Gift of a sports field and Mr Cecil Gee

Volunteer Caroline Wessel describes the gift of the first sports field to the University College.

On 25 June 1926 the Leicester Mail announced that

For at least two years investigations and enquiries relative to a sports field have been going forwards and a special committee was constituted earlier this year to deal with the problem. Within the last few weeks success has attended their efforts and with the payment of a usual deposit the Council has secured from Mr Frederick Lee of Park Dale, London Road, at the price of £200 per acre, a field of approximately ten acres on the Welford Road, with a frontage of 400 feet on that road. The field, which is at present used for grazing, is probably the most level enclosure of any size between Leicester and Wigston, so that it is eminently suitable for the purpose for which it is required and can be reached from the College in 25 minutes (walking) or in ten minutes by cycle or bus. So long as the College was without a sports field it lagged behind other University Colleges in the country in provision for the physical and corporate life of the students, and on securing so suitable an enclosure, requiring the minimum expenditure for layout, at such a relatively small distance from the College, both the College Council and its student-members are to be heartily congratulated.

Leicester Mail, 25 Jun. 1925.

The University College Annual Report for 1926 confirmed the above facts, adding that ‘small dressing-rooms are being erected forthwith, the cost of which will not fall on College funds, but ultimately a substantial sum will be required for lay-out and the erection of a permanent pavilion’. Much of this funding would be given by keen sportsman, Mr Cecil Gee, son of early benefactor, H. Simpson Gee, and brother of Percy Gee.

 A year later on 29 April the Leicester Mail reported that:

The Finance Committee had unanimously approved the proposals of the Sports Field Sub-Committee for the laying out, levelling and draining of the College Playing Fields. At the moment only 5½ acres were required for sports purposes and the balance, at the rear, had been fenced off and would be let for grazing. The portion to be laid out was found admirably suited for needs. In the order given there will be a full-sized hockey pitch, a cricket pitch 30 yards by 20 yards and an Association Football [Soccer] pitch. Work had already commenced and would be finished in time for the grass on the cricket pitch to get well knit before next session … For the present season, arrangements had been made for the cricket team to play on the County Ground. It was hoped to raise a special Sports Field Fund, so that no portion of capital and upkeep charges would fall on the general funds of the College. Sir Samuel Faire … voiced the thanks of the Council to Mr Cecil Gee and the Sports Field Sub-Committee for the work they had put in in connection with the layout of the Sports Field

Leicester Mail, 29 April 1926

The 1927 Annual Report confirmed the appointment earlier that year of the special Sports Field Sub-Committee, with Mr. Cecil Gee as its Chairman, and, ‘thanks to the excellent planning and work of this sub-committee, the Council is able to announce that sufficient of the Sports Field has been levelled and drained to provide excellent hockey and football pitches, which will be in use when this report is presented, and a cricket pitch, which will be available for matches next summer’.

Thus in 1928 the

outstanding event of the year was the Official Opening of the College Playing Fields on Saturday, May 19th. At the request of the Council Sir Jonathan North performed the opening ceremony [saying] Your Council desire to pay tribute to the fine service rendered by the Playing Fields Sub-Committee, which, under Mr. Cecil Gee’s chairmanship, at relatively small cost, has converted what was previously only meadow land into an excellent sports enclosure with a cricket pitch which in its first season has won high encomiums from competent judges, and football and hockey pitches which compare favourably with others in the city. Mr. G. Cecil Gee, by a gift of £250, [in 2017 = £12,665] defrayed the initial cost of lay-out … At no distant date the Playing Fields Committee will be compelled to issue an appeal for funds. The students are highly appreciative of what has been done for them in the way of sports provision, and their keenness in the various games will be further stimulated by the championship trophies which Sir Jonathan and Lady North have kindly undertaken to present for competition.

University College Leicester, Annual Report, 1928.
Black and white photograph of Cecil Gee.
Cecil Gee with his wife, Gladys, at Buckingham Palace where he received his National Playing Fields Association Award from the Duke of Edinburgh. By permission of Caroline Wessel (née Gee)

Clearly the leading light of this whole project was Mr Cecil Gee (1875-1970). He had been an accomplished sportsman since boyhood, for whilst at Oakham School he was a fast runner, and excelled in Cricket and Rugby, gaining his Colours and playing in the First Teams of both sports. Records in the School archives state that in 1893 he was top of the list for Cricket Bowling averages and during that winter’s Rugby was “an excellent forward both in the scrum and in the open. By his energetic Captaincy he has done much towards making the football season a success”. Furthermore, as a school prefect and a member of the Games Committee he was showing himself to also be a good organiser.

Cecil Gee (seated centre) captaining Oakham School Rugby team 1894. By permission of Caroline Wessel.
Cecil Gee (seated centre) captaining Oakham School Rugby team 1894.

But Mr Gee was also passionately dedicated to supporting sport for others. Later on, when a Trustee of his old school, he gave many gifts, including (with his brother, Percy) funds to build its new Sports Pavilion. He was a Vice-President of the Leicestershire County Cricket Club, once taking all ten wickets in a match for the Leicestershire Gentlemen. However his greatest honour was going to Buckingham Palace to receive the Duke of Edinburgh’s President’s Certificate for his long service to the National Playing Fields Association, both nationwide and as Chairman of his local committee.

In the First World War Cecil had served in the Leicestershire Territorials, was Chairman of its Association, and Chairman of the local Finance Committee of the Prisoners of War Comforts Fund. As a Director of Stead & Simpson, in 1912 he had formed his own works fire brigade which led to a 37-year spell as President of the Leicestershire Private Fire Brigades Association. Mr Gee was also a Lay Canon of Leicester Cathedral, Treasurer of the new Diocese of Leicester, and a member of the National Church Assembly; President of the Leicestershire Rose Society and the Leicestershire Flower Lovers’ Guild; President of Rothley Conservative Association and Rothley British Legion; and Chairman for 22 years of the Leicester branch of the NSPCC. Cecil Gee also played a significant part in the early years of Leicester’s new University College – he was a life member of its Court of Governors, a Council member, its Treasurer (1945-59), and served on various committees.

The College Annual Report for 1929 affirmed that

The playing fields have continued to be developed. A second pavilion has been erected and the thanks of the Committee are due to Mr. Cecil Gee and the Playing Fields [Sub-] Committee both for funds they have raised and personal interest shown. The extinction of debt on the new pavilion amounted to £7.19s. 8d and was paid off by contributions from the College Students’ Union, its Athletic Union and the Women Students’ Hockey Club. From 1927 onwards most editions of the students’ magazine Wave reported on the various sports, often with light-hearted comments about rivalry between the men’s and women’s teams, some witty banter about various individual’s prowess on the sports field, and the profits received from the College Dance. Clearly by now, thanks to the creation of these facilities, a good deal of competitive sport, as well as matches against other institutions, was being thoroughly enjoyed and fun had. And it is clear that Mr Cecil Gee, with his generous funding, organisational skills and enthusiasm, was the driving force behind the College Sports Field project and his heartfelt commitment had brought the pleasures and fulfilment of sporting activities to many young people at the University College and elsewhere.

University College Leicester, Annual Report, 1928.

Key Sources

ULA/P/AR, Annual Reports

ULA/PCB1, Press Cuttings Books vol. 1.

ULA/P/MN/6, Wave student magazines

Oakham School archives

Gee private family archives

Barber, John (1983) The Story of Oakham School. Sycamore Press