A brief history of Old Penarthians RFC

Whilst not intending to provide a definitive history of the club, it is to be hoped that these paragraphs will provide our visiting colleagues with some insight into the background of the Old Penarthians RFC and, at the same time, serve as a reminder to our own members of the legacy that they have inherited.

Although that bastion of learning, the Penarth County School, was founded in 1896, it was some 33 years before an increasing awareness and pride in the high ideals achieved by that establishment caused former pupils to take positive steps towards continuing a connection in later life.

The School gymnasium was, infact, the setting for the historic meeting which took place on the 30th of November, 1923, to consider the feasibility of forming an association of old boys that could incorporate sections catering specifically for cricket, hockey, rugby football and other social activities.

Initial reactions was sufficiently encouraging for those enthusiasts to proceed with a more formal gathering just seven days later when, on the 7th of December, 1923, the then Headmaster, Mr JM Judd, took the chair when the proposal to set up the Penarth County School Old Boys Association was approved unanimously. It is recorded that hockey, cricket and rugby sections were formed at the outset with the interests of the latter represented by a committee that comprised WH Taverner as Captain and R Barnes as secretary in company with Messrs Munro Price and Lot Thorn, the latter late to become renowned as the long-serving Secretary of Penarth RFC.

The results of the few games played during the limited months remaining that first season are not known but, in 1924-25, Penarth CSOB embarked upon 21 fixtures of which 10 were won, 2 drawn and 9 lost, reflecting a very creditable start indeed. Nevertheless, it was, perhaps, symptomatic of a squad of only 18 players that no fewer than 8 matches had to be cancelled although our American colleagues, used to travelling vast distances to opposing grounds, may be more in sympathy with Secretary WAP Hoskins who, in his report for that year, bemoaned the reluctance of certain individuals to turn up for away fixtures. After all, Penarth is situated fully 4 miles away from the centre of Cardiff!

Fortunately, these early hiccups did little to hamper future progress and the fortunes of the rugby section continued to prosper with the formation of a second fifteen in the late twenties prompting a “takeover” bid from Penarth RFC who, in 1928, made tentative approaches designed to wean away the organisational responsibility of the section from the association. The move was, however, resisted and the two clubs have continued to wend their separate ways in moods not always as harmonious as they are today.

During the following decade, the old boys Association lost much of it’s early impetus whilst interest in the rugby section continued to gather momentum. Indeed, the Club successfully survived the trauma of one season when outside half Glyn Jones and three quarters Ted Evans, Horace Davies and Eddie Humphreys departed en bloc to command places in the Penarth first team whilst a major development was the 1938 decision to separate from the association and to operate under the present title of Old Penarthians RFC.

Emerging from the Shadows of pioneering administrators Arthur Randall-Edmunds and Mac Henderson in those years preceding World War II was a man later destined to make the greatest individual contribution to the future of the Club. Bill Whitaker captained the side from prop in the two seasons prior to hostilities and returned from active service to dedicate himself to establishing the Penarthian name as one that is respected in Welsh rugby circles.

In his capacity as Secretary during the period 1949 to 1961, the energetic solicitor elevated the fixtures list over and above the previous limitations of Cardiff and District involvement and these wider horizons attracted the interest of the steady stream of players and officials that enabled the Club to go from strength to strength. Indeed, Whitaker’s powers of persuasion saw Penarthians in a position to field three and later four sides as a “norm” that was matched only by Glamorgan Wanderers in Wales at the time whilst he himself still found time to instigate in company with John Westlake-Hill of Llandaff RFC. The South East Glamorgan coaching structure that is so admired throughout the rugby world.

The most tangible evidence of Bill’s industry, however, is still to be found in the annual Sevens tournament that is staged by Penarthians on the third Saturday in May of each year. Introduced in 1950, the event is not only the longest running but probably the most popular of it’s kind in the Principality. It is a date set down in many an enthusiast’s diary as the day on which international and other leading players – both past and present – rub shoulders at the Clubs Cwrt-y-vil headquarters in an atmosphere of keen competition and social camaraderie that is quite unique.

Penarthians’ impact on the post war scene was such that, in 1961, the Club was accepted into probationary membership of the Welsh Rugby Union and successfully negotiated the statutory three year trial period to attain the prestigious status of full membership of an elite body that, even today, encompasses only 230 Clubs.