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A History of Rugby Football at Clifton College and the Govenor's Cup - By Charles Knighton
OLD CLIFTONAN XV v. OLD MARLBURIAN XV
CLIFTON COLLEGE XV v. MARLBOROUGH COLLEGE XV
for the Governor’s Cup
CLIFTON COLLEGE CLOSE
Saturday 29 September 2012
Celebrating 150 years of Rugby Football at Clifton
Clifton v. Marlborough is the oldest inter-school fixture in the game of rugby – or any other kind of football. Although the first match in 1864 ended in a brawl, and it was some years before the next, a precedent had been set which transformed the sport. By the time Clifton and Marlborough had their second encounter, old boys of both schools had been prominent in the earliest Internationals. Since the centenary match of 1964 the contest has been for a trophy called the Governor’s Cup. This year, as part of Clifton’s 150th anniversary celebrations, Old Cliftonians will play Old Marlburians before the match between the current XVs.
When Clifton’s founders were looking for land on which to build the College, they had only one specific requirement: that it should be large and level enough to provide a ‘playground’ for 500 boys. Although the chosen site did not quite meet either condition, it defines Clifton as a playing field with a school set round it. And since the School opened for business in the winter term, football ‘organized on the Rugby system’ was immediately introduced. The master in charge, Henry Graham Dakyns, was himself an Old Rugbeian. He was assisted by Henry William Wellesley, the first Head of the School. Wellesley (SH 1862-3) was a nephew of Wellington, who had profited so well from what he had learned on the playing fields of Eton.
The Head Master John Percival was not as obsessed with games as some others of his kind have been. Games were necessary for bodily health; and since they were to be played, they should be played well. On one occasion (it is said) Percival was so outraged by the low standard of football that he ran on to the pitch and seized the ball. Whereupon one of the boys, with a fine disregard for the Head Master’s dignity, brought him crashing to the ground. It matters not whether this really happened; it is part of the creation myth from which Clifton draws such inner strength. Ironically Percival is remembered outside Clifton, if at all, only for his crazed edict that footballers should cover their knees to avoid arousing unmanly passion in their fellows.
The Marlborough connexion
Marlborough, founded in 1843, has always been a pioneer among the public schools. It was the first to introduce compulsory games and compulsory uniforms, and more recently, compulsory girls. Constitutionally Marlborough was one of the models for Clifton, and the two schools shared the inheritance of Arnold’s Rugby. Marlborough’s Master George Granville Bradley had been Arnold’s pupil, and had returned to teach at Rugby. His colleagues there included Charles Evans, the first to be appointed Head Master of Clifton; and although Bradley left the Rugby staff before John Percival joined it in 1860, the heads of Marlborough and Clifton in 1864 would certainly have known one another. There is however no reference to a proposed match in the Council Minutes or other official archives, so the idea must have formed at a lower level. The Reverend Philip Phelps, an OM, had been appointed to the Clifton staff as Chaplain in the summer of 1864.
Philip Phelps: the first OM to teach at Clifton
At the very least this is the first direct connexion between the two schools, and just possibly Phelps proposed the encounter. More realistically it was the link forged by I.K. Brunel which brought the two schools together.
Hardly football at all
We have no contemporary account of the match from the Clifton side (The Cliftonian did not appear until 1867). The only detailed report is in the official History of Marlborough by A.G. Bradley and others, first published in 1893. The account begins with a description of the Captain of the XX, John Archibald Boyle:
‘He was a fast runner, a sure place-kicker, and a brilliant ‘drop’. He had, when running, a curious and remarkable knack of holding the ball by one hand at the apex in a kind of clawlike clutch, and of using it this grasped as a weapon of defence against being collared, and when about to drop he would balance it for the moment in his extended palm.
J.A. Boyle, Captain of the Marlborough XX.
The match was played with twenty a side at Marlborough, and it had been arranged that, in accordance with the home rule, hacking over should be barred, though the Clifton regulations permitted it. Marlborough possessed considerably the stronger team, kept the game well in their opponents’ goal from the start, and got several touchdowns, none of which, however, was turned into a goal. Now, whether it was that agreement as to hacking over was misunderstood, or that the Clifton Twenty became irritated at being pressed, is not clear; but this is certain, that before long cries broke from the Cliftonian throats of ‘Hack him over! Hack him!’ whenever a run was attempted on the part of Marlborough. These suggestions were soon put into practice, and naturally provoked reprisals. A great deal of hot blood was engendered, and at one time it looked very much as if the match would degenerate into a free fight.
