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Where it all began …

The first three Rugby football law makers, the first five Presidents of the Rugby Football Union and ten of the first twenty English Rugby internationals were Old Rugbeians. The game itself is called ‘Rugby Football’. What’s behind it? How did it get to London – and spread to the rest of the world, too, come to that?

The game of football probably started with the Romans and a game called ‘harpastum’ – which translates as ‘to seize’. The game was so called from the players efforts to seize the ball from their opponents. More recently, during the middle ages in England, there are many accounts of men competing against each other over some sort of ball. In some parts of the country Shrove Tuesday became an occasion for mass games of football. ‘The History of Derbyshire’, written in 1829, tells of the game that gave rise to the expression ‘Local Derby’: ‘…the players are young men from 18 to 30… at about noon a large ball is tossed up in the middle of them… this is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party… it then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal…’.

Modern Rugby football was certainly modelled upon schoolboy games played at the great English public schools. Eton (The ‘Wall’ and the ‘Field’ games), Winchester (‘Six and Six’) and Harrow (with their distinctive ‘dribbling’ game) all played their own traditional forms of football. But it was at Rugby School (that ‘centre of muscular Christianity’ according to its Headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold) that the game that we now know as Rugby Union football really developed – and where it also acquired its first formal rules.

Rugby School was founded in 1574 by Lawrence Sheriff, grocer to Queen Elizabeth I. Originally in the centre of Rugby, it moved to its present position in 1749 because the original buildings were proving inadequate and there was no playground. The new school had plenty of playing space – and in the early 19th century a game similar to the Shrove Tuesday spectacle, with ‘…rough handling of opponents and hacking, but very little handling of the ball…’ was being played on The Close – the playing fields of Rugby School.

The first England rugby team
Rugby School

The Close at Rugby School

We are indebted to Matthew Holbeche Bloxham for his description of a game at Rugby in 1817. Bloxham wrote: ‘Two of the best players commenced choosing, one for each side… after choosing about a score for each side, a somewhat rude division was made of the remaining fags… who were sent to keep goal. Some boys were ready enough to mingle in the fray; others kept half back, watching their opportunity for a casual kick. Few and simple were the rules of the game; touch was marked out… and no one was allowed to run with the ball… towards the opposite goal. It was football, not handball, with plenty of hacking but little struggling.’ At this time the number of boys playing in a game on Big Side (the main playing area in The Close) could be as many as two hundred. Progress forward was by kicking the ball, hacking (the practice, legal at that time, of kicking your opponent on the shins) and by what today might best be described as an enormous rolling maul. The first Laws of Rugby Football were drawn up at the school in 1845 – there were 37 in all. Rule 20 says: ‘All matches are drawn after five days, but after three if no goal has been kicked’. Rule 26 states: ‘No hacking with the heel or above the knee is fair’, and rule 30 warns that: ‘No player may stop the ball with anything but his own person’. Among the terms in the rules that a current player will recognise are: Calling for a fair catch (mark), being ‘off-side’, a ‘knock-on’, a ‘try’ (at goal), ‘punt’, ‘touch’ and ‘goal-line’.

Proud Rugbeians, of course, spread the gospel of their game far and wide. Many old boys went to Oxford and Cambridge Universities and on from there to teach at the great public schools – whilst many others joined the forces and spread the game all over the world.

They also formed their own clubs, of course. The Richmond XX of 1865 had no less than 13 old Rugbeians in the side – and it was these men, and a few others of like mind, who went on to develop the Rugby School Laws and form the Rugby Football Union in 1871.

As the number of club versus club matches increased, footballers quickly came to the conclusion that something had to be done about standardising the rules. Already there had been a piecemeal move away from the handling and hacking aspect of the Rugby School game by such clubs as Sheffield, Uppingham School and Cambridge, who between 1848 and 1862 had each individually drafted their own ideas of universal and definitive rules. None of these efforts, however, had caught on across England as a whole.

The breakthrough came in 1863, when a letter from Ebenezer Morley, the captain of Barnes Football Club in London, appeared in ‘Bell’s Life’. His articulate argument convinced the leading metropolitan football clubs of the day to get together on the evening of Monday, 26th October, at the ‘Freemason’s Tavern’ in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden. Central to the meeting was the proposition: ‘That it is advisable that a Football Association should be formed for the purpose of settling a code of rules for regulation of the game of football’.

Representatives of eleven clubs attended: Barnes FC (founded in 1862, playing at Limes Field, Mortlake), Forest FC (founded in 1859, an Old Harrovian Club from Snaresbrook, who were later renamed to become the famous Wanderers FC), No Names FC (another Old Harrovian club based in Kilburn), Crystal Palace FC (founded in 1861 and playing at Penge – with no connection to today’s club of the same name), War Office FC and Kensington School (both of whom would later play under both FA and RU codes), Crusaders FC, Surbiton FC, Blackheath FC, Blackheath Proprietory School and Perceval House School (also from Blackheath). Richmond Football Club had also been invited, but declined to attend – their secretary, Edwin Ash, saying that they would be happy to play under whatever rules were offered. Of the eleven teams who were at the meeting, only Blackheath FC are still in existence.

Public School rugby game

Ebenezer Cobb Morley was elected honorary secretary of the fledgling Football Association, and Francis Maule Campbell, a 19 year-old Blackheath player, became the Football Association treasurer – a position he already held at his own club. Following this first meeting, Morley left to draft a new set of rules that were intended to include: ‘…chief provisions of the rules in force at Rugby School, with a view to possible compromise.’ In essence, this meant that carrying the ball and hacking should be allowed. On 24th November, 1863, Morley returned with these new laws, which did indeed allow for carrying the ball and hacking, and which would have found favour with everybody present if it had not been for one thing. In a rather obvious demonstration of where his sympathies really lay, he went on to recommend that the committee should consider a copy of the Cambridge University Rules (in which running with the ball and hacking were conspicuous by their absence) as, in his opinion, these rules ‘…embraced the true principles of the game with the greatest simplicity’. He was not alone in this opinion. J.F. Alcock, captain of the Old Harrovian Forest Football Club added: ‘The Cambridge Rules appear to be the most desirable for the Association to adopt’. Matters came to a head on 1st December when the Football Association formally ditched both carrying and hacking. A proposal by Blackheath FC to adjourn the meeting ‘So that representatives of the schools who are members of the Association may be able to attend’ was defeated by thirteen votes to four. One week later, on the fateful day of 8th December, 1863, Francis Maule Campbell, speaking on behalf of Blackheath FC, opined that the new laws would destroy the game of football and walked out of the meeting. Rugby Football was now out on its own – and without a governing body.

F I Currey

F.I. Currey

By about 1870 it had become clear that Rugby was being played to a variety of rules, not only in London but country-wide. In December, 1870, Edwin H. Ash, the secretary of the Richmond Football Club, wrote a letter to the papers which stated: ‘Those who play the Rugby-type game should meet to form a code of practice, as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play.’ With this thought in mind, 32 members of London and suburban football clubs gathered together on the evening of 26th January, 1871 in the Pall Mall Restaurant at 9-10 Haymarket, London, ‘to codify the rules of the game and to provide a central governing body.’ It was at this meeting, presided over by Edward Carleton Holmes (the captain of Richmond Football Club) that the Rugby Football Union was founded.

Edwin Ash

Edwin H. Ash

A Rutter

A. Rutter

The 21 original member clubs enrolled that evening were: Addison, Belsize Park, Blackheath, Civil Service, Clapham Rovers, Flamingoes, Gipsies, Guy’s Hospital, Harlequins, King’s College Hospital, Lausanne, Law, Marlborough Nomads, Mohicans, Queen’s House, Ravenscourt Park, Richmond, St Paul’s School, Wellington College, West Kent and Wimbledon Hornets. Each club paid an entrance fee and annual subscription of 5/- (25p). They drafted a set of bye-laws and elected a president, a secretary and a committee of thirteen. The Union was to have one general meeting a year every October, to which each member club was entitled to send two of its members.

The Union officers entrusted to draft the new laws of the game were: President: Algernon Rutter (Richmond); Honorary secretary and treasurer: Edwin Ash (Richmond). The committee consisted of: Reginald Birkett (Clapham Rovers), Frederick Currey (Marlborough Nomads), W.F. Eaton (Ravenscourt Park), A.J. English (Wellington College), J.H. Ewart (Guy’s Hospital), Arthur George Guillemard (West Kent), F. Hartle (Flamingoes), Edward Carleton Holmes (Richmond), R. Leigh (The Law Club), Sir John Henry Luscombe (Gypsies), L.J. Maton (Wimbledon Hornets), E. Rutter (Richmond) and Frederick Stokes (Blackheath).

Barely two months later, in the first ever international match, Frederick Stokes of Blackheath captained England against Scotland – and his team included Luscombe, Birkett, and Guillemard, all of them members of the first ever Rugby Union committee.

