1870 to 1989 – A Brief History
With acknowledgement to John Escott’s ‘125 Years of Hereford Rugby Football Club’
The Nineteenth Century
The Club was formed in 1870 and played its early games at the Barrack Ground in Bartonsham. The first secretary was recorded as a Fredrick Wilding. During its early years the club played at five different venues, as well as the Barrack Ground, matches were played at Widemarsh Common, Castle Green, Portfield Meadow and Edgar Street. Opponents at this time included Gloucester, Newport, Worcester, Kidderminster and South Wales, in addition to sides from Ledbury, Ross, Abergavenny and Monmouth. Hereford’s first International was James Bevan who in February 1881, captained Wales in their first international against England at Blackheath. In the early years the club thrived, but by the turn of the century the club had lapsed into playing only holiday games with sides made up of Varsity and Public School men.
Pre the Great War
In the years leading up to the first war, little was recorded of the Club’s activities however two new grounds were used. One was at the top of Hafod Road and the other was at the Essex Arms, where it was recorded that the game with Abergavenny took place in 1907. In common with many sports clubs at the time, the club suspended activities during the period of the war and sporting activities were only resumed in the 1921/22 season.
On resumption the club was on the move once more to the Bishop’s Meadow. Len Saxby was captain and Ivor Yorath his vice-captain. Len played for the Club between 1921 and 1926, he later joined Gloucester, represented England against Wales and South Africa and is reputed to be the oldest player to be capped by England.
1920s & 1930s
The mid–twenties saw further moves, when the Imperial Hotel became the headquarters and games were played at the Racecourse. In 1928/29 the brothers David and John Swayne were playing for the Club, both went on to play at Harlequins and were capped by England against Wales. John in 1929 and David in 1931. At this time Frank Owen, who later became MP for South Hereford, was also playing for the Club.
In the 1932/33 season Hereford fielded a side against a touring Lloyds Bank team which contained three England Internationals in Len Saxby and the Swayne brothers. After one season at the Essex Arms ground, the club returned to the Racecourse playing big games at Edgar Street. The standard of play during the mid thirties had deteriorated and the games were only watched by small crowds.
1940s & 1950s
During the second war games were played as often as possible and many notable guest players featured in Club teams, amongst whom were RE Price, capped three times for Wales and CR Beamish, a member of the famous Irish rugby family.
The first season after the war (1946/47) opened with a game against RAF Hereford, with home games being played at St Martins, the Clubs ninth ground. Ivor Yorath was President and Geoff Morris was captain. In 1948 the Club combined with the Old Herefordians to form one club The last game between the two sides was played in 1947, and was won by Herefordians. 1948 saw the formation of our great friends and rivals Luctonians and we were playing Ebbw Vale at first team level.
Home games continued to be played on the Racecourse until 1952 when a move was made to Three Elms, the Club’s tenth home. The fifties started with two poor seasons but, during the period 1951 to 1958, the club won more games than it lost but finished the decade once more in deficit.
In the mid Thirties a group of forward thinking members led by John Everdale and including Paul Barnsley, Geoff Morris and Ivor Yorath, amongst others, had identified a suitable site in Rockfield Road, which was to become the club’s first proper home. In due course the land was purchased and in 1952 a change of use was sanctioned and the ground was laid out as a sports field. A ‘Nissen’ hut was purchased and erected by some of the members and this formed the changing accommodation until the clubhouse improvements effected in the mid seventies.
In September 1955 the club played an opening game at its new home, against Worcester, in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd. In 1959 the first clubhouse was built and was opened in September 1959 with a match against a strong XV brought together by Peter Robbins, the England flanker, a game which the Club won by twelve points to eight. This game was kicked off by Tom Voyce, a vice president of the Club, an England International and a Lions representative in South Africa in the thirties. The win against a XV containing John Currie and Brian Whiteman, both England Internationals, led to a series of similar games extending to 1967. Graham Spencer, Jim Lawrence and Robin Davies played in all but two games of this series. Graham Spencer, who captained the side, went on to captain the Club for a total of four seasons, a Club record in the twentieth century. At this time regular opponents included Newport HSOB, Merthyr, Glamorgan Wanderers, Pontypool United, Gloucester United, Worcester and Luctonians.
