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History

Rugby was introduced to East Ham Grammar School in 1945 by Bill Wallis at the request of the new headmaster Dr. J.L. Whiteley, who thought that boys with a rugby background stood better chances of selection at university selection boards, especially medical schools.

As the schoolboys graduated to adults they wished to continue this rugby pursuit and so the Old Esthameians R.F.C was formed in 1950.

The one-team club rented a pitch at Debden Green on a muddy slope covered with cowpats. The unheated barn of a changing facility had two dripping showers. The second team was formed on a regular basis in 1952, and a coach was hired on a regular basis to transport players to and from Debden, which helped foster club spirit and morale.

1956 saw the club grow to 3 teams and the first end of season Easter Tour visited Wimborne in Dorset. The last game at Debden was played against Old Olavians on April 27th 1957.
The new season saw the club playing home fixtures at Wanstead flats. Unfortunately, there were no changing rooms so the players changed at Langdon School before driving to Wanstead. The club adopted the White Horse in East Ham as its club pub.

The following season, 1958, brought a stronger fixture list and the 3rd XV become a regular side. Changing rooms were provided at Wanstead in 1959 and the club changed pub allegiance to the Blakesley Arms near Manor Park Station and a roaring 10th anniversary party was held there at the end of the season.
The 1960 season bought a new watering hole and the Golden Fleece was adopted as the club pub. This season also saw the first glimmer of success on the seven’s rugby field by reaching the semi-finals of the S.T.C tournament.

The playing performance improved greatly in the 1961/62 season with the 1st XV record of played 29, won 21, drew 4, lost 4, for 305 pts, against 90. On the seven’s front the S.T.C was won and runners up in the Essex Plate. The fourth team was successfully introduced in 1963 but relations became strained at the Golden Fleece and the club was requested to vacate at the end of the season – a clubhouse was badly needed.
1964 saw the club become itinerants for liquid refreshments and several establishments served as home, among them the Black Lion in East Ham High Street, the Three Rabbits at Manor Park and finally the Dukes Head in the Barking Road. This lack of a permanent base was detrimentally affecting morale and membership.
During the 1965/66 season the new Old Esthameians Memorial Clubhouse on the Langdon School site was completed and the club finally got a home of its own, although the soccer section also took light refreshment there. The Wanstead Flats pitches and changing rooms were still used. Results were not good for that season but the S.T.C sevens tournament was won.

At the end of the 1966/67 season a motion was tabled to disband the club but was withdrawn at the AGM by a quorum of 37 members. Playing membership remained a problem in the 1967/68 season with old stalwarts retiring and school leavers attending university. As a result the club became effectively ‘open’. One good thing was the erection of new changing rooms in Capel Road.

Crisis returned at the end of the 1967/68 season and the club just avoided disbandment again. As a result only two teams could be fielded for the next season although the first of the university returnees arrived in the form of Norman Evans who was to become Chairman in 1970/71. The club spirit began to be revived.
Bill Wallis became president in 1971 and the club revival continued such that by the end of 1973 was fielding five sides. In 1972 the old grammar school became a comprehensive and after some deliberation the decision was taken to change club’s name to East London Rugby Club, which was confirmed at the AGM of 1973. Player recruitment was going well particularly with local teachers who were encouraging the growth of the game in the new education set up and quickly began providing local talent for the Colts (under 19) XV. With the change of identity and recruitment from a wider field, the first steps were made to move from the old facilities at Langdon and Wanstead flats and to find a ground and clubhouse for the club.

Due to injury Tony Kennett took control of the Colts XV culminating in the winning of the Brian Goodchild Trophy in 1975. Many endeavours were taking place behind the scenes to find a new ground and to raise the necessary funds to finance the project.

Impetus on the playing side was bringing improved results and by the start of the club’s Silver Jubilee 1977/78 campaign a blend of experience and youth, from the successful colts team of 2 years previously, began to provide the most successful season for the club to date. The club spirit was high and success was sought at all levels. All the hard work was rewarded with both the 1st XV and the Colts reaching their respective Essex Cup Finals only to be disappointed by coming runners up in both. The season ended with the Easter tour to Poznan, Poland, which still remained behind the Iron Curtain at the time.

By 1979/80 the club was fielding 6 teams plus juniors and the next few years saw an improvement in fixtures and standards. Tony Kennet meanwhile was leading an inspired team towards the goal of a new ground and for season 1982 the club finally moved into the historic Memorial Ground by Wet Ham Station newly celebrated as the ‘Home of East London Rugby’. An international XV (with stars such as Les Cusworth, Peter Wheeler and Paul Dodge) was assembled to play the 1st XV and a large crowd enjoyed the dawn of a new era. East London now led the field in modern facilities.

A full youth section was introduced to the club allowing school children from the age of fourteen to pull on the maroon and navy hoops of East London. The club continued to perform on the pitch but without being able to convert the effort in to silverware.

The introduction of the league system to rugby union was to change all that. East London seemed to find themselves in an annual catch-22 situation, either ‘too good or not good enough’ for the division they were in. Finally they managed to find their level, consolidate and build on the superb spirit that exists at the club.
1996 saw East London bring home the President’s Shield under the captaincy of Adam Williams. There was also a title win in the Eastern Counties Division 3 South a few years later which contained a few of the current first team players.

The 2001/02 season will long be remembered for the success of the 1st XV with their historic first Essex Cup victory, winning 12-5 vs. Upminster. Their superb league form meant they only lost out on promotion away in a play-off game vs. Stowmarket. This success was further backed up by the 2nd XV winning the inaugural John Adler Trophy against Wanstead 28-13.

The 2002/03 season saw three significant milestones reached, the Club celebrated its Golden Jubilee season, 2003 was the 30th year as the renamed East London Rugby Club and we had our 20th season playing out of the clubhouse at the Memorial Grounds. On the pitch the 1st XV achieved promotion by finishing runners-up in the South East Counties Division Two South to the newly formed, and less longwinded, Essex 1st division. The Second XV (the Wyverns) and the Third XV backed up this success by each having excellent winning records showing there is still strength in depth at the club.

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