Being all about rugby, this could hardly be described as a ‘fairy’ story but, nonetheless, should begin like this:
Once upon a time, rugby teams consisted of 20 players, 18 forward and 2 back. Between 1823, when the game was started at Rugby School and 1874, this evolved into 15 a side; with 10 forward (where the action was) and 5 back; 4 of those being ‘half back’ and one ‘fully back’ to defend against kicks ahead.
Now it was a Wivey man, Frank Hancock, who put the final touches to the formation we know today. When captaining Cardiff in 1885 Frank introduced the ¾ line by taking 2 of the players from ‘half back’ and placed them ‘three-quarters back’. So that’s where half-back and ‘threequarters’ came from! Half back, flying half back (abbreviated to fly half) and fully (full) back
Not everybody knows why a ‘try’ is so named either. For many years points were scored mainly by kicks at goal, taken in line with where the ball was grounded over the line, as now. But back then, all that gave a side was a ‘rouge’(touchdown) and an attempt to kick a goal – hence ‘It’s a TRY!’. Later, 3 rouges counted as a goal.
William Webb-Ellis first picked up a football and ran with it in 1823; The Rugby Football Union was founded 48 years later in 1871; Guy’s Hospital became the first club registered; while the small town of Wiveliscombe (population then 2000) down in deepest, darkest Somerset followed just a year after in 1872, joining some 21 other clubs, all from larger populations and many now with illustrious names and rugby credentials.
The first rugby club in the south west was St.Lukes College, founded in 1860, followed by Bath in 1865 then in 1872, along with Clifton and Exeter, Wiveliscombe. The Club was founded on August 22nd 1872 in the Lion Hotel, Wiveliscombe, thanks to FJL Rooke, who was an engineer building the railway line to Barnstaple. It was unanimously carried that Rooke was to be Captain; JW. Rossiter Secretary and messrs Ackers, Cross, Godfrey, E. Pearse, and W. King to be Committee and management. Also present were H. Pearse, WH. Pearse, W. Payne, J. Parnell, RD. Reeves, J. Vickery, H. King, RO. Reeves, D. Thorne, W. Powlesland, T. Cridle and F. Jewell, with a total membership of 35 out of a town population of just 2000. Annual membership was set at two shillings and sixpence a year. Club colours were then blue and white, changing to the traditional red around 1880, though as a sash then, not a hoop.
Wivey’s first game was on November 26th against Independent College, now Taunton School, and winning 10 Rouges (touchdowns) to 1 on a very wet Wivey pitch, which was in Burges Lane. The 20 players were: Rooke (Capt) and Bellow (halves); Miles and Shephard (backs); the forwards being Ackers, Criddle, Cross, Clatworthy, W. King, E Pearse, W Pearse, J Vickery, W Vickery, Larcombe, Parnell, Lutley, Rossiter, Wildman and Walsh. Maybe these were full members, or maybe the team was made up, as often in future times, by recruiting the nearest farm labourer or two when short; either way there are still some currently recognisable local names!
Rugby Chronology (from the RFU history) 1820s & 1830s
Public schools (including Harrow, Winchester, Eton & Rugby) play their own versions of ‘football’. Boys from Rugby
School gradually develop and shape the game that will become famous world wide.
‘Running in’ (try scoring in modern terminology) becomes an accepted feature of the Rugby School game due to the prowess of pupil Jem Mackie.
Albert Pell, former Rugby School pupil, organises ‘football’ matches at Cambridge University. Everyone plays by their school rules (including Rugby School football rules) and so a compromise set of rules are produced. This attempt to form one set of football rules would eventually lead to the publication of the ‘Cambridge Rules’ (see 1863).
Running with the ball is formally adopted and accepted by the boys of Rugby School for the first time.
Three boys at Rugby School publish their first set of written rules. These are the first written rules for any form of
‘football’ and are one of the reasons why Rugby’s game flourished whilst others died out.
Trinity College, Dublin is the first rugby club to be formed in Ireland.
Edinburgh Academicals is the first rugby club to be formed in Scotland.
Montevideo Cricket Club, Uruguay, is the first club outside Europe to play rugby.
The ‘Cambridge Rules’ are published. These rules are an amalgamation of the various forms of ‘football’ – including elements of Rugby School football.
26 October – Football Association (FA) formed at the Freemason’s Tavern, Great Queen Street, Lincoln Inn Fields,
“The original object of the Association was to frame a code of laws that would embrace the best and most acceptable points of all the various methods of play under the one heading of ‘football’” (The History of the Football Association by Geoffrey Green – 1953).
Clubs attending the first meeting include Blackheath and Blackheath Proprietary School. 10 November – 2nd FA meeting.
Although some public schools reply to the letters sent out by the FA offering membership, Rugby School does not.
Rules are discussed. At this point it is still the intention to merge the Rugby School rules into the FA’s national football rules with everyone else’s.
