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Uppdaterad 2006-11-30

   
   
THE MAN BEHIND THE
FIRST GOLF CLUB IN SWEDEN

An article by Sven Arnström (first published in September 2000).

   
   


The English vica
r A.V.Despard was the man who introduced organised golf in Sweden in the city of Gothenburg. In March 1891 The Gothenburg Golf Club was founded. Baron Oscar Dickson became the chairman of the Club, but the driving force behind it all was the Revd A.V.Despard. wpe26920.gif (362159 bytes)

The Club=s course was located at Sannegården, Hising island, on the north side of the Göta River, not far from the landingsstage Sandviken. The course had four holes with a total length of about 900 metres.  It was lying on a sandpit and the hazards were mainly natural sandbunkers and roads.

The club was dissolved in good order the 13th of January 1894. The very same year Mr Viktor Setterberg started an activity that lead to the starting of the Arendal Athletic Society in 1901. Until the course of this club was created the Sandviken course was used by the members of the society .  

Viktor Setterberg was in the group of people who in 1903 chose the ground for the course that now belongs to Göteborgs Golf Klubb in Hovås, 5 km south of Gothenburg.

One of the reasons for the choice of Hovås  was, according to Setterberg, that he had heard from the Director of the Gothenburg prison, Mr A. Montgomery, that the vicar A.V.Despard had expressed some favourable  comments about the area of Hovås.

Arthur V. Despard
was born in London the 18th of December 1861. Within his family he was called Arthur. But he always wrote his name A.V.Despard. His father, the Revd George Despard, was an Anglican clergyman clergy so his son chose the same profession. He was educated  first at Merchant Taylor
=s school in London. Later he came to St John=s College in Oxford where in 1884 he was ordained a  deacon and in 1885 was ordained a  priest.

The life of a golfer?
Looking at A.V.Despard as the leading actor when organised golf was introduced into Sweden we may want to see traces elsewhere of his golfing before and after Gothenburg. The grand old man of the Despard family today, Mr Herbert Despard in London, is not able to give any information about Arthur=s golfing. In the archives of St John=s College in  Oxford there is no information except for the results of exams achieved and the note that A.V.Despard was a member of the College Debating Society.

It is also, though a lot of research and a great interest from many  people within clubs, institutions and parishes, very difficult to find any real traces of golf from A.V.Despard. It seems as if we just have to imagine what might be in the contexts and environments where he and his family lived during his long life in Europe and in North America.

Arriving at Gothenburg
At the end of June 1890 A.V.Despard arrived at Gothenburg on the Swedish westcoast. By his side is his wife Edith Annie. He is not in Gothenburg for the first time. Now he is going to serve as the chaplain at St Andrew
=s Church in Gothenburg according to a contract that he has in his pocket.

A.V.Despard had reached an agreement with The British Factory, an association of British businessmen in Gothenburg. Still in 2000 this association is the economic guarantor for St Andrew=s Church. The congregation was founded in 1747, today more than 250 years old. St Andrew=s Church is located at Kaserntorget Square in the central part of the city.

Earlier the chaplains of the parish had all been unmarried. Now in 1890 there is a special paragraph in the written decision to employ Mr Despard that he Ais to come here as a married man@. So, ten days before the beginning of his employment Arthur Vendeleur Despard married Edith Annie Sheldon in Stroud, not far from Bristol in England. This marriage turned out to be lifelong.

At The Avenue
In 2000, Gothenburg has 500 000 inhabitants. In 1890 there were 100 000. Kungportsavenyen or The Avenue as it is called, is the main street in Gothenburg. At that time it was, of course,  not as long as it is today. There on the west sida of the Avenue was the English quarter. Arthur Vandeleur and his wife Edith moved into the parsonage at Nr 5 Kungsportsavenyen at the corner of Storgatan street. The couple
=s first child Edith Constance was born here the 16th of September 1893.

