A History of Rugby Union in Salisbury
It had long been accepted that the Club was founded in 1923 with an interesting but apocryphal history to support this. However, articles published in the Salisbury Times unearthed by the late club member Roger Gregory confirm otherwise.
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, the centenary of the founding of the Club was celebrated in 2012. The familiar Green and White was adopted in 1923, this centenary will be celebrated this season, 2022/23.
A summary of the Club’s 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, “Ten matches have been played during the season, viz. – Andover (2), Warminster (2), Southampton (2), Fordingbridge (2), Basingstoke and Romsey: 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”.
The Football Club remained in existence until 1889, continuing to play at the Butts under both Rugby Union and Association rules. Club colours were amber and black. In 1889 the club folded due to a lack of support, committee resignations and not least the ultimate disappearance of the treasurer along with the club funds. 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 re-established 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 later that season to the newly formed Rugby Football Club for West Tytherley and district, “Norman Court RFC - The Normans”.
In a draft history prepared by the late R H (Dick) Rudd he identified Henry Knapman of Knapman & Bament the well-known Auctioneers and Estate Agents in Salisbury as the driving force behind the move. His father, H C Knapman was the resident land agent for Washington Singer, and it was through his good offices that permission was obtained to use a field on the Home Farm at Norman Court as the rugby pitch. Washington Singer, the owner of the Norman Court estate was a grandson of Isaac Singer the founder of the Singer sewing machine company. One of the stipulations of the agreement was that The Normans should play in Washington Singer’s personal racing colours of Green and White. Colours the Club continues to wear today.
The Normans actually played their first match on Saturday 23rd February 1924 at Norman Court against Romsey Spartans and were victorious by 8 points to nil.
Changing rooms were in a granary at the farm. To get sufficient players the locality was searched and about 20 players obtained (including some originals from Salisbury), about 60% had played before, the remainder consisting of estate workers.
During the six seasons at Norman Court the team played on several occasions at Victoria Park against a Salisbury XV. No record of other fixtures at Victoria Park or elsewhere involving a Salisbury XV during this period have been found.
At the end of the 1929/30 season, it was realised that the remote position of Norman Court and its inherent disadvantages would justify a return to Salisbury, and this became a reality in the following season when a suitable ground in Laverstock was obtained.
Washington Singer was president of the newly formed club and remained president after the return to Salisbury until his death in 1934. He was succeeded as president by his adopted son Grant A Singer who was killed in action at the second battle of El Alamein in 1942.
In season 1930/31 the Club, now Salisbury RFC “the Green and Whites”, played in Laverstock next to the Modern School. 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 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 clubhouse 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 clubhouse, now the Tony Murley room, was added.
Subsequent additions to the club’s facilities include the Steward’s Bungalow and in 2021 the opening of the new suite of changing rooms and medical facilities, the Arthur Bowden Wing. We have also erected the Garth Parsons Stand along the north side of the main pitch.
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 several years in Southwest division 1, level 5 before becoming established at level 6 with the occasional foray at levels 5 and 7. Following the recent reorganisation of the league structure, season 2022/23 will see the Club competing again at level 6 in the new Regional 2 Tribute South Central Division.
The Club acknowledges the contribution made by the late Roger Gregory, Dick Rudd and Jim Olsen whose researches are the primary source for this history.