50 Years of Blood, Sweat & Glory
Our 2021 season marks the club's 50th anniversary, having been formed in 1971 by the original thirteen 'Founding Fathers' of Wootton Bassett RFC.
The first full club photograph, Spratt's Barn, 1972.
Standing L-R: Fred Davies, Tony Trussell, Bob Campbell, Colin Bullock, Chris Hillier, Ian Campbell, Melvyn Wright, Colin Applegate, David ?, Jim Dartnell, Ian Keith, Bob Wise, Dave Snell, Paul Hibbert, Phil Weaver, Mark Osborne, Chris Tabb, Rez Brewser, Mike Leighfield, Roy Wright, Johnny Keenan. Front row: Andy Marchment, Tony Kirk, Graham Spencer, John Ward, Colin Crook, John Forbes-Keith (founder member of the club and former landlord of the Curriers Arms), John Mortimer (Captain), Andy Sparkes , Mark Scholes, Roy A'Court, ? , Rod Hart, Steve Sparkes, Bob Mills, Haydon Pugh.
The club came into being on the 21st December 1971 at a meeting held at The Curriers Arms attended by:
- Colin Applegate
- John Baker
- David Brown
- Michael Brown
- Ian Campbell
- John Forbes-Keith
- Ian Keith
- Hamish Keith
- Michael Leighfield
- Vernon Nation
- Royston Smith
- Tony Trussell
- Melvyn Wright
Back row L-R: Gordon Stanford, ?, Bob Wise, Ian Miles, Rod Smith, John Wilks, Colin Crook, ?, Graham Spencer.
Front row L-R: ?, Chris New, Tony Kirk, Mark Osborne, Dave Brown, ?
At the time, many future Wootton Bassett players were committed to other local clubs, principally Calne Bentleian RFC, so only seven games were played during the club's inaugural season.
The very first match played by a full Wootton Bassett RFC XV took place in February 1972 against a combined team of teachers and senior pupils from the Wootton Bassett Secondary School. The club took this opportunity to give trials to some 40 would-be players, and the recording of a 24 - nil victory was somewhat academic.
The first real match involving a selected XV was against a team from nearby RAF Lyneham, which the Club won by 16 - 8.
The first defeat of the club was suffered against a 'touring' side from Middlesex - Pinner and Grammarians RFC - who were engaged on an Easter Tour of the West Country.
Other matches in that first season resulted in victories over Swindon College and Minety, whilst Chippenham and Hereford proved to be too strong.
Activities off the field were not neglected during these early months. The first fundraising event took place on 5th March 1972, when more than 40 enthusiasts completed a sponsored 10-mile walk between two local hostelries - raising over £100 towards Club funds. To mark the end of its first 'season' a Club Dinner for members and guests was held at Noremarsh Farm Hotel.
Back row L-R: Dave Price, Paul Gleed, Trevor Gibbs, John Nutt, Jim Brierley, Jon Petit, Brian Smith, Les Hunt, Mick Leighfield, Phil Williams.
Middle Row: Simon Hobson, ? , Richard Pinnock, Ian Keith, Hamish Keith, Wyn Rees, Jim Dartnell, Brian Hamley, ? , ? , Paul Anderton.
Front row: Gwyn Davies, Steve Wehrle, Paul Morgan, John Wilks (Chairman), Graham Spencer (coach), Ian Midson (Capt), Colin Bullock (Secretary), Phil Hicks, John Lewis, Roy Jamieson.
Wootton Bassett Comprehensive School gymnasium, circa 1977.
At the club's first Annual General Meeting, held on 19 June 1972, the first elected Executive Committee was formed:
- Chairman: David Brown
- Secretary: John Forbes-Keith
- Treasurer: Vernon Nation
- Social Secretary: Ian Campbell
- Public Relations: Tony Trussell
- Fixtures Secretary: Colin Applegate
- Team Secretary: Royston Smith
- 1st XV Captain: John Jones
And on 30th June 1972, Peter Arkell, the Chairman of Arkell’s Brewery, accepted the invitation to become the first President of the Club.
In its first full rugby season of 1972/1973, the club also fielded a Colts XV on two occasions. Home matches were played on a piece of vacant land owned by the Wootton Bassett Town Council. The Clubhouse continued to be the Curriers Arms, where the Club Treasurer, Vernon Nation, was landlord, and on the odd occasion when both teams played at home, the situation in the bar could be described as 'intimate'.
On 1st December 1972, the club was legitimised by being accepted as a probationary member of the Dorset and Wiltshire County Rugby Football Union.
