The lost pioneers
Martin Williamson and Tom Hamilton
July 16, 2014
The 1871 England team featured two Gipsie players (J.E.Bentley, top left, and J.H.Luscombe, top right) alongside R.H.Birkett from Clapham Rovers (middle) © Getty Images
On January 26, 1871, 21 clubs met at the Pall Mall Restaurant on Regent Street to establish one uniform set of rules for rugby. The result of the meeting was the founding of the Rugby Football Union with a 13-man committee elected. Of the 21 teams present, with Wasps missing the meeting as they were reported to have got the dates and venue muddled up, just six remain. The latest Scrum Sevens looks at the fates of seven teams who were founding members of the RFU but were later disbanded.
Gipsies Football Club
The Peckham-based side fell by the wayside in 1880 but they played an integral role in the birth of rugby in England. The club was founded in 1868 predominantly by former pupils of Tonbridge School and was one of the founding members of the RFU. The Gipsies' captain Francis Luscombe was one of the voices advocating a match between England and Scotland in 1871.
The challenge was laid down by Scotland in Bell's Life and though Luscombe was keen to give them a game under Rugby Schools laws, he felt Blackheath should be the team agreeing to the match as they were one of the oldest founding members. Luscombe, who by accounts at the time was "spoiling for a fight", had to wait until 1872 to have a crack at Scotland but his older brother John Luscombe, later Sir John on account of his role at Lloyds of London, did play in the first Anglo-Scottish international in 1871 as one of two Gipsies in the 20-man side.
Francis Luscombe, a founder of the Gipsies © Scrum.com
Based in north London, the club was formed in 1869 but featured little in any major games despite being a founder member of the RFU. They disbanded in 1874. As with many of the early clubs, the name gave no indication of their geographical location, and it is perhaps indicative of the lack of such a tie that most of the clubs which enjoyed longer existences were those which were associated with a place, such as Blackheath, Richmond etc.
Founded in 1867, the club played both rugby and association football, alternating between the codes each week which must have made organising fixtures a challenge. By 1870 they were fielding two sides - one playing each code - and in the same year they attended the RFU meeting they also played in the first FA Cup, with the honour of the first goal in the competition's history going to Clapham's Jarvis Kenrick. They went on to win the FA Cup in 1880.
The rugby side was equally successful, providing one of the players for the first international in 1871 - Reggie Birkett - who represented England at both codes. In all, the club boasted eight rugby internationals. Although it survived until World War One, from the 1880s the influence of both sides of the club waned and the last meaningful reference to it came in the Times in 1914 which gave extensive coverage to its annual dinner. At that event it was claimed Clapham Rovers introduced passing to the game.
The Greenwich-based club was founded in 1867 with Rowland and Edward Hill bringing the club together alongside the Hewitt and Fry families. The club was named after the spectacular Queen's House, where Rowland Hill was born, but missed out on one of the 13 places on the original RFU committee.
They were a formidable side who played under a modified form of the Rugby Schools code. Sidney Ellis, of Queen's House, scored the first ever try against London Scottish and in five attempts, the Exiles never managed to beat Queen's. Francis Marshall, in Football; the Rugby Union game, described Queen's as: "probably as strong a set of scrummagers as were 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."
The team was disbanded, despite being continually successful, in 1884 when Cameron Hewitt and Sydney and Fred Fry emigrated to Canada.
A plaque marks where the RFU was founded © Scrum.com
Formed the previous summer, the club were regarded enough to be invited to the meeting but there is no record that they played any significant part in proceedings. The club disappeared soon after, with no mention of it in any publications on the sport from the late 1870s. There are claims by the modern Belsize Park RFC - formed in 1971 - that many members of the original club, on disbanding, helped form Rosslyn Park but this cannot be substantiated by any contemporary reports.
The Flamingoes were formed in 1866 and their player F. Hartley was one of the 13 committee members of the RFU. Based in Battersea Park, but with no fixed abode, they enjoyed a healthy rivalry with Harlequins and Wasps and also played West Kent and Clapham Rovers on frequent occasions. Unlike their contemporaries, they did not have an international player in their ranks.
In 1876, they travelled to Gloucester and lost by one goal and two tries to nil. The Gloucester Journal reported "it is only fair to mention that in consequence of the threatening state of the weather, and from other unavoidable causes, only eleven men actually came from London. Through the courtesy of three gentlemen, however, who volunteered their services to the Flamingo Captain, fourteen played on each side". Despite their meagre numbers, the "plucky Londoners" were well received and invited back the following year but they were disbanded in 1877.
The club were formed in 1869 among members who lived in the Kensington area and played home matches near Wormwood Scrubs, eventually moving to Shepherd's Bush Green in 1874. One year later they disbanded. In his Social History of English Rugby Union, Tony Collins notes that many of these early clubs were groups of men with similar sporting and social interests, with as much emphasis on the latter aspects. As the founding group moved away, often they were not replaced and so the club's ceased functioning.
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