History

Huge thanks to contributors, especially Ted Cann

It is believed that a rugby team existed in Okehampton as early as 1884. Games were very localized and probably were played on a sporadic basis. By 1890 however a more regular pattern had been established, largely through the influence of Dr Kiscott who then captained the side. This team contained the brothers R & W Furse and it is pleasing to note that Alan Furse, a direct descendant still maintains an active interest in the club today (2002). 1902 saw the club become members of the Devon Rugby Football Union, implying that by then the Okehampton club was fully established and able to undertake a programme of regular fixtures. Records show that a ground off High Street known as Northams Meadows was the venue for home games between 1902 and 1912. From 1912 into the 1920's home games were played on a very wet ground in North Road (except 1914-18 WW1). Playing conditions improved when a ground off Mill Road became available in the 1920's and was known as Cowlands Fields. This remained as the clubs home venue until the onset of WW2 in 1939. The status of the club during the between war period had climbed sufficiently for a social visit by the 1936 All Blacks. Staying at the White Hart Hotel on their way to play Redruth, the All Blacks were entertained by the then Mayor, Mr Samuel Rich and representatives of Okehampton Rugby Club and shared a meal. The increasing skills demonstrated by the players was recognised by a regular fixture with the Devon Barbarians. This enabled some of the counties senior players from clubs like Plymouth Albion, to see first hand what Okehampton players were capable of and to encourage them to develop into a senior club.

The outbreak of war in 1939 caused the club to close with the majority of players being called into the Armed Forces. By 1946, several players had returned from active service and were looking to re-establish the club. This was by no means an easy task as the pre-war ground off Mill Road had now been purchased by the Town Council for housing development. Saville Mead and Wardhayes were subsequently built on the site. So, no ground, no facilities, no kit, no funds, nothing but a determination to re-establish the club. The Town Council agreed that the Rugby and Okehampton Argyle Football Club could share the very good surfaced ground in Simmons Park. This was beset with problems and the Argyle club, who were very strong at that time, found a ground of their own in North Road. No changing facilities existed at the Simmons Park site so the Rugby Club obtained the use of a disused store at The Fountain Hotel. This was primitive in so much that there was no lighting or windows, the only light coming from the door being left ajar! All players, including the opposition and the referee all shared the same room. The bath was built into one corner and was heated by a 10 gallon gas boiler. Washing however, was not taken too seriously as it interfered with drinking time. Some players could still be found at the bar in their rugby kit at closing time. If the park pitch was declared unfit for play by the then permanent Park Keeper, those players who did not have a Saturday morning job would take up the posts, crossbars etc, and transport them to a field located now as part of the Exeter Road Industrial Estate. Move the posts to a field rather than miss a game!

The team consisted of a hardcore of senior players who had survived WW2, but it was forced to rely on a large number of boys still at the Grammar School. Rugby had been introduced by the new headmaster, Mr H. J. Mills, in 1945 and it was common for the boys to play a school match in the morning followed by a club game in the afternoon. At times, the club was able to call upon the services of soldiers from the army camp, this sometimes included rugby players attending the Officer Cadet Training Unit. These were sometimes high quality players who went on to progress to full international players. By 1950, rugby had also been introduced into the Secondary Modern School under the headmaster Mr Burgess, himself a former county player. This triggered a new enthusiasm amongst the youth of the town and allowed the formation of a Colts XV for the first time in the early 50's.

The youth teams have, and continue to be, the life blood of the club and is largely responsible for the love of rugby by so many families locally. Ever improving standards of play by the First XV raised enthusiasm and generated a new determined attitude to win games. This was clearly demonstrated in the 1951-1953 period when the First XV went for 32 games without defeat, (26W 0L 6D). By 1955-6 season many players had retired or left the area and the playing strength declined and a couple of seasons of poor results ensued. This decline was halted from the 1958-9 season and coincided with the arrival of Frank Webb, a former captain of Oxfordshire and Dr David Shields, a former Middlesex county player. This pair not only brought a new strength to the playing side of the club but also stimulated the club into purchasing it's own ground. At this time, the teams were using a former stable in the White Hart Hotel. Converted by club Members, this accommodation boasted 3 rose head showers on a severely limited water supply. Although rudimentary, these facilities were still the envy of other clubs of the age! Largely through the determination of Frank Webb, David Shields, Roger Vick, David Brough, and Chairman Derek Brown, the club purchased it's present ground from the local agricultural association. This took place in 1961 and opened a new chapter hitherto undreamt of. The Showground (this was the purpose of the land pre-purchase), boasted a not-too-clever grandstand into which bathing facilities were built. Games were first played here in the 1963-64 season and with the use of a former office building placed nearby, the club had 4 changing rooms! This was essential as the playing membership was swelling rapidly with the acquisition of better facilities. Very soon, a Second XV were formed shortly followed by the Acorn XV.

