The early days
The earliest reference we have in our archives is a typewritten A5 sheet referring to “the 1st A.G.M. of Wallsend R.F.C. at the Coach and Horses on 10th May 1881 !!!
Then a copy of “Borough of Tynemouth Rugby Club” fixture list of 1882 records their 3rd XV game at Wallsend 2nd XV, which Tynemouth won by a goal (converted try) and 7 tries to nil.
Early Wallsend fixture lists in our possession are:-
- 1889-90 which includes games against Percy Park II’s, Rockcliffe II’s and Tynedale II’s.
- 1890-91. Opponents include Consett, Gosforth, Percy Park and Tynedale firsts.
- We also won the County No3 competition.
- 1897-98. Matches versus Percy Park Ists, Carlisle, Westoe, West Hartlepool, Tynedale, Durham City, Rockcliffe and Northern, ( who we beat 45-0 at home and 18-0 away!).
It was round this time that Wallsend were at their peak, providing three players (including the Captain) of the Northumberland County side which won the R.U. County Championship in 1898.
In 1899 and 1900 Wallsend won the County No2 competition.
The next fixture list in hand is 1933-34 including Ashington, Consett, Tynedale, Swan’s (relevant later), Blaydon, Westoe and North Durham, although at what level isn’t evident.
The Club seems to have led a “gypsy” existence in the ‘20s and ‘30s. We have conflicting records by now-deceased “Old Boys”.
From 1926-1929 our home was the “Boundary Ground”, this being the terminal point of the tram service from Newcastle. In the early 30’s we were at either Stott’s Farm ( adjoining Swan Hunter’s Recreation Ground ) or “Sanderson’s Farm” at Daisy Hill. Mid to late 30’s found us at “Dene Park” Battle Hill (which may have been Bowran’s Farm ).
During the Second World War all our fixtures were played away at local Armed Services bases. The war brought the loss of seven players killed in action.
A great revival took place after 1945due to the generosity of Farmer Day and his sons Peter & Tom. “Day’s Farm” at Willington Square was home ground for a further nine seasons until old members hung up their boots and interest was lost locally.
One of our correspondents from those days states that from 1954 to 1959 Wallsend combined with Swan Hunters under the name of “Wallsend”, but this is doubtful as we have a copy of a card originally headed “Wallsend RFC” but annotated & altered to “Swan Hunters RFC”—this is dated 1954 & signed by Alf Yeoman – known to be a stalwart of Swan Hunter’s Club.
The connection with Swan Hunters was carried on until recent times of course, but we have records from the Company’s magazine “The Shipyard” with references to matches against Wallsend in 1935, 1937 & 1938, when Swan’s teams were still “cutting their teeth”.
The Wallsend Club of today came about due to the Swan Hunter Recreation Ground being given up during the great amalgamation of Swan’s, Vicker’s, Hawthorn Leslie’s and Readhead’s into “British Shipbuilders”. Fortunately, the Sports Centre at Bigge’s Maine had been opened and we were invited to move “lock, stock & goalposts” providing we changed our name to “Wallsend RFC” and our colours to Green & Gold. So we left behind “the Hut” and the communal concrete bath for our new home in 1969.
The metamorphosis from “Swan’s in blue” to “Eagles in green” was not easy. We’d been our own masters with virtually no outside interference, but at the Sports centre we were just another section and difficulties arose with regard to changing room availability and pitch condition control; plus the fact that we no longer had income from the bar but now had fees and charges imposed upon us which we hadn’t been used to.
With regard to playing, those were the days before leagues were formed, all fixtures apart from cup competitions were arranged on a “friendly” basis. We found that, despite our asking the “senior” clubs in the County for 1st XV games, most would only deign to grant us 2nd or even 3rd team fixtures. Wallsend had few “friends” at our own level!
However, perseverance eventually led to our winning the Northumberland Junior Shield in 1975, beating the much- vaunted Gosforth Falcons by 17 points to 13 at the old County Ground. Playing in that match were present-day stalwarts Jim Wrightson, Doug Pearson and Brian Thirlaway, who produced the longest drop-goal in the Club’s memory – from the halfway line and a mere couple of yards from touch!
In 1983 Wallsend won the County Junior Cup (No3 Competition). That team,“Lowery’s Men”, included Jim Wrightson, Stu Robinson, Alan Flockton and the Robison brothers Gavin & Stu (L.F.P.).
Also in 1983,our long-serving County Representative Dennis Douglas was appointed President of Northumberland Rugby Union, an honour not previously attained by any Wallsend member!
By 1991 life at the Sports Centre had become untenable and we moved over the hedge to Benfield School, where the “clubhouse” was Sam Smith’s Pavilion, under the auspices of Benfield Residents’ Association.
The move brought about an almost immediate success in our 3rd Team, “Wallsend Eagles” being victorious in the final of the County Junior Plate Competition.
With the advent of Leagues in 1992, we began at last to prove our worth on the field in an officially recognised way. We knew that eventually we would find our true level and that previously reluctant “senior clubs” would be forced to honour the fixtures in the correct division.
Our efforts eventually came to fruition with our winning the County Senior Plate in 2007 against Gosforth and promotion as Champions of Durham & Northumberland Division 2, holding our own in the first season at the higher level, culminating in beating Northern at McCracken Park for the first time since 1897-98.
Once again though we began to have trouble with financial matters and availability of pitches, so once again sought playing and changing facilities elsewhere.
The modern era
To our rescue came Beacon Hill Special Needs School who offered a pitch along with a new small block of changing rooms.
On the social side of things ( essential for any rugby club ) we were made welcome at “The Barking Dog”, a long established sports set-up catering mainly for football and whippets – hence the name!
However, after three seasons there we still have aspirations to have our own home ground and facilities.
A major step in that direction took place on Wednesday 31st July 2013, when the first turf was ceremoniously cut at Battle Hill Playing Fields at the top of St. Peter’s Road. That was to signal the start of levelling the playing area and installing drainage, which proceeded over the autumn and winter, then continued into the early months of 2014.
Since then, the area has been completely fenced off, with gates at strategic positions for ball recovery. The principal entry for vehicles is on Caesar Way, this being the first exit from the small roundabout at the top of St. Peter’s Road.
For the time being our Junior sides will play on a Sunday on the new pitch – but our Senior Fifteen played a special friendly fixture against a Northern RFC side to officially open the new pitches on Saturday 20th December 2014, during which, at half time, mince pies and port wine were served to players, match officials and spectators.
Eventually, of course, our aim is to have (at long last) a genuine home of Rugby in Wallsend, but most importantly under our own control.