Club History

125 Years Of Exmouth Rugby Football Club

Written by John Harvey
Updated by David M Bassett

The official 'Centenary History of the Rugby Football Union' by U.A Titley and Ross McWhirter, lists as its earliest dates of reference for the existence of the Exmouth Club as 1873. The following is a resume of the history of one of the oldest Clubs in the country, which forms very much a part of our heritage.

Many have researched the history of the Club through the years, none more so than John Harvey, who has sadly left us for a better place. I have reproduced, with grateful thanks, extracts of Johns potted history of the Club from the 26th September 1982 programme of Exmouth 1st XV v Devon Presidents XV to commemorate the opening of our current clubhouse following the fire on 9th November 1981.

The history opens with a comment that reflects the sentiments of a writer of early 'Cockles' history, which is as relevant today as it has been through out our history.

"Much effort and sacrifice lie buried in our story, there is some part of the past that is weak, there is much more that is strong."

The Rugby historian, Leonard Tosswill, listed Exmouth together with Barum, Newton, Exeter, Tiverton, Sidmouth and Torquay as leaders in the establishment of Devon Rugby before the emergence of Devonport Albion.

Despite omissions and gaps, inevitable in any organisation that has passed its century, writings that survive record the astute memories of W .H. (Billy) Wright and Bill Gorfin. One of the oldest Clubs affiliated to the Rugby Football Union, its fitful life began on the Cricket Ground, where matches were played on the Maer near the site where the old Shell House once stood and the Undercliff Tennis Courts and Madeira Bowling Club now stand.

Certainly, early Stalwarts included Harry Crews, a local businessman. George Matthews (a founder of the Devon Dock, Pier and Steamship Co.), Will Boyce, Dick Webber, Harry Peach, Sam Tupman, and many others, whose enthusiasm led to the foundation of the Exmouth Scarlet Runners, forerunners of the Cockles - the 'nom de guerre' by which we are universally known today.

Fascinating are the indigenous names that occur in the earliest teams, including the Chown brothers, Manley, Salter, Southwell, Pannell, Tozer, Coombes, Ferris, Bush, Bolt, Beavis, Adams, Runnals, and Weeks. Local surnames that mostly survive and whose descendants contributed to the development of the Club.

Watson's field, a muddy venue in Littleham Lane close to Cranford, supplied a rather inhibiting pitch, equally daunting to the home sides as much as to the their opponents! Fortunately, the stay here was short and in the early 1890's there occurred the move to Archery Field or Cranford (immortal name), which became the home of the Cockles for just seventy years and could have been in perpetuity, had the agreement to move to Imperial Road not come about.

Increasing importance and prosperity, resulting from acquiring a permanent ground, led to the building of a stand and a marked development of playing standards. This was reflected particularly in the leadership of Tom Ferris, Captain and 'Jimmy' Salter, a three quarters genius who played in an England Trial in 1896 of whom oral tradition to this day acknowledges his superb side step and facility in touching down tries under the posts! A brilliant County player for Devon, never the less a star performance in the trial failed to secure him a true England cap.

Fortunes flagged as the team of talents on the '90s retired The Club nearly faced extinction around 1905. Only efforts by such Stalwarts as the Rev Egremont, R J Hookway and Pat Riley saved the day.
This crisis period, when fixtures were lost and a demoralised Committee contemplated giving up Cranford to Exmouth United FC. This brought to the scene four other men, whom 'Billy' Wright rated the saviours of Rugby in the town - John ToIrnan (Secretary), Dr Lestock Thomton, Norman Carter (Chairman and 'a fine sport') and Billy Mogridge (a name synonymous with Exmouth and Devon Rugby).

Exmouth Echoes, a rival team, amalgamated with the Cockles, and 1905 saw resurgence in fortunes, which continued until the outbreak of the Great War. Progress came in leaps and bounds the peak being attained with an unbeaten record of 29 wins and 1 draw in the season 1912-13. Ironically, as a recognition of that season, Exmouth was invited by the Rugby Football Union to participate in a Western League, which included leading West Of England and great Welsh clubs. Unfortunately, hostilities caused the project to be stillborn, together with the aspirations that might have changed the course of Club development.

Dick Holman, Tom Gibbins Claude Wilson, Billy and Sam Mogridge, 'Rocky' Stevens, George Edwards, Billy and George Trim, Billy Goff, Fred Bradford, and Ned Nelson were part of the muster roll of that era when Exmouth dominated the Devon scene. Seven Cockles played in the Devon XV in 1913, whilst in February 1914, Exmouth beat a Devonport Albion side (5-4!), which contained eight Devon and seven Cornwall County Players.

The Twenties And Thirties
No fewer than 18 Exmouth Rugby players made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War, a fact remembered on a memorable April 5th when the bronze commemorative plaque, which fortunately survived the fire and has been so lovingly restored with great skill. The plaque, unveiled at Cranford in 1924/25, now takes pride of place in the Club Lounge.

The Devon Senior Cup was wrested from Newton Abbot with brilliant tries from Fred Bradford and Jimmy Salter, converted by Bert Duscherer. Fortunately, a photograph of that side together with a Winners Medal survived the blaze to mark that occasion.