The Bishop=s visit
Did A.V.Despard like his work among countrymen and Scots in Gothenburg? Sure he did, but we can assume he had some problems. During the time of his predecessor at St Andrew's Church the number of church visitors hade decreased to a low level. There was no change during Despard's time. At the communion services it could happen that there were no visitors at all. This of course discouraged  A.V.Despard. And he did not succeed in making any change.  But during the winter 1891/92 he restarted the work for the British sailors in the very busy harbour in Gothenburg. This  inspired him.

Bishop Wilkinson in London was A.V.Despard=s supervisor. The bishop made a visit to the congregation in 1893. He was at that time very alarmed by the circumstances. In his notes from this visit he is afraid that there was not enough for A.V.Despard to do. The latter seems more to have blamed himself than the real cause - a diminishing English colony in Gothenburg.

The dissolution of Gothenburg Golf  Club
A.V.Despard surely had great pleasure from his relations with his countrymen at the little golf course. But they were not so many. During the last year of the Club 1893 A.V.Despard must have felt lonely as a playing member of the Gothenburg Golf Club. Some of his closest fellow players had left Gothenburg. So A.V.Despard decided to do. And he saw no future for the Club.

The very first Golf Club in Sweden was dissolved on the 13th  of January 1894 at the office of Baron Oscar Dickson. The cash was allocated to those who still were the members. Each one of those who hade paid 100 SEK for a lifelong membership got 66:87 SEK in return.

In September 1895, A.V.Despard terminated his employment at St Andrew's Church.

Edinburgh
Now the family moves to Edinburgh in Scotland where in February A.V.Despard  was appointed a curate at St. John the Evangelist
=s Church. St John=s is situated on the great Princess Street in the corner of Lothian Road. at the foot of the big rock on which The Edinburgh Castle is built.

Was there within A.V.Despard an attraction for going to Scotland because of his interest in golf? This question of course can be raised. The efforts to follow the trails of A.V.Despard to a golf club in Edinburgh or the surroundings of the city gives us no result. But there is  an interesting fact. In 1899 the family moves from the north part of the city to 111 Lothian Road . This address is situated about 900 meters from Bruntsfield Links.

Bruntsfield Links, at that time outside but  nowadays in the centre of the city, is golf history.  Once the members of the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society played their golf on these links. This club, today still existing at it=s third course west of the city, is regarded as the fourth oldest club in the world being founded sometime between 1745 and 1760. Later on several other clubs at the same time were located on the Bruntsfield Links course. They all got their own  courses later on.

So at  Bruntsfield Links A.V.Despard could play his game of golf without having to cross a river by a steamer as he had to do in Gothenburg. We could imagine A.V.Despard swinging his clubs on these links . And perhaps he also had a drink or a meal at The Golf Tavern, an old pub that still exists in an old  house by the side of this green area.

Somerset
A.V.Despard together with his wife Edith and his children Constance Hermine and the son Marcus Carden , born 1897, left Scotland in 1900 for Somerset, England.  He became a curate at Christ Church at Walcot near Bath.

The old city  of Bath is situated in the bottom of an old vulcano. On the edge of the former vulcano in 1894  the Lansdown Golf Club had been founded and the Club had built it
=s course.

The land that is used for this course was evidently very near to A.V.Despard when he held his services in Walcot. But there is no archive in this club from that time. There is only one interesting point which may lead our fantasy.

From an article on December the 20th 1894 in the Bath Cronicle it is reported about the forming of the Lansdown Golf Club. Among the enthusiasts in the committee there are two Reverends. Was there a connection beetween them and A.V.Despard when six years later he moved to Walcot?

Some years later in 1903 A.V.Despard became the vicar of Norton St Philip, just south of Bath. There  Arthur=s and Edith=s second son Raymond Valentine was born in 1905.

