1888 Chorley [22 July 1888]
1921 Carlisle [23 April 1921]
1921 Percy Park [3 September]
1922 Rockcliff [17 April]
1922 K.O.S.B [26 August] – a Scottish tournament played in Berwick that year
1923 West and Technical [1 September]
1924 Clifton [29 March]
1924 Old Dixonians [18 October]
1926 Middlesex [24 April]
The list may be subject to change if more rugby union sevens tournaments are discovered.
The Chorley event of 22 July 1888 was part of an athletic sports day by Chorley Rugby and Athletic club in Lancashire, England. It was a single match of rugby sevens played between W. B. Sharples team and Woodburn Rovers. Woodburn Rovers, noted as the West Lancashire Junior and Wigan cupholders, won the match. This event was noted as the second Chorley Athletic sports hosted by the Rugby and Athletic club; sevens was not played the year before.
A rugby sevens match at Chorley seems to have also been played in the following year, on 24 August 1889 at the next Chorley Athletic sports day. (It is marked as a football event; but there are no notes to state whether under Association or Rugby rules. However given the 1888 match was stated as rugby rules, it is reasonable to assume that the 1889 match was also under rugby rules.) Hesters of Blackburn were the winning side.
Note: this was the Chorley Rugby and Athletic sports day; there was another not-connected Chorley Sports day but that event did not host any rugby.
As Scotland shares a border with England to the south; and Sevens originated in the south of Scotland at Melrose; and was popular throughout the Scottish Border towns – it may be a surprise that the next Sevens tournament in England was over thirty years after that the last Chorley match with rugby sevens on 24 August 1889.
Why the delay in the Sevens game moving south to England? After all, Scots had taken Sevens to New Zealand and Argentina; both having tournaments before any – outwith the Chorley matches – in England.
The delay was caused by the English Rugby Football Union. English rugby sides, particularly those close to the Scottish border, knew that Sevens were popular in Scotland and were keen to try out their own tournaments.
Hexham, a town in Northumberland, is less than 30 miles from the Scottish Border. On 24 February 1896 the Northumberland Rugby Union, in committee, read out a letter from Hexham Company of Volunteers Sports Committee. The Hexham sports club was asking for permission to run its own rugby sevens tournament (planned for Easter Monday 1896). This was refused:- as it was deemed against the English Rugby Football Union rules; and that the Northumberland Rugby Union did not appear to have the power to grant permission.
Unsurprisingly it was an English border town that first played a full Sevens tournament on 23 April 1921.
Here is the report from the Hawick Express of 29 April 1921, reporting from the tournament:
CARLISLE SEVEN-A-SIDE SPORTS.
Hawick “B’ in the Final.
An interesting series of Rugby football Seven-a-Side games and other sports, organised by the Carlisle Rugby Football Club, took place on the Warwick Road Rugby ground on Saturday afternoon, in presence of large gathering of spectators. This was the first occasion upon which a seven-a-side Rugby oompetition had been ployed in Carlisle, the English Rugby Union having just recently sanctioned the paying of this particular style of football. Play in most of the contests was fast and exciting, and the general impression was that these competitions, so popular on the Scottish Borders, are likely to become equally so on the English side of the Border. An exciting final was provided by Carlisle “A” and Hawick “B,” the Cumbrians winning by one point. It was a great game, and there were few dull moments, thrill following thrill with great rapidity.
Hawick ” B” beat Carlisle “B by two goals and a try (13 points) to nil, in the first round. Tries were scored by L. Stoddart (2) and Davies. Turnbull placed the goals. In the second round Hawick B” beat Langholm Onceweres by two tries (6 points) to nil, the tries being scored by W. Marchbanks. In the semi-final, Hawick ” B” beat Aspatria by three tries (9 points) to one try (3 points). The trygetters for the winners were Marchbanks, Davies, and Turnbull. In the final Carlisle “A” defeated Hawick “B” by a dropped goal and a try (7 points) against two tries (6 points). Carlisle ‘s dropped goal was obtained by Sewell, and Graham secured the try. Russell and Turnbull were the scorers for Hawick “B”.