14 November – 4th FA meeting.
The proposed rules for ‘football’ are read out. F. W. Campbell (Blackheath) asserts that they were “worthy of consideration”. Handling the ball is allowed, but other aspects of Rugby School rules, such as hacking (kicking) and hacking over (tripping over), are forbidden.
1 December – 5th FA meeting.
Campbell believes that hacking is an essential element of the ‘football’ game that his club (Blackheath) wants to play. To eliminate hacking would “do away with all the courage and pluck from the game, and I will be bound over to bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a week’s practice”.
8 December – 6th FA meeting.
Campbell informs the meeting that the laws that the FA wants to adopt would destroy the game and all interest in it. He then removes Blackheath from membership of the FA.
Other rugby clubs follow this lead and do not join the Football Association. Without the participation of these clubs many of the Rugby School football influences are dropped from the FA’s laws and the brand new football game (soccer) will become an almost exclusively dribbling sport.
Sydney University is the first rugby club to be formed in Australia.
‘Alcocks Football Annual’ lists approximately 75 clubs playing Rugby School football rules. These different clubs have different interpretations of the laws as played at Rugby School.
Nelson club of New Zealand starts to play Rugby School rules, the first club in that country to do so.
November - an anonymous surgeon writes to ‘The Times’ complaining that Rugby football is dangerous. The need is felt to form a body to regulate the laws.
26 January – Rugby Football Union (RFU) founded at the Pall Mall Restaurant, No.1 Cockspur Street, London near Trafalgar Square.
21 clubs are present: Blackheath, Richmond, Ravenscourt Park, West Kent, Marlborough Nomads, Wimbledon
Hornets, Gipsies, Civil Service, Law Club, Wellington College, Guy’s Hospital, Flamingoes, Clapham Rovers, Harlequins, King’s College, St Paul’s School, Queen’s House, Lausanne, Addison, Mohicans, Belsize Park. Algernon Rutter (Richmond) is elected president. A committee is selected to produce a definitive national set of rugby football laws.
27 March – first ever international fixture. Scotland (Scottish members of the RFU) defeats England (English members of the RFU) by 1 goal & 1 try to 1 try at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh. The match is played by teams of 20- a-side and the game lasts for 50 minutes each way.
Wiveliscombe RFC formed. Oh! Also the first match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Oxford wins by 1 goal to nil. This fixture will become known as the ‘Varsity’ match.
And – William Webb Ellis died, in Menton, France.
The 21 clubs that attended the first meeting, chaired by the club captain of the Richmond Club, one E. C. Holmes, included Harlequins, Blackheath, Guy's Hospital, Civil Service, Wellington College, King's College and St. Paul's School which are still playing today. Other clubs now defunct, or playing under other names, were the picturesquely named Gipsies, Flamingoes, Mohicans, Wimbledon Hornets, Marlborough nomads, West Kent , Law, Lausanne, Addison, Belsize park, Ravenscourt park, Chapham rovers and a Greenwich club called Queen's House. Many famous provincial clubs, founded before 1871, were not founder members of the Rugby Football Union, though, of course, they became members later; among these were Bath, Bradford, Liverpool and Brighton.
One famous name that was missing, though, was the London club, Wasps. Somehow they managed to send their representative to the wrong venue at the wrong time on the wrong day but another version of the story was that he went to a pub of the same name and after consuming a number of drinks was too drunk to make it to the correct address after he realized his mistake.
The first ever international game: Scotland v England played at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, March 27th, in front of a crowd of 4000 (Scotland won by one goal and one try to one goal, the teams were 20-a-side and Halves were 50 minutes each). The try was awarded after a 10 minute argument, leading to a famous aphorism by Dr. HH Almond, the Scottish umpire: "I must say, however, that when an umpire is in doubt, I think he is justified in deciding against the side which makes the most noise. They are probably in the wrong."
The Hancock Family
“In one breath, saying Hancock, banking, brewing and rugby was a synonymous term for Wiveliscombe, to such an extent that it was almost superfluous to name the town”
The Club quickly became one of the leading exponents of the game in the West and Wales, and the early days are closely bound to the remarkable family of William Hancock, a banker who started the brewery which became the town’s main employer. William and his wife, who later became Club President, had ten sons, two of whom, Frank and Froude, became internationals, one for England and the other for Wales, while no fewer than seven sons played rugby for Somerset; Frank (6), Froude (47), Herbert (2), Ernest (32), Leonard (5), Ilbert (1) and Dawbeny(7). A total of 96 Hancock County appearances up until 1894!
Gradually the fixture list was extended and the Club flourished until, largely under the aegis of the Hancock family, the 1880’s established it as being among the strongest anywhere and they were virtually invincible. Indeed, one old player who first appeared in 1880 recalled that there was a time when the Club declined to arrange fixtures with Bristol as they were not considered strong enough!
Around about this time, Wiveliscombe played Wellington away in what must have been one of the very earliest floodlit matches, the ground being floodlit by electric arc lights, the current for which was supplied by a dynamo, worked by a traction engine. This was a sensation in 1878.