Between February and June of that year the committee thrashed out the laws of the game at Edward Carleton Holmes’ chambers of law in Bedford Row. After three meetings the actual drafting of the laws was entrusted to Algernon Rutter, Edward Holmes himself and L.J. Maton, three old Rugbeians and famous players in their own right, each of whom had a thorough knowledge of both the Rugby School laws as well as the major variations affected by the senior London clubs. Even then the work was coming on very slowly, and there was some doubt as to whether the code would be hammered out before the beginning of the 1871/72 season. Luckily for the committee, but rather unluckily for him, Maton broke his leg – and accepted an offer of a large supply of tobacco if he completed the work before the next Union meeting! By the 22nd June the new code had been approved by the committee, and on the 24th July it was accepted by a special general meeting. One of the main changes that the new laws brought about were the abolition of hacking and tripping.

In the years up to 1900, many famous current and ex-players became Presidents of the Rugby Football Union. E. Rutter played for both Richmond and Middlesex CCC, F.I. Currey played for England in 1872/73, J. Maclaren, a former Manchester player, became the first northern RFU President in 1882/83 and E. T. Gurdon captained Richmond and England before becoming President. In its time the Rugby Football Union has presided over events that have made the game what it is today. It approved and organised internationals against Wales, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand. It introduced referees, touch-judges, whistles and flags – and even bought a large market garden at Twickenham in 1909 which has subsequently become both the home of England Rugby and the one place in London where every Rugby footballer in the world would like to play! Born on their very doorstep, the London clubs should be proud of the Rugby Football Union. After all – it was formed from the clubs, for the clubs.

Rugby Tactics
1871 RHS rugby team
1888 British Lions - original


Addison, Belsize Park, Blackheath, Civil Service, Clapham Rovers, Flamingoes, Gipsies, Guy’s Hospital, Harlequins, King’s College Hospital, Lausanne, Law Club, Marlborough Nomads, Mohicans, Queen’s House, Ravenscourt Park, Richmond, St Paul’s School, Wellington College, West Kent and Wimbledon Hornets.

Blackheath, Civil Service, Guy’s Hospital, Harlequins, King’s College Hospital, Richmond, St Paul’s School and Wellington College have continued to thrive but 13 of those clubs were either disbanded or ceased to play although Belsize Park has since reformed.

In honour of these pioneers of the wonderful game of rugby we have take the 13 disbanded clubs and recreated them giving each one an identity which we think the likes of Reginald Birkett (Clapham Rovers), Frederick Currey (Marlborough Nomads), W.F Eaton (Ravenscourt Park), Arthur G.Guillemand (West Kent), F. Hartley (Flamingoes), R. Leigh (Law Club), L.J. Maton (Wimbledon Hornets) and Sir John Henry Luscombe (Gipsies) would heartily approve.

Addison png logo

ADDISON was founded in 1869 with about 50 members and fielding two XXs.

The club originated in the part of Kensington to the west of Holland Park where the streets are named after Joseph Addison, the politician and writer.

Addison originally played and changed at the red House Farm, in what is now called Little Wormwood Scrubs.

In 1872 the club moved to the ‘Rifle Pavilion’ (so called because at that time there were rifle ranges on Wormwood Scrubs, immediately opposite) on the corner of Wood Lane and North Pole Road.

The club moved again in 1874 to Shepherd’s Bush Green.

ADDISON disbanded in 1875.

Click here for the Addison Rugby Shirt

Rifle pavilion where Addison met
Addison png logo
Belsize Park png logo

BELSIZE PARK was founded in 1870 with 30 members fielding one XX.

They played at a ground adjoining Belsize Road, 1/4 mile from Swiss Cottage Station and changed at the ‘Britannia Hotel’ in Belsize Road.

Many of the Belsize Park players joined Harlequins.

BELSIZE PARK disbanded in 1880.

Click here for the Belsize Park Rugby Shirt

Belsize Park png logo
Blackheath png logo

According to club records a few former pupils of Blackheath Proprietory School formed a closed club to provide Rugby football for former pupils in 1858. By 1862 it was becoming difficult to raise a team if the choice of players were limited in this way, and so a decision was made to open up the club membership to all and to change the name to Blackheath FC.

Blackheath helped to found the Football Association in 1863 (before walking out on it due to a disagreement about the rules) and were also leading founder members of the Rugby Football Union eight years later in 1871. Fred Stokes of Blackheath was the first- ever captain of an England international Rugby side, playing alongside no fewer than three other Blackheath players against the Scottish XX in Edinburgh that same year.

Blackheath played on that portion of the heath directly outside the ‘Princess of Wales’ public house, and used the pub as club headquarters.

Blackheath rugby team

Blackheath attracted large (and sometimes unruly) crowds, and in 1877 it was decided that they should play on their own ground – if only to regulate the spectators! Soon Richardson’s Field in Old Dover Road became the club’s new home.

Lennard Stokes, Fred’s brother, had become captain by this time, and under him the club began a very successful run. In the five years of his captaincy (1876-1881) eighty-three matches were played and only six lost, establishing Blackheath as the strongest side in Britain.

In the winter of 1882 a building society bought Richardson’s Field for redevelopment, forcing Blackheath to move to what is still their present home, the Rectory Field (at that time called Swainson’s Field, after the Reverend Swainson of St. Luke’s Church, Charlton). A hawthorn bush and an oak tree made way for the playing area, a pavilion was built, and the club at last said goodbye to the water-filled tin bowls of their old changing rooms at the ‘Princess of Wales’! Guy’s Hospital were Blackheath’s first opponents on their new ground, as, indeed, they had been on Richardson’s Field five years earlier.

In 1881 Harlequins and London Scottish played Blackheath for the first time, and over the next twenty years or so the club built up the strongest fixture list in the land – so strong that if you weren’t on it, you couldn’t really consider yourself to be a ‘first-class’ club. During this

period the club had some of the all-time great players, too. Andrew Stoddart appeared for Blackheath in 114 matches between 1883 and 1896 and was a sporting hero of the times. He captained the British Rugby Team (the embryonic British Lions) that toured Australasia in 1888, and was also England cricket team captain eight times in the 1890s.

CB Fry outfit

Percy ‘Tottie’ Carpmael, who first played as a forward for Blackheath in 1887, was another all-round sportsman of the Victorian era – being a top footballer with the Corinthians Casuals soccer club, too. It was Carpmael, of course, who founded the famous Barbarians Football Club in 1890.

Another wonderful all-rounder of the day was the renowned Charles Burgess Fry.  An Oxford triple blue, Fry was not only a cricketer for Sussex and England, but also played amateur soccer for the Corinthian Casuals, Southampton AFC and England. Unfortunately for the club, due to injury his Blackheath Rugby football career consisted of only ten games.  

In the 1906/07 season two Blackheath members – Johnny ‘Birdie’ Partridge and W. Craven – were instrumental in the formation of the Army Rugby Union. So close, in fact, are the ties between the club and the Army that the Rectory Field became the home ground of the Army Rugby Union when they were in London – and annual fixtures are still played between the Army and Blackheath today.

After the Great War, C.H. Pillman became the club captain, and in the 1919/20 season Blackheath won 23 of their 25 matches, scoring 517 points with only 113 against. A year later Blackheath bought the Rectory Field outright – ensuring a long and happy future of developer-free football!

The club was very strong throughout the ‘30s – and in 1932 they achieved the first of their two Middlesex 7s wins when they beat old rivals Harlequins 18-10 in the final tie at Twickenham.

The Second World War took a heavy toll on the club, and the 1945/46 season saw a temporary joining of forces with a similarly weakened Richmond side. Two years later the Rectory Field also became the home of London Irish for a while. The move took place so that: ‘London Irish and Blackheath would form a Rugby centre of excellence, where top-class matches could be seen every week of the season.’ It didn’t work out, however – and at the end of the ten year lease the Irish decided to retain and develop their own ground at Sunbury and moved out.

The club marked its centenary in 1958 with several special matches, including one against Richmond FC – the oldest inter-club fixture in the world. There was also another success at the Middlesex 7s, where Saracens were beaten in the final.

The debt that the game owes to Blackheath is huge. Its members, both as law-makers and players, took the game that came from the public schools and made it into what it is today. No other club has produced as many internationals (more than 220 prior to the advent of professionalism) or had such a profound influence on the game.

Although rightly proud of their glorious past, Blackheath have planned well for the future. These days this modern, friendly and forward-looking club run thriving youth, junior and mini sections and are actively involved in the RFU Community Rugby initiative. And whilst the 1st XV still play their exciting brand of Rugby football at the very top of the National Leagues, the club are also able to field up to six other men’s XVs plus two successful women’s XVs each and every weekend.

Blackheath rugby painting
Blackheath png logo
Civil Service logo

J.H. Gifford of the Admiralty was the originator of the Civil Service Football Club in the early 1860s, playing under what were later to become Football Association Rules in 1863. In that same year Sir Henry Truman-Wood of the Patent Office founded a Rugby football rules section of the Civil Service Football Club. The Association and Rugby playing members were always on the most friendly terms, but before long their different styles of play caused them to drift apart (it is, perhaps, symptomatic of the closeness of the two sections that the die used to emboss the monogram of the club onto the fixture cards is the same as that which was in use when the one club played under the two codes).