G.G. Bradley, Master of Marlborough
At this juncture Boyle walked up to the Master [Bradley], who was standing at the touch-line looking on. ‘I think we’d better stop the game, sir, hadn’t we?’ ‘No, no!’ came the clear, decisive reply; ‘they’ll think we’re afraid of them. Win the game first, and then talk about stopping if you like!’ Boyle strode back to his place behind the squash with determination in his heart. His chance was not long in coming. A few minutes afterwards he got hold of the ball and started for a run. Twice was he brought to the ground by an insidious hack, and twice he struggled to his feet, still clutching the ball in his curious grasp. A moment more, and he had by a brilliant drop, executed just in the nick of time, sent the ball flying plump and fair between the Clifton goal-posts just as for the third time he was rolled over on the grass; and at the sight there burst forth such a cheer from Marlburian throats as has never before nor since been heard on the football field. Marlborough honour was satisfied, and the pent up enthusiasm of the School knew no bounds. The opposing hosts, after the call of ‘No game’, found time to smooth down their ruffled feelings, and parted in the end on amicable terms; but the traditions and legends of the match lasted on for many years, and the experiences of the day led to the effectual discouragement of further contents with any alien team for some time.’
The Marlborough XX of 1864; first winners of the oldest school fixture
In fact the next aliens Marlborough met, in 1871, were the young farmers of RAC Cirencester in 1871; a fixture was started with the Clifton Club was started two years later. It was not until 1887 that Marlborough played another school, achieving their inaugural victory over Wellington.
This photograph of the Caps of 1865 is the first image of Clifton rugby. In the centre is Alfred Wallis Paul (Town, SH 1862-6,), the second Head of the School (from 1864) and so ex officio Captain of the XX which had played Marlborough. Like the Marlborough Captain and his own predecessor, Paul entered the Indian Civil Service. But whereas Bole and Wellesley died in early manhood, Paul enjoyed a long career, which earned him the CIE and the Chinese Imperial Order of the Double Dragon.
On the left is Charles Tylecote, who recalled:
‘I was one of the Clifton football team that went to play against Marlborough. What a match it was! You could hardly call it football. I was playing full-back, and being pretty quick on my feet in those days, got off pretty cheaply. However, after we had changed and had a good supper all together, we were all on quite friendly terms.’
Tylecote (SH 1863-8) later played Minor Counties cricket, and became a Prep School headmaster. The others in the photograph are James Cohen (SH 1863-6), later a master at Rugby, G.T. Clerk (BH 1863-5), Captain of the XI of 1865; Charles Gosse (SH 1862-6), a doctor who lost his life while saving his daughter’s in a carriage accident; Reginald Cox (SH 1862-5), and Arthur Peile (SH 1862-6), later a solicitor in Bombay. All six were surely in the field against Marlborough. Three others from Brown’s are known to have been Caps of that year: John Lange Fawcus, Walter Radcliffe and Charles Holliday; the last named must have been a useful player, because he was to be an Amateur Heavyweight Champion.
The photograph shows that the actual caps and House emblems had already been adopted. In 1866 a black and gold Cap was introduced for those who had held Caps for more than two years, with the senior ‘Black Cap’ accounted Head of Big-Side. For some OCs this compromised Clifton’s venerable traditions by creating a School XX based on experience rather than current form. Holliday himself was overcome with shock at this ‘utter absurdity and quaint conceit’, and developed his objections in a six-page letter in the second issue of The Cliftonian (Feb. 1868): ‘We don’t want a School Twenty, as we only play one foreign match, and this is by no means certain to be annual’. The Black Cap was defended by the Head of the School James Neale (SH 1863-8), though as soon as he had left it was abolished by Big-Side Levée. It was not until 1906 that a School team (by then an XV) was accepted.
Playing by the rules
Nationwide sporting contents and their regulation were, like the public schools, products of the railway age. Once teams could travel across the country, it became essential to standardise the way in which games were played. In the leading schools football had developed in different styles, often shaped by the lie of the land. The Football Association was set up in 1863 to define common elements in these local variants, though the result was a sport distinct (and some would say diluted) from the one to which Rugby School gave its name. Rugby had first codified its football rules in 1845. Arnold’s reforms, popularised in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, made Rugby the market leader in mid-Victorian education, and the Rugby version of football spread as a result. Clifton, which was founded in direct imitation of Rugby and adopted many of its customs, naturally took in Rugby football as well. At the first recorded meeting of Big Side Levée in 1866, Clifton set down ten brief regulations, and formally adopted the Rugby rules where there was no conflict with local custom. Hacking was forbidden ‘except accidentally in kicking the ball’, but it remained a popular tactic: a report from 1867 says ‘hacking was kept up spiritedly’.
