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Extracted from "50 Years of Rugby at Rushden & Higham"
by kind permission
Rushden & Higham R.U.F.C.

50 Years of Rugby

Badge of Rushden & Higham RUFC

The badge of Rushden & Higham RUFC

Club President Jack Wilce stated in an article that appeared in the Rushden Echo & Argus, 2nd September 1966, “It all started because of a series of coincidences.  I took over the headship of Rushden Secondary Modern School for Boys.  Dick Falkner took over the Green Dragon and Bert White came to manage Ellis and Everard.  We were all new to the area and all dead keen on rugby.  Dick Falkner began the chain of events when he wrote to me suggesting we got together to talk about getting a club started.  As a result we advertised a meeting and 28 people turned up.  Major Marriott was the first club President, Bob Marriott club captain, Terry Willmott was Treasurer and Dick Patenall was elected Hon. Secretary.”

The first game was played on Saturday 6th January 1951 against Biggleswade RFC resulting in a 3–14 defeat.

The first selected team was: H.Lewis, R.Patenall, C.Alsop, V.Webb, B.Moore, R.Marriott (capt), R.Falkner, T.Willmott, M.Magee, L.Lloyd, H.Catlin, J.Wilce, G.Evans, R.Shortland, G.Shipman.
Reserves P.Valentine, D.Chapman, R.Peake, G.Greaves.

Rushden & Higham 1st XV 1951-52 Rushden & Higham R.F.C.
1st XV 1951-52

H.W.Catlin (capt)

The first pitch was on “the Hedges” and the former stables of the Green Dragon Hotel were converted into changing rooms.  Visiting teams were given their after match teas in a café in College Street before partaking of Rushden & Higham’s hospitality in the Green Dragon.

There was no shortage of forwards in that first season.  In fact they had the heaviest and most knowledgeable pack in the area, but undoubtedly they were the slowest.  The team was often made up of 13 forwards and 2 backs.  Wins were hard to come by to start with, five games were played without a single try being scored, but then a breakthrough came against Biggleswade when they romped away with five.

As 1950/51 was half a season, 1951/52 was the first full season.  An “A” team was started in the club’s second season, 1952/53, and by this time the club had moved twice.  The first time was to the nearby Wilson’s Field, which flooded early in the season and stayed that way.  They then moved to the Railway Field just behind Higham Ferrers Station.  This remained the club’s home pitch until 1957/58 when they moved to Saffron Road.  Because of the well‑defined undulations of the Railway Field special techniques were developed by the forwards to take maximum advantage.  It worked like this.  At a lineout Rushden & Higham’s forwards would always make sure their line was on top of the nearest ridge, even if it meant losing a couple feet of ground, and where possible they would involve their opponents in either one of the deeper dips containing sometimes a foot of water.

Percy Blackwell first club groundsman

The groundsman in those days was Percy Blackwell who was a keen gardener.  He used to collect cow dung from the pitch before the game and put it to rot down in a little pit about three feet deep not far from the corner flag.  A very well dressed Northampton Heathen’s supporter was running down the touchline following his team’s attempt to score and came to rest in the pit, much to the amusement of the Rushden & Higham team.

Percy Blackwell
first club groundsman

After the first full season Bob Marriott, the club captain, was called back into the navy and Bert Catlin took over.  Before the club was formed he was forced, against his will, to play in goal for a local soccer team to keep his hand in.  Bert recalled some of the problems caused by lack of money in those early days.

“The first set of shirts comprised eleven acquired from a local soccer team which were the old fashioned lace up collar type plus four odd ones.  Dick Falkner bought a ball from an auction sale and financial backing was supplied from a local bookmaker, Mr Partridge, who loaded £20”.

Rushden & Higham XV 1955-56
Rushden & Higham R.F.C. 1955-56
B.Warren, R.Lawrence, J.Perkins, A.Draper, J.Wilkes, R.Wilkins, I.Smith, R.Peake, F.Travers.
A.Wright, N.Wildman, D.Harris, H.Harris (capt), R.Allen, M.Wright, D.Jenkins

Administration was sometimes a little vague in those days.  At the first club outing to Twickenham, dick Falkner was supposed to order the coach.  As he was somewhat forgetful Jack Wilce decided to make sure by reserving the coach himself.  The result was that two 38‑seater coaches arrived at the Green Dragon to collect 13 men.

