Officially, 1877 is recognised as the year the Barnstaple Football Club was founded though unfortunately early records were not preserved. The club has provided three England international players; Charles (Nobby) Thomas played in 1895 and again in 1899, the same season as Charles Harper, but unfortunately not in the same games, and H.A. (Bert) Jones played in 1950. Others have come close and would probably have won caps had substitutions been allowed in those days. W.S.Boyle at centre was a first reserve for England in 1900. J.E. "Jack" Williams, a Brauntonian, was unlucky not to be capped in 1926, G.G.Pritchard, at fullback, also had an England trial in 1926. In the late 1950s Michael Blackmore came very close to being capped having had a number of England trials but he was unlucky to be around when England had some very talented wingers.
From formation Barum soon became a formidable side and the years 1892 to 1903 proved to be a vintage period. In addition to the two England International forward players in this period, three-quarters Monty Toller, Harold Stoyle, Herbert Nicolay and A.J.R.Roberts had trials and W.S.Boyle was an England first reserve. For two seasons
Barum were unbeaten at home and the Devon Senior cup was won twice, in 1894 and 1901. In the 1895 season Barnstaple was the only West Country team to beat the powerful Bristol and in the same season lost at Cardiff by 11 points to 10, in the process scoring two of only eight goals conceded by Cardiff in the 32 games they played! During this period Barum played and beat the likes of Coventry, Saracens, Llanelli, Swansea and Pontypridd. The club was declared "Champions of the West" in 1896/97 losing only three matches of thirty played and scoring 342 points against 42. Two of the losses were at Swansea and Llanelli on a weekend tour with six first choice players absent! The other loss, by a try to nil, was in the away match to Barum's great rivals at this time the mighty Devonport Albion of Plymouth. More than 8,000 spectators were packed in to watch this game. In this season the double was scored over Bristol and the club beat Saracens 11-0.
After 1903 the club suffered financially, mainly through the growth in popularity of Association Football, losing both spectator support and players, and was unable to pay the guarantees required to sustain the quality of fixtures. This in turn led to yet smaller crowds. The Club kept going with the Devon Cup occasionally bringing memories of the good old days and crowds of more than 2,000 attending these games. But these were rare and survival was at times a problem. Play finally ceased altogether in 1914 because of the First World War.
The Club struggled to reactivate after the War; there was a long period of mourning and a shortage of players. It was 1921 before the Club was revived and moved to the present location in Pottington Road where a stand was soon erected. It was not long, though, before there was resurgence in Barnstaple's fortunes. The Nineteen Twenties and brilliant three-quarter play brought back memories to older followers and soon the crowds resembled those of the great 1890s. In this period the Devon Senior Cup was again won twice, in 1926 and in 1928. A legend of English rugby, the great W.W.Wakefield, had close links with the club at this time, playing occasionally, coaching the side and bringing the great Harlequins Club to play Barnstaple. The Chiefs scored heavily in the period and peaked in the 1930-1931 season when 137 tries were scored in 40 games with George Bell on the wing scoring 34 of them! As before though, a vintage period was followed by a downturn in fortune again with severe financial difficulties.
War in 1939 again forced a suspension of play until 1945 when the Mayor of Barnstaple called a meeting at which Officers of the Club and the Committee were elected. Barum had an outstanding pack in the forties. H.A.Jones, a number eight who played for England at lock forward, was very strong and powerful; his partner, Ron Mabbott, a former Abertillery player who had a number of trials for Wales, was a mobile, ball handling lock forward who would have thrived in the modern game.
The club continued to turn out good sides that generally won more games than they lost and occasionally beating some very good sides. But it was to be the late 1950s before Barnstaple again had an outstanding side; in the 1958-59 season defeating Exeter twice, without conceding a point against them, and beating Plymouth Albion three times! This did not last. Lack of work opportunity locally in modern times has meant that north Devon is always likely to lose the cream of its talent. That affects Rugby as much as anything else and led to an early break up of the 1959 side.