Charles Herbert (later to become secretary of the Amateur Athletics Association) was the first captain of the Civil Service Rugby Football Club, and the first secretary was A.H. Maude of the Board of Trade. In these early days the CSFC matches were mainly played at Battersea Park – although the Kennington Oval and the Lillie Bridge ground in Chelsea were also sometimes used.

In 1871 the club became a proud founding member of the fledgling RFU and in the years that followed the Civil Service built a powerful team. Under their able secretary H. Tomlinson (of the Paymaster General’s Office) and captained by Hamilton Ross (of the Probate Register) the club enjoyed great success against the very best sides in London – teams like Blackheath, Harlequins, Richmond, Marlborough Nomads and the mighty United Hospitals.

In the 1874/75 season the CSFC was captained by W.A.D. Evanson, the only Civil Service player to win an England cap whilst playing at the club. E. M. Cavenaugh, one of his contemporaries, wrote of Evanson: ‘He was one of the most dangerous men with the ball that I have ever seen, of the Wade, Bolton and Maclagen type, and perhaps a better man than any one of the three. He was no good as a drop-kick, and save for his splendid strength, would not have been a great player in these days of short passing – for he preferred to stick to the ball. But he was a grand man in the two and three three-quarter period.’

Because of retirements, various players moving on and injuries, a decision was taken in the 1878/79 season that the club playing strength was too weak to play under the great name of the Civil Service FC – and for the next six seasons a team composed of civil servants called Crown FC (mainly Post Office players) ran out in its place.

The club was re-established in 1884/85, mainly due to the endeavours of F.J. Brett of the Post Office and S. Pilling of the Admiralty, and did very well in its first season of new life. Several clubs then in the first rank were met, Middlesex Wanderers, RMC Sandhurst and Gloucester amongst them. Another interesting game was that played against the Paris FC on 5th January, 1885. The Paris team, although composed mainly of Englishmen, was the first team from France to play in this country. Civil Service won the game by 2 goals and 4 tries to nil.

The club became semi-nomadic at this time, and played at grounds all over London (including Wimbledon Common, Raynes Park, Dulwich, Old Deer Park and the National Athletic Ground at Kensal Rise) before finally settling at the Richmond Athletic Association Ground – where they stayed for the next 33 years.

On 13 February, 1893, a French international team played in England for the first time. At the request of the visitors, the game was played as ‘France v English Civil Service’, and took place at Richmond. The Service won the match by a goal and a try to nil (this same French team later played Park House at Blackheath).

Between 1913 and 1923 Commander W.J. A. Davies of United Services and the Royal Navy (who would later became CSFC president from 1929 to 1966) played stand-off for England 22 times – 11 of those as captain when the team was unbeaten. But for the Great War who knows how many caps he would have won?

The club ceased operations during the First World War, but re-formed in good time to hold its Jubilee Dinner at ‘Pritchard’s’, Oxford Street, on Wednesday 2nd April, 1924.

Civil Service ground

Between wars the Civil Service FC built a very strong fixture list and grew steadily in numbers. After the 2nd World War, under the successive captaincies of H.W.F. Edwards and Wilf Dixon, the 1st XV found great success, and in the 1948/49 season their record read: P 27, W 23, L 4, points for 478 points against 99. The club just grew and grew, and when they found themselves in the happy position of being able to run six XVs in the ‘50s, they had to arrange to rent not only part of the Upper Clapton ground at Thornwood Common in Epping, but also some of London Transport’s Osterly ground in order to accommodate the many extra playing members.

The club has a great touring tradition that began in 1889 with a trip to Llanelli and Gloucester. Since then it has roved all over Great Britain and Ireland. In 1973 the Service made its first foreign tour to France. The club has subsequently toured regularly in Europe and have played in Belgium, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The club celebrated 100 years of touring in 1989 with a trans-Atlantic trip to Canada.

Civil Service logo
Clapham Rovers logo

CLAPHAM ROVERS were founded on 10th August 1869, by W.E. Rawlinson and Robert Seymour Whalley. Rawlinson was elected the clubs honorary secretary. The club boasted 110 members, and it was agreed from the outset that the club should play under both codes, ‘Association rules one week and Rugby the other’. The Rovers played on Clapham Common, 10 minutes walk from Clapham Road Station and the club colours were cerise and French grey in halves.

The Rovers played on Clapham Common, 10 minutes walk from Clapham Road Station.

Rovers’ first match was played on 25th September, 1869, under Association rules against the Wanderers – who were, at that time, one of London’s strongest soccer clubs. It was very much a ‘local derby’ as the Wanderers’ home ground was in Battersea Park – just down the road from Clapham Common. Surprisingly, Clapham Rovers won the game 1-0 and were ‘much complimented on their splendid organisation’ by Charles W. Alcock, the Wanderer’s 27 year-old captain (high praise from a man who, just a year later, would become the secretary of the Football Association).

Clapham Rovers were also very successful in their first five games under Rugby rules, and by January 1870 the membership was strong enough to enable Rovers to play two matches every Saturday, one under each code.

Rovers were very much a first-class Rugby club from the start, and their fixture card confirmed this. The most famous clubs of the day – Blackheath, Flamingoes, Gipsies, Guy’s Hospital, Harlequins, Queen’s House, Ravenscourt Park, Richmond, The Royal Military Academy, Marlborough Nomads, West Kent and Wimbledon Hornets – all featured.

Clapham Rovers pitch at Bedford Hill

Clapham Rovers were present at the founding of the RFU in 1871, and one of their star players, the remarkable Reginald Halsey Birkett (scorer of the first -ever England try in an international against Scotland in 1871), was elected as one of the first RU committee men. Birkett also made two appearances in FA Cup Finals for the Clapham Rovers soccer team – and on the second of those occasions, in April, 1880, he gained an FA Cup Winners Medal.

In all no less than four club members were capped by the Rugby Union a total of ten times. Unusually, they were two sets of brothers – the aforementioned Reginald Halsey Birkett and Louis Birkett (both backs) and Charles Cowper Bryden and Henry Anderson Bryden (both of whom were forwards).

Rovers played on Clapham Common until 1872, when they moved to a ground at Bedford Hill in Balham. Four years later the club moved again – this time to Wandsworth Common, using the ‘Hope Tavern’ (just outside Wandsworth Common Station) as their headquarters.

The club also played a part in the formation of the Barbarians. One of their players, Percy Carpmael (who later played for Blackheath) helped to organise a tour of the North and the Midlands by Clapham Rovers in 1889. He enjoyed the experience – and the tour – enough to arrange the first Barbarians tour the following year.

During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s Blackheath, Harlequins, Brighton and Clapham Rovers became close – often swapping players to complement each others teams for important fixtures. And when the Clapham Rovers Rugby football division disbanded in 1896 a number of players joined Brighton – among them, the famous Birkett family.

The Clapham Rovers Association Football Club closed down at the onset of World War One and never re-formed.

CLAPHAM ROVERS disbanded in 1896.

Click here for the Clapham Rovers Rugby Shirt

Clapham Rovers logo
Flamingoes logo

FLAMINGOES were founded in 1865 with about 95 members fielding for XXs.


Originally named The Clockhouse this pub was home to the Flamingoes

They played at Battersea Park, 5 minutes walk from York Road Station and the Steamboat pier.

The Flamingoes changed at ‘The Clockhouse’ in Battersea Park Road. Flamingos were, in their time, very much a first-class club with a fine fixture list – which included Blackheath, Harlequins and Richmond. When the Flamingoes disbanded in 1877, many of their players joined the Harlequin Football Club.

Flamingoes played Harlequins on October 14th, 1871, at Battersea Park in a match which was covered by ‘The Field’. The spectators were castigated ‘more in sorrow than in anger for constantly encroaching on the pitch and hampering the players. Walker (the captain), Bury, Oldham and Titchener ‘played conspicuously well’ for the Harlequins. Titchener ‘was disadvantaged by having his jersey ripped down the back, thus presenting an invitingly available hold when running with the ball’. Owing to an oversight of the Flamingoes captain, they played with 16 men, which was not noticed until just before the game ended!

FLAMINGOES disbanded in 1877.

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Flamingoes logo
Gipsies logo

GIPSIES were founded in 1868. During the summer of 1868 Francis Luscombe, James Alfred Body and William J. Parker, all keen former Tonbridge School Rugby Football players, arranged a card of matches with a few friends against some of the fledgeling rugby clubs existing in London at that time. They enjoyed themselves so much that after the first two matches they called a meeting on 17th of October, 1868, at which they officially formed the Gipsies Football Club. Francis Luscombe was duly elected honorary secretary and the committee consisted of James Body, William J. Parker, H.H. Batten, J.V. Brewer and J.N. Streeten. The club decided to play matches under both union and association rules.

