History of East Grinstead RFC

History of East Grinstead RFC

An Abbreviated History

This year (2019), East Grinstead RFC will be 90 years old (ignoring the break for the war years), which means it all started in 1929. So we have, in fact, had 84 years active existence.

In those early days it must be remembered that there weren’t many rugby clubs in existence, the more popular sports being football, hockey and cricket. This was particularly so in Sussex and the surrounding counties. In Sussex there were Brighton – the granddaddy of all clubs founded in 1868!

Who they played against is anybody’s guess! Worthing (1920), Old Azurians (1927), Eastbourne (1928), Hastings & Bexhill (1928) and our nearest rivals, Crawley (1924).

Across the border in Kent there were Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Old Skinners and Old Juddians. In Surrey you had Warlingham, Old Whitgiftian’s and Old Mid-Whitgiftian’s, all of whom were well established and with strong playing sides.

So, it is against this background that we must realise what a daunting task it must have been to even contemplate starting up a new club from absolute scratch.

The founding of our Club is generally attributed to a local journalist, BRIAN DESMOND, who worked for the local “East Grinstead Observer”. However, according to his reminiscences entitled “The Early Days”, it clearly wasn’t his original idea.


In January 1928, he was approached by a young lad called PEARSON who had played rugby at Skinners School. He worked for a local accountancy firm named RICHARD PLACE & CO and he simply asked Brian “could he start a local rugger club?” After thinking about it for a while and with the encouragement of his editor, Brian asked RICHARD PLACE himself if he would chair an inaugural meeting. Richard agreed to do so on the strict understanding that he would not become involved in the prospective club’s affairs, should it ever be founded. Interestingly, RICHARD PLACE went on to become the founder President of our Club in 1931-2 (until when the senior officer was Chairman).

At that inaugural meeting, one of the first things to happen was the election of BRIAN DESMOND as Hon. Secretary and the fixing of annual subscriptions at 7/6d!! As well as Hon. Secretary Brian also incorporated the jobs of Fixture Secretary and Team Secretary, basically because he was ideally situated in an office in the middle of town and had a telephone at his disposal!

Despite his initial misgivings about the project, he reports that it gave him a terrific new interest because, in those days, East Grinstead was very quiet and provided little in the newspaper storyline.

He also reports that the Club’s initial colours were red, green and white…..if only because they were distinctive!

With the help of East Grinstead Urban District Council the Club was allowed to rent an enclosed field in Sackville Lane for a nominal rent of Pound per annum. Also, with the help of local contractors, the field was suitably sorted out and made fit for playing and marked out. Goal posts and flag posts were acquired and the wives and girlfriends of the day made red, green and white flags. And, lastly, a rugby ball was bought….just the one!


The first few matches were played against established school sides such as Skinners and Judds…. Certainly not allowed today!! However, the winter of 1928-29 was appalling and many matches
were cancelled. The first real match was against SUTTON RFC which turned out to be a disaster as EG lost by a huge margin and they had to play in whatever jerseys they could find as they had not yet been kitted out!

Soon afterwards, agreement was reached with the landlord of the then “Railway Tavern” (now the “Broadway”) for use as the Club’s HQ and even to use the bathrooms after matches and the provision of teas.


In the early 1930s the Club was fortunate enough to benefit from an influx of quality players which meant that not only could the fixture list be extended and strengthened, but also a second XV could be established….a significant development which was clearly reported in the “Observer”. Things gradually improved to the extent that by the latter 1930s the 1st XV were playing 30 matches and the “A” XV 23 matches a season.

However, like all other sports clubs, all activities ceased, as by September 1939, most players were called up into the forces.


In September 1946, BRIAN DESMOND was again asked bluntly when “he” was going to re-start the Club! At least, by then, we had an undrained pitch on King George’s Field with the use of the adjacent Scout hut for changing.

Many “veterans” returned to the playing ranks and the Club’s HQ was established at Whitehall. Subscriptions were set at 1 Pound with Junior members paying 1 Pound 50 and non-players 7/6 per annum. At this time BRIAN DESMOND became involved with the local ATC and was a member of the EG Rotary Club.

However, there was a time not long after the re-start when the Club found itself 200 Pounds in the red, with no assets other than the goal posts, corner flags and 3 balls!....and the situation was compounded by the fact that a number of the “old guard” had either passed on or moved away from the area. These difficulties were eventually overcome by some healthy donations drummed up by a new President, DR. STANLEY, who once played for St Mary’s Hospital.

About this time the Club had a ground at Stone Quarry, but they dreamed of moving to East Court in spite of the fact that the changing accommodation was primitive, with a boiler for hot water and old-fashioned tin baths.


In 1949 a significant development took place which was to have a marked effect on the Club’s future……and, again, Rotary played a part. For some time, BRIAN DESMOND had been trying to persuade EG Grammar School to switch from soccer to Rugby. Over time he had become good friends with the then Headmaster, R.V. DAWES. Eventually, the unexpected happened and Mr DAWES agreed to switch.

The effect on the Club was that the floodgates opened as sixth formers started to join with a sound knowledge and love of the game. It also helped in the fact that the East Grinstead pitch left much to be desired and often flooded and so, when it did, the Club was able to play on the School’s pitch and could enjoy using its showers after games.

Meanwhile, the UDC managed to get some sense into the ground at King George’s Field and the Club eventually returned there before moving to Saint Hill.