The Hancock family lived at Abbotsfield House overlooking the town, which was built originally for a wealthy London piano manufacturer and where, to quote a letter from WHJ Hancock ‘Frank used to go for runs round the Abbotsfield drives to get fit for football, but really to chase the maids’! The letter also states that which has gone down in folklore around here, that both Frank & Froude would travel away on match days by early train, play their games, wherever, and travel back to Taunton by milk train. Their father didn’t believe in spoiling them, so didn’t always send a groom with the pony & trap – so they then walked the 10 miles home
Frank later lived at Ford House, Wiveliscombe, was a Director of Lloyds bank and was elected Club President in 1895, helping to save them from near extinction in 1896. The minutes of the meeting also state that entrance fees were to remain at 1/6d and that any player heard swearing during a game would be fined 6d!
During his time as President he made a point of counting the spectators over a few weeks, and comparing the number with the take on the gate, Frank discovered a big discrepancy, so he had a ticket box made – with NO DOOR! The box was lifted over the offender, and lifted off after the game!
Hancock retired from rugby at the end of the 1885/86 season at the age of 26, returning to Wiveliscombe, but leaving behind an indelible debt of gratitude, marked in several celebrations during the Centenary year of the Cardiff Club.
The Hancock boots were made by Henry Cummins, the Wivey boot maker and it’s interesting to know (from his grandson Jerry Vile) that, in those days of ‘dribbling’ the ball with feet & shins, Frank’s boots were required to be of hard leather on the outer half of the toe, with soft on the inner, so he could ‘feel the ball’.
Frank was born in 1862 and died in 1943 when, with the country fighting for its life, the funeral in Wiveliscombe was a very quiet one.
Frank started as a forward (most were!) but soon switched to the backs and played a leading role in one of the game’s great innovations, the change from three to four three-quarters having started to play his rugby for Wivey in 1880 at the age of 18.
Frank is the subject of a remarkable eulogy in the history of the Cardiff Rugby Club which he joined in1883, having been sent to open another branch of his father's brewery.
The history reads, “A Somersetshire man born and bred, Frank commenced his football career in 1878 at the early age of 16. Two years later he transferred his services to the Wiveliscombe Club and was speedily appointed to the captaincy of the cub, a position he held until leaving home for Cardiff at the latter end of 1883. Wiveliscombe occupies the proud position of first place among the leading Somersetshire clubs and under Mr.Hancock’s captaincy they never lost a single match on their own ground.”
It goes on to outline his achievements, having started with a match for the Cardiff Second XV against Newport. He captained Somerset for two seasons, led them with success against such powerful sides as Blackheath, the two major universities, Gloucestershire, Middlesex and Devon while rapidly establishing himself in the Cardiff team. He won 5 Welsh International caps - against Ireland, England and Scotland and soon was made captain of Cardiff, by then the most successful team in Wales.
The history says “he was elected captain (1885) by the unanimous vote of the members and it is not too much to say that never before was a similar appointment received with so large an amount of favour by the outside public.
Having begun his career as a forward, Frank became the most renowned threequarter in the game. His influence helped Cardiff to be known as the "Welsh Invincibles'. The history goes on:
“That a great deal of their success is due to Mr. Hancock there can be little or no doubt .
A brilliant and unselfish player himself, he has striven to impart some of his good qualities to those who follow him and he has not striven in vain. Under his captaincy the team play as they never played before, and have made for themselves a reputation second to none in the football world. He is somewhat deficient in pace perhaps, but more than makes amends for this by his dodging powers. Every Cardiff spectator is familiar with "Hancock’s corkscrew runs". If he possesses one fault it is that he is too unselfish. He tackles cleanly and well and as a rule the man who can manage to hand him off deserves to get away. He is a model captain, always ready to detect where the enemy’s weakness or strength lies and to take steps accordingly. He also keeps a sharp lookout on his own men and any shirking or bad play elicits prompt condemnation. He is not much addicted to praising and for this reason the “Well played,so-and-so" with which he occasionally greets some unusually smart piece of play is all the more highly esteemed by the individual to whom the remark is addressed”.
Indeed the season 1885-86 was known as 'Hancock’s Year’ as Cardiff won 26 of their 27 matches, against all the leading clubs, being beaten only by Moseley in the final match. During which they conceded two of only four tries conceded the whole season, Cardiff having scored 131 all told
The history comments “ There were no goals dropped, Hancock being somewhat opposed to anyone having a shot for goal believing it would tend to selfishness and the spoiling of a probable try; so much was this so that in the match at Cirencester, although Cardiff had a comfortable lead, one player made a mark, Hancock ordered him to place it for Hughes, but the player took a drop for goal whereupon Hancock gave him a severe talking-to and told him in the hearing of everyone on the ground that he had a good mind to send him of the field there and then, and that if he or any other player ever disobeyed orders, that player would be sent off immediately'. However, in 1881, he’d dropped a goal himself to win a game for Wivey against Wellington!
