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St. Mary's Hospital Rugby Football Club
The club had a long and distinguished role in the history of Rugby Football in the British Isles. Rugby itself evolved slowly during the 1820's, and by the time the St. Mary's Club was founded in 1865 there had been considerable progress in the organisation of the game. Seven of the original staff of St. Mary's Hospital, which had been opened in 1851, had been educated at Rugby, which may have stimulated the formation of the club. There were 25 founder members, with an annual subscription of half a crown (12.5p). At this time teams consisted of 20 players and the two captains decided the code of rules under which the game would be played. It was generally agreed that no player could be held and hacked at the same time and, although he might be held in a scrimmage, no attempt to throttle or strangle him was allowed. The practice of hacking, the deliberate kicking of the shins of an opponent, was not abandoned until the formation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871. Until 1893 a match was won or lost by the scoring of goals, successful kicks between the posts following a try. In the event of an equal number of goals, tries were then counted.
There was a gradual expansion in the number of matches played against newly formed clubs and other London hospitals. The United Hospitals RFC was formed in 1867 and in 1874 the competition for the United Hospitals Challenge Cup began, with Guys, whose club was founded in 1843, the first winners. St.Mary's had little success in the Cup in the early years of the competition. They played on a number of different grounds, including a spell on Wormwood Scrubs, where they changed at the 'North Pole' public house. The fortunes of the club varied, but in 1898 they lost narrowly to the Middlesex in a vigorous game and in the following year reached the semi-final. The early results in the 1899-1900 season were promising and in March 1900 the Club won the Cup for the first time, beating Guys in the Final at Richmond before a crowd of 2000.
Although this result was a great boost to the Club they lost to Guys in the Final in the following season. At this time C.M.Wilson came to St.Mary's as a student. He was a great enthusiast for the game and captained the side. He later became Dean of the Medical School and an immense influence in the development of the Club. Over the period before the beginning of the Great War in 1914 the club ticked along without particular drive or success. In 1909 a new ground was obtained at Acton, and shared with the Middlesex. The facilities were much improved. In 1911 the team went to play at Le Havre, losing a close game but enjoying sumptuous hospitality .The French team visited St.Mary's in 1913, and was suitably entertained.
During the war the regular fixtures were cancelled with games arranged when possible. The ground was requisitioned for military purposes. After the end of the war the Club began again with great enthusiasm. A new ground had been acquired at Wembley and more students were playing the game. Over the next decade the standard of fixtures was gradually improved as the strength of the team became better. Wilson became Dean in the early 1920's at a time when the affairs of the Medical School were parlous. He changed matters with a long term plan to rebuild the School and improve the academic standards. He instituted scholarships for all-rounders with academic ability, which resulted in the arrival of number of talented rugby players. However, in spite of this and the emergence of several international players, the team did not win the Cup.
The period from 1930 to 1940 was the 'Golden Decade'. The standards of play and the fixtures continued to improve. The new Medical School was opened in the summer of 1933 and in the following season Mary's won the Cup for only the second time, beating St Thomas's 32-7 in the final. By the 1934 season there were 92 playing members and four regular teams turned out. The club continued to produce many county players among whom was the great South African 'Tuppy' Owen-Smith, who played regularly for England at full back. In 1937, due to the generosity of Lord Beaverbrook, the Medical School were able to purchase the splendid ground of the Old Merchant Tailors at Teddington which remained a much loved home for the rest of their days. This coincided with the arrival from Cambridge of Tom Kemp, a fine fly half, who went on to captain England and eventually became President of the Rugby Football Union. The club enjoyed an immensely successful spell up until the start of the Second World War, winning the Hospitals Cup for six years in succession. During the war years the club tried to have matches every Saturday for the 1st and A teams, feeling it vital to keep the corporate instinct of the School alive during a time in which students were scattered widely for their studies. The 1st played against other Hospitals, various Service sides and those of the major clubs who were able to turn out teams. The Middlesex sevens were played every year and Mary's won on three occasions.
