The origins of Bancroft Rugby Football Club go back to 1894 when a group of former pupils of Bancroft’s School, Woodford Green, got together to play football against other similar old pupil organisations. The Club was thereby formed and it continued to flourish in the early part of the 20th century. In the 1920s the Club started to play rugby football, in addition to soccer. The success of this was such that at the end of the 1920s soccer was phased out and the Club became purely a rugby playing club but it retained its original name of Old Bancroftians Football Club.
During the 1930s the members were fortunate in being able to acquire their own ground and moved into playing fields at the end of Kenilworth Gardens, Loughton where two rugby pitches were created together with a pavilion. The Club grew from strength to strength during the 1930s, but of course with the coming of the Second World War activity ceased. On cessation of hostilities, those members who were still around got together to reform the Club with the assistance of new leavers from Bancroft’s School. Unfortunately several key members had lost their lives during the war, but eventually in 1946 the Club was up and running again.
By the 1950s the Club was regularly running four sides, and in 1956 achieved an unbeaten season. A plaque in the present clubhouse records this achievement, having been presented by Eastern Counties Rugby Union at the time.
By the 1960s it was obvious that the Club was outgrowing its premises at Loughton, where there was no room for expansion so alternatives were considered. As luck would have it, a certain gentleman by the name of Charles Newman [more of him later] was chairman of the local construction firm, W C French, and his company was able to make available a large area of playing fields adjoining the railway line at Roding Valley. To finance this purchase, obviously the Loughton ground had to be sold and the then Trustees endeavoured to secure planning permission for residential development. This was turned down by Essex County Council, but the Council were obliged to pay compensation and eventually bought the ground thereby enabling the purchase of the current ground at Buckhurst Way to be financed. The new clubhouse was erected and benefitted greatly from the generosity of W C French. In 1968 the new grounds and clubhouse were formally opened and a week of rugby celebrated the event. At this time the Club was regularly fielding five sides, with an occasional sixth. Its ties with Bancroft’s School were very strong and with clubhouse facilities that were unsurpassed in the area, things looked set fair.
Unfortunately the 1970s saw a change in social patterns. No longer were Bancroftians leaving the School to pursue careers in the City and locally. Instead an increasing number were going to university. Additionally, the School went co-educational. All this conspired to produce a severe fall in membership numbers. The decision was, therefore, made that the Club should open its doors to all. Accordingly, in 1970 the Club “went open”, but retained the name of Old Bancroftians Football Club. This attempt at recruitment was not successful and, therefore, further decisions were made that the name would be changed to reflect the fact that the Club was no longer the preserve of Old Bancroftians. However, the Club wished to retain its links with Bancroft’s School and the Bancroft’s name being well known in the area, it was decided to adopt that and the Club was renamed Bancroft Rugby Football Club. Membership was, therefore, once more able to blossom. In 1970 squash courts were added to the existing buildings. It had always been hoped that a cricket club would find a home at the ground in the summer, and for many years the Club hosted Woodford Green’s 2nd XI every weekend.
At this time many members worked tirelessly for the Club to achieve what it did. Notable amongst these were A.C. (Jo) Arnold, Ken Wainwright and John Mead, all now sadly deceased but to whom the Club owes a great deal.
Disturbingly during the 1980s it was noted that the ground appeared to be suffering badly from subsidence. Being an old infill site [W C French had dug out the clay for manufacture of their bricks], the ground was sinking in many places. It got so bad that a player could completely disappear at one end of the pitch when viewed from the other. A decision was, therefore, made to renovate three of the four pitches. The work having been undertaken, one of the finest rugby playing surfaces in the County has been created.
More recently the opportunity was taken to negotiate with a local developer who was anxious to acquire access to the former tennis club site adjoining, which produced a useful injection of capital into the Club’s funds. A good deal of this has been spent in refurbishing the clubhouse, which continues to provide one of the best sport club venues in the area.
With a resurgence of interest in rugby following England’s world cup and other successes, and with strengthening links with the School, the Club is looking forward to more successes. One of these has been the permanent establishment of a 3rd XV, which has been named “the Newmans” in memory of Charles Newman mentioned earlier. His claim to fame was, of course, that he was the leader of the famous raid on St. Nazaire which earned him the Victoria Cross. A short history of this is displayed in the lounge bar of the clubhouse.