The teams in the final were:—Carlisle ” A ” — J. Baty; H. W. Mawson; H. Graham, A. Bewell; T. Cavaghan, J. Halstead, and V. Shaw. Hawick “B” – L. Stoddart; S. Russell; C. Scott; W. Marchbank; D. S. Davies; G. Turnbull, T. Wright. Gold medals were presented to the winning team, and silver medals to the runners-up. Mr Adam Turnbull, Hawick was one of the referees.
The Mayor of Carlisle (Mr H. K. Campbell) presented the medals. He was glad, of course. that Carlisle had won, and they had evidently benefited by their visit to Hawick a week or two ago. He believed this was the first seven-a-side contest in England.
Mr W. A. Graham, in proposing a vote of thanks to the Mayor for his presence and interest, said the Carlisle Club had had everything to learn, but Hawick gave them a good lesson a fortnight ago, and they had benefited by that to-day.
The first English autumn tournament came that same year, played in Tyne and Wear at Percy Park RFC again with more than two sides. In fact, Scottish sides were invited; their proficiency at Sevens resulting in a Selkirk versus Melrose final – with Selkirk winning the title.
The Percy Park Sevens did bill itself as the first Seven a side tournament in England (it seems the Chorley matches were unknown to Percy Park; or the two single matches were not deemed as ‘tournaments’; – and the Carlisle tournament either unknown; or a viewed as a Scottish extension). They came about as a Northumberland referee, T. H. Moss, and the Percy Park president, Hampton Vic, met and hatched a plan; the Northumberland referee had experience of refereeing some Sevens matches in the Scottish Borders.
A Sevens tournament was played at Whitley Bay at Rockcliff RFC’s Whitley Hill Heads ground on 17 April 1922, Easter Monday. Some 3,000 spectators went to watch. It was noted that Percy Park fielded a weakened side as their 1st XV played Egremount at Preston Avenue that Saturday. It was thought that because of weakened teams in the Sevens tournament that the attendance would be low and it was remarked that the 3,000 fans were quite pleasing to organisers. Rockcliff’s new grandstand was opened on that day. North Durham beat Rockcliff in the final.
King’s Own Scottish Borderers
The King’s Own Scottish Borderer’s Sevens was an occasional Scottish Sevens tournament run by the infantry regiment, rotated around the Scottish Borders towns. However in 26 August 1922 they played their tournament in Berwick upon Tweed; no doubt taking advantage of the relaxing of the English Rugby Union’s attitude to rugby sevens.
Planned tournaments not played
The Northumberland Rugby Union planned a Sevens tournament for the county to take place in September 1922. They planned a stripped down event; noting that the Percy Park Sevens had too many entrants. Only Northumberland teams could enter; and the tournament would be played at Gosforth – I can find no details that the tournament was played.
Hartlepool’s Gray’s Recreation Association looked at running a Sevens tournament in September 1922 but it was cancelled due to insufficient entries.
A Sevens tournament was due to be held at Carlisle on 28 April 1923 – I can find no details that the tournament was played.
Percy Park RFC lined up another Sevens due for either 8 or 15 September 1923. I can find no details that the tournament was played; and it looks as if this was not played as the club decided to delay the start of their season.
West and Technical
The Hartlepool region tried again to have another Sevens tournament. The newly amalgamated club of West and Technical RFC planned a tournament of 8 teams, featuring 4 local teams on the 1 September 1923. The tournament was to celebrate their analmagation; that newly founded club today is now known as West Hartlepool.
This time the tournament was played; Percy Park and North Durham met in the final – with North Durham winning the tournament with more pace and skill.
The Clifton rugby club of Bristol had a Sevens match on the 29 March 1924. It pitted the club against their old members. No details of the match are provided; but it is noted that a series of matches did take place.
Old Dixonians of Birmingham had their Sevens on 18 October 1924. Billed as the ‘Scotch game’, the subsequent report of the tournament in the Sports Argus newspaper was less than complementary – although it was conceded that Sevens improves passing, it was found to magnify faults in the player’s game.
It was a Scot, Dr. J. A. Russell-Cargill, that founded the Middlesex Sevens – first played in 1926 – which became England’s premier Sevens tournament.
It was the Middlesex club that formally requested that the English Rugby Union allow rugby sevens matches. This formal request was granted on 26 June 1925; leading to the 1926 tournament being the first to be officially sanctioned in England by the union.