Inspired by Ted Robinson, the Tutor manager at King James Community Centre, a meeting of rugby minded gentlemen met early in 1976 in Bishop Auckland. This was as a result of an advertisement placed in the local newspaper after the idea was discussed between Ted Robinson and the then head teacher of King James school. Tony Howells
The meeting took place in the Music Room at the King James School and was very well attended. Some of those present were Derrick Robinson, Paul Pomfrett, Dave Bowron, Rod Macleod, Les Wood, Jeff Short, Doug Rodham, Mike Gill, Mike Gaffney and Ian Alderson.
A pitch and changing facilities could be made available at the school and it was decided that a number of benefits could be made by joining the Community Association.
These enthusiasts, both young and not so young had experienced rugby at school or from other parts of the County and Country. They were unanimous in the thought of resurrecting a Rugby Club in Bishop Auckland, there having been, many many years before, a team of Oxford and Cambridge Ecclesiastical undergraduates residing at the Bishops Palace.
These young men also fielded an association football team. For some reason they had to choose whether they were to play Rugby Union Football or association football. Apparently, on the toss of a coin, they chose Association Football and hence the birth of Bishop Auckland ‘soccer’ team. The ‘Two Blues’ colours were chosen to reflect their own university colours. These two colours of royal and sky blue still remain the colours of Bishop Auckland Rugby Union Football Club.
After this initial meeting in 1976 a committee was formed and application was made to become members of the Durham County Rugby Football Union with the help of Jack Cavanagh and Bill Grigg.
On 15th June 1976 Bishop Auckland Rugby Union Club was made a member of Durham County Union.
It was agreed that possibly more people would attend the next meeting if it was in licensed premises. Paul Pomfrett, who was then the landlord of the Wear Valley Hotel (now Hewitt’s solicitors near Asda ) agreed to hold this next meeting in his public house
50 copies of a letter were circulated to interested parties and a pre-season meeting was held in the Wear Valley Hotel on 16th July 1976. Further meeting brought in more members.
A list of interested people includes d Beavis, Dave Bowron, Derrick Robinson, Doug Rodam, G.A.Caygill, Ged Robinson, Geoff bell, Ian Alderson, Ian Henderson, Mike Gill, Jeff Ramsay, Jeff Short. John Barker, Julian James, K.Parker, Les Wood, Mike Colleary, Mike Gaffney, Paul Pomfrett, Paul Sowerby, John Cutting, Rod Macleod, Ron Williamson, Ted Robinson, Tony Harrison, Tony Howells Trevor Vickers ….and many more
Derrick Robinson arranged a number of friendly fixtures for their inaugural season. He had played for a number of years in the area and had several contacts in the rugby field.
Several of the players pictured here are still involved with Bishop Auckland Rugby Union Football Club
Initially all members had to register as members of King James Community Association. The Community Association then donated £50.00 towards the first team strip. The pitch they used was called ‘The dell’ and changing facilities were used at the school. After match hospitality was in local hostelries like the wear valley Hotel, The Queen head and others
The team played with success and gradually recruited more members, both playing and non-playing. The need for a clubhouse became apparent in order to pursue the social side of the game and to play host to Saturday’s visiting teams, despite the generous hospitality of Bishop Auckland’s local hostelries. This resulted in the tenancy of The Vulcan public house (now Sloppy Joe’s Take away) on Peel Street being granted to the Club. This was in a filthy and run down state and the major refurbishment was a team effort. Visits by the County president, John Cava and County Secretary John Scott brought great praise of the achievement.
Bishop Auckland Rugby Club was now in the position to field a 1st and 2nd XV. They used the playing and changing facilities at King James Community Centre, the pitch itself being in The Dell. The ball often ended up in the River Gaunless and a long ‘catch net’ was part of the home team kit!
In 1980/81 the Club realised that, in order to progress, a home playing field was required. Several sites were explored and the redundant ‘Water Works’ site at West Mills seemed the best option and was subsequently acquired from Wear Valley District Council on a 99 years lease Funds were raised by many means in order to pay for ground works. The grounds were levelled and three pitches were created. The Club was able to take advantage of the newly created pitches.
Bishop Auckland Rugby Club now played at West Mills Playing Fields on Saturdays. Training sessions still continued at King James Community Centre. Players changed at King James Community Centre, played at West Mills, showered back at the Community Centre and socialised at the Clubhouse in Peel Street.
