Charles Barstow Theobald was a Commander when he was admonished at a court martial after HMS Gnat was wrecked on 15th November 1868 off the island of Balabac in the China Seas. While awaiting a posting to further service at sea, he was appointed to the Coast Guard at Southend on 2nd April 1870. In that year football was played at Southend Park, near the ‘Cricketers’ in London Road, and known as Milton Hall Ground. Mr Theobald took an interest in the lads playing there. He gave them a set of by-laws and rules of the game. They could have been playing before 1870, of course, but the first real evidence of the club’s existence is a copy of the rules dated 1870. There were 21 rules at the time and they included: “No hacking is allowed,” and “No one wearing projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta-percha on the soles or heels of boots shall be allowed to play.”: “No carrying of the ball” and “In case of a disputed ‘touch down,’ the decision rests with the captains of each side the benefit of a doubt being given to the side in whose goal the ball is touched.” When Southend Rugby Club was formed in 1870 it was named Southend Foot Ball Club. Records of the club at that time are rather thin. Members of the Committee included Dr E. E. Phillips, a local surgeon, and J. R. Hemmann, the Principal of the local boys’ school, St John’s College. With the departure of the Naval support in 1873 when Mr Theobald was appointed to HMS Kestrel and left Southend, Southend Rugby Club became closely connected with Southend Cricket Club and played on the same ground in Southend Park. Situated between Avenue road and Park Street, Milton Hall ground belonged to the squire, Daniel Scratton. Mr Theobald would later become an Admiral in 1904, a year before his death at the age of 62. Cricket had been played there for many years, and probably by the Rochford Hundred Cricket club in the 18th Century. With the increase in building activities the Club moved to a ground near the railway line. This must have been the first of a number of ground changes. In 1880, under the captaincy of J. C. Page, and with A. Stallibrass as Vice-Captain, a good crowd watched the Officers of the Royal Artillery Shoebury Garrison beat Southend by three tries and two goals to nil. The team was J. C. Page, G. P. Birch, E. H. Burton (who was also secretary), A. Stallibrass, E. Stallibrass, E. Lewis, E. Grover, E. Harris, F. Nelson, W. Offin, W. Parsons, A. Leveaux, and E. Johnstone. Fixtures from that era included clashes with Walthamstow and Upper Clacton. In 1885, W. Lloyd Wise became President, T. Crawley Captain, and F. C. Smith Treasurer, the first record of club colours is found at that date; they were chocolate and white. At about the turn of the century, reports show that Southend opponents included Leytonstone, Chelmsford and Blackheath, Ilford Wanderers, Westminster Bank and Willesden. On 23rd March 1907 a match was staged at Southend United’s Roots Hall ground against Ilford Wanderers, Ilford won the match 29 points to 3, and on 30th March 1907 a match was played at Marine Park, adjoining the Kursaal. Although there is no clue to attendance at games, the Club had an agreement with the Kursaal management that 50 per cent of the moneys paid at the entrance and Grand Stand was to go to the Kursaal, plus the first £10. Admission for the Roots Hall match mentioned was 6d with 3d for soldiers in uniform and boys. Ladies were admitted free of charge and the Grand Stand charge was 6d extra. Minutes which survive from 1907 show that on Friday 17th May, at 8.30pm, a meeting was held at Southend Grammar school, over which the President, Captain Newman, presided and Mr. Herbert took the chair. The following officers were elected: Secretary, Mr R. McColla: Treasurer, Mr L. Smith: Captain, Mr W. H. Muncey; Vice-Captain and Hon. Sec., Mr Westcott: Chairman of Committee, Mr Herbert: Committee, Mr A. H. Manby, Mr P. Manby and Mr Mumford. At Subsequent committee meetings held in May and June at Mr Manby’s house in York Road, various plans were laid, but all did not go smoothly for those enthusiasts, and one evening the meeting broke up rather noisily. It is reported that some members had to be thrown out by Mr Manby and his brother “owing to a bottle of whiskey having been introduced and emptied by Irish members present.” At the next meeting, it was proposed that drinks should be banned from Committee meetings, and the final entry in the season’s minutes read: “Thursday 30th June 1907: No members turned up.” No further committee minutes survived until 1919 probably due to inactivity during the 1914-18 War, though there is on record a meeting in 1911 at the Ingram Club, when H. Cope was elected Secretary, A. Hamm Captain and N. Ayres Vice-Captain. The Chairman of the Committee was Rev. A. R. A. Nicol, the presidency was later accepted by Rev. F. Dormer-Pierce, the ground in use then was at Wiffens Farm, near Southchurch Hall School. On the fixture list at the time were London Devonians, who later amalgamated with Wasps, Molesey, Saracens and Wasps. Mr Potter Irwin, the international referee, took charge of a club match that year, and he was afterwards a guest at the first recorded Club dinner. It was in 1912 that rugby football in the borough received a “shot in the arm” in the form of H. G. “Billy” Williams. “Billy” was appointed history master at Southend High School. He rapidly made his mark in the Southend Club and was Captain in 1913, and again following the War when activities were restarted. In 1919 he was appointed the first Headmaster of the new Westcliff high school, the school played rugger from the start. With the formation of the Old Westcliffians RFC, “Billy” became their first President. While H. G. Williams was Captain in 1913, Southend played their first match at the Twickenham international ground. They were beaten by 25 points to 6 by the Harlequins A XV. Tries were scored by Leith and Coleman and the forwards are said to have played well. A meeting called to restart the club was held on 25th August 1919. The Hon. Rupert Guinness was elected President, E. J. Bull Chairman, and on the committee were A. Christie, S. G. Best, N. N. Whitmore, J. W. Youd, A. J. Wilson and H. G. Webb. A pitch in Priory Park near the main entrance, (affectionately known as the Slope), was obtained from the Corporation. Teas were arranged in St. Mary’s Hall, Prittlewell.
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