Penrith RUFC - A Brief History

In the autumn of 1882 a group of a dozen or so rugby enthusiasts gathered in Great Dockray and there the Penrith Football Club was founded.

As the twentieth century unfolded the Club entered into a brief and unsuccessful period of Northern League Rugby – a forerunner to Rugby League. However, following the Great War, it was decided to return to the Union game. In the early days, play took place on the Foundry Field and though excursions to other bases took place over the years, the Club settled there again following the Second World War. By 1954 our first ever Clubhouse had been built, largely through self-help and the expertise and generosity of the father of our then hooker, Robert (Bobby) Reay, who owned a local building business.

The club went from strength to strength and it became obvious that further development would be necessary. However, since the ground belonged to the local Council it became apparent that if we wished to develop in the way we wanted then the solution was to buy our own ground.

A development committee was set up under the inspired leadership of Treasurer Joe Jameson with Jim Nicholson as Secretary. 28 acres of land, including a two-acre concrete car park (formerly a tank park during the War) came up for sale by auction. On Tuesday 12th September 1961 the Club paid the princely sum of £7,500 for the whole 28 acres and our future was assured. An area sufficient to lay three pitches was levelled, drained and re-seeded over the next three years and following many fund-raising functions, plans were drawn up for a Clubhouse at what was to be our new home.

With the help of a low interest loan from the RFU and similar grant from a Brewery, the Clubhouse and ground were officially opened on 29th April 1967.

Penrith was the envy of Clubs in the North-West and many, though they were not on our Fixture List, would call in to enjoy our Saturday night dances.

As we all know, good times don’t last forever and when our flat-roofed sectional building began to age on reaching its promised life-span of 25 years, we had to look at fund-raising for a new Clubhouse. By this time we were running three Senior sides, a Colts side and a fledging Mini-Rugby section. We had four Squash Courts and the local Tennis Club had moved to Winters Park and laid four hard courts. We also became the home of Beacon Archers, Penrith Amateur Rugby League Club and we are still the home today of Eden Runners. Obviously we were beginning to serve a local community not only as a Rugby Club but also as a base for other sporting pursuits.
It was about this time that the National Lottery came on the scene and a team was assembled to draw up an application for a Lottery Grant. Keith Davis (Secretary), Chris Ryder (Solicitor) and Richard Dryell (Architect) were the key players. It took almost two years to prepare the application documents and move through the various stages towards grant approval. However it was all worthwhile as we were eventually awarded £410,000 towards the cost of our new development. The Club itself had to raise the rest of the £660,000 total cost through the sale of land not suitable for sporting purposes behind our grandstand. Such was the quality of our bid that our Secretary was invited to the House of Commons to appear before the All Party National Heritage Committee who were then taking evidence on the impact of lottery grants to various sections of the community.

In 1997 Peter Brook, President of the Rugby Football Union opened our splendid new Clubhouse and we were ready to move into the 21st Century.

Since then we have experienced considerable change in the way the Club is managed and utilised. With our new complex came all the responsibilities of upkeep and general maintenance. New staff had to be employed and core income streams had to be generated and nurtured.

On the Rugby front the new century has brought about mixed fortunes. In April 2000 our senior XV won the Cumbria Cup for only the second time in the Club’s history. However, less than a year later the entire County suffered from the ravages of Foot and Mouth and none more so than in the Eden Valley of Cumbria. Our strong farming connections (and indeed RFU guidelines) forced us to cancel all our of matches from the end of February 2001 with the net result that the RFU contrived a formula that relegated us from level six to level seven by a margin of less than one point! In 2003 our senior XV played magnificent rugby to progress through the rounds of the Powergen Intermediate Cup playing away from home on most occasions. The semi-finals saw us once again drawn away to the favourites Hertford only to lose by the dreaded one point margin in the dying seconds of the game. Despite this disappointment the team soldiered on and secured promotion back to level six.

Season 2004-05 saw us finish third in North Two west and once again lift the Cumbria Cup. Our ‘A’ XV won the Cumbria Shield for the first time in the Club’s history and completed a unique double.

The following season we were level transferred to North 2 East and rose to the challenge magnificently by taking the league title in the very last game at Durham City in a thoroughly epic match enjoyed by an army of Penrith supporters the like of which had never been seen before. A week later we retained the Cumbria Cup beating our old rivals Aspatria.

Season 2007/08 saw our senior XV relegated after two years in North 1 following a disastrous start to our league campaign from which we were never able to recover despite herculean efforts from February to April. Away wins at Middlesbrough and Hull together with a truly magnificent effort at eventual unbeaten league winners Kendal were the high points and demonstrated our true potential.

Season 2008/09 saw us back in North 2 East. But not for long. With head coach Stuart Connell in place we had an outstanding season resulting in us being crowned Champions of that league with a combination of solid forward play and exciting running from our backs. Not only that but we won the Cumbria Cup in an exciting final against local rivals Carlisle. So we find ourselves, for the first time, in the National Leagues and looking forward to the challenge.

2009/10 was a highly successful season for the club. The 1stXV finished a superb 3rd in the National 3 League North and won the Cumbria Cup for the second year running. The 'A' XV finished in a creditable mid table position in Division 1 of the Miller Homes League and the 3rd XV gained promotion to Division 3 North. Both the 'A' and 3rd XV's will play in the newly named University of Salford North West League this season.

The Youth structure continues to be well run and without exception each of our Junior teams had a highly successful season last year. We have teams at age groups from 18 down to the minis.

We have learned many lessons over the past years and have built up an efficient and competent administration at all levels of the Club’s operation. Our common aim is to build a business which will sustain quality Rugby Union in Penrith not just now or the next few seasons but for the foreseeable future. The considerable progress spanning three centuries of this Club’s existence did not just happen – many far-sighted Rugby men (and yes, women) made it happen. Let us hope that the game continues to throw up those Rugby enthusiasts who are prepared to put something back.