A brief history of Cheltenham Rugby Football Club (1889 – current)

William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball and ran with it at Rugby School in 1823 and the Union Football game then slowly spread through the public schools, until Cheltenham College introduced it there in 1844.

Cheltenham Town established a Town Rugby Club in 1889, via the influence of the College and a number of exceptional administrators, many of whom had received military rank after long service in India and the Colonies. Additionally strong links were forged with local businessmen and traders, and the Borough Council especially took an active interest in the Clubs affairs.

The Welsh connection was another major factor in the Clubs development; many players from the valley’s moved to Cheltenham in search of jobs and hence strengthened the Town XVs

Ultimately this lead to Cheltenham building up one of the finest fixture lists in England and Wales, earning the reputation as a “First-Class Club”.

The Club produced two full international players:
  • L. W. Haywood (1910)
  • T. W. Price (1950)
And one Wales International
  • E. Gwynn-Davies (1930)

The Cheltenham RFC President in the 1970s was the British Lions player WPC Davies, who appeared on many occasions in Cheltenham colours (and whom many will remember as sharing the Lions midfield pairing with JG Butterfield). England International Roger Hosen, whilst a teacher at Cheltenham College, donned a Cheltenham jersey several times.

Six players have represented the Barbarians and over 150 players the full Gloucestershire XV. Many Town administrators have held office, as high as President, for our County stronghold.

Cheltenhams encouragement of youth rugby is unequalled with many young players appearing in both England colours and also the Home Unions and other World countries. Selection for England has occurred at Under 21 level, Colts Age-group and the schools (15-19 age-groups)

In recent years and since its revolutionary inception in 1960, the success of the Town colts age-group (under 19s) has been unparalleled and has often been described as “The Jewel in the Crown” of the Cheltenham club. Created by former Cheltenham player Norman Rees and Pat Todd, the Colts achieved huge representation at National Boys Club level (76 players), Gloucestershire Boys Clubs (119 players), Gloucestershire Colts (100 players) and Gloucestershire Under 18s.

At England level, four Colts have worn the Red Rose, as did eight Colts for England Schools (under 18s). The most outstanding players to have won recognition after graduating from the Colts are prop Phil Blakeway (British Lions, England, Barbarians), lock John Fidler (England, Barbarians), flanker Bernard Capaldi (England Reserve, Barbarians) and more recently Peter Buxton (England A, Gloucester)

Since moving to the new ground in 1981, Mike Edwards and John Woodward took over the reins and helped make the colts a formidable group within national rugby circles.

Key Dates in Cheltenham RFC History

1889 – Bill Sawyer rode through the Town streets on his penny farthing bicycle proclaiming the birth of Cheltenham Rugby Football Club.

1895 – Within 6 years, Cheltenham rose to become one of the leading sides in the West of England with matches against Bath, Gloucester, Bristol, Leicester, Cardiff and Newport.

1899 – After playing on pitches around the town, including Montpelier and Pitville (rear of the Pump Rooms) Cheltenham took posession of their new ‘Athletic Ground’ in the centre of Town (Albion Street. They remained there for 82 years.

1903 – Cheltenham became members of the Rugby Football Union – Happy 100th!!

1905 – On December 6th, Cheltenham played the mighty ‘All Blacks’ in front of 8,000 spectators, losing only 18 – 0, whereas both Gloucester and Bath succumbed by over 40 points. Another red letter day for the club.

1909 – Cheltenham first encounter with the famous Barbarians. This acted as the forerunner to the visitors tour to Wales until 1914.

1910 – The Town produced its first International player when L W Hayward played in the centre for England against Ireland at the new Twickenham headquarters.

1930 – Completion of Cheltenham best ever season. Unbeaten in their 24 consecutive home matches and undefeated by any English side (Played 35, Won 30, Drew 2, Lost 3).

1960 – Cheltenhams phenomenal service to youth rugby begins with the formation of the Colts XV.

1974 – The Town becomes one of the first Clubs in the country to form a Mini and Junior section, which still flourishes today.

1976 – The 1st XV did not win a match for 19 months – an unenviable feat that made an entry into the Guiness Book of Records!

1981 – In september, Cheltenham moved to a brand new sports complex at the Prince of Wales Stadium, where they played the world famous Harlequins to celebrate the occasion.

1990 – The Club formed a Ladies XV which today plays in the National Leagues. This brought the number of Club teams to a staggering count of 18 sides.

1995 – The Professional era of leagues began with Cheltenham ceded to National League Division 4 (South).

2000 – Former Town player, Chris White, became one of the first professional referees and has since then officiated at many World / IRB Cup matches.

2003 – The Club begin to investigate the possibility of moving to a purpose built ‘Centre of Excellence’ by teaming up with developers for a £4 million state-of-the-art stadium in Swindon Village.