At the time of the first club dinner, meat was still being rationed throughout the country.  Peter Moody, a prop forward and member of the local constabulary, had relations in the butchery business and managed to get a side of beef for the event.  Dick Falkner traded this for a more seasonal joint of pork.  Fortunately the local Inspector in charge of rationing from the Ministry of Food must have been uninterested in rugby and there were no repercussions or perhaps pork was on quota that week and it could have been acquired from a more regular source.

Dick Falkner suffered from a bad back and used to wear his wife’s roll‑on to play in when it plagued him more than usual.  This caused some very strange looks and comments from visiting teams.

The club was run on a shoestring in the early days and one successful money making gambit was executed by Bert Catlin and John Middlemas.  They bought a load of shoes from local factories and took them to Banbury market where they made £30 for the club on two successive Saturdays.  Just before shutting up on the second Saturday they noticed two left shoes in the one remaining box.  It was either a mistake or a satisfied customer was horribly deformed said Bert Catlin.  We didn’t stay to find out.

Rushden & Higham XV 1956-57
Rushden & Higham R.F.C. 1956-57
A.Towers, R.Peake, R.Wilson, G.Norris, R.Shortland, A.Draper, M.Wright, J.Billing, F.Travers,
R.Miles, G.Fairbrass, T.Collings, A.Wright, J.Perkins (capt), M.Walker, D.Harris, B.Griffiths

In 1959 the club, not regularly fielding three teams, moved to Rushden on John White’s sports ground on the Bedford Road.  Here for the first time in their short history they had the luxury of two adjacent pitches.

Eager members, under the direction of George Fairbrass, spent the summer months erecting a wooden changing room block.  The pride and joy of the changing rooms was a large circular zinc bath that was religiously filled with piping hot water every Saturday afternoon by groundsman Charlie Jones.

The bath was held in such esteem by the members that when the club moved to its present site at Manor Park and the bath became redundant it was agreed that there should a ceremonial end to its years of service.  The bath was wheeled to Wills’ Corner in Rushden for a “Big Bath In” where the public were invited to guess the total number of baths that would be taken by club members between 9am and 6pm.

Rushden & Higham 1st XV 1960-61
Rushden & Higham R.F.C. 1st XV 1960-61
at John White's Sports Ground

A.Wright, R.Wilson, G.Rising, B.Rigby, M.Walker, I.Smith,
A.Draper (capt)

A.Towers, H.Harrison, R.King-Underwood, C.Hardy, R.Peake.

R.Penn, T.Collins, A.Angel, D.Jones.

In the second year at John White’s found a clubhouse was erected, albeit, from a builder’s site hut.  The bar was furnished, a dart board and skittle table were installed and for the first time in its ten-year history Rushden & Higham Rugby Club had its own “home”.

The bar, managed so ably by Mike Drage, gave the club an income that had been missing in the early years, providing a period of consolidation.  Membership increased to such an extent that at one point in the mid‑sixties we boasted 200 members and were able to field five senior teams plus a colts.

Rushden & Higham 1st XV 1965-66
Rushden & Higham R.F.C. 1st XV 1965-1966
R.Tew, R.Wilson, B.Matson, R.Ord, J.Smith, D.Pickin, A.Palmer, ?.Peake, D.Sail, M.Parker.
R.Miles, D.Thompson, P.Hensman, R.Tomlin, D.Jones (capt), B.Clarke, B.Smith, J.Morrison, M.Walker.

The Saxby Cup

This was the time when the only leagues games were played by teams of 13 a-side in Lancashire and Yorkshire.  All Union games were of the “friendly” variety.

In 1961 the annual local derby game between Rushden & Higham and Wellingborough was given a more competitive edge when the Saxby family donated a cup that was to be “fought” for on an annual basis.

Wellingborough’s vastly experienced team dominated the early cup games against a very youthful Rushden and Higham team for the first four years.

But then, in 1965, youth overcame experience and the cup was secured for the first time.  It was now Rushden & Higham’s turn to dominate, which they managed to do for something like the next twenty years.

During the last decade Wellingborough have redressed the balance with Rushden & Higham only winning the cup on one occasion.