The sixties saw Alan Brinn playing for the club. Alan left to join Gloucester and was capped three times by England in 1971. A colts organisation was established, run initially by Les Kedward, followed by Harry Miles, and was extremely successful. It was to provide the senior sides with many capable players in the coming seasons. Whilst the sixties was not particularly successful in terms of results, a number of influential players represented the club including Jim Stolarow (Harlequins), Ian Harris (St Lukes), Ian Walker (London Scottish, Cambridge University and a Scottish trialist), Godfrey Farr (Cheltenham), ‘Bronco’ Lane (Rosslyn Park), Chris Harding (Featherstone Rovers), Terry Fallon (Oxford University and London Irish) and ‘Spud’ Masheder (U.A.U. & Northumberland).
The ‘Robbins’ games continued and in 1961 the team under Jack Fell’s captaincy lost by only ten points to a virtually full strength Moseley XV. The following year Robin Davies’ side managed a creditable twelve all draw. Many of these games were refereed by Harry Miles, who served the club for many years and who never failed to look after a visiting referee. The Club had a much improved season in 1964/65, thanks mainly to the boot of skipper Mike Mayberry, when sixteen games were won. During the whole of the sixties the fixture list was extremely strong with the addition of Stourbridge, Bargoed, Blaina, Newport Saracens, Treorchy & Bath United. Notable during this period was the supply of many players from Whitecross and St Mary’s thanks to Frank Dullehan, who was instrumental in the early development of such players as Les Morris, John Powell, Tony Turner, Keith Marshall, David Healey, ‘Jesse’ James and many more.
Derek Miles took over the captaincy in 1971 and the Club won thirteen matches, the most for some years. The colts team, which had been discontinued for a couple of years as a cost saving exercise, was re-established and under the guidance of Jack Fell and Frank Dullehan once more started to provide a supply of players to the senior sides. John Watkins made his debut in the 1971/72 season and was still playing in the 1999/2000 season.
John is the most prolific scorer in the Club’s history, twice having scored more than 400 points in a season. In 1973 improvements to the clubhouse and changing rooms costing in excess of £35,000 were effected, these changes included a virtual rebuild of the original clubhouse. The first team, under Pat James, won 14 games in the 1973/74 season, after a particularly dismal start when 200 points were conceded in the first five games. Derek Miles was captain for a second time in 1974/75 and a number of colts, who graduated to the senior side in that season, were to provide a sound base for the club sides throughout the seventies and eighties.
From the mid Seventies onwards the club entered one of it’s most successful periods ever, Martin Heiron was captain, Mick McCarthy joined the Club and more colts graduated to the senior ranks. Amongst the players emerging from the colts during this period were Gus Grisman, Les Socket, Andy Bonelle, Gareth Lewis, Ralston Bevan, Dave Rogers, Jimmy Benjamin and Guy Griffiths.
In 1975/76 the first team won 22 games and in the following season, under Jim Knipe, won 21, scored in excess of 700 points and played it’s first game in what was then known as the John Player Cup, losing on the away team rule in a drawn game with Walsall. 1977/78 was even better with 26 first team games being won and the side playing attractive football.
More than 60 players were regularly turning up for training and in March 1979 the Club beat a representative North Midlands side in a game to mark the opening of new floodlights. Yet again the Club bettered it’s previous record, winning 29 matches against opponents which included the first teams from Coventry, Glamorgan Wanderers and Ebbw Vale.
John Watkins scored 334 points and David Rogers scored 24 tries. In 1979/80 John Polly’s team reached the final of the North Midlands cup for the first time, 26 games were won, Luctonians were beaten three times and at the end of the season a successful tour was made to California. The season ended with a narrow defeat by Camp Hill in the North Midlands final at the Reddings.
In the words of Guy Griffiths “the 1980’s were probably the best decade the club has ever had”. During a period of ten years the club finished top of the merit table twice, won the floodlit cup on a number of occasions, won the North Midlands Cup, experienced success in the Pilkington Cup, as it was by now called, and ultimately ended up gaining promotion to the National League Division 4 North. During this period the club moved to it’s eleventh home at Wyeside, once the sportsfield for the High School, which for many years was the main source of membership for the club.
The players of this period have many memories of a bruising encounter with Pontypool at their strongest, several victories over Stourbridge and Worcester, the epic cup battle at Bath and many more. 957 points were registered in 1986/87, 822 in 1988/89 and 780 in 1987/88, the prolific John Watkins contributing with many of these scores. The influential players of this period include Nick Kaye, Chris Morgan, ‘Ossie’ Osbourne and Alan Hill amongst many others too numerous to mention.
1990s to Present Day
To be continued…