Saints 150: The formation and early years of St.Helens R.F.C.

As we approach the 150th anniversary date of the founding of St.Helens Rugby Football Club on the 19th of November 1873, over the next fifteen days the Club will be taking a varied and closer look at just some of the storied history of the Saints.

Today, we start with how it all began…

The ‘Play Up St.Helens’ Crest taken from a Baines Trading card and another of the series from the era of the Club’s founding in 1873.

William Douglas Herman arrived in our town in 1870 as a Chemist to work at Pikington’s Crown Glass Works, coming up north from London where he had played rugby for Crescent FC in Battersea Park on the South Bank of the Thames, he was disappointed that at that time there was no rugby in the local area of St. Helens.

Rugby was becoming a wider spread sport with clubs getting established in places such as Liverpool and Manchester, but William wanted to create a team in our town and placed the following notice in the St. Helens Newspaper:

“It is proposed to form a football club for St. Helens and neighbourhood. Gentlemen taking an interest in the game are requested to attend a preliminary meeting to be held at the Fleece Hotel on Wednesday November 19, 1873 at 7.30pm.”

That meeting held at the Fleece on Church Street, saw some of the most prominent men of the time attend who had both commercial and industrial connections, and on that night William Douglas Herman was named both Chairman and Captain of the new St.Helens Club.

Signature of the Club’s Founder Douglas Herman, taken from a census return in the early 20th Century.

Fixtures were arranged at the start of the new year in 1874, and the Club’s first-ever match was held against Liverpool Royal Infirmary on the 24th of January 1874 at the recreation cricket ground on Boundary Road, the Saints’ first temporary home, and the match ended as a draw.

This Original Saints progressed by getting more regular fixtures, moved to a new ground at Queen’s Park just off Prescot Road, with young spectators from the YMCA coming to watch – and sometimes fill in for home or away sides when they were a bit short… The youngsters also formed their own team that played on the same ground which was named Eccleston Rangers, the same as the cricket team that also had their matches at Queen’s Park.

By 1880, with the team losing fixtures and many of the Original Saints going to play for St Helens Recreation, a team formed by Pilkington Glass Works, a key moment came on the 21st of February that year. The original St.Helens team founded by Herman was passed on to the younger team of the Eccleston Rangers, who re-branded from the 1880-81 season as the St.Helens Rangers for a couple of years.

St. Helen Rangers

The Rangers left Queen’s Park and then settled on being known as St.Helens R.F.C. in the summer of 1883. Living something of a nomadic lifestyle, the team played in places such as Dentons Green and Windle, almost moving around different grounds around the town.

Rugby kept growing in popularity, evidenced by over 7,000 watching the town’s first match under floodlights between Saints and the old foe Wigan in 1889, and a year later The Maoris visiting on an international tour.

In 1890 the Club moved to Knowsley Road to ensure a, more-or-less, stable existence ahead of the dawn of the professional game breaking away from the 15-man code of the sport of rugby.

What a wild opening 17 years, and what followed over the next 133 is some story too…

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