A History of Rugby Union in Salisbury
Organised Club Rugby has been played in Salisbury periodically from season 1878/79, initially under the auspices of a Salisbury Football Club. It was not until season 1912/13 that a Salisbury Rugby Football Club was formed. A brief summary of the history follows:
At an inaugural meeting held on Tuesday 4th November 1878 at St Edmunds School-room it was resolved unanimously that there should be a Football Club in Salisbury. A committee was appointed and subscriptions were set at 5 shillings (25p) per annum. Home matches were to be played at the Butts.
At a second meeting, the first AGM, on 12th April 1879 it was reported that, “Your committee have much pleasure in presenting their first annual report, which, considering the recent and late formation of the club, they think to be very satisfactory. Ten matches have been played during the season, viz. – Andover, Romsey, Warminster, Andover, Southampton, Warminster, Basingstoke, Fordingbridge, Southampton and Fordingbridge: of these, eight were played under the Rugby Union rules and two under the Association rules. The club won four matches and lost four, the other two being severally disputed and drawn”. It was also reported that the financial state of the club, although showing a deficit, was considered by the committee “also to be very satisfactory”. Topically it was further noted that “This deficit will be considerably reduced when all the members have paid their subscriptions”.
The Football Club in various guises remained in existence until 1889, continuing to play under both Rugby Union and Association rules. Original club colours were amber and black. No evidence has yet been found of club rugby being played in Salisbury between 1889 and 1912.
In September 1912 two meetings were held when it was decided “to resuscitate Rugby football in the city by forming the Salisbury Rugby Football Club”. A committee was appointed, including at least one member of the 1889 committee thus establishing continuity between the clubs, and subscriptions were set at 5 shillings per annum, interestingly the same as 36 years earlier. Home matches took place at the recreation ground Harnham. Fixtures were played against the Royal Artillery, Castle Cary, Trojans, Frome, Sherborne and Yeovil. The playing of Rugby Union was reestablished in the city.
Unfortunately the 1914 – 18 war intervened and competitive Rugby was not played again until 23rd September 1923 when a match was arranged at Victoria Park against the Royal Artillery. A profit of £6.13s.0d was made and donated to help the city pay off the debt incurred in erecting the war memorial. Further matches were played against Army XVs at Victoria Park until fixtures were transferred early in 1924 to the newly formed Rugby Football Club for West Tytherley and district, “Norman Court RFC – The Normans” This transfer has been described colourfully in earlier histories as:
“In the early years the Club was obliged to play its rugby at Norman Court, Tytherley, to the east of the city. The local council had decreed that this “barbaric” game should not be played within the city limits and the Club was instructed to find a home at least ten miles out of town. Sponsorship however was the Club’s saviour then. Norman Court’s owner was Mr. Washington Singer, one of the heirs of the sewing machine magnate, Isaac Singer, and he offered the Club a ground on the edge of the prescribed ten-mile limit; provided that they, then Norman Court Rugby Club, wore his racing colours of green and white. They still wear these colours today even though there are some who believe they should have swapped them for the city’s blue and gold, colours worn today as a change strip”.
However a team representing Salisbury continued to play and featured annually in the Norman’s fixture list between seasons 1925/26 and 1929/30 with games played at both West Tytherley and Victoria Park. In season 1930/31 the Normans and Salisbury teams combined and competed once more as Salisbury Rugby Football Club. Matches were played in Laverstock. In 1933 the club moved to the Castle Road ‘Sheep Fair Ground’ and remained there until 1938 when it returned to Laverstock. When war was declared in 1939 the wartime Rugby Club played on the Bishop Wordsworth’s playing field and continued to play there when the club reformed club after the war. Between 1930 and 1953 the facilities of first the Red Lion and then the Cathedral Hotels were enjoyed after games. In 1953, the ‘Prairie’ as it is affectionately called was rented from the City Council. After some three years on the ‘Prairie’, a further ground, the present 1st XV pitch, was also rented from the Council. In addition to these two grounds, excellent changing accommodation and showers were provided in an adjoining hut. The present club-house was opened by the former President of the RFU and Sports Council, Dickie Jeeps, on 13th April 1980, at an auspicious ceremony attended by the 1986/87 President of the RFU, Alan Grimsdell, and former Welsh outside half and President, Cliff Jones. Since 1980 the playing area has been levelled and floodlights installed. In 1988 a further extension to the club-house, now the Tony Murley room, was added.
League rugby, then the Courage Club Championship, started in 1987. At the time Salisbury were classed as one of the top 50 – 60 clubs in the country and were deservedly allocated a place in Area League South, level 4 of the national club hierarchy, a position maintained until reorganisation of the leagues in 1990. Following reorganisation Salisbury competed for a number of years in South West division 1, level 5. Subsequent relegations and promotions have established the Club in the very competitive South West division 1 (East), level 6, the pinnacle of the truly amateur game.
The Club acknowledges the contribution made by the late Roger Gregory and Dick Rudd whose researches are the primary source for this history.