In 1883 King Edward VI Camp Hill Grammar School opened in the Digbeth area of Birmingham. Although the school moved to Kings Heath in 1956, the original Victorian building still stands proudly at the junction of the A34 and Birmingham’s busy middle ring road.
During the 1880s a number of Rugby Football matches between the ’School Team and Masters’ and a team of Old Boys took place but it was in 1893 that Camp Hill Old Edwardians formally came into being.
The Headmaster of the School, the Reverend Arthur Jamson Smith, was appointed the first President. This tradition continues to the present day with Mike Roden, the current Headmaster, being the Club’s 10th President.
The first shirts were maroon (the Camp Hill School colour) with a diagonal sash of light blue (the Kind Edward’s Foundation colour). The sash was replaced by a horizontal band just before the First World War. In recent times the shirt design had changed a number of times, in common with other clubs, but the original colours have been retained.
The new Club’s first game took place on 14th October 1893 against Aston Old Edwardians (the old boys of King Edward VI School, Aston) at Showell Green Lane, Sparkhill. Camp Hill won the game 13-0 with the first try being scored by 17 year old E H ‘Teddy’ Parker (more of him later). In that first season, Camp Hill played 16 matches, won 12, drew 2 and lost just 2.
Coincidentally 1893 can also be regarded as the year when modern Rugby Union Football was born. It was in that year that the decision to ban professionalism was taken, leading to the formation of the Rugby Football League in the North of England. In 1893 referees were, for the first time, given the power to blow a whistle to stop the game when a rule was broken. The advantage law was introduced and balls were to be of standard measurements.
For the first time, points were awarded for a try. Previously, scoring a try just gave the scoring team the opportunity to convert the try into a goal (a conversion). Before 1893 a try earned nothing if the goal kick was missed.
The Club continued to play at Showell Green Lane until 1899 when the team moved to Windermere Road in Moseley, then out in the wilds. The teams changed in the greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens which stood on land now occupied by Moseley School.
Teddy Parker was elected Captain for the first season at Wake Green, his first of no less than seventeen seasons as captain, his last being in 1919/20.
The First World War meant that very little rugby was played anywhere in Birmingham between 1914 and 1918. Within a month of the start of the War in August 1914 ninety percent of Camp Hill’s players had enlisted into the armed forces. 123 Camp Hill Old Edwardians gave their lives during the Great War including many of those who had played for the rugby team.
THE MOVE TO SHIRLEY
As the 1920s progressed moves were made to find and purchase a ground in order to give the club long term security. The far sighted Teddy Parker viewed dozens of fields along the River Cole Valley and eventually decided on two fields on Haslucks Green Road, Shirley which were purchased freehold for £1,138.
A trust was established to purchase the ground and to this day the ground is owned by this trust with the rugby club being the beneficiary. The first game played at the new ground was a 22-0 win over Hinckley on 13th October 1928.
Having settled at the new ground the 1st XV enjoyed a record season in 1933/34 when of 28 games 27 were won and just one drawn. Camp Hill Old Edwardians was the first Midlands club to achieve an unbeaten season. A large picture of this unbeaten team hangs in the clubhouse.
THE POST WAR ERA
It is difficult to briefly summarise over half a century of a club’s history but there were a number of notable highlights, some happy and some not so.
The grand old man of Camp Hill, Teddy Parker, died on 1st December 1948 aged 72. There can surely be no argument with Parker's position as the single most important figure in the history of our club. To mark the memory of this remarkable man the Teddy Parker Cup is still competed for annually between Camp Hill and Aston Old Edwardians, also marking a reminder of our very first fixture.
On 17th January 1959 Brian Wightman became our first (and so far only) full England International when he played against Wales at Cardiff - in a winning England side. Wightman went on to win six caps.
In the late 1960s the first moves began which would lead to the club going ‘open’. This would mean that players other than former pupils of Camp Hill school could play for the 1st XV. This was seen as an essential move to increase the number of players at the club. The change was opposed by some, mainly because they were concerned that the very special atmosphere at the club would be damaged if the doors were flung wide open, fears which were happily to prove unfounded.
The members finally voted for the club to become open in April 1971. Later that year the club’s name was formally changed from Camp Hill Old Edwardians to Camp Hill RFC reflecting its new status.
In 1980 Camp Hill won the North Midlands Cup for the first time, beating Hereford 19-15 in the final. Seven of the team that played in the final were non old boys, fully justifying the worth of going open. This success was followed by a memorable win in the John Player Cup (the National Club Cup) the following season over Broughton Park, which was a senior club at that time, with Kevin O’Brien, the then current Irish international full back in their side.
In the seasons following the introduction of league rugby in 1987, Camp Hill made rapid progress to Midlands Division One where we stayed for ten years until the advent of semi professionalism made it virtually impossible for a truly amateur club to maintain that status.
The centenary season of 1993/94 was celebrated with another victory in the final of the North Midlands Cup, this time over Worcester 17-11. At that time Worcester were at the start of their rise through the league system and it is believed that this was their last defeat by another Midlands based club until they reached the premiership.
MODERN TIMES - THE RUGBY EXPANSION
Although the club continued to enjoy a steady flow of players from Camp Hill school, it was becoming evident that to ensure the long term success of the club we should look to produce our own 'home grown' talent and in 1995 a Mini Rugby section was established. Since then the section has grown progressively and we are now in the enviable position of having well over 200 young players in mini and junior teams at Camp Hill.
We have already seen the benefit of junior rugby with the re-establishment of Colts (Under 19) rugby at the Club together with numerous players graduating to the senior teams including a number of 1st XV regulars. The number and quality of players currently moving through our junior ranks gives a great deal of confidence for the future.
Also in 1995 a Women's Rugby team was launched. This too has been a resounding success. Following a number of highly successful seasons in Midlands Division One, the women's team achieved promotion to National Championship One (North) in 2007 making them one of the highest ranked women's teams in the Midlands. This was borne out in 2009/10 when they were crowned league champions. Unfortunately as a result of the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2010 there was no promotion to the Premiership.
With the recent advent of a girls' junior team Camp Hill RFC is now able to offer rugby to male and female players of all ages and abilities.
The Club's 1st XV enjoyed a season of great success in 2007/08 losing just one game on the way to being crowned Champions of Midlands Division 3 West (North) leading to promotion to Midlands Division 2 West. The team completed a notable double by winning the North Midlands Shield in a closely fought final at Stourbridge in May 2008.
In 2008 James Freeman, a product of Camp Hill's Mini & Junior Rugby section, was selected to represent England Under 18s in the AER tournament in Italy. James generously donated one of his shirts in recognition of the support of the Club.
In 2009 Chris Fox, another Camp Hill Mini & Junior player, also played for England Under 18s in the 2009 AER tournament in France. A remarkable achievement for a club of our size.
In 2013 James Freeman was invited to play for the Barbarians FC in The Annual Memorial match against The Combined services, since then, following stints at Loughborough Students and Jersey, James became the Clubs first Professional player when in 2017 he signed for Premiership Champions, Exeter Chiefs.
Camp Hill remains committed to remaining a fully amateur Club with no players receiving any payment whatsoever. A young 1st XV squad continues to maintain our status as probably the consistently most successful truly amateur Club in our area.
When Camp Hill Old Edwardians was established back in 1893 the club crest was drawn incorporating the Latin motto 'Sanctissimum iisden studiis initiari vinculum amicitiae'. This translates as 'Common pursuits make firm friends'; surely as true today as it was well over a century ago.
With thanks to Barry Bowker and Ken Birrell, authors of the Club history, published 1993
Updated May 2010