The club was founded on 24 April 1933 by former pupils of the North Bristol Central School, which at that time was sited in Bishop Road, Bishopston.
Former pupils, John Wright and Fred Frost initiated the resolve to form the rugby club which became known as North Bristol Central Old Boys R.F.C.
The first officials of the club were elected at a General Meeting held on 24 April at the school:-
|J. Wright||Hon. Secretary|
|F.Tily||Hon. Team Secretary|
|F.Frost||1st XV Captain|
|B.Woolrich||1st XV Vice-Captain|
|P.Welch||2nd XV Captain|
|G.Warr||2nd XV Vice-Captain|
|E.Iles||Chairman of Selection Committee|
|G.Packer||Member of Selection Committee|
The above members represented the first Management Committee of the Club.
There were some 40 former pupils recruited during the first season. The school colours of royal blue with a 6 inch red hoop were chosen as the Old Boys’ colours, and two sets of jerseys were obtained on credit from Loxton’s Sports shop in Stokes Croft. John Wright arranged for a pitch and changing accommodation at Northville Road Filton where Ashley Down Old Boys had their home. The first matches were played on 23 September 1933 when the 1st XV lost to St Andrews Church 23 –0 pts, and the 2nd XV lost to Old Bristolians 33-0 pts. On 7 October 1933 the 1st XV recorded it’s first win against Avonside on the Bristol Combination Ground – 22-3 pts.
In 1936 a Junior XV (Under 17) was formed and Sidney March was elected the first Junior XV Captain. For the next 52 years the Club attempted to run a number of Junior sides. Unfortunately, due to flagging enthusiasm by the boys and sometimes the organisers, the initiative was never sustained and so there were some seasons when little or no junior rugby was played.
By 1938 membership had increased sufficiently to field a 3rd Senior XV which necessitated the acquisition of an additional pitch and a subsequent move to Greenway Farm, Doncaster Road, Southmead.
The North Bristol Central School moved to Castle Green in September 1939 but the premises were destroyed by enemy action in 1940 and the pupils transferred to the Junior Commercial School in Redcross Streeet. Renamed the Bristol Central Commercial Secondary School in 1946, the school was eventually closed in July 1967.
War Years 1939 – 1945
In the season following the outbreak of war in September 1939, the club continued to function, but as more members joined the Services, the teams fielded were reduced. A nucleus of players who were in reserved occupations kept the club running. As numbers reduced the local clubs disbanded and the Old Boys relied on guest players to maintain numbers. One such guest player was Charles Hill formerly of Bishopston RFC, who was invited to play for the club by Dennis Skinner on 10 April 1940 against an Army XV at the Memorial Ground. Charles has been a cornerstone of the North Bristol Club ever since!
In the first few years Jack Davis was general factotem, being Captain, Treasurer, and Fixture Secretary. (He recalled that the club purchased a boiler from the Metal Agencies (Bristol) but never received a bill because their premises were destroyed by enemy action). Charles Hill became Captain in the season 1942/43 until he was conscripted in November 1944.
Jack Davis moved to London in May 1944 and Peter Verrier took over as Treasurer and Fixture Secretary, but Jack took on the Captaincy during that season and travelled from London every Saturday! Fixtures were made on more or less a week by week basis by telephone and there were many calls from Service personnel looking for a game. Players were informed of arrangements on the proceeding Saturday or were telephoned or contacted in person prior to the game. Bath telephoned one Friday afternoon asking for a game. A hasty cycle ride around Bristol that evening resulted in twelve players turning up the following afternoon. The opposition loaned three players in a thoroughly enjoyable game. Later on in the season, there was a return match. Bath fielded five internationals, including Danny Evans the Welsh fly-half . Bath won by 17 points to nil but had to battle all the way for their points.
Both games were played at the Recreation Ground but because their clubhouse had been blitzed, the players changed in the Roman Baths and walked through town to the ground. Players and supporters enjoyed a swim in the Roman Baths after the games. On two occasions games were played against Cheltenham – losing 14-12 and 3-0 respectively.
When one considers the travel difficulties in wartime, often standing for the entire train journey, performances on the field were very good. And beer being scarce, the team were often refused entry to some “away game” public houses especially when ordering fifteen pints. Clifton College had been taken over as an Officer Cadet Training Unit and games against them brought real “perks”. Unrationed tea and being waited on by the Officers and a bath per player with gallons of hot water. During a game against the Royal Artillery at Clifton’s Eastfield Road ground, the air raid sirens sounded and the opposition had to run to man the guns. Fortunately , within a few minutes the “all clear” sounded and the game continued.