The Gipsies first played on Peckham Rye Common, using changing facilities at the ‘Kings Arms’ in Peckham Rye Road overlooking the playing area. In 1875 they moved on to Putney, and a couple of years later they moved once more – this time to Wormwood Scrubs, shortly before the club finally disbanded in 1883.

The results of the first seasons matches (7 won and 11 drawn) encourage the club, and in 1869/70 they really came of age, playing 18 matches, of which 13 were drawn, 3 won and only 2 lost.

The club quickly became one of the biggest in London. Its heyday was the early ‘70s, when it could boast the membership of over 100.

Tonbridge School

Gipsies founders Francis Luscombe, Alfred Body and Billy Parker all attended Tonbridge School

Two famous Gipsies, John Bentley and Francis Luscombe, were also instrumental in founding an occasional Wednesday side called the Football Co. This establishment-led club played on the same Peckham Rye pitch as the Gipsies, but used the nearby ‘Prince Albert’ inn as their changing rooms. A match between the Football Co. and the Harlequins on Peckham Rye in 1871 was the first game ever played under the new RFU laws, and something of a rehearsal for the first rugby International in Scotland. Like the new laws, football company colours the same all white as rugby school also adopted by the England team (which included Bentley and Francis lost his brother John Henry Luscombe) just a few weeks later.

When strong behind the scrummage not many sides could live with them, because the club always seemed to produce strong forwards. In December 1872 ‘Bells Life in London’ wrote: the Gipsies have beaten Guy’s hospital, The Civil Service, Oakfield (Croydon), Ravenscourt Park, and have also fought a very hard and equal game with the Marlborough Nomads, and are better than ever this year, and I’m sure to win most of the matches’. Further on in the same article the writer referred to Blackheath, the Gipsies and Ravenscourt Park as being the ‘three crack clubs’ of the era.

Kings Arms Peckham

Peckham Rye Road. The Kings Arms was just across the road from Peckham Rye Common

The Gipsies boasted not only such well-known names as the already mentioned F. Luscombe, J.V. Brewer and J.A. Body, but also Sir J.H. Luscombe, J.E. Bentley, Pickering, Clarke, W.B. Pattison, J.T. Ward and had to sprint champion brothers, John and Montague Shearman, who are both playing as threequarters.

In addition, Charles John Bruce Marriott went on to play against Scotland (1884 and 1886), Ireland (1884, 1886 and 1887) and Wales (1884 and 1886) after the club was disbanded – as indeed did R.M. Pattison (who played against Scotland and Ireland in 1883).

As well as having a successful Association Football team, some of the club members (who were no doubt encouraged by their famous athletic star Montague Shearman) also took part with some success in races at Thames Rowing Club meetings at Putney Hill and Richmond Cricket Club Athletic Sports meetings at the Old Dear Park from the late ‘60s onwards – against among others players from the main rugby football rivals; The Civil Service, Flamingoes, Ravenscourt Park, Red Rovers and the Royal Military Academy.

In their very short life of only 15 years, the Gipsies produced nine England Internationals totalling 21 caps and were more than a match for all the leading clubs of the day – including Blackheath, Clapham Rovers, Harlequins, Queen’s House, Marlborough Nomads, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Ravenscourt Park and West Kent.

Unfortunately almost all of the club playing records were mislaid when the club disbanded.

GIPSIES disbanded in 1883.

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Gipsies logo
Guys Hospital logo

The Guy’s Hospital Football Club, representing the medics of Guy’s Hospital, in Southwark, London, is accepted by the Rugby Football Union and the Guinness Book of Records as being the oldest rugby club in the world and therefore the first football club, with a foundation date of 1843. Despite the acceptance by these two bodies of Guy’s foundation date, the claim to be the oldest club is contested. The major reason for doubt is that no contemporary documentation survives. The date of 1843 is based on circumstantial evidence predominantly in the form of a fixture card from 1883/4 referring to Guy’s 40th season and the submission of distinguished officials in 1863 and 1864.

In their earliest years Guy’s played on Blackheath Common and shared dressing rooms with Blackheath FC in the ‘Princess of Wales’ inn. Guy’s first international cap was won by William Pinching who captained England in their first ever home international – the win against Scotland at the Kennington Oval in 1872.

Guys Hospital Jacket

The Oldest Rugby Club in the World?

Guy’s fortunes fluctuated somewhat until the 1873-74 season, when they had their best run of success to date – due, in no small measure, to the influence of Pinching and also an England captain of the near future, Lennard Stokes. Their record was a very creditable P 17, W 9, D 6, L 2. The two defeats were against the strongest clubs of the day, Richmond and Blackheath. A report of the Blackheath game read: ‘…Blackheath won by the nasty trick of heeling the ball out of the scrummages.’ There was some irony in being beaten as a result of this new tactic, because in the early years of the 20th century Guy’s themselves were accused of taking the game far too seriously, spending much too much time on the development of tactics, and even of training too hard!

Between 1886-88 Guy’s charismatic captain and secretary Sir Alfred Fripp developed an enviable 1st class fixture list – confirming Guy’s reputation as being one of the top Rugby football clubs in London.

The Guy’s Hospital Clubs’ Union was formed in the summer of 1891. This brought together all of the Guy’s Hospital clubs and societies and led to the aquisition of the 15-acre sports ground at Honor Oak Park upon which GKT still play today.

The 1904 British touring team of Australia and New Zealand (the embryonic Lions) contained no less than five Guy’s Hospital players: Three-quarters Arthur O’Brien, Pat McEvedy and Teddy Morgan, and forwards Stuart Mackenzie Saunders and David Trail. It was, in fact, McEvedy and Saunders who introduced the highly innovative ‘All Black-style’ 2-3-2 packing of Guy’s Hospital scrums in the 1906-07 season. They were the first London team to scrummage in this fashion.

Kings Arms Peckham

Peckham Rye Road. The Kings Arms was just across the road from Peckham Rye Common

In the 31 Hospital Cup Finals between 1898 -1933 Guy’s won no fewer than 22 times. And in the years between the wars they were easily one of the most powerful sides in London – an amazing achievement for a completely ‘closed’ club.

Because of the large number of foreign medical students that have appeared for them, Guy’s were often accused of fielding a ‘league of nations’ XV. Indeed, Guy’s has, at one time or another, been the home of no fewer than 34international players – the first in 1872 and the last as recently as 1970.

The St. Thomas’ Hospital Rugby Club has an official foundation date of 1866 and certainly played many times against their near neighbours (and keen rivals) Guy’s Hospital in their earliest matches. The club played their early home games on Clapham Common and used the ‘Cock Tavern’ as their headquarters. They then used the Lambeth Palace Grounds from 1876 to 1897 until they moved to Chiswick. In the 1950s they moved back south of the Thames again to Stoke D’Abernon (now the Chelsea FC training ground). St. Thomas’ colours prior to 1870 were blue and black. From the 1871-72 season the club wore blue jerseys with a scarlet Maltese Cross which were, in turn, replaced by the more familiar red, white and blue hooped St. Thomas’ jerseys in 1886.

In a report of a match played on 8th December, 1866 against C.C.C. at Clapham, a rather laconic correspondent with ‘The Sportsman’ wrote: ‘…the hospital professes to play Rugby rules without hacking or tripping, but we fancy from their play on this occasion that rules are a secondary consideration with them…’!

The St. Thomas’ Hospital Rugby Club grew very rapidly, and by 1870 it had 60 members who paid an entrance fee of 1/- and an annual subscription of 2/-. When the hospital moved to Lambeth in 1871 it became possible to make use of the adjoining Lambeth Palace grounds. According to the ‘Guy’s Hospital Gazette’ in 1872 ‘…St. Thomas’s teams frequently play at Lambeth Palace where their 1st XV play their 2nd XX…’ At this time the dressing rooms were in the basement of the medical school – in a building now known as The Sherington School of Physiology.

St. Thomas’ first won the Hospitals Cup in 1878 and went on to win it on a further 15 occasions; the most successful run being six consecutive wins between 1892 and 1897. The club has produced 12 international caps; the first being John Henry Dewhurst playing for England in 1887-1890 and the most recent being Michael Adam Smith, capped in 1970 for Scotland. Additionally 17 club members have played for the Barbarians.

Guys Hospital

Hospital Cup Final

Guys vs London

Guy’s beat London by 21-0

King’s College Hospital Rugby Football Club were founded in 1869 and played their first matches on public football pitches in Victoria Park, probably changing at the ‘Mitford Castle’. They moved to Dog Kennel Hill in Dulwich in 1921, and when that was sold to developers in 1990, to the Griffin Sports Ground in Dulwich (King’s College Hospital still run their own ‘open’ club – see page 90 for further details).

In 1982 the medical schools of Guy’s and St. Thomas’ merged after over a hundred years of separate teaching. This merger created the United Medical and Dental Schools (UMDS) and this in turn led to the eventual merger between Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Rugby Clubs in the early ‘90s. This situation persisted for 17 years until King’s College London merged with UMDS in 1998 to create Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ Schools of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, leading to the creation of a GKT Rugby team.