It was suggested, in or around 1958, by a Westminster Bank official by the name of S.L.LEWIS, (who was the Club’s tame referee) that the Club should consider holding an annual event to raise funds in aid of some well-deserving local charity. The immediate Committee response was “yes” – but what?” Now it just so happened that BRIAN DESMOND had not long beforehand visited the “Sunshine Homes for Blind Babies” for the purpose of writing a preliminary story for the “Observer” covering the impending visit of Princess Margaret to the Home. BD was extremely moved by his visit and so it was agreed that the “Home” be adopted. Thus, it was that the famed “Sunshine Sevens” was born.

The first “Sunshine Sevens” tournament was held in September 1958 on King George’s Field, with 8 teams competing for the Lady Irene of Astor Silver Challenge Cup. The records of the event show that the Club reached the final but were well beaten by Westminster Bank. The total money raised on the day was 50 Pounds.


In February 1961 the Club decided that, rather than stay at King George’s Field, it wanted to buy its own ground, where it could build a clubhouse with proper changing facilities.

At this point, records do not appear to show what happened next, but it would seem that a lot of effort went into looking for the right ground until, finally, a deal was struck with the farmer who owned our current site, sometime in 1971. In the meantime, B D resigned as Hon. Secretary at the AGM in 1963. He was succeeded by DAVE PACKER who was Hon. Secretary until 1979.

Much work, especially on ground levelling and drainage, was required before it could be used to play on and, as with the foundations of the new timber-framed clubhouse, this was largely carried out by club members. The cost of acquiring the land and building the clubhouse was met partially from the Club’s limited funds, a loan from the RFU and a further loan from a Club member who had the great fortune to have a sizeable win on the “pools”.


It was in 1972 that the Club finally moved to its new HQ here at Saint Hill, with its 14 acres and stunning views of the town to the north.

The official opening of the whole complex was performed by Welsh International and British Lion, JOHN DAWES, and a match was played on 24 September 1972 between the Club and “The Voyagers”, primarily made up of London Welsh players. The Club side boasted one famous name – the late MAURICE COLCLOUGH.

That first clubhouse was a wooden pre-fabricated sectional building with a flat roof and a life expectancy of 20 years. It lasted 25 years (just!), but to keep it going for those extra 5 years involved some very expensive repairs to the roof and a great deal of forbearance on the part of Club members and visitors.

However, it oversaw a period of significant development for the Club in many directions, leading to our making a serious contribution to the quality of Sussex rugby.


The securing of National Lottery and associated funding in 1994 enabled us to fulfil our dream of a proper HQ whose design and features involved consultations with several other clubs who had already developed new premises.


In 1996 work began on the new Clubhouse, on completion of which the old one was demolished, but not before a memorable evening was spent drinking the old bar dry! A lot of landscaping was involved, including the laying of the large car park, together with its lighting. Planning permission had also been granted for the construction of the gymnasium with a flat above, together with a floodlit hard court for tennis, netball, 5-a-side football and lacrosse practice.

Once again, the official opening ceremony was kindly performed by JOHN DAWES on 30 August 1997 and London Welsh did the Club the honour of turning out a very strong side to play the 1st XV.


Currently, the Club runs three senior Men’s sides, a Women's, Colts and Social Touch Rugby side and has thriving intermediate and junior sections for both girls and boys providing rugby education and competition for the Under 6's through to Under 18's.

The men’s 1st XV are currently in the Harveys of Sussex League 1 where they finished second at the end of the 2017-18 season.

Over the years the Club has won the Sussex Trophy on two occasions in 1982 and 2012 and appeared in several other finals in the 1980s and 1990s only to end up on the losing side. It has also supplied players to the Sussex County side at senior level (both men and women) and at Colts and other intermediate ages.

Famous people who have graced our doors include the already mentioned late and legendary MAURICE COLCLOUGH who played his early rugby at the Club before going on to win honours with England and the British Lions. BOB SPRAY who left the Club when he emigrated to Canada where he became President of the Canadian RFU, ex-colt JUSTIN BISHOP who played for London Irish for many years, during which he won 25 caps for Ireland. Also, of contemporary London Irish fame is the ex-Bath RFC coach, TOBY BOOTH, who played for the Club for two or three seasons in the 1990s.

The “Sunshine Sevens” Tournament which has traditionally taken place on the last Sunday in April (as opposed to September when it was initiated in 1958) continues to attract quality teams from far and wide and over 61 consecutive years has raised substantial sums not only for the Blind Babies’ Home (which not only gave its name to the Tournament but which was sadly closed down a good number of years ago) but also to its replacement charities – Riding for the Disabled Association, the paraplegic athlete, RICHARD SCHABEL (who competed in the Sydney Olympics), the Kidney Research Fund, the Opportunity Play Group In East Grinstead (now sadly closed), Wooden Spoon (the British & Irish Rugby charity for Disabled &/or Disadvantaged Children), the local Step-by-Step School for Autistic Children and very recently Special Families in East Grinstead. For many years (certainly in the early days) the Tournament was graced by the attendance of LADY IRENE ASTOR OF HEVER who was the patron of the Sunshine Home.

Since the 1980s the Club has enjoyed tours to Canada, Texas, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Cuba, Hungary and Barbados. It has also enjoyed, since the mid 1960s, some 50+ years of exchanges with East Grinstead’s French twin town’s rugby Club, RC Romanais-Peageois, whose 70th anniversary will be celebrated, along with our own Club’s 90th, when a visit will be made at the end of June this year.

Throughout the Club’s life its status has been that of an unincorporated members’ club, with our property and other assets being held in the name of 4 Trustees….that is until April 2009 when it completed its transition to a private company limited by guarantee. This move was taken on the strong advice from the RFU and Sussex RFU to minimize the risk of potential liability claims in the current litigious climate. The Club is now run by an annually elected Board of Directors.

East Grinstead RFC