He generally discouraged kicking and made the team focus mainly on try scoring through the forwards gaining the ball for individual play from the backs. Solid passing was primary in Hancock’s vision of winning through scoring tries. In the 1885/86 season Cardiff scored a remarkable 131 tries but not a single penalty or drop goal. It is said that Hancock aggressively shouted down one of this team who attempted a drop goal during a game. Hancock was single minded and dictatorial in his approach as a captain, but his tactics were extremely successful, losing all bar one game and seeing just four tries scored against them.
Hancock’s final international match was against Scotland in the 1886 Home Nations Championship. Hancock was given the captaincy of Wales and tried out his four three-quartersystem, the first time this had been done in an international. Hancock was paired up with Welsh rugby superstar Arthur Gould, but the poor selection of the team resulted in Hancock scrapping the system during the game and switched Gould to full-back but the damage was already done and Wales lost the match. The trial was judged a failure and the four three-quartersystem was dropped for several years.
The story of the invention of the fourth threequarter is interesting – and varied! The “Centenary History of the RFU” says ''The London Hospital, in1884, in an effort to prevent Guys Hospital’s brilliant Welsh international threequarter HM. Jordan from scoring, played four threequarters instead of the usual three. This tactic was adopted in Wales by FE. Hancock, of Cardiff, in the 1885/86 season, after an earlier experiment at Cheltenham College and was later adopted everywhere”.
Then, in the South Wales Echo of 1984 (the papers centenary) the well-known commentator GV.Wynne-Jones added much to the story. He wrote “Cardiff were not having a very good season in 1883/84 and found themselves a threequarter short to go to play against Cheltenham Collage, a very strong side at the time. Cardiff enlisted the services of F.E.Hancock, who’d played splendidly in his first appearance for the club. After his debut the club was faced with an awkward situation since the normal threequarters of W D.B. Horton, Tom Williams, and AJ.Stewart were fit enough for the next game against Gloucester. So to avoid the embarrassment of leaving out their newfound star, they played four threequarters, of which Hancock was one. In due course, when he was captain of Wales, he became the first International captain to employ four threequarters.
But -there is also some 2007 research of the compiler of Welsh sporting greats, Glyn Prescott which bears out the above to a degree; ‘Frank Hancock, of course, is often credited with introducing the 4 three-quarter system. Indeed, he even claimed this himself in an interview with the Western Mail in the 1930s. However, it was his previous Cardiff captain, Joe Simpson, who was the first to adopt it with Cardiff . However, I believe Hancock did something far more significant: he worked out and successfully applied a innovative method of using the new formation. I believe it is no exaggeration to say that in so doing he revolutionised the game not only in Cardiff and Wales but subsequently throughout the world. And he doesn’t always get enough credit for it!
1908 history of Cardiff RFC, by CS ( Charlie) Arthur, a member of Frank’s 85-86 team.’
So take your pick, remembering that Glyn Prescott is Welsh – and Hancock English!
Here’s an example of Frank’s unique style of match reporting, that of the local derby played on Christmas Day 1884, Wiveliscombe v. Wellington, played at Wellington – a traditional fixture to this day, athough played on Boxing Day for many a year:
'A very foggy and damp day with drizzling rain. There was an enormous gate, nearly all Wiveliscombe, Milverton and Wellington turning up. Each side had a splendid team and I think each was confident of success. F.E.H (Froude Hancock) won toss and defended the higher goal. Just at first they pressed us hard, our forwards failing to work together. Froude and Hole, with a couple of dribbles relieved us and Vickery nearly let F.E.H. in with a good pass. Soon after Pearse picked up and passed immediately to Boucher, the latter shying to Day, who with one of his straight runs landed a try but unfortunately fell when over the line or he might have got behind the posts. It was questioned as a pass forward but the Referee ruled it to us. I was certainly in a wrong position to see but I should have given it as right. The kick by Glass just missed. Wellington now played up like smoke but Fox always ran Glass’s side and being badly backed up by Tanner did not get his deserts. A miss punt by F.E.H nearly let the Wellington forwards in but old Ern and Glass, with some long, well-judged kicks sent then back again. Adams generally waiting too long to get his kick. At the call of half-time the play had been most even.
With the change over our forwards played beautifully, Yeandle, as of old, being the cream of the lot, coming through with the ball several times in succession; Hewell backed up well and Hill, when he got the ball, showed them hls strength but not judgement. The knocking about they had now began to tell on messrs. Boucher and Day and though they did not funk they let Fox and Manley pass them several times. F.E.H, playing close, saved but could not manage to chuck to Vickery as the latter played very close to prevent Fox passing.
Although they broke through several times we kept them in their twenty-five nearly all the second half and it was most unfortunate we did not score.
Winter and another (I think Hart) were all this time playing a shockingly rough game and on our side, Hammett responded with a blow, on the mouth for some opponent which I was very sorry for.