This Clubhouse building provided a bar, a ‘snug’ and outside lavies as well as a kitchen with a rudimentary dining room, which also doubled as the Colts room, as well as a small storeroom and a committee room.
The cellar was about 4 foot high. It was necessary to walk in this area to change the beer barrels. Anyone over 3 feet in height had great difficulty!! The tallest member of the Club, Ron Williamson, the long time treasurer of the Club was the one with responsibility was doing the cellar work.
As membership increased there was a need for a larger area. The downstairs bar, lounge and domestic kitchen were knocked into one room. – This saw the legendary ‘demolition’ of the internal porch and party wall by the ‘human bulldozer’ aka Rod McCleod. Members, families and friends assisted with the redecoration.
The Club played merit table games and was classed as a ‘Junior’ club. There was a strong 1st and 2nd XV and by 1983 was able to field a 3rd XV too. Also, by this time, the first playing colt’s side began to emerge going from strength to strength.
The Clubhouse, on Saturdays, became extremely busy, before, during and after the match and was in need of some refurbishment.
In 1990, with the creation of the ‘Foundation for Sport and the Arts’, funded by football pool money, a hopeful bid was made for funds to build a new clubhouse alongside the existing playing fields at West Mills.
We estimated that our new Clubhouse would cost £150,000 to build. We were eventually awarded £100,000 towards this cost, much to our surprise. Members had already raised several thousand pounds by various means. Things like sitting in a bath of custard, fancy dress pub-crawls, sponsored silences (especially Theresa Collinson), cake stalls on the market …the list goes on.
In 1991 construction of the new Clubhouse began by one of our playing members, Jimmy Collinson. We were to build a clubhouse and changing rooms at West Mills from a design created by Lou Finney. It was finally completed in November 1992. The new Clubhouse opened with an inaugural match of an invitational Bishop Auckland XV against a Scottish Borders U21 squad.
This time saw the pinnacle to date of the Clubs playing success, with promotion to North East Division 2. This involved playing several matches in Yorkshire.
The Clubhouse was a complete new business venture for Bishop Auckland Rugby Club. It was open 7 evenings a week and with the provision to offer catering facilities.
In the early years the Club was a hive of social activity. The function room often packed out with the provision of bands and star artists. Unfortunately, with the advent of strict drink driving laws and the loss of playing members both locally and nationally, at this time, the Club saw a downturn in the use of our function room for larger social activities.
Over the ensuing years the function room was put to many uses e.g. very popular U16s Friday night discos, weekly Sunday morning car boot sales. We also saw the beginnings of a junior section, which ran for a number of years under the auspices of Colin Turner, John Rottgardt, and Paul Scott.
Throughout the Club’s presence at west Mills, we have, and continue to host, Bishop Auckland Sub Aqua Club and King James I Cricket Club. To maximise the use of our fields we have also played host to 2 football teams, and Rugby League, who are no longer with us.
In 2007 Peter Gallone and Gary Hamilton decided it was time to set up some form of training activity for young lads to start to play rugby. They each had 2 sons and wanted them to follow in ‘Dads’ footsteps. This was the nucleus of our Junior Section. With what began, in the first weeks, with a handful of youngsters, soon grew and over the subsequent years has expanded to Ten Mini/Midi and Junior teams starting with the B.L.Ts (Bishops Little Tryers) to under 18 colts. As numbers grew, it was necessary to create a small committee to organise the training, funds and matches.
As Junior members increased, so also did the number of parents who wanted to be involved in the Club. Several have now taken on official roles in the running of the whole club as well as being involved with the juniors. They have taken on the roles of team managers, coaches, and committee members. Like every other amateur sports club, these volunteers are invaluable and essential to the smooth running of the organisation.
Through promotional activities, and involvement in Community fairs, participation in, and enjoyment of Rugby Union at West Mills has increased.
This applies not only to an ever-increasing membership at junior level but also at senior level. The 2008/2009 saw 2 senior sides’ takes to the field every weekend for the first time in a number of years. This success was also underlined by the promotion of the 1st XV gaining promotion from Durham and Northumberland Division 3 to Division 2.
Authors: Keith Wilkinson, Gary Hamilton