In 1869 the Clifton rules were printed in a tiny booklet, as already used at Rugby and Marlborough. This was so that they could be carried the pocket and if necessary consulted on the field. In fact the Clifton booklet was so flimsy that no copies survived here, and the text is known only from one recently bought from a dealer. Although the Clifton rules broadly follow those of Rugby, their arrangement and wording vary considerably. Rule 18 now authorised hacking when an opponent, having obtained the ball in a maul, refused to set it down as quickly as possible. The original Rugby rules (no. 16) allowed a player standing up to another to hack him or knock the ball out of his hands if he attempted to kick it, but (no. 26) prohibited any hacking with the heel, or above the knee.
Marlborough’s first extant rules (1867) were much shorter; they occupy just 9 pages, as against the 27 filled by Clifton’s legislators two years later. Marlborough’s rule no. 7, the equivalent of Clifton’s no. 18, says simply that a player obtaining the ball in a scrimmage must ‘put the ball down at once, when it is impossible for him to get away with it’. There is no licence to the opposition to assault him if he does not do so, Indeed Marlborough’s next rule warns: ‘Though it is lawful to hold any player with the ball, this holding does not include attempts to throttle or strangle, which are totally opposed to all principles of the game’. By implication it would seem that strangling was considered legitimate at Clifton.
In 1871 the newly formed RFU issued the first general laws of the game, which stipulated (no. 57) ‘No hacking or hacking over or tripping up shall be allowed under any circumstances.’ This found no favour at Clifton. Although it was acknowledged that ‘the Rules of Football have recently been revised’, the version printed in The Cliftonian of December 1875 remained substantially as before, retaining (now as Rule no. 17) the right to hack an opponent not setting down the ball after a maul.
Clifton v Marlborough 1898: the earliest action picture (match drawn)
Clifton on their way to victory in 2006
Clifton’s attachment to hacking had caused such havoc in the first meeting with Marlborough that the experiment was not repeated for a generation. In these years old boys from both schools were nevertheless prominent in the wider development of the game. The Marlborough Nomads, founded in 1868, played a key part in setting up the RFU in 1871 The Nomads were later to merge with Rosslyn Park RFC, itself by C.C.H. Millar (SH 1873-9) in the year left Clifton Meanwhile the first rugby international had taken place on 27 March 1871, when England played Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh. Half the England side were, predictably, Old Rugbeians; but there were also two OMs (Arthur Gibson and Alfred Hamersley).
The English XX of 1871; Arthur Gibson (OM) standing, second from left, and Alfred Hamersley (OM) seated second from left. In later life Hamersley (below) helped to introduce the game to New Zealand and Canada
5 February 1872: England’s XX for the second International standing: 2nd from left F.I. Currey (OM), then S. Finney (OC), H. Freeman (OM), F.W. Mills (OM), A. St.G. Hamersley (OM); seated: 2nd from left (J.A. Bush (OC), far right W.O. Moberly (later CC Master) Photo courtesy of Patrick Casey (Clifton RFC)
At the return match at the Oval on 5 February 1872 the home team contained three more OMs, Frederick Currey, Harold Freeman and Frederick Mills. Also in the field were three OCs (James Bush and the future Sir Stephen Finney for England, E.M. Bannerman for Scotland), along with a Balliol undergraduate who would soon join the Clifton Common Room, William Octavius Moberly.
James Bush and Sir Stephen Finney in later life
Detail of W.G. Grace’s Gloucestershire XI of 1889; Bush (on the left) giving a good impersonation of a later Clifton cricketer, John Cleese
W.O. Moberly in his playing days and as a Clifton Master
Bush, the son of one of Clifton’s founders, was himself also a celebrated cricketer. (He kept wicket for the team W.G. Grace took to Australia in 1873; in one match a clean-bowled opponent was given ‘not out’ when a sharp-eyed umpire saw Bush’s nose in front of the wicket as the ball struck).
