This article was first published in the Wimbledon Society Newsletter, September 2021.
In 1865 Queen Victoria reigned, Alice in Wonderland was published, the American Civil War was coming to an end and Wimbledon Rugby Football Club was born.
The club, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, was one of the founding members of the Rugby Football Union. Now a successful club playing on the London and SE Premier League, it supports ladies, mini and youth teams, walking rugby, SEND (Special Educational Needs) rugby as well as four men's teams.
How did this all start?
There's no definitive record of the first match but 'Bells Life' reported a game was played between the 'Wimbledon Hornets' and Richmond on the 28th October 1865. Unfortunately they lost by two 'goals' which was the rugby scoring metric of the time.
The club also played under the names of Brackenbury's Wimbledon, after the name of the captain, and Wimbledon Wanderers but in 1868 they had formally adopted the name of Wimbledon Hornets and had fixtures with Richmond, Harlequins, Wasps, Blackheath, Civil Service and Marlborough Nomads.
At this time there were no fixed rugby rules, each club playing by its own and so a meeting was called by the 21 existing clubs in January 1871 at a restaurant in Pall Mall, London. There's a plaque commemorating this occasion on the corner of Pall Mall and Cockspur Street. The clubs in attendance were, Addison, Belsize Park, Blackheath, Civil Service, Clapham Rovers, Flamingos, Gipsies, Guy's Hospital, Harlequins, King's College, Lausanne, The Law Club, Marlborough Nomads, Mohicans, Queen's House, Ravenscourt Park, Richmond, St Paul's, Wellington College, West Kent, and Wimbledon Hornets.
As a result of this meeting, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was founded. Wimbledon's then captain, Leonard James Maton (an Old Rugbeian) was elected to the Rugby Football Union's Executive Committee and wrote the first Laws of Rugby at his address on Homefield Road, Wimbledon Village, whilst recovering from a broken leg. In 1874, he went onto become the third President of the RFU.