We are often asked “why Rosslyn Park?” “Where is Rosslyn Park?” and so on. These notes are an attempt to tell you a little bit of our origins and past history.
The club was founded in 1879 when a group of young cricketers decided to form a football club in order to stay together during the winter months. They had originally played their scratch games of cricket in the grounds of Rosslyn House, part of the Rosslyn Park Estate and had therefore taken the name “Rosslyn Park” for their cricket club. When they formed their rugby club they took the same name. Some histories have tried to link the club with the Earls of Rosslyn. Whilst Baron Loughborough, the first Earl of Rosslyn once lived at Rosslyn House, its name was only changed from ‘Shelford Lodge ‘ to ‘Rosslyn House’ after his death. And in any case he died more than 60 years before the club was formed! Neither the football club, nor the cricket club once formed, ever played at Rosslyn Park.
In 1879/80 matches were played at South End Green on a pitch 100 yards or so south of Hampstead Heath station. A room was hired in the White Horse pub at £5 a year to provide a changing room for the players and storage for the club’s temporary goalposts. The touchlines were marked by a V-shaped rut cut into the turf, but in wet weather this soon disappeared. The pitch was not ideal; it was often water-logged and the adjacent pond was smelly and stagnant. The area was, in any case earmarked for a depot when the tram reached Hampstead.
So in 1880/81 the club moved a mile or so further up Fleet Road to Gospel Oak, where a field was leased from a local farmer. That, too, proved unsatisfactory and in 1885 the club moved again to share a ground with West Middlesex Cricket Club in Gunnersbury Lane, Acton. In 1894 the club moved to the Old Deer Park, Richmond, which it shared with Old Merchant Taylors for many years as tenants of Richmond Cricket Club. The Club remained after OMT moved out, staying until they had the chance to own a ground of their own at Roehampton in 1956.
The minutes tell us that for the first two years the uniform was a ‘navy blue jersey with a white Maltese Cross sewn upon the front, until such time as more desirable colours might be decided upon’. No one knows why the Maltese Cross was chosen. However, in 1881 the colours were changed to the present ones.The first subscription was 5/-(25p) for players and 3/- (15p) for non-players, the rent of the pitch was £5, the total receipts for 1879/80 were £15.12.0 (£15.60p), the surplus was 7/2d (approx. 35p) and there were 43 members.During the first ten years most of the matches were against the second teams of the then leading clubs. Until 1890 the longest away fixture was in Greenwich but in that year we played South Northants in Northampton. We scored two tries to their one but there was no winner because no goals were scored. 1890 was a turning point. Fixtures were arranged with Oxford University, London Scottish, Blackheath and Richmond. In the following year Harlequins and London Welsh came on to our list.On 18th April 1892, we became the first English club to play rugby in Europe when we played against Stade Francais in Paris. The press thought the fixture unwise, and one scribe wrote, “it might lead to international complications”.
By 1900 we were running up to 4 teams. In 1902/3 disaster struck. 54 matches were played and only 7 were won. It was at that stage that H. A. Burlinson (Team Sec. Of the 2″ XV) became Hon.Sec., an office which he held until his sudden death at the Old Deer Park in 1948. ‘Burly’ was a lovable man but could be ‘crafty’. If the Committee passed a resolution of which he disapproved he would not record it in the Minutes, and so when at the next meeting someone got up and said, “I thought we resolved at our last meeting to…………” Burly would say “I have no record of that” and that was that!
In 1912 the club played the first games of rugby ever seen in Prague, Budapest and Vienna. The return journey cost £13 per head! By 1914 there were some 300 members. We were lucky that our ground was not requisitioned and so play was continued throughout the war. The ‘gates’ were donated to war charities. Sixty-five members were killed, many were decorated and two were awarded the V.C. The early 1920s were a rebuilding process. 1926/7 was a record with 20 wins out of 26 matches played. By 1928, 2683 people had been elected to membership. During the 1939/45 war, play was again possible, as our ground was not requisitioned. The club opened its doors to all comers.Since 1939 Rosslyn Park has organised and run the Schools Seven Tournament. In 1939, sixteen schools participated. In 1996, 350 schools took part. It is the world’s largest Sevens Tournament. In 1951 there was a further landmark when our Seven won the Ladies’ Cup at Melrose and thus became the first club to bring a trophy south of the border. Those who were there say that our victory was greeted in almost total silence!When the RFU introduced its own knockout competition, Rosslyn Park twice reached the final at Twickenham. When League Rugby Union was introduced in the 1980s, Park were allocated to Division Two, but won promotion to the top flight at the first attempt. The march of professionalism has made life more complicated for the club, but at present we are in National League 1 and it is worth reminding ourselves that we are nevertheless among the top 30 clubs in the country with over 800 playing members in the Senior, Ladies, Junior, Youth and Mini Sections.
In 1892, Baron Pierre de Coubertin made his first speech at the Sorbonne University of Paris, calling for the revival of the International Olympic Games. Such sports exchanges, he said, would be the “new free trade” of Europe.
De Coubertin’s original sporting love was rugby. Intrigued by what he had read about English public schools, in 1883, at the age of twenty, de Coubertin went to Rugby and to other English schools to see for himself. He described the results in a book, ‘L’Education en Angleterre’, which was published in Paris in 1888. This hero of his book is Thomas Arnold, Headmaster of Rugby: “the leader and classic model of English educators,” wrote de Coubertin, “gave the precise formula for the role of athletics in education. The cause was quickly won. Playing fields sprang up all over England”.
What de Coubertin saw on the playing fields of Rugby and the other English schools he visited was how “organised sport can create moral and social strength”. Not only did organised games help to set the mind and body in equilibrium, it also prevented the time being wasted in other ways. First developed by the ancient Greeks, it was an approach to education that he felt the rest of the world had forgotten and to whose revival he was to dedicate the rest of his life.
Having watched the game at Rugby school in England where it was invented, he was one of the founders of the game in France, and set up the first French schools championship in 1890. He refereed France’s first championship final between Racing Club and Stade Français at Bagatelle Park in Paris in 1892. In April of that year, he was instrumental in bringing Rosslyn Park FC to Paris, to play Stade Français. This was the first time an English Club had played in continental Europe.
A special commemorative sculpture was commissioned from Popineau Fils of Paris, and now resides at Rosslyn Park. The beautiful and delicate sculpture portrays a symbolic branch with laurel leaves on one side and English oak leaves on the other. A medallion bears the date 18th April 1892. The case carries the legend:
Stade Français Vs Rosslyn Park
18 Avril 1892
Souvenir de la Revue des Sports
That very same year de Coubertin made the first public call to restitute the Olympic Games and the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896. Did Rosslyn Park help to inspire the modern Olympics?
The tradition continues with Park minis today featuring in the IRB video bid to establish Rugby Sevens as an Olympic sport.