Local talent included the Mogridge brothers, Tom Gibbins, Fred Bradford, Bert Duscherer, Jimmy Salter, with aspiring players like Arthur Wills, Stan Webber, Ray Tilley, Fred Summers, W B Richards, Jack Pannell, Roy Grace, Griff & Reggie Llewelyn, Fred Farrant, Reg Dixon, Bill Hayman, and 'Rent' Hockings - to name but a few.

Talented Welsh players such as Ira and Billy Thomas, Jack Carter, Gordon Stevens and Harry Pengilley escaped the Depression by coming to South Devon; local talent was also supplemented by Dr 'Sandy' (later Air Vice Marshall) Barker.

The Forties And Fifties
This era still has to be fully chronicled, but pioneering work after the Second World War was spurred by Les Mogridge, Billy Thomas, Bill Hayman, Tom Phillips, Fred Farrant, the Hockings brothers and Eddie Huxtable. Initially a hard road was followed by a loyal band of cheerful determined workers following those early administrators like Charles Joslin, Billy Wright, Frank Lloyd Hitt, L G and Bert Humphries.

Cranford, with its slope, muddy twenty five end and other vagaries nevertheless figures warmly - its homely atmosphere, personalities, defeats of Swansea and other tourists including an all conquering St Lukes side. Cranford had intimate memories for all that were associated with it, and the shadows of former glory seemed to lurk in Watery Lane into which the ball had a habit of pitching on many occasions!

Imperial Ground
The move to the Imperial Ground in September 1964 was certainly the most important chapter, giving the Club a place in the centre of the life of the town. This enabled it to become 'community minded' in the spirit of recent recreational policy, and to establish the Rugby Club as a leading sporting organisation.

It should be remembered that, as a result of the Cockles agreeing to the sale of Cranford, Exmouth U.D.C was enabled to assist and improve the facilities of our Soccer and Rugger friends at Imperial Ground, Carter Avenue and Withycombe. It represented for the Cockles a realisation of a promise made some forty years previously by the Council 'to provide for this Club a ground worthy of the name'.

Certainly it was in part recognition of the efforts of such as Walter Holman, Arthur Bright, Bill King, Austin & Jimmy Evans, 'Rent' Hockings Jack Hayman, John Puddicombe, Ernie Wills, John Dilks, Sturdee Heard, George Smaldon (and family) Bert Humphries, Reg Pigeon, Fred Davey, Billy Thomas, Bill Gorfin, and many others including Les Mogridge and Committeemen who have followed their lead.

The years at the Imperial Ground up to John Harvey's historical review in 1982 and continuing up to present day have produced eras of remarkable players and administrators whose contribution to the success of the Club will eventually be fully chronicled in a history of the club.

County and other honours in representative rugby have been won at Exmouth or in their surrogate clubs by many players including Jeff Tarr, 'Rent' Hockings, Doug Smaldon, 'Nipper' Grace, 'Barney' Barnes, Peter Woodland, Noel Bradford, Phil Holman, Mick and Phil Bamsey, Nicky Hockings, Alan Fay, Nigel Hayman, Hugh Gibbons, Martin Livsey, Nick Tuckett, Peter Watson, Alan Roberts, Darren Crompton and Gary Hooper.

Devon Colts and under 21 honours have been and are still being won by our young players. Much of this success due the Juniors, who were officially formed in 1977 by Tony Wright, Roger Stuckey and Gordon Warren, the latter two both former Club Captains, although junior rugby had been played at Exmouth since 1972.

Successful senior tours have been organised to Brittany, Channel Islands, Malta, Germany, Holland and Spain. Visiting sides have included the Under 21 Canadian side from British Columbia and Trignac from France and Coventry.

The Captains
The Honours board records Presidents, Chairmen and Captains' since 1964.

The late Peter Tribble (also a Chairman), Mike Bates, John Finn, Bill Lye, the seemingly ageless Stan Jordan, Jeff Mills, Peter Horn (who tragically died in 1998), Richard Taylor, Chris Witkiss, Nial Thurlow, Alan Roberts, Ian Harris, Nick Tuckett and Nick England have all contributed in different ways to the success of the Club both on and off the field.

The total commitment and leadership of the Club's Chairmen throughout its history have ensured Exmouth's continuing success, none more so than the Imperial Chairman, Les Mogridge, Ernie Wills, 'Rent Hocking, Ron Pratt, Peter Tribble, Jim Wilson, Tony Wright, Mike England and David Bassett.

In 1995 the professional era of modern rugby arrived which coincided with the retirement after 16 years of an extremely popular President A H (Les) Mogridge, whose personal contribution to the club is immeasurable. Mike England succeeded Les as President, after seven years as a highly respected and successful Chairman. David Bassett then became Chairman and the Club restructured its administration to manage the needs of the 'modern' game.

After two years of hard work, in November 1996 the new £65,000 Changing room were opened to provide some of the best facilities in the South West. A few months earlier another success that had eluded Exmouth became a reality when for the first time the Colts won the Devon Colts Cup beating Torquay.

Behind every successful administration there are highly motivated and efficient Officials and many of these have been noted earlier in John's history. The latter Imperial Years have also provided people of that ilk such as Brian Jelfs, Brian Cornall, Nigel Harris, John Lucas, Kevin Cornall, Stan Jordan, Roger Holman, Janet McCarthy, Emma Bassett and Brian Cridlin. It is the dedication and enthusiasm of the administrators and the commitment and loyalty of our players that will ensure that Exmouth goes from strength to strength from success to success as it strides towards its next milestone.