Guys Hospital logo
Harlequins logo

Founded in 1866 as the Hampstead Football Club they were renamed Harlequin F.C. in 1869 to reflect the fact that their membership was no longer a purely local one. At the same meeting the now famous quartered colours were chosen, replacing the original black and gold hoops. The HFC monogram and the club motto: ‘Nunquam Dormio’ (I never sleep) were retained, however.

During the next 14 years the club was nomadic, moving to different grounds on no less than ten occasions. Finchley Road, Highbury Vale, Page’s Cricket Ground at Tufnell Park, Belsize Road, Putney Heath, Kensal Green, Stamford Brook, Turnham Green and Devonshire Park all became ‘home’ for a while. It was during the five seasons (1878-83) spent at Devonshire Park in Chiswick that the Harlequins were greatly reinforced by an influx of experienced players from two fellow ‘founder member’ clubs of the RFU that had been disbanded – the Battersea-based Flamingoes Football Club (1865-77) and the Belsize Park Football Club (1870-1880).

Harlequins 1880

Harlequins F.C, 1880-81. Club captain A. Tillyer holds the ball. Andrew Stoddart the first ‘British Lion’ captain is standing on the right.

When Harlequins moved to the Chiswick Park Cricket Club ground in 1883, they at last found stability and a proper home of their own. The next eleven years brought a great improvement in the number of club members, playing strength and results. Indeed, by the 1886/87 season the fixture list had become one of the best in London, and included most of the biggest metropolitan teams of the day: Richmond, Kensington, London Scottish and London Welsh were all entertained – and although none of them were actually beaten, the Harlequin Football Club were clearly improving.

The Chiswick ground was sold over the club’s head to St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1896. Harlequins then moved to Catford for two years and, in 1899, moved again – this time to the Wimbledon Polo Grounds.

In 1901 the club upped sticks yet again, moving to Wandsworth Common – and striking success. A young Oxford University player named Adrian Dura Stoop joined at this time (poached from under the noses of Blackheath, no less!) and his influence on Harlequins was profound. In all he appeared 182 times for the club up until 1939, captained the side for eight years, was honorary secretary for 28 years and finally became club president between the years 1920 to 1949. In the 1905/06 season a young full-back by the name of Herbert Sibree joined the club from Kensington (which had just disbanded). Stoop had a vision of half-back play which was to evolve into the scrum-half / fly-half pairings that we still see today. Sibree was willing to ‘give it a go’ as this ‘new kind’ of scrum-half – and the rest, as they say, is history!

In 1906 the RFU invited Harlequins to share their new international ground – and so it was that a few years later, on 2nd October, 1909, Harlequins played their first match at Twickenham Stadium: a 14-10 victory over Richmond.

Sharing a ground with the governing body of world Rugby made Harlequins the ultimate ‘establishment’ club in the years between the wars. The high esteem in which the Harlequins were held certainly attracted some of the best players of the day. Perhaps the most famous of these was the renowned forward Sir William Wavell Wakefield, who not only led Harlequins five times between 1920-29, but also captained the Royal Air Force, Cambridge University, Middlesex, the Barbarians and England before becoming the MP for St. Marylebone and president of the RFU in 1950.

In 1963 Harlequins acquired an athletics ground with 14 acres just over the road from the Rugby Union ground, which became Harlequins reserve/training pitch and subsequently the club’s home. This superb ground is now known as the Twickenham Stoop.

This famous old club has won the Rugby Football Union Club Knockout Competition twice, the European Shield in 2001, and the Parker Pen Challenge Cup in 2004. Harlequins have also won the Middlesex Sevens no less than 13 times. The club has produced more than 200 Rugby Union internationals for every country under the sun. Harlequins have also supplied eleven presidents of the RFU (a record from any one club) and even, in Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen, a Lord Mayor of London!

Harlequins have also inspired the affiliation of Harlequin Rugby Union clubs in Pretoria (1906), Melbourne (1928), Hobart (1933), Waikato (1938), Nairobi (1952) and, more recently, in Dallas and Calcutta.

Adrian Stoop of Harlequins

Adrian Stoop

Harlequins rugby shirt 1912

Harlequins shirt worn by E.S. Unwin team mate of Adrian Stoop and Herbert Sibree.

Harlequins logo
Kings College Hospital logo

King’s College Hospital Rugby Football Club was founded by ninety members of staff from the hospital (which at that time was situated at Portugal Road, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London) in 1869. C.M. Madden and C.E. Pope represented the club at the first meeting of the Rugby Football Union less than two years later on 26th January, 1871. The hospital’s first ground was at Victoria Park in the East End. They probably changed at the Mitford Castle, just outside the park gates.

In the 1874/75 season KCH entered the first United Hospitals Cup competition – the oldest Rugby cup competition in the world – and were still participating in the series up until the mid-1990s (they have reached the final on four occasions, but, rather unluckily, have been runners-up each time).

Kings College Hospital Rugby

King’s College Hospital 1st XV 1880.

By the mid-1880s the club had built a solid fixture card, playing most of the big London teams including Kensington, Richmond, Rosslyn Park, Wasps and, of course, all of the teaching hospitals. But even at this time the club was suffering from the trials and tribulations that were the curse of most hospital sides – the big clubs would poach their best players and any promising students would leave on graduation. In 1903 a King’s report read: ‘This season, more than ever before, the difficulty in raising teams is overwhelming. The Richmond Club claims our heavy forwards and our best half, hospital duties seem to claim others, whilst general slackness and old age appear to render others a suitable excuse for not playing’.

In 1914 King’s College Hospital moved from its first home in Portugal Road to its present location in Denmark Hill. King’s College Hospital RFC became a fully recognised independent club in that same year.

The club suspended activities during the Great War, and it wasn’t until 1920 that a conscious effort was made by all concerned to resurrect the club, despite ‘the appalling apathy displayed by so many’. The committee wrote: ‘Next season KCHRFC will be a club worth playing for. We must see more men fighting for their places in the team’. This clarion call seemed to work – in 1921, due to the inspired efforts of enthusiastic students and staff, the club entered the most successful decade in its history.

In 1921 the club celebrated the move to their new ground at Dog Kennel Hill with a special match which featured one of the club’s most famous former players, Dr. Ron Cove-Smith, who captained a Hospital XV on the day.

The hospital won no less than ten out of thirteen games played in 1924 and reached the final of the Hospital Cup for the first time in their history, losing to a strong St. Bart’s XV.

King’s College had a number of celebrity players during the ‘20s and ‘30s. As well as Cove-Smith (captain of England, 29 caps and a Lion in 1924) the club could also boast Dr. David James Macmyn (Scotland, 11 caps and Lions captain during the 1927 tour of Argentina) and William Robert Fitzgerald Collis (Ireland, 7 caps). Macmyn and Collis were later honoured as KCHRFC vice-presidents.

King’s appeared in the Hospital Cup Final tie three times between 1924 and 1935. This last game, against St. Mary’s, was the closest King’s ever got to winning the Cup. Despite the hospital’s ‘effortless play’ and ‘unflagging energy’, the loss of their half-back, plus the serious injury of another player, proved decisive in an honourable 14-3 defeat.

Lord Hambleton at Dog Kennel hill

Lord Hambleton cigarette in hand kicks off the first ever game at Dog Kennel Hill.

The ‘30s and ‘40s were a quiet time for King’s Rugby, with the outbreak of World War Two bringing a further six-year lapse in the Hospital Cup.

The ‘50s and ‘60s saw a long period of transition. One of these years, though, does deserve a special mention, as it brought with it the ultimate nightmare for any hospital side. Incredibly, in 1956 the entire 1st and ‘A’ XVs qualified at the same time – stripping the 1st team of players for the following season. The club did, however, somehow manage to survive!

The ‘60s saw the club fielding five teams on a regular basis, but with only limited success – although 1965 did bring a Hospital Cup match win for the first time in seven seasons.

King’s centenary year brought renewed hope, and two years later, under their new president Dr. Michael Brudenell, the hospital had their best season for 25 years – 25 won out of 35 played. The club also reached the semi-final of the Hospital Challenge Cup, suffering a narrow 7-9 defeat to their old adversaries, St. Bartholemew’s Hospital.

Kings College v St Barts

King’s College vs St. Barts.

In 1975 the famous clubhouse on Dog Kennel Hill, which had been in use since 1921, was lost to fire. The hospital soon built new facilities – but they were only to last until 1990, when, due to monetary problems, the site was sold to a supermarket for development.

In 1995 Guy’s, King’s and St. Thomas’ Medical Departments merged to become one and so too did their Rugby teams. Where once King’s were the hospital medics team they are now an open club – and one of theoldest in the world. These days they are still going strong – playing in the Kent Leagues at Dulwich Village, on facilities provided by the Hospital.