2004 – The Club signed a three lease on former Smiths Industries (now GE Aviation) 19 acre sports ground in Southam.

2006 – Cheltenham are relegated into South West 2 East.

2007 – The Club purchased the freehold of former GE Aviation site.

2010 – The Club was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and Chairman, Steve Ratcliffe and Secretary David Evans were invited to Buckingham Palace.

2012 – Match Standard Floodlights were installed at Newlands Park.

2013  – Rugby Club on RWC2015 Team Base approved list, in partnership with Cheltenham Borough Council. Later advised that we would be Team Base for Argentina, Tonga and Japan. – The only amateur rugby club in England to be given the honour of hosting three RWC teams.

2014 – Surrendered Lease at Prince of Wales Stadium after 33 years.

2015 – A new maximum dimension pitch is created at Newlands and heralds a new era of Cheltenham Rugby Club.

July 2015 – Newlands Park hosted the RWC (Webb Ellis Trophy) on Trophy Tour.

July 2015 – Inaugurated new ‘Legacy Field’ – Senior Pitch.

October 2015 – After years of planning Cheltenham RFC play host to Tonga Rugby for the Rugby World Cup. Many of the players were involved in coaching the Minis and Juniors and a Schools Tag Festival.

“Rugby fact” The Cheltenham System

It took a long time to come to an agreement on the methods of scoring. For many years no points were awarded for what we now call a try, but was then called a touchdown or ‘rouge.’

The crossing of the line was merely the opportunity for a ‘try’ at goal and conversion by kicking the ball between the posts was the thing that counted. In the first match between England and Scotland, played in Edinburgh in 1871, the Scots won by a goal and a try to a try.

This method of reckoning, as you may imagine, was bound to displease many people, especially those who had struggled with heart and soul to cross the enemy’s line.

There was a period during the seventies and eighties when three touch-downs or rouges counted as one try and three tries made one goal. This seemed a miserly reward for so mighty a labour, even though in 1875 it was conceded that if there were no goals or if the number of goals scored was equal, any tries scored could be counted as a decider.

A dozen years passed before a further change was made and the Rugby Football Union adopted what was known as the Cheltenham system, from the rules then in use at Cheltenham College. The try came into its own at last and, although it only counted one point, it did count. Three tries were reckoned equal to one goal.

There were still more changes in the nineties and it was not until 1905, the year of the visit of the first All Blacks, that scoring was fixed almost as we have it today, with five points for a goal from a try; four points from a dropped goal and three points for a goal from a penalty or a mark.

Cheltenham RFC honours our fallen heroes

Their Names Stand High on Roll of Honour

Cheltenham Rugby Club’s 125th Anniversary Year coincided with the anniversary of a hundred years since the start of the First World War and the ten club players who gave their lives are being particularly remembered through a new memorial at Newlands Park

Cheltenham Rugby Club remembers fallen of the First World War

Air Vice Marshall Tony Mason and Cheltenham RFC president Keith Plain

Today’s young players at the club are very aware of the sacrifice of those of a century ago. A photo montage of pictures and biographical detail has pride of place on the Clubhouse wall, together with details of those who died in World War II.

In 1914 Cheltenham, like many other rugby clubs, started a recruitment drive. Their club President, Captain Peake, headed it and, entrusted with recruiting, had been gazetted Major in the Royal Engineers. As the rank would have kept him in England, he took a voluntary reduction of rank to that of Captain to ensure he stayed with his men when they were sent abroad.

All the players who died were Cheltenham men. Most served with the Gloucestershire Regiment or the Machine Gun Corps. John Brain, Thomas Crisp, Arthur Hayling, Frank Hill, John Hutchinson, William Mills, Daniel Sullivan, William Young, Fred Wixey and Harry Tandy typified young rugby players in their 20s and early 30s, who died in France, Gallipoli, in Prisoner of War camps.

Fred Wixey joined the Gloucesters soon after the war began and was reported missing on July 3. He was, said a local newspaper “one of the rough and ready forwards always in the thick of the fray”

He and Daniel Sullivan were among the first from the club to die “The news of the loss of two such fine players as Sullivan and Wixey will be received with the deepest regret by members of the Cheltenham Club, and their names will stand high on the roll of honour of the popular Red and Blacks,” said the newspaper report.

Together with their eight team mates and comrades they still do.

Cheltenham are also about to remember another player, 1905 New Zealand captain David Gallaher, who led the All Blacks against Cheltenham on their UK tour. Gallaher died alongside Cheltenham players when fighting with the ANZACs in France.

New Zealand’s President Ian MacRae  will visit Newlands Park before the England v All Blacks Twickenham Test, to be there when the club opens an exhibition remembering that 1905 tour and the sacrifices later made by players from both teams.