At call of time we had won by one try to nil. Over £22 were taken at the gate. The cheering and
counter-cheering were deafening, but I must say that considering all things, the byestanders did not behave badly'.
(Note: The Wellington derby regularly attracted big crowds , with Wivey supporters walking the 5 miles when away, often with stones in their pockets!)
Wivey’s Sweet-Escott was capped 5 times for Wales after joining Frank Hancock at Cardiff.
In 1912 another Wivey man, F Hawkins, who went to work in the Rhondda Valley and play for Pontyprydd, was also capped twice for Wales. Frank James Hawkins 1885-1960 clubs were then Wiveliscombe & Pontypridd. This Frank won 2 Welsh caps in 1912. He also won a Military Cross while serving as a 2/Lt in the 20th Welsh on the Western Front. Welsh policemen often ended up as officers (two became battalion COs). He ended the war as a Captain and captained Pontypridd 1910/1911/1912. He served as police officer in the Glamorgan Constabulary, then was a licensee in Pontypridd and Porth and Rhondda before war. He played for police as a back, as they always had too many forwards and played the most talented out wide!
Another highly unlikely sporting hero who had close connections with the club
was SMJ (Sammy) Woods who played for the Club while learning the brewing art, having already played test cricket for England against South Africa in 1885, and for his native Australia against England in 1888. He managed to fit in 14 rugby caps for England in the1890’s and is generally believed to have invented the style of wing forward play which became so much a part of the game.
1890’s the club continued to prosper, as the Hancocks, and the Glass brothers, helped make Wivey almost invincible. Frank’s son Ralph E Hancock continued the family tradition until 1914, when he fell in the Great War.
Froude Hancock was born in Wellington, Somerset in 1865 to William Hancock A keen sportsman, he was a member of several hunts, including the Devon and Somerset, but most notably the Dulverton Hunt.
Hancock began playing rugby for local club, Wiveliscombe, before playing for first class English side Richmond. In 1886 Hancock was selected for his first international game, when he was selected to represent England against Wales in the 1886 Home Nations Championship.He was reselected for the very next match against Ireland at Lansdowne Road, but missed the final game, the Championship decider, against Scotland. The 1896 Championship also saw the last international match for Hancock's brother, Frank, who had moved to Wales and represented the Welsh team. Frank missed the game against England which would have seen the brothers face each other, but was captain of the Welsh side that faced Scotland seven days later. Hancock played one final game for England, four years later, in the 1890 Championship.This game saw the reintroduction of England after two years away from the international scene, and resulted in the country's first defeat to Wales.
In 1890, Hancock became an original member of William Percy Carpmael's newly formed invitational tourists, the Barbarians, becoming one of the few early members not to have a university background. Hancock went on several Easter tours with the Barbarians, scoring a try against Norman Biggs' Cardiff team in 1893.
Although not reselected for the 1891 Championship, Hancock was chosen to represent the first official British Isles team on their first tour of South Africa. Hancock played in all three tests, which all resulted in wins for the tourists. In 1896 a second tour of South Africa was organised. The British Isles were led by Johnny Hammond, and he and Hancock were the only two players to have toured in 1891. Hancock was again chosen to play in all the Tests match, scoring a try in the Second Test at Johannesburg, his only international points. In total Hancock played in 33 matches for the British Isles teams over the two tours, the seven tests and 26 matches against invitational opposition.
At 6 feet 4 inches and weighing some 16 stone at his playing peak made Froude a giant in those days – and earned him the nickname ‘Baby’. However, the ‘Centenary History of Rugby Union’ says of him, “He was a most gentlemanly player without the slightest suspicion of roughness, always in good condition, owing principally to the constant exercise taken in stag-hunting and following the beagles”.
He began his career with the town side, and played in almost every Somerset County game from 1886-92. He also shared the Somerset captaincy from 1893-1896 with S.M.J. Woods, a legendary figure in both rugby and cricket who spent some time in Wiveliscombe learning the brewing art.
He won three International caps in 1886 and 1890, and was one of the 1888 England side selected who still hold the distinction of having won caps without playing! Apparently ‘none of the other countries coming up to scratch’!!
Having described his stature, one account reads "and speedy withall, he made a splendid acquisition to the forward line, to the advantages his inches afforded in the line-out being added skill as a dribbler that must have been the envy of many a soccer player”.
For a time he played for Blackheath and the Harlequins and the tale is told that although normally a groom employed by the family would meet him at Taunton station but sometimes the trap was not available so, after travelling at least 160 miles each way to play, so he would walk the 10 miles home to Wiveliscombe. Occasionally, they say, he received a sovereign for his expenses - but sometimes not!
He was involved in the first rugby tour of South Africa and played in16 of the19games. This was called ‘The Missionary Tour’ – though not in the politically incorrect imperial sense, no doubt, more ‘Spreading the Word’ – and the word was ‘Rugby’!
A memorial stone of granite was placed on Anstey Common two years after his death, on a spot from where Hancock watched the hunt in his old age.