In April 1973, land adjacent to Stoneover Lane was first suggested by the Club to the Town Council as a possible venue for playing rugby.
In 1973, Graham Spencer, a one-time England Colts reserve, was appointed as Club Coach and the design of the first club tie was produced, incorporating the local 19th century Town Hall as the official emblem.
At the end of the season, WBRFC, sponsored by Swindon RFC and Vickers RFC (now Supermarine), was accepted as an affiliate member of the Rugby Football Union.
The first overseas recruit
In January 1977, following three years of consolidation, with improving fixtures and the introduction of a Third XV, the club welcomed its first overseas recruit - and what a player he turned out to be - Alan (Kiwi) McLennan from Wellington, New Zealand was a lock forward in true 'All Black' tradition. He gave 110% skill and effort on the field, yet proved to have hollow legs in the after-match bar.
Alan played for Wootton Bassett for one full season and two part-seasons, inspiring the club as a whole, and the pack, in particular, to record its best series of results. The highlight was being able to reach the final of the Dorset & Wilts County Cup in March 1978 by defeating the 'old enemy', Swindon, in the semi-final by 6 points - nil.
Back row L-R: Gary McMaurray, Jon Petit, Alan McLennan, John Lewis, Pete Sirett, Hamish Keith, Ian Keith, Gordon Stanford, Graham Spencer (Coach).
Front row L-R: Roy Jamieson, Brian Hamley, Jim Dartnell, Ian Midson (Capt), Mark Warchal, Wyn Rees, Gwyn Davies.
In an emotionally charged final at Devizes, despite gaining an overwhelming territorial advantage, Bassett had to give best to Salisbury RFC by 10 - 3 with centre John Pettit scoring the solitary dropped goal. Even so, this was only the second defeat for the First XV in a season of 32 matches.
Such was the respect commanded by Alan McLennan that the invited opposition for his farewell match in November 1978 included Peter Larter (British Lions and England), Dai Llewellyn (Wales B and London Welsh), and representatives from Bath, Harlequins, Rosslyn Park and Swansea. A game and a night to remember.
The move to Stoneover Lane
During these first eight years, the club, chiefly through its long-time Chairman, Mike Leighfield, had been constantly pursuing a fixed abode for both playing rugby and entertaining post-match.
The club had been using three sites, each for a single season, before being obliged through development, to return to the playing fields of Wootton Bassett Comprehensive School to play matches.
The club had by then, outgrown the after-match facilities provided by four local hostelries - the Curriers Arms, the Beaufort Arms, the Red Lion and the Cross Keys. But with the prospect of being granted a piece of land for a new clubhouse, in the Autumn of 1979 members of the club dismantled and stored a wooden structure that had been donated by RAF Wroughton.
The late Roy Wright sweeping up during the clubhouse extension.
Then in May 1980, the club was told that a strip of land adjacent to Stoneover Lane would be made available to accommodate the clubhouse and car park. The 15-year lease for this land between the club and Wootton Bassett Town Council was signed on 18th May 1981. Work began immediately to plan and rebuild the clubhouse. The wooden structure from RAF Wroughton had deteriorated during storage and it was decided to build a block construction incorporating a clubroom, bar area, kitchen and toilet facilities. All of the main services - gas, electricity, water and sewerage had to be connected to Stoneover Lane, a distance of over 100 yards. Even so, all of the groundworks and building construction were completed by club members and amateur labourers. Due to the utilisation of 'cheap labour', the building and fitting-out of the Clubhouse were completed at a capital cost of £16,700.
Rob Bloxham with wheelbarrow during the Stoneover Lane extention work
The new facilities were available for the 1984/85 season and the official opening was performed by the Mayor of Wootton Bassett, Ken Scott, on 7th October 1984, and marked by a game against a Wasps XV, with a crowd of over 500 enjoying a spectacle of running rugby.
With the availability of full-time playing facilities, both mini-rugby and Colts sections began rapid development and a regular fifth senior side took to the field.
England Classicals Match
With minor work still outstanding, the Clubhouse was first used at Easter 1982 when a team from Lucon in France, on tour to Cirencester, visited the club for a game and 'christening' ceremony.
On 1st June 1983, a 5-year lease was signed with the Town Council, for the remainder of the site at Stoneover Lane for use as rugby pitches, and work started to extend the referees’ room and shower block.
