Obituary: Francis Spear, 1931 – 2020

Francis Spear, the former chairman of the family-founded J.W. Spear & Sons, a significant manufacturer of board games during the 20th century, passed away peacefully on December 13th 2020. He will be remembered fondly by all his work colleagues, his family and his many friends.

Francis was born in the town of Fuerth, near Nuremberg, Germany, into a Jewish toy trade family. His great grandfather, Jacob Wolf Spear, started J. W. Spear & Soehne in 1878. By the time Francis was born into this close-knit family – he was the youngest of five grandchildren – the company was being managed by his grandfather Carl Spear and a great uncle.

Initially for economic reasons Francis’s father, Richard Spear, who is still well remembered in the toy trade today, opened up the office/factory in Brimsdown near Enfield. However with the worsening situation in Germany in the 1930s Richard decided to take the family to England, when Francis was just four years old.

Richard Spear, fearing what was to come, brought over many family members from Germany to England before the war started, whilst others fled for the safety of other countries.

Richard Spear and his family were naturalised prior to outbreak of the conflict and the factory took on war work.

Francis, his brother Ralph, and other family members were evacuated to Wales during the war and it is here that Francis found his love for country life.

Francis attended Bedales School in Hampshire (where he enjoyed his musical interests), spent a year in a Swiss school and a further year on an M&S management course.

When he joined Spear’s Games he worked in a number of different departments, but his passion was for the production side of the business and he took on the role of Production Director overseeing the manufacturing process.

Francis became Managing Director of J. W. Spear and, later on, its Chairman. He was respected by many in the toy trade for his honesty, loyalty and modesty.

When the company was sold to Mattel in 1994 Francis purchased farmland in Hertfordshire.

Francis had a passion for flying and was an excellent pilot, flying his own plane to and from his property. He donated his first plane to the Kenyan flying doctors to add to their fleet. He was a talented musician and enjoyed being in the Hertford Choir for many years. He loved mountain hiking and all types of walking activities, skied both langlauf and downhill and was always very active. He also established, and managed, the Spear’s Games Archive at his home.

The Archive opened in 1996 and had many visitors, both local groups and games enthusiasts from around the world.

In 2010 he was approached by Nuremberg council regarding the setting up of a Spear’s Games Archive in Germany. In 2017 the Spear’s Games collection was transferred to Nuremberg and is now well visited and used.

Francis set up the Spear Charitable Trust to benefit charities and former employees, and was closely associated with the Soil Association and organisations like the Woodland Trust. He was also very active in local groups associated with twin towning, civic matters and the Hertford museum.

The last few years were very difficult for Francis. He suffered from a type of Parkinsons and also had dementia. Despite many falls due to his conditions he had excellent attention in the Hertfordshire care home in which he lived.

Francis passed away peacefully on 13th December 2020. He will be remembered fondly by all his work colleagues, his family and his many friends.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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