Froude died on October 15th 1933 and his funeral report occupied no fewer than five closely set columns of the ‘Somerset Free Press’. There is a Memorial to him at the Wivey Recreation Ground.
Another distinguished Hancock, who fell in the Great War at the age of 26, was Ralph, Frank’s son. After a fine sporting record at school he went on to play for Wiveliscombe and Somerset before being killed at the front. In the London Gazette the citation for his Distinguished Service Order read ‘Lieutenant Ralph Escott Hancock displayed conspicuous gallantry in leaving his trench under very heavy fire and going back some sixty yards over absolutely bare ground to pick up a Corporal Warwick, who had fallen whilst coming up with a party of reinforcements. Lieutenant Hancock conveyed this non-commissioned officer to the cover of a haystack, and then returned to his trench.
This was a tragic end to what might well have been a glittering sporting career, and not only in rugby. When in Malta, he played in the polo team that won the regimental cup, and captained the Army against the Navy; he won several prizes for shooting; played cricket for Somerset; won the East Devon Point -to-Point in 1911 & 1914 on horses taught and trained by himself and was a well-known follower of the West Somerset and East Devon Foxhounds.
The County Championship was established this 1890/91 season, and Somerset fielded four threequarters, including Ernest Hancock, with brother Bertie at half-back.
The Referees' Association was also established.
Old Wivey fixture cards show many clubs which have long gone, but deserve a mention: 1896, Tiverton Middle School; All Saints; Uffculme & Bampton. 1900, Tiverton CI; Tone Engineers; & Tiverton Harlequins.
On the subject of long-gone clubs, Wivey joined with Langley RFC while Frank Hancock was in Wales!
The years 1896-1906 were the first of the club's lean years; not least because, as a statement of accounts showed, the club started one season with 1 penny in the bank! More to the point the club was reduced to playing mainly junior sides. But then it began to revive and in 1908 beat Bridgwater Reserves 45-0, R. Gardner kicking 9 goals - a long-standing record.
In 1913 The club reached the final of the Somerset Cup. County players RE (Ralph) Hancock and JF Risdon, with Ernie Barrington and Ben Greedy on the fringe of County honours, formed the nucleus of a well balanced side.
When the First World War came most of the payers joined the forces, with the survivors resuming in 1919, playing on the Recreation Ground where we still play. Club HQ and changing rooms were at ‘The Bear Inn’.
Early in 1919 Wiveliscombe decided that the most appropriate Memorial to those who had given their lives in the 1914-1918 War was a Recreation Ground.
Subscriptions to the Fund brought in £1500 for the purchase of a field in West Road, known as 'Broadsmeadow.' The cost of the land, levelling, gates and fencing amounted to £1662, the additional money being raised by dances and collections.
In 1921 a fountain was erected then, in 1925, lavatories were built. In 1927 the Swimming Pool (or Bathing Pool as it was called) was constructed at a cost of £778, of which £683 was raised by entertainments, sales and collections.
Thanks to money given to the Trustees under the Will of Arthur T Pearse (whose brothers were among the original members) further land was bought and the Pavilion erected in 1934, at a cost of £1152.
There followed the Memorial Shelter to the memory of Froude Hancock, when the money raised exceeded that required!
The Tennis Club originally was laid out as 2 grass and 1 hard court, plus a small pavilion.
Between the wars, 1920-21 was a memorable season, the club scoring 424 points to 124; most clubs in Devon & Cornwall applied to play Wivey, and a second 'mini-golden age' began. E Furze, CJ Burston, & T Dulborough played for the County and Alfie Slocombe for the Royal Navy. Other prominent players in a strong side then were, Les Sharland, Herbert Baker, Bill Gamlin and Fred Sedgebeer
Arthur Scott wrote the match reports for very many years and his recollections are interesting – and being a Wellington man clearly impartial! He recalls seeing his first Wivey game in 1921 at the age of eight, in the company of 2 half-drunk uncles, travelling to Wellington by pony and trap. He names several players as stars in a strong team between the wars: ‘Munchie’ Furze, a big centre; Leslie Land, a brilliant wing; Herbert Baker, a superb drop-kicking fly-half;and scrum half Frank Dulborough, several of whom were capped for the strong Somerset side. An outstanding forward of the period was Ernie Coles who set a club record of 500 1st XV appearances; two others were Fred ‘Sedge’ Sedgbeer and Bill ‘Gammo’ Gamlin. In the mid 30’s when playing Honiton (who were then a very tough lot apparently) Scott remarked to the ref. athalf-time that he thought the game unusually rough; the official replied that it was rugby, not tennis. In the 2nd half though, ‘Gammo’ walked off and sat in the bus to avoid the flying fists and boots.
In the Golden Jubilee season of 1922-23 the Wivey side was usually; E Rankmore,
E Dulborough, S Nurcombe, E Furze (Capt), A Greedy, T Dulborough, W Baker, AJ Greedy,
E Coles, S Pulsford, J Conibeare, E Barrington, J Salter, E Nurcombe, C Evans. Also prominent in the late 20’s were G Smith, G Lock, C White, E Conibeare, E, T, & W Greedy, F Sedgebeer, W Gamlin, F Jennings, W Dulborough,& E Coles.
