150th anniversary of the founding of the Rugby Football Union in 1871 – and the Marlborough role

Report by Neil Goodwin of Marlborough.News

The picture is of England Rugby Nomads of 1871 (Marlborough’s A. St. G. Hamersley highlighted) Pic credit – Football: The Rugby Union Game, Cassell & Company, Ltd., edited by F. Marshall in 1892

As the 2021 Six Nations tournament is about to kick off (or not, depending on the French regulations regarding quarantine), this should mark the 150th anniversary of the very first International Rugby International, between Scotland and England, played at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh.

The venue may have been long consigned to history and since replaced by Murrayfield but the match hasn’t. It still takes place every year (maybe not, ironically, 2021?), alternating in venue between Twickenham and Murrayfield.

So what does this have to do with Marlborough? Why is this of any relevance to us here? Answer: Nomads. And, on the pitch that 1871 day in Edinburgh was Marlborough’s own Alfred St George Hammersley, later to become Captain of England, and then a few years on – possibly – the inspiration of Rugby as a sport in New Zealand, introducing the game to the youth of South Island…. (Wonder what happened to Rugby in NZ?)

When the original RFU (Rugby Football Union) was founded almost exactly 150 years ago on 26 January 1871 in the Pall Mall restaurant on London’s Regent Street, one of the twenty-one clubs at the table – the founding clubs of the RFU – was the Marlborough Nomads.

Things have changed, just a bit since then. Whilst Marlborough Rugby Club are currently trying to negotiate a bit of extra space on Marlborough’s Common to be used essentially as a training area and to share with the town’s very successful Youth Football Club, for maybe 250 hours across a year, the RFU has gone just that bit further, outgrowing the Pall Mall restaurant table to evolve into a near-billion pound business with one of the world’s pre-eminent sports stadia – Twickenham.

Although Marlborough Nomads were there right at the start it was the ‘Nomads’ element that kept all together. They changed homes on numerous occasions, bouncing between Blackheath (in SE London), Surbiton, Thames Ditton and Rosslyn Park, but the name lives on as Marlborough Rugby Club’s second XV.

Click here to read the story of the last time that Marlborough Nomads played the Rosslyn Park Nomads in October 2017, the first time for 107 years since their previous meeting in 1910.

A history so easy to overlook and forget, but Marlborough was right there at the birth of one of the world’s greatest sports, Rugby Union. Would the game have ever come together without Marlborough’s involvement? Probably – but when considering the role played by Marlborough’s Alfred St George Hammersley in the development of the game in New Zealand, maybe not….

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