After the war there was an influx of former servicemen into the Medical School and their physical maturity was very welcome. The club continued to play well and win a high percentage of their games. Enthusiasm remained high but as the next decade began a gradual decline became apparent, although there were some great individual players such as Lou Cannell, who played for England over a period of nine years, and many great results including several wins over Cambridge University. The Rugby Club Ball remained the highlight of the social season. The club were fielding six sides, including the Schools XV, inspired by Tom Kemp and Cocky Cockburn. However it was becoming clear that maintaining a first class side from a small medical school was becoming increasingly difficult, particularly because of the relative youth and physical immaturity of the forwards compared with their opponents. Over the next ten years there was a gradual change in the standard of rugby played. There was usually a steady supply of backs of high quality but in spite of valiant efforts many games were lost up front. The strength of the fixture list slowly declined with the better clubs relinquishing their games, usually with reluctance. Inevitably the best players began to drift away to play for stronger clubs, returning only for the Cup games. Prominent among these was J.P.R Williams, who was advised to go to London Welsh to further his progress. The outstanding events were the opening of the extension to the pavilion at Teddington in 1965 by Mr Dickson Wright, who had been chiefly responsible for raising the funds, and the Centenary of the club in the same year. This was celebrated by a game against T.A.Kemp's XV , composed of numerous old internationals, and a grand dinner was held at the Grosvenor House on the same evening Among the speakers was Lord Moran, formerly Dr C.M.Wilson, the Great Dean and the driving force behind the halcyon days of the club.
Throughout the eighties the strength of the fixtures slowly declined. The results were variable, but the enthusiasm remained. The best players continued to play for outside clubs but returned for the Cup games. The mid-week side was still formidable, as was shown by successes against Cambridge University and victories in the last three Cup Finals of this decade. The 1981/82 season saw the start of the Seven Counties merit table for junior clubs and the onset of a league system. Fixtures were now determined by the league and the traditional games finally went. The club was still strong in numbers and remained successful in the Cup, appearing in nine successive Finals, loosing only one. Cambridge University continued to play St.Mary's in the early part of the season with varying results, the Hospital winning by 28-7 in 1986. The tours to Cornwall continued, having first begun in 1925, and a tour to Kenya took place in 1986 and to Canada in 1988.
The last decade of the twentieth century saw the demise of the Club after 132 years when in 1997 the club merged with Charing Cross/Westminster to form the Imperial Medicals RFC. Prior to this the club remained strong, running three enthusiastic sides. In 1992 Mary's played in their 50th Cup Final, winning for the 31st time. The team had reasonable success in the league system, but continued to play Cambridge, with variable results, and performed with customary prowess in the Cup. However the inevitable change had to be accepted and at the AGM in May 1997 it was formally proposed that the amalgamation with the other hospital clubs should take place. There was universal sadness at the loss of the old traditions and camaraderie. The joy of playing in the blue shirt with the silver fleur de lys had gone for ever. However, all were determined to transfer the spirit of "The Mary's Men" to the new club and to make it an outstanding success.
'The Mary's Men', a history of St. Mary's Hospital Rugby Football Club, by Alasdair Fraser and Frank Horan, can be obtained from F and A Publications, Providence, Plumpton, East Sussex, BN7 3AJ, price £20 inclusive of postage.
Please make cheques payable to 'The Mary's Men'. All the proceeds of sales will be given to the Cockburn Scholarship Fund.
Imperial Medicals Rugby Club Record Of Achievement
Since Inauguration in 1997 IMRFC have enjoyed the following successes:
- United Hospitals Cup Winners - 98, 99, 00, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07
- United Hospital Cup Sevens Winners - 00, 04, 05, 06
- JPR Williams Cup Winners (IMRFC v Imperial College) - 03, 04, 05, 06, 07
- Winners of Herts, Middlesex 1 Courage League and Promotion to London North West 3 - 1999
- Promotion to BUSA Premiership South in 1999, 2003, 2006
- 2nd XV United Hospitals Cup Winners - 01, 03, 06, 07
- 2nd XV Varsity Match Winners - 05, 06, 07
- 2nd XV Middlesex Merit League Division 3 Winners - 07
- 3rd XV United Hospitals Cup Winners - 01, 02, 03, 06, 07
- 3rd XV Varsity Match Winners - 05, 06, 07