlinck's honour led to an unknown Cardiff City supporter deciding to call the team, resplendent in their blue strip, 'The Blue Birds'. Gradually, it emerged as the favourite nickname before being adopted officially by the club.
The nickname would surface again nearly ninety years later as Cardiff City became caught up in the current craze for mascots. They had the bluebird outfit and the person to wear it but they didn't know what to call their creation. So a competition involving members of the Junior Bluebirds was held and their entries were taken into the dressing room for the players to choose.
It was the suggestion by Jacques Aviles, an eight-year-old supporter from Cardiff Bay, which took the first-team's fancy and the mascot was christened Bartley. Bartley the Bluebird. It does have a nice alliterative ring to it - as all mascots should. Jacques had come up with the name because he'd read somewhere that a man called Bartley Wilson had founded Cardiff City back in 1899.
As Bart Wilson always manintained that the club belonged to the people of the city, it seems fitting that Cardiff City are now being run by a group of local buisnessmen rather than a wealthy individual. For the builder, dairyman, electrical engineer, printer and clerk of the original 1910 board read the builder, solicitor, property developer, I.T. expert and engineer who are part of the 1999 line-up. We have come full circle, the enthusiasts, Bart's successors are back in control and no doubt he would have approved.
As the Bluebirds celebrate their centenary, it is also appropriate that Bart's crucial role has now been officially recognised. He was the man with the mission, someone who dared to dream - and it's tempting to do that just now. With the new Millennium approaching, some supporters are hoping that the club might, as one of football's élite, one day play in the stadium being built to mark the turn of the century.
Cardiff City in the Premiership?