With the club now regularly fielding 4 sides, we had gained the use of 2 former school pitches adjacent to our new property. Purchasing the Showground, a gigantic step to take at the time, has proved with the passage of time, to be the best investment that the club could have made. Certain sections of the ground, not required for the playing of rugby, have been sold off over the years. This has enabled the club to improve and extend the facilities and today they stand as a benchmark for clubs of any standard. From 1963-1979 the playing side of the club continued it's run of fixtures against local clubs, mainly from Devon. On the whole, the results improved over this period, largely due to the influx of players from strong school sides and playing results became consistently good.. This period culminated with the club winning the Devon County Havill Plate competition in 1979. This victory set the pattern for a period of sustained excellent results were the Showfield became a fortress were few sides would visit and expect to leave with a win. Confidence in the future development of the club was clear when in 1972 the decision was taken to create new bar and facilities by extending on to the end of the grandstand. This welcome addition was opened on 7th December 1975. New kitchen arrangements also helped the ladies cater for the social side of activities. As a result of clubs requesting more competitive rugby, Devon RFU introduced a merit table system in the early 80's. Okehampton RFU opened their first "league" rugby account by winning Devon Merit Table "B" in 1982-3. This was followed in season 1983-4 by winning Table "A".

True league rugby came to Okehampton in 1987-88, with Okehampton placed in the prestigious "Western Counties League". This was a statement of regard for the club and the league extended geographically from Penzance to The Forest of Dean. Later, this enormous area was divided in two creating Western Counties North and South. The Club remain in Western Counties South into the 2002-03 season having had just one foray into the South West 2 league in the 1996-97 season. Quite apart from league rugby, a large measure of success in the Devon Senior Cup enabled the club to host Plymouth Albion (1987-88) and Barnstaple (1996-97) in the final of the competition. Sadly, both of these games were lost but Okehampton rose above it's relatively lowly league status to please large crowds and give the overwhelming favourites a scare! The Colts XV showed the strength of the youth section by winning the Devon Cup, beating Barnstaple in the final in 1982. The club also consistently performed well in the Tiverton 7-a-side annual tournament competing against clubs from all over the west of England and some sides from Wales. During a heavy storm in 1881, the original grandstand was so extensively damaged as to become dangerous. Thankfully, it was covered by insurance allowing the cub to build a new larger, much improved stand which incorporated new changing rooms on the first floor. This was officially opened in 1984 and became the envy of clubs throughout the South West. Development continued and in 1990 grants were obtained to drain and level the 2nd (back) pitch. The owner, Eddie Hawkins kindly agreed to a 99 year lease on the pitch with a pepper corn rent thus making the future secure. At the same time, the bold decision was taken to build a function/dining room by extending the bar area. With a great deal of voluntary labour augmenting the professional contractors the fine facilities, including kitchens and toilets were opened in Dec 1991. This has added a new dimension to the social side of the club, helping to keep faith with the many individuals and organisations that had generously sponsored us from the early 80's onward. The sponsorship scheme is now absolutely vital to the clubs running and it is always a pleasure when they can use the club facilities to entertain their guests in the form of a sponsors lunch or dinner, in what they rightly refer to as "their club".

Many fine players have started their careers at Okehampton before moving on to larger clubs but one stands out in the modern era. Julian White played for Okehampton for 2 seasons of league rugby and since winning his first England cap, Julian has kept up links with Okehampton, still visiting the club and participating in training and coaching as his busy schedule permits. In recognition of the pride that Okehampton feels whenever Julian plays, a new fitness room was opened in his honour in 2001. This facility represents the latest stage of development of our progressive club. There can be no doubt that the consistent performance of the club is attributable to a strong youth section. This began with the formation of an Under 14 and Under 16 side in 1978. The youth teams struggled for a while but by the 1985-86 season was so successful that it was becoming difficult to keep pace with the demands of the young people for rugby. The decision was taken in 1992 that for the following season, a completely separate section for juniors be established. Today (2002) this section is vibrant Sundays seeing the club filled with a throng of young people, coaches and parents. The youth section is now almost a club in its own right requiring massive organisation and commitment from parents and friends. For the season 2001-02 the scale of the playing membership can be gauged from the fact that over 100 paid up subscriptions were received! The youth is the lifeblood of the club, with the future being theirs, the clubs with it. The youth section starts at 6 years old, continuing within the junior section up until the 16's. There are 9 stages of progression, each becoming more demanding. So, altogether a proud history, having it's highs and lows, but always making a tremendous contribution to the quality of life to the people of the district.