The Wyn Rees Memorial Trophy
In April 1985 the club established the Wyn Rees Memorial VIIs competition, in memory of a much-respected player who continued to give his support to the club and the game of rugby until losing his fight against cancer in his 30s.
Fittingly, the final in the inaugural year of the 7s competition was won by Wootton Bassett, 21 - 12 against Swindon, a former club of Wyn Rees.
The competition was held annually from 1985 until the early part of the 21st Century. The winners included teams from Gloucester, Bath, Cardiff Post Office and London New Zealand.
Wyn Rees Memorial Sevens Tournament, Stoneover Lane, 2004
The 1986/87 season was distinguished by winning the club’s first senior trophy, when the Second XV, under captain Gwyn Davies, won the Dorset & Wilts County 2nd XV Cup, defeating Salisbury RFC in the final at Calne by 13 - 12 thanks to an injury-time penalty goal from full-back Adrian Sugden.
1986/87 Dorset & Wilts County Cup won by Bassett Second XV
The seasons 1988/89 and 1989/90 belonged to the Colts section of the Club under coach Ian Midson and manager David Baldry. In 1988/89, captained by Christian Michaelis, their playing record read: Played 24, Won 24, Points for 766, Against 79. This included victory in the final of the Dorset & Wilts Counties Colts Shield by 19 - 3 over Wimborne RFC.
The 1988/89 Colts team Celebrate winning the County Shield for the first time
To crown the year, the Wootton Bassett Colts were voted joint runners-up (with Cardiff High School Old Boys Youth) to Rosslyn Park Colts, as Umbro Youth Team of the Year for the Whitbread Rugby World Awards.
1989/90 Colts XV captained by Paul Floyd after retaining the Counties Shield
To follow such an outstanding year would appear impossible, but the 1989/90 Colts XV under coach Ian Midson and captain Paul Floyd won all 19 fixtures, with a points differential of 483 and they retained the Counties Colts Shield by defeating Swanage and Wareham by 10 points - 8. They also added the Cirencester Colts VII’s trophy, for good measure.
Royal Wootton Bassett Vets Match, Stoneover Lane, 1996
Floodlights had been erected at Stoneover Lane in 1987 to facilitate nighttime training, and additional lights were erected in 1990 to further improve training facilities. Continuing to develop the facilities in the early 1990s saw the addition of a fully-equipped gymnasium and plans were put in place to extend the social areas of the Clubhouse pending an improved lease.
However, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Stoneover Lane was not going to be the final home of Wootton Bassett Rugby Club.
Celebrating victory in the North Dorset Heineken 10s tournament in mid-August 2009.
Mini & Junior Rugby
Youngsters playing rugby at Wootton Bassett was by now rapidly established. Haydn Pugh and Fred Davis, two respected school teachers, first proposed the idea that involving youngsters was the way forward in the light of the decline of playing rugby in secondary schools.
The idea was taken on by Pete Sirett, and later Paul Randell, who began to put a structure into the club's Mini & Junior rugby. Over the years, and with careful nurturing by Steve Cameron, along with assistance from Stuart Fulling and Geoff Martin, thousands of children, boys and girls, have enjoyed getting up early on a Sunday morning, running around on a wet, muddy pitch and watching their parents freeze on the touchlines.
From these early beginnings, we have seen future internationals come through the ranks of Wootton Bassett Rugby Club. It was this increase in younger players at the club that was to prompt the idea of moving from Stoneover Lane.
The Ballards Ash era
During 1996 the club successfully negotiated with Wootton Bassett Town Council and North Wiltshire District Council to secure a 25-year lease over the Stoneover Lane site. Once this was finalised, further efforts were made to provide even better rugby facilities at the site.
Meanwhile, plans were being put in place for a move. Although, primarily a football orientated space, one and a half rugby pitches were planned for a new site at Ballards Ash. It was our President at that time, Peter Orton, who began to see the potential of a permanent move to Ballards Ash. Through his contacts and expertise, discussions took place over twelve years to finance the move.
Much of the money was raised by the club with significant contributions from Peter Orton, and it is in his memory that the Ballards Ash Clubhouse is named in his honour.
It took years of planning and preparation, and the efforts of many to make the move to Ballards Ash happen. From inception with President Peter Orton and Chairman Michael Leighfield, through many and varied developments with Chairmen Alec Adams and Phil Williams, until ultimately Club President Mark Whiteman and Chairman Chris Elias could see it through.
Other significant contributions were received from the club's Vice Presidents headed by Alan Belding. These VP members, including ex-players and local businessmen, raised funds by paying to attend a lunch before First XV matches. This tradition has been carried on by George Loughlin, with the VPs grown to now over eighty members, sitting down and enjoying good food and good company before cheering on the First Team through slightly hazy vision!