Our own Bugsy Burston (Senior) remembered watching his first game at Lambrook Field, where Kingsmead School now stands, in 1919, with the Wivey players in their First World War uniforms. The game was against North Petherton.
Chief Petty Officer Burston's further comprehensive, handwritten recollections are held by his son Robert, and are not reproduced here as there are plenty of individuals still living, and this narrator doesn’t wish to be sued!!
After the war the club held its own with local sides for a few years, with a strong team which included Ben & Arthur Greedy, E. Rankmore, Tom Dulborough, Will Conibeare, E Furze, Bill Wyatt, Bill Eccles, Ern Barrington, Sid Pulsford, Bob Henburrow, Bob Gardner, Edward Nuncombe and Harry Disney.
The club then declined until, in 1952 it was a question of whether to continue or not. Fortunately the Committee refused to give up and, having been run by the exceptional Fred Berry since 1925, would not do so!
Fred was the Wivey tailor and known as ‘Mr Rugby’. He was Secretary during this successful period until WWII, when the Club closed for the duration, as most of the players had joined up, resuming in 1945 which was when Sid Woodbury first made his mark as a quality full-back,then going on to be Wivey’s 2nd ‘Mr Rugby’, serving as Chairman and Fixture Secretary from 1945 until ???????
Other stars of those years were hooker Gerry ‘Rigger’ Vile and the great Conibeare brothers;
Jack, or ‘Crafty’, was the finest forward Arthur Scott ever saw, while big Don ‘Horse’ Conibeare was not just a great player, but a Wivey character and mainstay behind the bar of the ‘White Hart’ until his death in 2004(?). ‘Horse’ had not been well for some while, but when his coffin was being carried by clearly struggling Club members, a puffing Guy Mabley, the then Club Secretary, was heard to remark to some of the very many mourners, ‘Who was it said he’d lost weight?!! Horse had been well over 20 stone for 40+ years.
Jack Conibere was the only club player to gain County Colours in this period, while David Brice Captained England Schoolboys.
Other big names of the period were Fieldgate and Newman, both of whom went on to play first class rugby for big clubs; it was Fred Slocombe’s era too,
Since their foundation 1958 the Colts were a powerful side, with 30 plus players playing for the then strong County side up to 1972, due entirely to the efforts of Roger Masters, Len Cook and Alfie Haines.
The 60’s were something of a low point in the Club’s history as Dr Beeching had shut the railway, the market closed - and the brewery, meaning work was in short supply and, despite having outstanding Colts and undaunted Wivey rugby spirit, many young men and potential first team players had little choice but to move away in order to get work and the club often struggled to raise even a full 1st XV. Danny Harris was a fiery performer on the wing and Jeremy Winter made a big impact at fly-half in the latter part of the decade, going on to a successful playing career first at Taunton, then on to Bridgewater.
Scott’s other real star of the period was Alan Babb, who is well remembered as the opposition wing-forward (flanker to you youngsters) by the compiler of this history, having been totally out-played by him on several Easter tours and other ‘friendlies’. On the other hand, he fancied the girl I brought along something rotten, but couldn’t compete there! Alan went on to play for Moseley, a 1st class club in those days and has been known to attend the Past Players
Micky Moore, Arthur Moore, Dr John Rees, Colin Mogford, Chris and Robert Burston, Roger Smith, Keith Jennings, Geoff Smith, Derek Rowland, Bill Hannon, Dave Turle, Don White, Norman and Des Green, and John Bradner are also all affectionately and admiringly remembered by Scott
The arrival of Leagues
When the RFU introduced leagues Wivey wanted none of it, being quite happy to be selective about who they played in ’friendlies’ and, given the strength of the club at the time, where they were often able to punch above their apparent weight.
However, very few clubs stayed out of the leagues, so Wivey’s fixtures dried up and the club was forced to join the mainstream in the 1988-89 season, when the 1st XV finished as undefeated Courage League Somerset 3 Champions. Played 39 Won 34 Lost 5. Points for 1020 - Points Against 308
The squad usually consisted of: G Sharland, R Weaver, B Stone, I Bristow, D Horton, C Puzey, D Quicke, B Stevens, D Sharland, R Williams, J Winter, M Howe, S Sharland, P Stone, R Stone,T Acock, D Sharland
So that was the first of what became known as ‘The Four Seasons’!
Hugh – if you could include the photos, I’ll add the officials
And so promotion to Somerset 2 in 1989-90, where the club again finished undefeated in the league. Total Played 37, Won 34, Drew 1, Lost 2. Points for 939 - Points against 310
The December 1989 issue of Rugby World featured Wiveliscombe RFC as Junior Rugby Club of the Month, and Ken Tucker in the newsagents couldn’t get enough copies!