Kings College Hospital logo
Lausanne Logo

LAUSANNE was founded in 1867 with about 60 members fielding two XXs.

Lausanne played Association and Rugby football at the Rosemary Branch Grounds (this was immediately east of Blake’s Road which still exists today but now the North Peckham estate covers the entire area) 15 minutes walk from Peckham Rye Station.

Lausanne changed at the ‘Rosemary Branch’, Southampton Street, Peckham.

In 1874 the club moved to New Cross Gate, then, in 1875, to Dulwich, five minutes walk from North Dulwich Station, and they change at the ‘Greyhound’ pub.

LAUSANNE disbanded in 1881.

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Pekham Rye

Peckham Rye Common, home to the Gipsies and Lausanne.

Lausanne Logo
Law Club png Logo

Law, or the LAW CLUB as they were known, were founded in 1870.

They were a closed club for members of the legal profession.

They played only on Wednesdays, and were nomadic, although their secretary was based at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Law Club produced three England players with nine caps between them, but S. Morse and E.C Cheston are shown in the record books in 1874 and Marlborough Nomads and Richmond players respectively.

They were a closed club for members of the legal profession. They played only on Wednesdays, and were nomadic, although their secretary was based at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Law Club produced three England players with nine caps between them, but S. Morse and E.C Cheston are shown in the record books in 1874 and Marlborough Nomads and Richmond players respectively

LAW CLUB disbanded in 1874.

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Marlborough Nomads png logo

MARLBOROUGH NOMADS originated as the old boys side of Malborough College in 1867. The college team itself was founded only six years earlier in 1861.

The Marlborough College football side was second only to Rugby School in the influence they had on early Rugby football. The college rules were very similar to the rules of Rugby School, upon which the first laws of rugby union with based, and in one respect were even more advanced – they excluded hacking.

Founded by all boys Mr. James Bourdillon of the Indian Civil Service Mr. Frederick Innes Currey (who was their first RFU committee member and later Rugby Union President between 1884–86), they chose the name ‘Nomads” simply because they had no ground to call their own. They played most of there games in London. They would borrow grounds from from the leading clubs of the day – in their time playing at such venues as Blackheath (where, between 1868 and 188, they played ‘..on the opposite side of the road from the ‘Princess of Wales’, except when Blackheath had an away game when, like the magpie, we prigged the nest!’), Between 1888 and 1890 the club was based at the Richmond Athletic Ground…’kindly lent by Middlesex Wanderes..’, and in 1890 they played at Queen’s club for a year. In the 1890–91 season the club found themselves a private ground at Surbiton. The Nomads finally moved to Thames Ditton in 1907.

The Marlborough Nomads first game was played in 1868 against Richmond (at Richmond, of course!) and they lost. After this inauspicious start, the club went from strength to strength, soon taking on all of the powerful sides of the day – not only Richmond, but also West Kent, Gipsies and Ravenscourt Park. This culminated in a famous victory over Blackheath (the best Metropolitan side at that time) in 1882.

Prince of Wales

Peckham Rye Common, home to the Gipsies and Lausanne.

The Nomads produced eight England International – Frederick Innes James Currey (a founder member of the Nomads and later the seventh president the RFU), Harold Freeman (who is also an original committee member of Oxford University Rugby Football Club), Alfred St. George Hamersley, Frederick William Mills, William Henry Milton, Sydney Moore, William Meaburn Tatham (also of the OURFC) and Henry (Harry) Vassa (the famous captain of Oxford University from 1881 to 1882, who was largely instrumental in introducing the passing game to the University). The Nomads also produced one Scottish international in Hugh Montgomery Hamilton, and two early British and Irish Lions – William Mortimer and Gerald Venables Kyrke.

Marlborough Nomads Scrum

Peckham Rye Common, home to the Gipsies and Lausanne.

Marlborough Nomads were disbanded in 1911, and the team will invited by Rosslyn Park to join them, which they did. From that time on Rosslyn Park became the ‘London club of choice’ for old Marlburians. In his book ‘Fifty Years of Rosslyn Park’ C.C. Miller later wrote: ‘The disbanding of the famous Marlborough Nomads was a source of sincere regret to all others of football. Founded in 1868 it was one of the earliest of the old boys Rugby clubs to be established. Like most clubs it had its ups and downs and was at one time one of the strongest metropolitan clubs of the day. It was always most popular and played the game in every sense’.

MARLBOROUGH NOMADS disbanded 1911.

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Mohicans png logo

MOHICANS were founded in 1869 with about 50 members fielding too XXs.

They played at Battenham Road, Lower Edmonton.

In 1873 the club moved to Coleraine Park, Tottenham, five minutes walk from Bruce Grove Station.

They changed at the ‘Red Lion’ pub, Tottenham.

MOHICANS disbanded in 1874.

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Red Lion High Road Tottenham

Red Lion pub, Tottenham.

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Queen's House png logo

QUEEN’S HOUSE was founded in 1867.

The club was founded by 3 sets of Greenwich-born brothers Rowland and Edward Hill, Cameron, Malcolm and Walter Hewitt and Tom, Fred and Sydney Fry. The club was named after the Queen’s House (nowadays part of the National Maritime Museum) in Greenwich, which happened to be the birthplace of Rowland and Edward Hill.

During the Queen’s House FCs short life of only 16 years, the club have had an average of about 45 members and could field to XXs or, later, XVs. Queen’s House played their home fixtures on the west side of Blackheath Common, 10 minutes walk from Lewisham Junction Station and use the ‘Dukes Head’ in Dartmouth Road, Lewisham, as their headquarters. Throughout the 1870s they were one of London’s top clubs, certainly on a par with Blackheath FC. They are also the only metropolitan club never to have been beaten by London Scottish – having disbanded before the Scots could avenge several defeats!

Queen's House

The Queen’s House, Greenwich.

W.W Hewitt

W.W. Hewitt.

G.R Rowland

G.R. Hill

The emigration of Cameron Hewitt and Fred and Sydney Fry to Canada, together with the retirement of Tom Fry, took away the heart of the team, and it was decided to dissolve the club rather than let it enter into slow decline.

Shortly after their demise it was written that the players were ‘ a physically powerful lot; probably as strong a set of scrummagers as where ever got together. They did not go in for a fast or showy game and were never great scorers, but their defence was wonderfully strong, and it is doubtful whether any team ever had a finer lot of tacklers’.


Queen’s House produced three England International is: Sydney Ellis, Thomas William Fry and Walter William Hewitt. But have perhaps the most famous member of the club was George Rowland Hill, who later went on to become a pillar of the RFU establishment. Hill served the Union as honorary secretary for 23 years (1881–1904) and was the 18th president (1904–1906). He was the first man ever to be knighted for services to Rugby Union Football, and the Roland Hill Gates at Twickenham were erected by a grateful RFU to commemorate his memory.

QUEEN’S HOUSE disbanded in 1883.

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Ravenscourt Park png logo

RAVENSCOURT PARK was founded in 1865 by former pupils at Rugby School.

At the time they were often referred to as ‘The Old Rugbeians Club’ (although Richmond FC probably attracted just as many former Rugby School pupils throughout the late 1860s and early 1870s).

Ravenscourt Park (their name was occasionally, and rather confusingly, shorten to ‘Ravens’) played at Bedford Park. The nearest stations to the area were Turnham Green and Shaftesbury Road. The club used the nearby Queen of England in Goldhawk Road (now the ‘The Duchess of Cambridge’) as their headquarters and changing rooms.

Ravenscourt Park produced no fewer than six of the first English Internationals during the early 1870s: Alfred Davenport, William Moberly, John Dugdale, Francis Isherwood, Arthur Michell and Ernest Still. Alfred Davenport was also a founder member of the Oxford University Rugby Union Football Club in 1869 and their first ever captain.

With this strong connection between the club and the University, it’s no surprise that just three years later Ravenscourt Park became the first club side that Oxford University ever played in a ‘foreign’ match.

RAVENSCOURT PARK disbanded in 1878.

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Location of Queen of England pub

Formerly The Queen of England pub where the Ravens changed.

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Richmond Football Club was founded in 1861 by Edwin Ash whilst he was at the military cramming college at Streatham Lodge to play the few other teams (Rugby and Association rules) that had sprung up in and around London at that time. The club’s first ground was at Richmond Green, where Ash and his new team erected goal posts without seeking permission. Nobody objected, and the Green became the club’s home for the next ten years. The Green was (and still is) crisscrossed with paths, which meant that their pitch narrowed quite noticably at one end. The club also had the usual common land problems regarding right-of-way with many irate Richmond folk – and their dogs!

After a brief flirtation with Association and Harrow rules, 1863 saw Richmond play in what is now the world’s oldest inter-club fixture – against their great rivals Blackheath FC.

The club adopted their famous gold, red and black jerseys in 1867 after E.C. Holmes, the captain that season, copied the colours of a detachment of the Belgium Army he had admired on parade in London.