A game against HMS Cabot, who had taken over the Mullers Orphanage Building, was played on the sacred turf of the County Cricket Ground at Nevil Road. During this period, the three Hill brothers,- Charles, Arthur and “Em” played in the same team. The enthusiasm of “Em” was boundless. He worked a thirteen hour night shift operating a lathe in a factory on Salisbury Plain and on a Saturday at 8am he would cycle 50 miles to Bristol arriving just in time to take the field. He would then cycle back on Sunday to start his shift at 7pm.
When Fred Frost married in January 1940, he insisted the ceremony be held in the morning so that he and his best man Jack Davis could play in the afternoon. As it turned out the game was cancelled because of atrocious weather.
The facilities during the war years were extremely “Spartan”. A wooden hut lit by oil lamps, two tin baths half filled with water heated before the game – and very little or sometimes no fuel for the boiler, – was generally the order of the day. Many players would arrive already changed and made a quick getaway home afterwards for a bath. Most walked or cycled to the grounds, public transport was not available and no one owned a car. Often the team would turn up to play military opposition only to find that they didn’t turn up, - having been relocated at short notice to different defence areas or battle zones.
Despite the problems the spirit of the club never flagged. The Club were one of only three local rugby clubs, apart from the Bristol Supporters Club, who were able to continue fixtures during the war. The others were BAC and Whitehall.
The following club members gave their lives in the service of their country:- “Dooda” Parker and Bruce Davis, original members, were killed in the “D-Day Landing” and Merchant Navy respectively. Jack Holloway – a member of a bomber crew, Redvers Hawkings – a Battle of Britain fighter pilot, Bill Bougourd – RAF pilot and Reg Weymouth. Claude Coles was captured by the Japanese at Singapore and served on the infamous Siam railway where very few survived. He swam five miles to an island when his prison ship was torpedoed whilst en route to Japan. Later, he had to swim ashore again when the second ship transporting him to Japan was bombed by the USAF and was beached. After repatriation Claude was Club Captain for four seasons and also played for Bristol United.
With the ending of the war in Europe in May 1945 and the Japanese conflict in August 1945 this was the last season in which numerous guests played for the Club before returning to their own re-emerging clubs. However, as the North Bristol Central School had been destroyed by enemy action, it was decided that the Club should become an open one.
During the 1947/48 season Charles Hill returned after Army Service but after only a few games contracted Tuberculosis and was admitted to Ham Green Isolation Hospital and lost a lung. Charles was discharged from hospital during the 1949/50 playing season and was duly elected Club President.
In the early fifties , Greenway School, a large boys secondary school was built on land adjacent to Greenway Farm and the Club began to use the school facilities and pitches. A Junior side mainly of Greenway School pupils played 12 games during the season 1953/54 but folded because of the lack of numbers.
In the same season Charles Hill gave up the Presidency to take on the office of Secretary following the resignation of Jeff Brackstone, and John Wright was elected President.
During the season 1955/56 the Club tie and blazer badge, featuring the silver unicorn motif was designed by a member of the Art Department at Monks Park School.
Tom Pascoe, a popular Welshman teaching at Greenway School offered to organise a Junior XV. During the next three years, playing as North Bristol and Greenway Juniors, the team were to be one of the most successful in the Bristol area and many players were to progress to the Senior sides.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1963, it was agreed that the Club name be changed to North Bristol Rugby Football Club. The North Bristol Central School had ceased to exist and the Club had been an open one since the 1939/45 War and founder members John Wright and Fred Frost were in favour of the change of name.
Woodlands Lane, Almondsbury
After many years using the excellent facilities at Greenway School where the Club were cosseted by groundsman Bill Robbins, in March 1966, a shock letter from the Headteacher heralded an unexpected change to the sports requirements at the school. To conform with other South West schools the PE Department had adopted a one term major game policy and subsequently the rugby pitches would revert to soccer pitches after Christmas. A twelve month extension was obtained whilst arrangements to try to secure an alternative facility were frantically attempted but to no avail.
An Extra-ordinary Meeting held on 13 June 1966 resulted in the Management Committee being authorised to proceed with negotiations to purchase land on which to construct pitches and a clubhouse.
On 2 October 1966, John Wright was advised of a possible land sale in the parish of Almondsbury.