Norton St Philip is perhaps best known for The George Inn. This building has an international reputation as one of  the most ancient inns in the England. The date given for its building is suggested as 1223, and a  continuous licence is claimed from 1397. This would have been a licence allowed by the Prior, since the earliest Governmental licences for alehouses in England date from 1552.

The parsonage is a grand building with an old stable and also has a very nice lawn surrounded by high trees. Today the district medical officer lives in the parsonage. The vicar has got another house.

In The Somerset  News it is possible to sporadically follow the life in the village. The vicar is an important person and most of what is written about Norton St Philip deals with him or the parish. There are no golf items to be found.

Surely A.V.Despard had to work hard to administer the parish. When he came to Norton St Philip in 1903 there was a deficit in the economy. After some years the church council had succeeded in getting it away. In the minutes of the vestry A.V.Despard congratulated the villagers on having succeeded with this.

But in 1908 it was as bad as before and in the minutes from 1909 we can read that the adverse balance was
,4-11-1. Despard said that he felt that all present would agree with him that this was not a satisfactory state of things. What was needed was regularity in attending church and regularity in giving, he said, all in obedience to apostolic injunction that everyone should contribute according to his ability.

They had received from their predecessors, he said,  a beautiful church which had cost them nothing. It would be sad if they had to confess that they were not able to keep it decently and in order.

The 15th of August 1909 the Bishop of Bath and Wales visited Norton St Philip. he makes a note in the minutes of the vestry that he has visited the church and that he had heard the report of the vicar with satisfaction and hope. He shares the regret of the people that the vicar will soon be leaving them. A week later Despard preaches his farewell sermon having  accepted a curacy in British Columbia.

The Despard family then departed for Canada. At the end of October  Charles Cooper & Tanner sold the furnishings and effects of the family on the instructions  A.V.Despard had given. There was a good attendance and some of the prices could be read in the paper.

British Columbia
When Revd A.V.Despard and his family arrived in British Columbia in 1909 he was at first Vicar of Vernon, at All Saints Church. But some years later he bought land at Woodsdale in Oyama, not far from Vernon. There he assisted in forming the Woodsdale parish. And there he held the position as  vicar, 1915  - 1929.

Revd. A.V.Despard=s last years
In July 1940 there is an item in the Vernon News that tells the readers about a little party held the 19th of June in Oyama at Mr and Mrs R. Allison
=s home.  

Yes , so it is. The party was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the wedding of Edith Despard and A.V.Despard.  It is said about Mrs Edith  Despard that for some years she had been the president of Womens Institute of which she always had been an active member.

The little article also tells us that  A.V.Despard in his younger days was a keen sailor when he  could be seen in his yacht at Kalamalka Lake. So it is worth noting that the item does not mention anything about a lost golf interest.

Arthur Vendeleur Despard survived his wife by some years. He himself died the 22nd of August 1947. And he rests together with his wife at St Mary
=s cemetery in Oyama.

At his funeral the Archbishop of Kotennays and Primate for Canada officiated at St Mary=s Anglican Church.In the obituary in The Vernon News the 28th of August1947 we can read the following:  AThe Old Vicar, as he was fondly called by all who knew him well, was held in great esteem and will be greatly missed.@

Commander Max Carden Despard
Trying to follow A.V.Despard through his life we also find other interesting persons. A man of interest for the golfers is Commander Max Carden Despard. He was a British navy officer during World War I.
The father of Max Carden Despard and A.V.Despard were first cousins. In 1929 M.C.Despard arrived in Finland and Helsinki where he served as a diplomat.  Later he was given The White Rose for what he had done for Finland.

The Helsinki Golf Club was formed in 1932. Though M.C. Despard did not participate in founding the club he economically supported the club during it's first years. M.C Despard was appointed a Member of honour in 1932 and Captain of the club in 1934 when he was also a member of the Board of the Club.

So the name Despard does not only belong to the Swedish but also to the Finnish history of golf.

Sven Arnström
Independent Journalist