R Stone, P Buckingham, B Stevens, I Bristow, ??, ??, P Bristow, G Sharland, B Stone, ??, D Sharland, C Puzey, M Howe, ?? G Mabely, P Stone, K Gosling.
1990-91? Courage League Champions - Somerset Division 1!
Played 36 Won 30 Drew 1 Lost 5. Points for 928 - Points against 351
E Cooper, R Weaver, B Stone, B Stevens, D Horton, R Williams, ??, N Darlowe, C Clifford, P Bristow, C Puzey, R Stone, D Quicke, P Buckingham, G Mabely, P Stone, G Sharland, D Sharland, J Winter
1991-92 Third Place Gloucester/Somerset Division
Played 33 Won 26 Lost 7. Points for 824 - Points against 386. Winners of West Somerset Cup
Promoted to Western Counties Division – which wasn’t split into North & West leagues as it is now, but was the full W Country; Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire – away to North Cheltenham one week, then away to Penzance & Newlyn a fortnight later. The travel costs nearly bankrupted us.
In those early days of leagues, clubs played each other once only and Wivey’s promotion came down to the final game of the season, away to Coney Hill, Gloucester. Never having played them before, the reputation of Coney Hill had preceded them throughout the season, with tough Bristol sides saying, ‘If you think we’re rough, wait till you meet Coney Hill! It was learned that referees were instructed not to bring their car to the club, as it would likely be torched, so a club official would collect and deliver the lamb for slaughter. Visiting teams were as likely to be attacked and damaged by the spectators, as by the opposition, so the game was approached with some...anticipation!
Wivey’s meteoric rise had been achieved with a second row of no great size – Benjy Stevens & Brian Stone were both good players, but by no means huge, so we’d been playing a hulking great incomer (and softie) to add weight, but the bus had to leave for Coney Hill without him, as he’d suddenly developed a tooth abscess! The forwards sub was 17 year old Colt Michael Mann, and it was no great surprise that flankers Rob Stone & Keith Gosling spent much of his 1st XV debut protecting him, after he’d had the nerve to score a try in the early moments of the game. Fortunately, the attempt to extract Rob Stone’s eyeball was unsuccessful!
Also fortunately, the RFU has tightened up considerably on foul play in subsequent years and such behaviour has long been eradicated.
That season’s Team photo shows:
B Stone, R Weaver*, B Stevens, P Buckingham, P Bristow*, D Quicke, M Mann*, C Clifford, R Williams, R Stone*, K Gosling, A Weaver, N Darlowe, I Bristow*, P Stone*, G Sharland*, D Sharland*, J Winter*
The reasons for this meteoric rise through the leagues are, first, entering lowly Somerset 3 with a very decent side and second, because Wivey were blessed with a hard core of high quality players who came through pretty much together, and it’s worth highlighting them.
Gary Sharland; an immovable loosehead, who briefly moved to Bridgwater later in his career. Rob Stone: a hard-as-nails ground playing flanker, and total gentleman. Rob Weaver: a big, strong, try-scoring machine, achieved mostly by flattening any player in his way. Keith Gosling: an incomer to the area and a scurrying, creative nuisance of an openside, who also played in most other positions and only retired from rugby after retiring from work! Ian Bristow: a big, deft scrum half, with a fine line in verbal dummies. The mercurial fly half Derek Sharland: sheer class, who manage to repeat the same defensive line-breaking move throughout a long career. Peter Stone: a centre who was as hard as his flanker brother and covered the ground like Jerry Guscott - Captain for all 4 seasons, and many more. Paul Bristow, at fullback, was safe as houses and deadly coming into the line.
While others did Wivey proud, that’s the core that made such a successful side. Those who represented the county are asterisked in the team list.
It was at an AGM that our long-standing and much admired President, Fred Elliott CBE, of Withycombe Farm, appealed for someone to compile a book on the history of the club, derived from material collected by himself and his wife: there can be no other reason than respect for Fred why the pillock who undertook the role did so, as it was something of a nightmare task. Firstly, there was such a mass of press cuttings, letters and documents that Fred, understandably, expected a book – but after weeks of ploughing through it all, the majority had to be discarded as it was largely duplication. Nonetheless, credit must go to Fred & his Missus for supplying the bones of all up to ‘The Arrival of Leagues’.
Another problem was Wivey folklore having little bearing on the truth! For example, it was cast in stone that we’d produced Captains of both England AND Wales, in Froude & Frank Hancock: yes, they did both represent those Nations, with honour, but never as a captain.
There is one only anecdote in the above which turned out to be entirely false, but it doesn’t offend anyone, or the truth, so it’s stayed – why spoil a good tale? There are loads more similar tales out there which will hopefully be added by someone, sometime – because the story of a very special Club like Wivey shouldn’t be dry as dust, but tell tales of daring do, on and off the field, from the Clubhouse, the pubs and the buses. Not all that goes on tour should remain there, as long as no names are mentioned, obviously.
Chris Mann. 2011