The Search for Larger Premises

Towards the end of the sixties the club began to look for larger premises and after many years of searching they were offered the chance to lease the ground that had held most of Rushden’s former treasures – on the site of the town’s former rubbish tip. [Manor Park]

Funds were raised and work began on the present clubhouse under the direct of Brian Greaves.  Members were organised to dig trenches, unload lorries, stack bricks, paint walls and generally turn their hand to any task that could be done on an unpaid basis.  The pitches were seeded and volunteers cleared stones from the surface on their hands and knees.

Official Opening of the Clubhouse

Thursday 30th April 1970 saw the official opening of the new clubhouse by L.G.Carr, President of the East Midlands Rugby Union.  Don White, at that time coach to the England team, assembled a star-studded side to play against the Chairman’s XV.  Ten England Internationals turned out in the two teams including the legendary David Duckham and Bob Taylor the present chairman of the East Midlands Rugby Union.


At Manor Park, Rushden, Thursday 30th April 1970

Don White's XV
Chairman's XV
I.Moffat Northampton & Oxfordshire K.Betts Rushden & Higham
D.Prout Northampton, Cornwall & England J.Morrison Rushden & Higham
C.Wardlow Northampton, Camb. & England G.Allen Northampton & East Midlands
D.Duckham Coventry, Warks & England P.Sweet Northampton & East Midlands
B.Oldham Northampton & East Midlands P.Toombs Rushden & Higham
I.Wright Northampton & Surrey J.Cooley Northampton & East Midlands
W.Gittings Coventry, Warks & England D.Jones Rushden & Higham
C.Fairbrother Coventry, Warks & England R.Jacobs Northampton, E.Midlands & England
A.Johnson Northampton & East Midlands S.Booth Rushden & Higham
D.Powell Northampton, E.Midlands & England P.Duffy Northampton & East Midlands
J.Harrison Boston & Notts, Lincs and Derby N.Godfrey Rushden & Higham
P.Larter Northampton, Leics & England J.Tarry Northampton & East Midlands
M.Roper Northampton A.Bucknall Richmond, E.Counties & England
R.Taylor Northampton, E.Midlands & England F.Osborne Northampton
R.West Northampton, E.Midlands & England R.Ord Rushden & Higham

Referee: B.Griffiths (East Midlands Society)

East Midlands Champions 1972

In season 1971-72 the club gained regional recognition for the first time when they became East Midlands Champions.

East Midlands Champions 1972
East Midlands Champions 1972

Rushden Echo, 28th February 1969, transcribed by Kay Collins

Two Teachers – and a Cow – Mark out a Rugby Pitch

It is not often I repeat an overheard conversation, but something I heard over the weekend amused me so much I cannot resist the temptation to pass it on. I hope the two gentlemen concerned will not take offence.

The two men are well-known in the town. Mr. Bert Catlin, headmaster of Rushden Secondary School for Boys, and Mr. Jack Wilce, headmaster of the John Lee School, Wellingborough.

Both are members of Rushden and Higham Ferrers Rugby Club. Mr. Wilce is president and Mr. Catlin treasurer. They were talking about the club’s plans for new pitches and clubhouse on the former Rushden Urban Council rubbish dump off the Bedford Road.

From the future the conversation switched to the present and the state of the current pitches in use of the John White sports ground. And from there it seemed only natural that they should start talking about the past.

“Do you remember the time we helped to mark out the original pitches in Higham Ferrers?” Mr. Wilce laughed.

“Not half”, chuckled Mr. Catlin.

Being teachers, they applied a mathematical formula for marking the correct angle – the square of the hypotenuse being equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

All very technical. But then trouble started. No, they did not disagree about theit geometry. It was the tape measure they were using.

“Stop pulling on the tape Bert”.

“I’m not pulling, it’s you”.

“No it isn’t, it’s you”.

“I tell you I’m not pulling”.

Apparently at that stage they both slowly turned their heads and looked behind them. A cow was chewing the tape.

“We both started pulling and I think something like four feet of tape measure came from that cow”, said Mr. Wilce.

Tie 1974 Isle of Man logo Club logo Club tie
The tie (left) was to commemorate a tour of the Isle of Man in 1974.

(Right) The Club Tie.

1975 Carnival - Rugby Club 'Band' march up Church Street

Manor Park was officially opened at noon on 26th November 1992, with a tree planting ceremony.

It was also in commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen’s Accession to the Throne.

The sign
The sign of welcome to the Rugby Club at Manor Park

R&H Rugby Club
The club and main pitch taken from the entrance road January 2011

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