From 1962 under Stan Sumner the Chiefs put together a run of good seasons. Stewart Chugg took over as Captain in 1965 and the Chiefs not only continued the sequence but also started to score heavily as changes in Rugby laws suited the style of play. Competitive club Rugby, abandoned in 1932, resumed in 1969 when the Devon Senior Cup competition recommenced and Merit Tables began to appear in newspapers. The intensity of competition clearly suited Barnstaple and when Jackie Jewell took over the leadership in the season 1971/72 he led the side to the Daily Telegraph Pennant award as the Champions of the South West of England. This side scored heavily with 775 points in this season and 978 in the following.
The 1970s and 1980s saw a big increase in membership, a third XV, the Buccaneers, was started and Junior and Mini Rugby took off in a big way. A new clubhouse was built in the early 1970s and off the field Mary Chugg became Club President, still one of the few women to hold such office in Rugby.
Barum was soon to reap the benefits of a very strong mini and junior section on which we continue to rely for our future talent. Some impressive junior sides have been produced; from 1985 the Devon Colts Cup was won for seven seasons in a row and during the 1980s two players, Kevin Squire and Peter Bond played for England Colts. The core of the Chiefs side since has been from former juniors. In season 2004/05 Iain Crombie and David Lewis played for England Under 16s.
When leagues were introduced to English rugby in 1987 Barnstaple started in South-west Two. Promoted to league South-west One at the end of the 1992 season promotion to the National leagues came close in a number of seasons. In cup competitions the Devon Senior Cup has been won in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008 and 2009. Our best season in the higher leagues was probably 1998/99 when, captained by Jeremy Chugg, son of Mary and Stewart, the Chiefs finished third in league South-west One but beat both the teams who finished above us (Penzance & Newlyn and Launceston), and we lost 10-6 in the semi-final of the National Intermediate Cup away to Dudley Kingswinford. The team record for all games that season was: P30, W26, D0, L4, Pf 747, Pa 366 and a strong Exeter side was defeated in the Devon Senior Cup final by 20 points to 14.
Multiple retirements in a short period led to loss of experience, and relegation from SW1 in 2004 and from SW2 in 2005, since when the development of emerging home talent has been the priority with the help of some skilful Kiwis; reward came soon with the Devon Senior Cup regained in 2005 with a win away to Torquay Athletic. The Cup was not retained in the 2006 season but the side finished in 3rd place in the Western Counties West after mounting a late challenge for the play-off spot. Season 2006/2007 saw all the hard work by players and coaches rewarded with a record breaking performance -100% in the league and Champions of the Raptor "Heroes Leagues" promotion, and in all competitive games, a record of Played 29 Won 28 Drawn 0 Lost 1 Pts. for 848 Pts. Against 171. Statistically, this is the best ever season's record for the Chiefs. With the younger players maturing well that good form was carried on in South West Two, with a runners-up spot in the league and a magnificent Devon Senior Cup win at Exmouth the rewards. A hard fought play-off victory over Salisbury completed the circle to put us back in South West One in 2008 where last season we finished in a very creditable 7th position so securing our place in the new National League Three South West, and we retained the Devon Senior Cup.
Off the field, we had a bid for lottery funding, to meet major refurbishment, rejected in May 2000. Thanks mainly to the generosity of The Keith and Freda Abraham Trust, a local charity, essential work was carried out to the Clubhouse and changing rooms in the years 2000 and 2006. But, in 2006, we then "lost" three reserve pitches to the construction of a bridge bypass for the Town, and took over a former cricket field from which we have gained two pitches. In the close season of 2006, with the aid of funding from the RFU, drainage work was carried out on these pitches but unsuccessfully, leading to the need for a great deal of further work since 2007; in 2008 we obtained a lease for spare ground adjacent to the new bridge which has also required much work but which will provide valuable space. This concentrated hard work on drainage and playing surfaces on all the pitches has been undertaken with the expert help and guidance of Colin Webber of the Portmore Golf Club. It has been an expensive, but necessary, investment for the Club and the results are a great credit to Colin and our small band of ground staff.
"Spike" Hughes, July 2009.
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