England play Scotland against the familiar backdrop of The Oval gasometers in February 1872; the hairy man on the left is most likely J.A. Bush, aka ‘Frizzy’
In the year after that first appearance of OCs in a rugby international, the local Clifton Club was founded, and adopted the ‘Clifton rules’ except that there was to be ‘no hacking over or tripping’. A large percentage of the Club’s early players were OCs and masters, but they gave no quarter to the alma mater. The College won their first victory in 1873, but had to wait fifteen years for another, and the Club team continued to dominate the exchanges. The only ‘foreign matches’ in the 1870s and 1880s were with OCs.
The early internationals and Varsity matches were still twenty-a-side; Oxford and Cambridge adopted fifteen-a-side in 1875, and three years later this was accepted at Clifton. Predictably there were objections to this further tinkering with tradition, which (it was predicted) would encourage ‘stagnation’ in the lower reaches of the Houses. Before long it was accepted as producing tighter and more skilful play. In essence the game remained as it had been at the start, an extension of the whole School in sporting mode. BSL still maintained that ‘two main principles underline all Clifton football: (1) Its management is entirely in the hands of the Sixth; (2) All the distinctions are House and not School distinctions’. It was compulsory for all but the physically disabled, and the only matter in which the Head Master’s authority was admitted was the suitability of the weather.
What most distinguishes the game as first played at Clifton from the one we now know was its length. Matches might last up to five days, and were determined by achieving a pre-ordained advantage, not by the score after a fixed period of play. That is what Bradley meant by urging his Marlborough team to ‘win the match’ before stopping it.
When it was felt safe for the two schools to meet again in 1891, the match was drawn with one touch-down apiece. Marlborough won in the following year, and then in 1893 Clifton secured its first victory. Since the resumption of the contest it has been played almost every year, save for a longer break during the Second World War.
The Governor’s Cup
The Clifton and Marlborough XVs have since 1964 played for the Governor’s Cup. The Governor in question was Sir Leslie Probyn, Governor of Jamaica, who in 1923 presented a trophy for a horse race (not, as often said, a polo competition). The ‘Governor’s Cup’ is still run, now a Grade 1 race at Caymanas Park. The cup itself subsequently came into the hands of the Hon. Alton Hope Phillips (NT, SH 1921-3), a merchant in Jamaica and Custos Rotulorum for the parish of St Thomas. That post explains his courtesy prefix and his association with successive Governors, including first Baron Milverton (Arthur Frederick Richards: NT 1899-1904). How Phillips acquired of the cup is not explained. It is known only that he presented it in 1964 as a trophy for the Clifton-Marlborough fixture in 1964, and the reverse of the cup was duly inscribed to record its new function.
On this occasion the match between the two current XVs was preceded by a commemorative XX-aside match, played in the costume and (as near as could be attempted) by the conventions of 1964.
The Reverend Peter Brook playing in the Clifton XX
28 November 1964: the two XXs engage photo: C.R. Sampson
Glory and some mud: Kevin Bowring’s Clifton XV of 1990 won the Governor’s Cup 8-3
The Marlborough XV of 2002 with the Governor’s Cup, which they won 10-5
Since 1864 Marlborough has won on XXX occasions, Clifton on XXX, with XXX draws. XXX to 1963 Clifton 29, Marlborough 31, drawn 5]
In possession: Clifton with the Governor’s Cup won at Marlborough 2011
Now, as Clifton celebrates the 150th anniversary of its first term and therefore its first football, the two teams meet again for the Governor’s Cup. Clifton was described in a recent Marlburian as ‘the class outfit on our circuit’. We reciprocate that compliment in welcoming our visitors today.