Years of planning and preparation finally paid off when the rugby club officially opened their new facilities at Ballards Ash with a Grand Opening event on 7th September 2013.
The effort finally paid off when the rugby club officially opened their new facilities at a Grand Opening event on 7th Sept 2013. This was the realisation of an ambition of the club founders, to own our own grounds for matches and have our own clubhouse to share with the wider community.
RFU President, Bob Reeves cuts a ribbon to open the new Ballards Ash clubhouse
The club held a full day of events to mark the opening, beginning with a procession through the market town in the morning. The formal opening ceremony took place at 12.45pm preceding two matches - Bassett Colts against Andover, followed by a Presidents’ XV facing an Army Masters side with the match ball delivered by the Army Parachute Display Team.
The town had been granted a royal title by Queen Elizabeth II in 2011 - the first town in England to be bestowed with this royal favour since 1909 - and with the move to Ballards Ash, the club adopted a new name: Royal Wootton Bassett RFC.
Match ball delivered by the Army Parachute Display Team
Following the move, the club embraced a more professional attitude to the game with the appointment of Alan Low as Director of Rugby. Alan had played representative rugby for England at U18, U19 and U21 levels before joining the RFU as a Community Coach and playing for Taunton and then Cleve. Following a neck injury in 2009 which ended Alan's playing career, he began coaching with Dorset & Wilts and Swindon RFC for 3 years until he received an offer to join RWBRFC as DoR.
Forming a new coaching team, the priority was to align all age groups with a common goal around retention and recruitment. Alan established a set of values for the club to be used from U6s through to senior teams: Commitment, Community, Consistency, Connected. This was followed by the creation of a Player Pathway and a Parent Charter.
The club has worked hard to establish a clear pathway from Colts through to Senior rugby which is now supporting the level of rugby played by the club with a 95% homegrown First XV squad.
Director of Rugby, Alan Low
Re-establishing a regular Third XV and a second Colts XV were early successes during the Ballards Ash era and has established the club to become a major force in North Wilts rugby.
The First XV has won two promotions in recent years, fielding a squad grown mostly from homegrown talent. The club has supplied a number of players to the Dorset & Wilts senior squad, including three team captains.
Alan Low and RWBRFC providing a strong Dorset & Wilts representation, 2016
These achievements provide the club with an incentive to continually provide a supportive environment for rugby at Ballards Ash and for players to develop to their full potential.
A bright future
Facilities are being improved further at the club with plans for a new Health and Conditioning Suite being developed over several years which will ultimately see Royal Wootton Bassett RFC provided with state-of-the-art gym and strength & conditioning facilities. The new gymnasium building will have link access from the rear of the current gym, which will eventually be converted into a new secure Club Office, plus two modern Physio Studios/Consultation Rooms, which will be available for private hire. The gym will hopefully be fully completed by end of the 2021-22 season, with flooring being installed at the end of September.
Groundbreaking of the new Ballards Ash Gym Complex
In 2019, inspired by the success of the England Red Roses team, the club launched a new Girl's Rugby team - The Ravens - at Royal Wootton Bassett RFC for girls in school Year 7 and Year 8. The sport has grown in popularity and The Ravens now field playing teams for Under 13s and Under 15s and hope to grow their playing numbers further and introduce girls rugby into some local schools.
Royal Wootton Bassett RFC Under 13s Ravens
Immediate plans for senior rugby are to consolidate the First XV into their new league and prepare the Second XV to hopefully be promoted in the league restructure to L7 - which is where the Bassett First XV were playing when the club moved to Ballards Ash. Meanwhile, RWBRFC want to continue to grow playing numbers across the senior section and fully establish the Fourth XV within a league structure.
However, although always ambitious to produce highly successful senior teams, the club's aims are wider. RWBRFC is equally determined to provide an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to participate and enjoy the game of rugby.
RWBRFC U13s vs Chippenham RFC, Sept 2018
The club wishes to continue to provide a positive experience for all Mini and Junior players and support their playing journey into adulthood, while Alan Low would love to see the club have its own community coach introducing rugby across age groups into local primary and secondary schools.
Consolidating on 50 years of grassroots sport in Royal Wootton Bassett, the aim now is to continue to invest in the club's facilities to provide the very best possible playing experience and turn Ballards Ash into the most iconic rugby facility in the region outside of the professional game.