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clubhouse.jpgBy Roy Bishop

Although there are records of rugby being played in Norwich in 1873, the club itself was not formed until 1884. Even then the club played only sporadically until a regular list of fixtures was made for the season in 1896 and that year saw the team photographed for what appears to be the first time. This wonderful old picture, reproduced below, now hangs proudly, in an enlarged version, in a dominant position in the clubhouse at Beeston Hyrne.

Many of the early games were played at Newmarket Road in Norwich and there are records of fixtures against Ipswich, East Suffolk, Essex, The Norwich School and St Bartholomew’s Hospital. In the early 20th century Norwich Rugby Club grew quickly and in 1905 they had the services of E.W.Roberts who played 13 times for England and gained one of those caps whilst a Norwich player. This unfortunately appears unrecorded in most international records but Norwich can truly lay claim to this single senior international cap.

The Great War from 1914 to 1918 put an end to rugby in any serious sense until 1922 when the club was resurrected after a meeting at The Bell Hotel and the club played a practice match the following day on a meadow in Thorpe Hamlet. Soon matches against Ipswich and Lowestoft resumed and many of these fixtures attracted crowds of more than a thousand people.

In 1929 the club changed its colours from yellow and green to maroon, green and gold and played on Carey’s Meadow in Thorpe. In 1934 the club moved to Boundary Park and remained there until 1939 when a lease was taken on the ground at Bishopgate behind The Great Hospital in the shadow of the cathedral.

Very few games were played in the early Bishopgate days because of the Second World War, but subsequently this ground became a strong spiritual home for the club and was the first location of a clubhouse for post match festivities.

The success of the club over the next fifteen years was such that a larger ground to accommodate four teams and better clubhouse facilities saw the move to the club’s first wholly owned location at Fifer’s Lane near St Faiths airfield. The purchase was largely made possible by the huge success of the annual summer carnivals that were staged at Bishopgate. Fifer’s Lane had fifteen acres and the finances were helped by the continuation for some years of the carnivals at Bishopgate.

In 1955 an England trial match was held at Fifer’s Lane and Norwich played an international XV and regularly hosted Eastern Counties matches. The club grew in membership and Fifer’s Lane became a legendary location for many young players drawn to the success of local rugby. The club was now known officially as Norwich Rugby Football Club as distinct from Norwich Rugby Union Football Club to avoid confusion with the international insurance company based in the city. Huge success throughout the 1950’s saw fixtures against The full Royal Air Force team and regular games with Leicester, Northampton, Bedford and many of the big London clubs. It was at this time that an annual fixture with the Norwich twin town of Rouen in France began and continued until recent times. The sale of Fifer’s Lane saw the club move to Beeston Hyrne in 1971. The new ground was considered to be at the cutting edge of rugby playing facilities with superb provision for changing and training, whist the clubhouse had a large open plan bar with room for all that an ever growing club could wish for. In 1982 playing standard floodlights were installed. The club dominated local competition for many years and in 1983-84 played mighty Bristol at Beeston Hyrne in the last 32 stage of the John Player Cup.

With the introduction of league rugby Norwich were placed in London Division 2 North and it took some years before promotion to London Division 1 was achieved. After only one season at that level the club was promoted to National League Division 3 and remained there for two seasons before relegations found it back to the start in London Division 2 North (re-designated London 3NE when the RFU realigned the leagues). However promotion during the 2012/13 season found the team promoted into London 2 North East. The next promotion happened in 2019/20 when the 1st XV were promoted to London 1 North. this was a season where the team went undefeated although the season was cut short, with 4 games remaining due to the COVID-19 crisis. A 'Best Playing Record' formula was applied and the team promoted. At that point they only needed 7 points to be mathematically secure and with fixtures against 2 relegated sides to play, among the final 4.

Norwich remains an ambitious club and in recent years has seen the enormous growth of Mini and Youth rugby. This development, coupled with the resurgence of the third and fourth teams, ensures that the torch lit by the founders in 1884 burns still bright in the 21st century.





Norwich RFC 1896

H.M. Martin. J.E.Betts. J.Smith. P.S.Mason. H.R.Fletcher. H.L.Curl. C Barton. B.H.L.Prior J.H. Waters.

C.J.Fergusson-Davie. E.J.Bullard. R.G.Steward (Capt) E.I. Watson. C.H. Norrington

W. Rich. G Gibson



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