Richmond Green

Richmond Green

Richmond FC founders

Edwin Ash, A. Rutter, E.C. Holmes, E. Rutter

In December, 1870, Edwin Ash and B.H. Burns (the Blackheath secretary) famously sent a joint letter to ‘The Times’, sponsoring the first meeting of what was later to become the RFU. Richmond could almost be described as the ‘founding fathers’ of the Union, as they supplied not only its first president, Algernon Rutter, but also its first honorary secretary and treasurer, Edwin Ash. Two other members of Richmond were also elected on to that first RFU committee – E. Rutter and E.C. Holmes.

Richmond FC 1886-87

Richmond 1886-87. Unbeaten in 18 games, Won 17 Drawn 1.

Richmond FC 1955

The 1955 Richmond team. Winners of the Middlesex 7s.

In December, 1872, the club moved a short distance up the road to share the Old Deer Park with the Richmond Cricket Club – and it was here that it really began to build its reputation – undisturbed by Richmond’s dog-walking citizens!

Edward Temple Gurdon, one of the game’s greatest talents, became captain of the club in 1880 and led it to great success. He was also the captain of Cambridge University, Middlesex and, between 1878 and 1886, England. The former Haileybury College man went on to become president of the RFU in 1891/92, and was a leading force in establishing Richmond’s reputation for being one of the games leading clubs.

In 1889, the club moved to what is still their home, the Richmond Athletic Ground, and it was here that Richmond became the first English club to host the All Blacks touring side in 1905. Yet another first took place four years later when Harlequins invited Richmond to take part in the very first match on the RFU’s new ground at Twickenham in 1909.

The club suffered greatly with the loss of 73 members in World War One, but thanks to Temple Gurdon, secretary L.P. Langton and H. Millett it quickly re-established itself as one of the elite London clubs in the 1920s.

The club played its usual active part in international, county and club Rugby between the wars under its charismatic captain, and later secretary, R.H. ‘Horse’ O’Brien. Richmond again suspended normal operations at the outbreak of WW2 in 1939, and during the six years of hostilities the club lost a further 45 members, whose names were added to the joint Richmond/London Scottish Clubs War Memorial. In the season 1945/46, Richmond and old friends Blackheath ran a joint side, before the club re-launched itself in 1946/47 – still one of the strongest teams in England.

Richmond’s strength grew throughout the ‘50s – and not just in the XV- a-side game. They enhanced their reputation as a 7s side by winning the Middlesex 7s in 1951, ‘53 and ‘55.

When the game became open the club was very quickly identified as a potential money-maker and Richmond became the first fully professional club in 1996. They were quickly promoted to the new Premiere Division – but only three years later their millionaire backer withdrew his support and the club crashed into administration. Their right to play in the Premier Division was removed by the RFU and the squad was disbanded.

Rugby carried on whilst the club was in administration and a new company was formed to rescue it. Money was raised by many past and present members who were determined not to see their famous old club vanish. It is this love of the club that has subsequently allowed Richmond to buy back their 48% share in the RAA from the defunct professional arm.

In 2000 the 1st XV were re-introduced into the leagues by the RFU at level nine and they have been promoted in nearly every subsequent season.

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St. Paul’s School was founded in 1509, and Rugby football was first played there in 1850. The School colours were originally chocolate and magenta hooped jerseys and stockings. These were later changed to all white.

By the late 1840s a movement that extolled the kind of moral and religious leadership typified by Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby School (including his theory of ‘muscular Christianity’ and the important part that the character-building game of Rugby football played in it) was gathering momentum amongst the leading public schools.

Finding himself in broad agreement with Dr. Arnold (although disliking some of the rougher aspects of the Rugby game – and hacking in particular) Mr. Kynaston, the High Master of St. Paul’s, decided to instigate an increase in the School’s sporting societies. This was a popular move amongst the boys and by the 1850s St. Paul’s had already formed a football society which played under Rugby School laws.

Despite Kynaston’s deep personal misgivings about the Rugby game he did nothing to discourage two of his pupils, then in their last year at school, from attending the very first meeting of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. The boys in question must have liked what they heard, because at the end of the meeting they paid the entrance fee and first years subscription (10/- in all) for St. Paul’s School to join on the spot. It’s clear that these far-sighted students were not paupers!

The team elected mathematics teacher Mr. E.A. Hadley as its first president, and also appointed three vice-presidents (one of whom was the Surmaster). The rest of the committee, including the captain andsecretary, were all boys. St. Paul’s now set about organising regular fixtures against fellow schools like Dulwich College and Merchant Taylors’ – as well as some of their fellow RFU founding members like Guy’s Hospital and the Harlequin Football Club.

In those days matches were played home and away and the season lasted from late September until March, usually consisting of about sixteen matches. The results for the 1876/77 season were six wins, five losses and five games cancelled.

The early school ‘home’ matches were played in Battersea Park – the boys changing at the Rosary Lodge in the park itself, using the nearby ‘Duke of Cambridge’ for refreshments.

In 1884 the school moved away from St. Paul’s Cathedral and into its fourth new home – on the Hammersmith Road in West Kensington. The school now had three pitches on their own playing fields at the rear of the buildings. The close proximity of the new facilities, and the convenience that brought in terms of training, meant that the school’s standard of play improved to such an extent that by the 1890s some Old Paulines were winning blues at Oxford and Cambridge. The school’s sporting standards were pushed even higher in the late ‘90s when compulsory games and a competitive in-school ‘House’ system were introduced.

In 1907 the school bought a playing field at Wormwood Scrubs toprovide extra facilities for themselves and the Old Pauline Club, and in 1926 another ground with four more pitches was aquired in Ealing to be used as a secondary ground by the school. This ground alsodoubled as the Old Pauline Club home ground until their 1930 move to Thames Ditton. By 1939 the school was running four senior teams plus Under 16s and Under 15s.

During the Second World War St. Paul’s only played a few matches against fellow schools, but did arrange fixtures against army teams at Sandhurst, Aldershot and Arborfield. After the war things soon got back to normal, and by the 1949/50 season the school was running up to seven sides – including a new Under 14 side.

In 1955 a game against a ‘Universities Old Pauline XV’ was added to the fixture list, but apart from the annual match against Old Pauline’s ‘A’ side this is the only regular club game that the School 1st XV plays.

In 1968 the school moved to its present site in Barnes but their newly filled playing fields were unusable due to inherent drainage and ‘ground surface texture problems’. Luckily for the School’s Rugby football playing aspirations, the Governors had bought forty acres of land in Osterley in 1938 (there was the possibility of moving the whole School there at that time) and this land was used for playing Rugby football until the ground problems at Barnes were dealt with.

When the Rugby Football Union celebrated its centenary on 16th January, 1971, eight of the clubs still in existence from the original twenty-one held a grand banquet in the Guildhall. At this celebration the grace before dinner was said by the High Master of St. Paul’s, and that after dinner by the Master of Wellington College.

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Wellington College, granted its Royal Charter in 1853 as the ‘Royal and Religious Foundation of The Wellington College’, was opened in 1859 both as a school and as a national memorial to the Duke of Wellington. It quickly became one of the great national boarding schools. It stands in an attractive 400 acre woodland estate in Crowthorne, Berkshire (although the school is not a metropolitan establishment, I have included it here because most of their early games were played against the ‘first class’ London sides).

The following account of Wellington football in the early days is taken from the recollections of J.L. Bevir who was at Wellington as a pupil between 1870 and 1875. He returned to Wellington as an Assistant Master, and became a House Master in 1893. He retired in 1919.

‘The history of the early teams is rather misty, for with the exception of the first, no full teams were recorded until 1871… Something of the team of 1860: I find a record in the Kingsley Book that it was passed at an Upper School meeting that a certain number of fellows whom the head of the school deems the best football players receive as an honourable distinction a white star on the top of theirdormitory cap. Nineteen were so chosen that Autumn, and three more added in February… It must be remembered that the school only started in 1859, so that the oldest player could not have been much over 15 and consequently it was not thought fit to give that distinction to more than a limited number… By 1869 the number of caps given was 25 and in the following year this was reduced to 20, from which time onwards a complete list of the teams was published. In 1862 the star in the dormitory cap was replaced by a velvet cap with a dormitory badge on it.

The dormitory symbols were: Blucher – Silver and Orange Fleur de lis. Anglesea – Silver and light blue star with eight points. Beresford – Brown and gold horseshoe. Hill – Silver and black skull and crossbones. Lynedoch – Gold and green maltese cross. Hopetoun – Gold and purple crescent and star. Murray – Gold and crimson crescent… To these were added later: Orange – Gold and black two-headed eagle. Hardinge – Gold and dark blue anchor. Combermere – Silver and blue lion rampant.