A seven and a half acre tract of land at Woodlands Lane Almondsbury was purchased for £3000, the completion date being 1 February 1967. In order to provide some immediate cash, officers and members were circulated and they made loans totalling £720 for which 10 year Redeemable Bonds were issued (at no interest) in November 1966. (These loans were finally repaid between 1970 and 1973.).
A grant from the RU and the Department of Education enabled work to commence on the ground and the clubhouse from July 1967. The work was completed in November 1967 and the ground and clubhouse was available for use on 25 November 1967 with two games against Bristol Harlequins RFC. The first points scored were by Steve Philpott when scoring a try for the NBRFC 3rd XV.
The official opening of the new ground and Clubhouse by Mr Douglas Harrison, Past President of the RFU took place on Sunday 3 December 1967, followed by a match against a Bristol Old Players XV, the game was played amidst brilliant sunshine!
In 1977 a lounge extension and new entrance hall were added, and later, largely due to the enthusiasm and expertise of former Club Captain Paul Carter, an excellent floodlight system was installed on the main pitch and on an adjacent training area.
Towards the end of 1983 the Club were aware of a Northavon plan to develop a huge tract of land commonly referred to as Patchway Common. Our ground and facilities would probably be subject to a compulsory purchase order and the Management Committee would need to act quickly to safeguard the Club’s interests. In March 1984 the trustees inspected a twelve acre tract of land adjoining the M5 and behind the Motorway Police Headquarters, less than half a mile from our Woodlands Lane ground. At a Management Committee meeting on 30 April 1984, the Club Chairman Ken Rendell briefed members with information received from Northavon regarding the local development plans. Part of the overall Avon Structure Plan, the area would be subject to a multi-phase development. The NBRFC ground and land adjacent was earmarked for warehousing and light industry. Negotiations were initiated with Development Companies who had shown an interest in purchasing our Woodlands Lane ground, in order to be in a position to purchase the 12 acres known as Oaklands. On 21 March 1985, contracts were agreed with Pearce Developments for their purchase of the site at Woodlands Lane and for C.H.Pearce Contractors Ltd to develop the ground and construct the new clubhouse at Oaklands.
The first Management Committee meeting was held at the new clubhouse on Tuesday 30 June 1987. Sunday 30 August 1987 had been scheduled for the official opening of the new ground and clubhouse. Despite many delays in developing the ground and the construction of the clubhouse, the ceremony was conducted by Barry Jones President of the Gloucestershire Rugby Union, and a game between an International XV and a North Bristol XV played. Although the first points scored on the new ground was a try by Adrian Hadley (Wales), it was rather fortuitous that Steve Arthur (1st XV Captain) was the first North Bristol player to score a try on the restart.
The South and South West regional side were quick to use the new NBRFC facilities for their training sessions. The RU also asked to use the club as a meeting point and warm up venue prior to matches in Wales and at the Memorial Ground.
Unfortunately, within two years, serious drainage problems emerged and it became obvious that the company contracted to lay the pitches had done a poor job, similarly the consultant advising the club on the progress of the work. Despite a great effort by the Club Chairman Ken Rendell to try, but to no avail, to persuade the developers to address the problems, the drainage problems became inherent. Other problems of ineffective heating and inappropriate shower fittings were also experienced. Throughout these trying times, the Club has retained it’s indomitable spirit and has met the challenges.
Some Long Serving Members of the Club
Founder member FRED FROST was elected the first Life Member following his retirement as a player and for outstanding service to the Club as 1st XV Captain, Secretary, Treasurer, and Fixture Secretary over 21 years. Fred died in 1993.
DON PAYNE joined the Club in 1946 after 5 years war service in the Tank Regiment. Don was Captain of the 2nd XV from 1951 to 1955 and 2nd team secretary from 1953 to 1958. In 1958 he was elected Chairman and held this office for 25 years before becoming President in 1983. He was elected a Life Member in 1966. Don was a major driving force within the Club who led many initiatives to ensure that NBRFC flourished. After 37 years of service to the Club, Don collapsed at the Annual Dinner on February 27 1988 and died shortly afterwards.
Founder member JOHN WRIGHT was Secretary 1933 to 1937, Treasurer 1937 to 1941, Chairman 1946 to 1948, President 1953 to 1979 and was elected a Life Member in 1974. John has always been a loyal servant of the Club and attends the Annual Dinner, AGM , Old Boys Reunions and Junior Section functions as regularly as he can, travelling up from his home in Plymouth with his wife Kathleen. John has been an NBRFC stalwart for over 68 years.
