The early days of rugby in West Hartlepool - including that famous victory over the Barbarians

West's first Senior Cup-winning side.
West's first Senior Cup-winning side.

It’s been an enthralling journey.

West Hartlepool Rugby Club has a history which stretches back to the 1800s and to some fascinating matches.

A scene from an early match.

A scene from an early match.

Chris Cordner takes a look back at the early years.

When it all started may date back to 1876 in some people’s eyes, or perhaps October 28, 1878, when players such as Brigham, Roddam, Armstrong and Smurthwaite graced the pitch.

Whenever it was, it was the start of a West Hartlepool team which played in the next couple of seasons before disbanding when one player - J. Warwick - suffered a serious injury.

A team called West End Wanderers then emerged and they eventually played at Foggy Furze on a ground known for being swampy in wet conditions and bare in the dry.

The highlight of the season was West’s only meeting with the Barbarians

Hartlepool Mail reporter

Then came a first meeting with Hartlepool Rovers on October 8, 1881. The game was played for the benefit of the Hartlepool’s hospital. After two periods of 15 minutes and two of 20 minutes, the game was still scoreless.

The early days were hit by another lay-off in 1882 and only the occasional game was played.

But a meeting in Steine’s Hotel in Mainsforth Terrace elected WH Humphreys as captain, and Bob Martin and George Balmer as joint secretaries.

George was known as something of a poet and penned about the year when West would win the cup for the first time.

It happened within a year and at a time when change was happening again.

West lined up a new venue at a site called The Tips. It had mounds, depressions, gardens, pig sties and poultry houses on it, as well as a quarry at one end.

The quarry was eventually filled in and the ground was acquired.

It was around this time that West first began to enter the Durham Cup but local derbies were the real crowd-puller.

Up to 10,000 people would get along. Things were on the up with West player Sammy Murfitt representing both Durham and England in the mid 1890s.

West made their first Senior Cup final appearance in 1894-95 when they lost 3-0 to South Shields.

Over the next 10 years, fortunes improved and the club won its first cup against Tudhoe 6-3 with a late Jack Taylor drop kick winning the match.

They became a formidable outfit, and had one of their finest moments when they beat the Barbarians 25-4 in 1902.

As well as West’s matches, the ground also became a regular venue for Durham County matches.

West went international enjoyed a flavour of France in exchange visits with Stade Francais.

But more change was on the way as fortunes took a dip in 1907.

The ground was in dire need of repair and the decision was taken to disband. Most of the players went to Greatham and West only returned in 1911, back at Foggy Furze.

But they were straight back in the Senior Cup with almost all the Greatham team available. More tomorrow.