180 years ago today the Sheffield football pioneer James Willis Dixon Jnr. was born

James Willis Dixon jnr. is of course better known for his part in the running of the Sheffield firm -James Dixon and Sons started by his grandfather James Dixon in 1806. He had a daughter , Ann and three sons Fredrick, Henry and James Willis and it is his son,James Willis Dixon jnr. (16th September 1838 – 29th June 1917 ) that this blog concerns. His career in the family silversmiths is well documented (see ‘Made in Sheffield-the story of James Dixon and Sons by Pauline Cooper Bell’) but I want to look at his important contribution to early Sheffield football.

The first edition of my book  ‘A History of Sheffield Football 1857-1889: Speed, Science and Bottom’ is available to purchase here: http://bit.ly/2qYw0r0

James Willis Dixon jnr. was born in New York but by age 11 he has returned to his fathers home town and is attending the Sheffield Collegiate School. By age 21 his address is Highfield House which was immediately west of Parkfield House and is probably slightly north of where Highfield Library is today. Nathaniel Creswick lived at Parkfield House as a boy before moving in 1844 to East Hill House. (Harry Chambers also lived at Parkfield House). This puts James Willis Dixon jnr. right in the centre of the fledgling Sheffield football scene of the 1850s.

After Collegiate School James continued his education at Neuwied in Germany. In 1864 he married Fanny Mary daughter of William S. Burton. James was President of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce 1884-87. FRGS. He married for a second time the daughter of M. T. Ellison. James Willis Dixon, junior became the leading figure in this family firm, continuing to oversee the American trade.

Henry Isaac Dixon (Junior’s uncle) lived at Stumperlowe Hall, the place where James Willis Dixon jnr. celebrated his 21st birthday with 700 James Dixon employees in September 1859.

The Hallam FC historian suggests that in November 1859 football games were arranged between Stumperlowe and Sheffield FC to be played at Stumperlowe Hall. Presumably the Stumperlowe team would have comprised many Hallam Cricket Club members. The proposed game was called off three times due to heavy rain. If these games had gone ahead they could have been the foundation of what would have become Hallam FC a year earlier than the official foundation of 1860. Certainly, James Willis Dixon jnr. would have intended to play in the game at his uncle’s house. He had been captain of both the Cricket and Football clubs at Collegiate school.

James Willis Dixon jnr. was listed as a member of Sheffield FC in 1859 and played in 1861 match for Sheffield FC against Hallam FC.

He (or possibly his father) was also involved with the Broomhall Football Club in 1863:

“Broomhall Football Club- the first general meeting of this club took place on Wednesday evening, at Mr. James Dixon’s, Crown and Anchor, Bright Street, when the following gentlemen were appointed officers for the ensuing season: President, John Tomlinson; vice-president, R. Bunting; secretary, H. Mather; treasurer, James Dixon; committee, E. Watts, S. Roffy, J. Wheatley,T. Gaunt, A. Elliott, and J. Gaunt.”

In 1899 James Willis Dixon jnr. sold the ten-acre site north of his then family home Hillsborough Hall to Wednesday FC for £5,000 plus costs and it became Hillsborough football ground. Wednesday had unexpectedly had to  depart from their Olive Grove ground, when the railway line came through. Soil was dumped at both ends of the ground to level out the ground which was initially meadowland. The 2,000-capacity stand at Olive Grove was then transported to the new site and was joined by a newly-built 3,000 capacity stand for the start of the next season. The first match played was on 2 September 1899 against Chesterfield FC.

James Willis Dixon jnr. eventually gifted Hillsborough Hall to the people of Sheffield and it took on a new role as a public library in 1906.

His first wife Fanny died in 1897 and in 1906 he married his second wife Katherine Mary Ellison the daughter of Micheal Joseph Ellison, the man instrumental in the foundation of Bramall Lane and Sheffield United’s first ever chairman.

When James Willis died in 1917, he was living at Shire House and he left £94,382 in his will. From 1920 onwards, the family firm became known for commemorative pieces, such as 16 Gold Cups for the Grand National, the Blue Riband Trophy in 1935 for the fastest Atlantic crossing by an ocean liner and the 1963 World Golf Cup, all designed in-house by Charles Holliday. In my research I have only discovered one football trophy made by James Dixon and Sons. In 1959 an order was paced on behalf of the Ghana Football Association in 9 ct.gold with the figure of a footballer on the cover. If anybody knows the location of this cup I would love to see an image of it.

James Willis Dixon jnr. had four daughters and three sons who went to Rugby School. His second son Lennox met and became lifelong friends with famous cricketer  Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner at the school. Plum was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1904 and also in 1921, making him one of only two to have received the honour twice.