CHARLES HILL – affectionately referred to amongst the Bristol Combination as “MR NORTH BRISTOL”, has been a cornerstone of the Club since joining in April 1940. He became 1st XV Secretary in 1942 until 1945, was 1st XV Captain from 1942 to 1944, President from 1949 to 1953 and from 1988 . Treasurer 1947/48, and Secretary from 1953 to 2001. Charlie was elected a Life Member in 1966. This History of the North Bristol Club has been possible mainly through the meticulous record keeping of Charles Hill over a period of sixty years. NBRFC acknowledge his immense contribution to the Club’s development and success.
The current Club Chairman KEN RENDELL joined the club in 1957 as a junior after moving to Bristol Technical School from Greenway School. In 1969 he became Fixture secretary and held office until 1976 when he was elected Treasurer. Ken captained the 2nd XV from 1970 until 1972 and was frequently called upon to pull on the number 9 shirt for the 1st XV in the early seventies. He was elected a Life Member of the Club in 1977. It was fitting that he was elected Chairman of NBRFC in the Silver Jubilee year (1983), Ken has guided the Club tirelessly for over 20 years.
The Mini and Junior Section
Recognising a need to counteract the near demise of rugby football in the local secondary schools, in 1989 the Management Committee charged Chris Brockett and Laurie Hayward with the responsibility of developing a structured Mini and Junior Section. Chris did a wonderful PR job in the local Primary Schools, whilst Laurie – a teacher at a local secondary school – targetted staff and pupils in a number of schools in the Northavon and North Bristol area. In September 1989 the new Mini and Junior Section of the North Bristol Rugby Club was born, and some fifty youngsters attended training sessions on a Sunday morning. The first female to officially don a North Bristol shirt and represent the Club was Natasha Holder. A member of the U11 team coached by John Harris and Kevin James in 1989, her courage in the tackle and basic rugby skills was envied by many of her male counterparts. Gemma Cottle (daughter of Martyn (Biffo) Cottle, Lucy Croft (daughter of Mike Croft) and Georgina Bold (daughter of Chris Bold) were others of the “fairer sex” who followed closely in Natasha’s footsteps.
Beside the regular Sunday morning games and coaching sessions, family social events featured in the Junior Section programme and the association blossomed. The Junior Inaugural Dinner was held on Friday 7 June 1991 and was attended by 120 youngsters, parents and guests. The senior players, led by the Club Captain Derek Miles, donned their 1st XV shirts and served and waited on the assembled guests.
Due to health problems, Laurie Hayward was advised to lead a more sedentary lifestyle and stepped down as Junior Section Chairman in 1992. Fortunately a natural successor was already evident, and Glyn Williams was elected to office and held the post for almost ten years. The Junior Section is a vibrant and integral part of the club and endeavours to teach youngsters how to play skilful rugby football in a friendly but competitive and sporting atmosphere, with the emphasis on enjoyment.
John Harris (England U15 Schools International) and Andy Ripley (England International) both played for NBRFC as juniors. In 1995 Richard Bryan and Paul Whittaker, both members of a very successful Junior squad coached by Mike Ward (N.Bristol, Bristol and Glos), were selected by England Schools at U16 level. Richard and Paul later became professional rugby players for Bath and Bristol respectively. In the season 2000/1, NBRFC Junior members Nigel Smith and John Paton were selected for the South West Colts .(Nigel narrowly missed out on a Final England Colts trial).
In the season 1999/2000 eleven of the U17 Squad were part of the Bristol Combination U17 representative side.
NBRFC acknowledges the following club members who were instrumental in founding and developing the Mini and Junior Section:-
John Harris, Mike Ward, Huw Rees, Chris Brockett, Glyn Williams, Laurie Hayward, Dave Chidgey, Steve Arthur, Bob Loveridge, Bruce Nash, Bob Fussell, Haydn Jones, Gerald Smith, Mike Croft, Mark Edgerley, Dave Walters, Dave Price, Paul Britton, Kevin James, Tony Halloran, Dennis Vittle, Mike Arthur, Paul Thompson and the current Junior Section Chairman Ted Milburn.
Thanks too – all those wives, mums and grandparents who supported the venture and whose help and encouragement led to the success of the NBRFC Junior Section.
L.R.Hayward. NBRFC Secretary November 2001.