OC Internationals (with numbers of caps and date-ranges)
J.A. Bush (Tn 1863-8) England (5) 1872-6
Sir S. Finney (DH 1868-71) England (2) 1872-3
E.M. Bannerman (DH, SH 1866) Scotland (2) 1872-3
C.W. Boyle (BH 1866-71) England (1) 1873
A.H. Heath (SH 1870-5) England (1) 1876
E.I. Pocock (Tn 1872-5) Scotland (2) 1877
A. Budd (Pre: OH 1864-72) England (6) 1878-81
H. Fowler (SH 1871-6) England (3) 1878-81
N.F. McLeod (Pre: OH 1869-75) England (2) 1879
R.S. Kindersley (OH 1873-7) England (3) 1882-5
Sir E. Bonham-Carter (SH 1883-9) England (1) 1891
W.R.M. Leake (Pre 1875-8) England (3) 1891
Rev L.J. Percival KCVO (Pre: SH 1877-8) England (3) 1891-3
E. Field (Pre: SH 1882-91) England (2) 1893
C.A. Hooper (Pre: WiH 1880-8) England (3) 1894
W.N. Pilkington (Pre: BH 1887-96) England (1) 1898
J. Daniell (Pre: SH 1889-7) England (7) 1899-1904 (Captain 1900-4)
A.H. MacIlwaine (SH 1904-7) England (5) 1912-20
A.R. Aslett (Pre: SH, ST 1908-18) England (6) 1928-9
G.A. Gibbs* (Pre: SH) England (2) 1947-8
E.K. Scott (NT, OH 1932-7) England (5) 1947-8 (Captain 1948)
N. Gibbs* (Pre: SH) England (2) 1954
R.J.K. MacEwen (Pre 1936-42) Scotland (13) 1954-8
P.D. Young (Pre: DH 1937-45 England (9) 1954-5 (Captain 1955)
R.C.B. Michaelson (Pre: SH 1952-8) Wales (1) 1963
D.G. Perry (WiH 1951-6) England (15) 1963-6 (Captain 1965)
S.B. Richards (Pre: ET 1949-59) England (5) 1965-7
BH Brown’s House
DH Dakyns’ House
ET East Town
NT North Town
OH Oakeley’s House
Pre Junior and Preparatory Schools to 1930 / combined Preparatory School thereafter
SH School House
ST The South Town
Tn The Town (all day boys before North/South division 1875 (when ST retained the definite article by beating NT at football)
WiH Wiseman’s House
OM Internationals (with numbers of caps and date-ranges)
A. St G. Hamersley (C3 1862-6) England (4) 1871-4 (Captain 1874)
A.S. Gibson (B2 1857-63) England (1) 1871
F.I. Currey (B2 1861-6) England (1) 1872
H. Freeman (B2 1864-68) England (3) 1872-4
F.W. Mills (B1 1861-7) England (2) 1872-3
W.R.B. Fletcher (Pr 1866-9) England (2) 1873-4
S. Morse (C2 1867-9) England (3) 1873-5
H.M. Hamilton (C3 1868-72) Scotland (2) 1874-5
Sir W.H. Milton (C3 1868-72) England (2) 1874-5
E. Kewley (B1 1865-70) England (5) 1874-8 (Captain 1877-8)
C.R.D. Higginson (B3 1869-75) Ireland (1) 1875
W. Greg (Pr 1865-8) England (2) 1876-7
C.R. Gunner (C1 1865-71) England (1) 1876
F.H. Lee (C3 1868-74) England (2) 1876-7
Rev E. Peake (B2 1874-9) Wales (1) 1881
C.P. Wilson (C2 1873-7) England (1) 1881
H. Vassall (B1 1871-8) England (3) 1881-2 (Captain 1882)
Rev W.M. Tatham (C3 1874-80) England (3) 1882-4
B.B. Middleton (C2 1872-5) England (2) 1882-3
R.G. Evans (Li 1882-6) Wales (1) 1889
F.H. Fox (Co 1876-82) England (3) 1888-90 (Captain 1890)
P. Christopherson (B1 1879-81) England (1) 1891
R.F.C. de Winton (C2 1883-7) England (1) 1893
R.H. Mangles (C3 1887-91) England (1) 1897
G.T. Unwin (Su 1888-92) England (1) 1898
W. Mortimer (B3 1887-93) England (1) 1899
L.R. Tosswill (Li 1893-7) England (1) 1902
R.H. Spooner (B3 1893-9) England (1) 1903
M.R. Dickson (B1 1894-1900) Scotland (1) 1905
J.R.P. Sandford (B3 1894-1900) England (1) 1906
L.A.N. Slocock (B2 1900-4) England (8) 1907-8 (Captain 1908)
C.A. Bolton (C2 1894-1900) England (1) 1909
R.O. Lagden (Li 1903-8) England (1) 1911
W.E. Mann (Pr 1899-1902) England (1) 1911
V.G. Davies (C2 1912-17) England (2) 1922-5
W.E. Pratten (Co 1921-4) England (1) 1927
E.S. Nicholson (B1 1926-30) England (2) 1935-6
R.E. Prescott (B1 1927-31) England (3) 1937-9
B1, B2, B3, C1, C2, C3 In-College Houses, which have no names
Co Cotton House
Text C.S. Knighton (Clifton College Archives)
With thanks to T.E. Rogers
(Marlborough College Archives) and Patrick Casey (Clifton RFC)