Some of these caps, especially the Blucher, were extremely expensive, and as few fellows wore one when they had left Wellington all the caps were made of black velvet with the badge in gold…

It is interesting to glance at the matches during the first decade. The season began with Prefects versus School…. In 1862 the match lasted for two days and has a note appended: ‘It was unfortunate that many fellows strained themselves on the first day and could not play on the second’…

In 1865, at the instigation of Dr. Benson, following the then Rugby custom, all members of the Sixth were on ‘Big Side’, and wretched little scholars had to endure the vitipuration of the bigger football players or look on. This was changed later, and except in the Sixth versus School match smaller members of the Sixth were allowed to play on Second Side until they had qualified on their own merits to be invited to join Big Side. In 1865 it was decreed that not more than 75 should play on Big Side and this was reduced the next season to 60. That was the state of affairs when I went. 60 played on Big Side, the rest of the School on Little Side. In 1870 a new football ground was made for Middle Side…

A record of an Oxford match is amusing. In November, 1861, 14 Oxford men and 4 Masters played 25 Caps who won by a goal to nil. In 1863 14 Oxford men and 3 Masters, next year 19 Oxford men and 2 Masters played The Caps with varying success, and it was not until two years later that Oxford Old Rugbeians brought a complete team. In that year the Old Wellingtonian match appears for the first time and ended in a draw. The other matches, with the exception of Richmond, were rather colourless and unexciting. A-M versus Rest, Odd numbers versus Even numbers etc…

By this time the reputation of Wellington football was established. I remember being told, in the late ‘60s, by a prominent member of the Richmond team, that he had been to play at Wellington and had one of the hottest matches in which he had ever taken part. A great many Wellingtonians, on leaving school, joined the Richmond Football Club, and rose to celebrity…

Ned Davenport, the Games Master, who always took the greatest interest, suggested we should back each other up more and always pass the ball when collared. We quickly tumbled to the enormous advantage to be gained thereby and began to do it. In those days no London club ever thought of it. Nobody did it. Everyone played a selfish game for himself and there was little cohesion…

By this time (the early 1870s) we had become first-rate in backing each other up and passing the ball… our opponents had scarcely yet tumbled to the enormous advantage of it. I know we easily beat Ravenscourt Park, drew, I believe, with Richmond and OWs, beat an Oxford team and then, the last Saturday I was at Wellington, we played and won the match versus the invincible Indian Engineering College, Cooper’s Hill, who had three internationals behind the scrimmage and had beaten both Universities and also Blackheath and Richmond. It was the hardest and best match I ever played and Ned Davenport always said the 1872 Wellington College team was, he thought, the best School team that probably ever played – and I think he was right…’

Wellington College has always had a fine Rugby football tradition and this remains the case today. The College regularly fields 22 teams on Saturday afternoons and as many boys as possible participate. The 1st XV were unbeaten between 1999 and 2001 and again in 2003, playing schools such as Radley, Eton and Harrow.

It is their success in the Rosslyn Park National 7’s Tournament that has underlined their reputation as being one of the finest Rugby football playing schools in the country – and victory in 2005 means that Wellington has now won the tournament 8 times since 1991.

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WEST KENT was founded in 1867 by a nucleus of Old Rugbeians. One of the founders Arthur Guillemard, a Lewisham man had previously played Association football for the famous Wanderers Football Club. He also played rugby football for Richmond Football Club.

West Kent FC played both codes of football at Chislehurst Common, on the same ground as their illustrious counterparts, the West Kent Cricket Club. The club used the ‘Imperial Arms’ pub at Chislehurst as their headquarters. At the height of their popularity the West Kent Football Club boasted nearly 100 members. In 1874 the club switch to playing rugby rules only.

West Kent produced two England Rugby Internationals, both of whom were, incidentally, Old Rugbeians: Joseph Fletcher Green, and the co-founder himself, Arthur George Guillemard.

Guillemard wrote of Green: ‘He was for several years one of the most brilliant of halfbacks, being an excellent field, and when once under way as speedy a runner as was ever seen with a ball under his arm, his stride being magnificent. Unfortunately an accident to his right knee obliged him to give up playing when he was quite at the top of the tree’.

Green and Guillemard

Green and Guillemard

Guillemard himself was the first of only two men to hold all five rugby union offices. He was the president from 1878–82, honorary secretary/treasurer 1873–75, secretary 1875–76, junior vice- president 1876-77 and senior vice-president between 1877-78.

West Kent had two other players of note: champion mile runner and drop goal specialist Walter Slade, and the redoubtable R.Oliver – a heavy, fast-moving ball dribbler.

WEST KENT disbanded in 1886 when the members decided to give up the running game and play Association Football only.

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The earliest record of the Wimbledon Football Club is that published in ‘Bell’s Life in London’ on 4th November 1865, describing a match against Richmond Football Club. It was played on Saturday, 28th October 1865 and Richmond won by two goals. Wimbledon’s first recorded victory came less than a month later when they beat Civil Service College by the same score.

During the following two years, games were played by Wimbledon teams under such titles as ‘Brackenbury’s Wimbledon’ (after the team captain at that time) or the alliterative ‘Wimbledon Wanderers FC.’

The title of ‘Wimbledon Hornets’ was first adopted in the winter of 1868, and under that name, and with Brackenbury still as captain, the team played against Richmond Football Club on Boxing Day. This game was also recorded in ‘Bell’s Life’, and their perceptive reporter remarked: ‘I anticipate a successful career for this newly established club.’

By 1870 the Hornets were a major part of the fledgeling London Rugby scene and played regular fixtures against the most powerful sides of the day. Blackheath, Harlequins, Marlborough Nomads, Ravenscourt Park and Richmond were all met on equal terms.

Wimbledon Hornets became a founding member of the new Rugby Football Union on 26th January 1871, and the captain of the club, L.J. Maton, was nominated to the first executive committee. As mentioned elsewhere in this book, he also played a major part in the drafting of the Rugby Union code of laws – mainly due to his broken leg!

Officially, Wimbledon Hornets were registered as a subscribing member of the Rugby Football Union just over nine months later on 27th October 1871. The club’s honorary secretary, E. Oliver, was also a member of the executive committee of the Rugby Union. The Hornets’ home matches were played on Wimbledon Common, and the team changed at the ‘Rose and Crown’ at 55 High Street, Wimbledon.

In that historic 1871/72 season, and under the new Rugby Football Union laws that their very own captain had drawn up, the Wimbledon Hornets won nine matches and lost only four.

WIMBLEDON HORNETS ceased to exist in 1874.

The 1874/75 season saw Maton become the president of the RFU, having already been appointed vice-president the previous year. Perhaps reflecting this new-found gravitas, the title of the club was changed to the slightly less whimsical ‘Wimbledon Rugby Football Club’ which it has retained ever since. H.J. Graham was also picked to play for England versus Scotland. The following season both H.J. and his brother, J.D. Graham were selected to play for England in the first-ever Rugby football international against Ireland. H.J. Graham would later became the honorary secretary of both Wimbledon and the RFU.

News of Wimbledon RFC between 1877 and 1887 is scanty, although it is known that matches were played every year against Richmond up to 1882, and also against Marlborough Nomads and Old Cheltonians. Further information is lacking until 1887-88 when out of the blue, the club had a record season, being unbeaten throughout.

And then the trail goes cold again. It is not until 1908 that an article in the ‘Surrey Comet’ mentions that ‘…a Concert was held on the 21st March at which the club captain, Myddleton, explained that the object was to raise funds to enable the club to obtain a ground in or near Wimbledon, which would greatly benefit the interests of the club and enable them to arrange a full fixture list…’ But then the First World War started, and the club went into a state of suspended animation – for no less than 13 years.

It was not until 1927 that the club was re-formed, mainly thanks to a few enthusiasts under the presidency of Sir John Power Bt., MP. During the inter-war period pitches were rented at the Bradbury ground on the Kingston by-pass. ‘The Cambridge’ or ‘The Raynes Park Tavern’ were used as clubhouses. (For a time the club tried the Conservative Club at Wimbledon Park, but this had to end owing to objections about noise and singing on Saturday nights!) The club later settled at ‘The Swan’ on the Ridgeway.

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One of the earliest photos of Wimbledon F.C. in 1906

A meeting was held at Wimbledon Town Hall on 22nd May, 1959, as a result of which it was decided to go ahead with the club’s revival and form a new committee. Arrangements were then made with the Wimbledon Corporation for the hire of pitches at the Beverly Meads Ground. Trial games were started in August and soon enough members were collected to start two XVs. The first match was played on the 3rd October against the US Navy. The Mayor turned out in full regalia and kicked off to start the 1st XV game. After the match the teams repaired to the Town Hall where they were entertained, speeches were made, and many telegrams of congratulation were read.

The club celebrated its centenary on Friday 18th February, 1966, at the Wimbledon Hill Hotel with a dinner attended not only by 161 members and their guests but also by representatives of the other venerable London clubs that co-founded the RFU along with Wimbledon in 1871.

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Wimbledon FC 1910

Wimbledon 1st XV 1910-11

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London's Oldest Rugby Clubs Book by Dick Tyson

With thanks to Dick Tyson for allowing us to use content from his excellent book London’s Oldest Rugby Clubs.

Dick Tyson author of London's Oldest Rugby Clubs


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