Harlequins has a rich heritage in rugby in this country and abroad. For almost a century and a half the club has contributed generously to the development of the game both on and off the pitch. On the pitch Harlequins’ players have performed with distinction not just for England but for other nations; in the process bringing honour on themselves and the club.
The club has a reputation for producing and attracting players who have been innovators, for example, Ronnie Poulton-Palmer, Adrian Stoop and William Wavell Wakefield in the first quarter of the 20th Century. Between them they contributed to the club being associated with an attractive style of rugby.
Their legacy continues to the present - over a century later the current generation of players are taking that style to new levels. Off the pitch the club has also made a notable contribution to the governance of the game through the Rugby Football Union. Harlequins has already provided eleven Presidents of the RFU, a tradition that is set to continue with 2003 Rugby World Cup winner and former Harlequins prop forward Jason Leonard taking over as President of the Union later this year.
The club’s influence extends beyond this country via a network of affiliate clubs around the world. They include Harlequins Pretoria, Kenya Harlequins, Harlequins Melbourne and Dallas Harlequins among others. These clubs have added to Harlequins heritage not just through name association but also through their adoption of the club’s style of play.
Two books* have already been published about the history of the club and a third is planned to coincide with the 150th anniversary in 2016. A special book+ was published to celebrate winning the Aviva Premiership in 2012. While these publications tell the story of the club’s history within their respective timeframes, they do not do justice to the wealth of historical material the club has in its possession. Work is in hand to make the heritage of Harlequins more accessible to all those interested in the club through a range of outlets and platforms including public displays and digital formats.
Work is expected to be complete in time for the celebration of the club’s 150th anniversary in 2016. Please monitor this website for further announcements about the heritage programme.
* WAKELAM, H B T, “Harlequins Story”, Phoenix House, London, 1954
* WARNER, Philip, “The Harlequins -125 years of Rugby Football”, Breedon Books, Derby, 1991.
+ LENNON & SHEPPARD, “Harlequins: Aviva Premiership Champions 2011-12”, O Publishing, 2012
“The future is an undiscovered country”
The sixteenth decade and beyond
Where will the next 150 years take Harlequins? That is an unanswerable question. The start of this journey sees two diverse and richly talented squads of men and women playing in the top levels of rugby. Within them are the stars of now and the future, whom the latter will be has yet to be revealed. Whether Jess Breach and Marcus Smith will realise the potential they have shown remains to be seen. Certainly rugby and the Club would be unrecognisable to the likes of William Titchener and his colleagues who meet in the Eyre Arms in August 1866. Even Adrian Stoop would find much changed though he would be pleased that the style of play he advocated is still being pursued.
“The best of times, the worst of times”
The fifteenth decade
It was the best of times, the worst of times. The opening words of Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ are an appropriate description of the last decade in the Club’s first 150 years. After suffering the ignominy of relegation, the Club cracked through the Championship with only a single defeat to Exeter, the side that has often proved to be our nemesis in this decade. Dean Richards, our Director of Rugby, steered us through a couple of years of consolidation with young talent like Mike Brown, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw and the experience of All Black, Nick Evans, into the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup. This had been achieved through two memorable victories against Stade Francais. Then it all unravelled against Leinster. In a match, which could have been won without skulduggery, the Club both lost the game and tarnished our reputation.
However, the resulting change of personnel brought in Conor O’Shea as Director of Rugby. Conor developed the Harlequin style of high risk attacking rugby. Within two seasons, this approach had brought the Amlin Cup, topped the Premiership and won the Premiership title. New talent such as Joe Marler and latterly Jack Clifford has come through a very effective Academy set up. The following season brought the LV= Cup to Stoop. However, such success has proved difficult to maintain as our rivals learnt both how to play our way and to counter it. Also Heineken Cup success proved elusive.
In the European competitions, we only made it out of the Heineken pool stages once. In 2012-13 season, the Club won all its pool games and was top-seeded for the knockout stages. Then, we were defeated at home by a Paul O’Connell inspired Munster. There was another final of the Challenge Cup to contest in the 2014-15 season. The opponents were Montpelier whom had been well beaten at Stoop in the pool stages. However they had learnt from that and beat us in Lyon.
Conor departed at the end of this season after revitalising the team and managing one of the Club’s most successful eras. John Kingston stepped up to the post for the 150th season and, whilst results were mixed, qualification for the Champions Cup was secured.
The fourteenth decade
When the IRB announced in 1995 that the game was immediately going professional, both nations and clubs were surprised and unprepared. Quins was no exception.
The Club had a massive decision to make; either it stayed amateur or went totally professional. Within the Club, opinions were divided. However, the view prevailed that if Harlequin greats like Stoop and Wakefield were still around, they would have wanted the Quins to be competing at the very top level. At this time, the annual income of the club was less than £700,000. So it embarked on a journey to find the best way to finance the club in the professional era and underpin its future.
Hundreds of hours were spent in discussions with potential investors and several were turned down. Initially, the Beckwith’s provided investment. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that they saw the future differently from the Club. Fortunately Simon Halliday, a former player, introduced to the Club Charles Jillings and Duncan Saville, two South Africans; both successful businessmen and big rugby fans. Nearly 20 years later they are still the owners and continue to support the club through thick and thin.
On the playing side, getting the right affordable combination of players in the squad proved difficult. It meant that one season were in the top four; the next in the bottom half. Despite this inconsistency in the League, silverware did come. Though, the new millennium started with it being dashed away just as it seemed in our grasp. Assistant referee Steve Lander’s decision late on in the 2001 Tetley’s Bitter Cup Final was controversial. The Guardian described it thus;
‘the decision to award Newcastle the vital lineout that led to Dave Walder's 84th-minute winning try was a howler. Slow-motion replays suggested the touch-judge Steve Lander got a tight call wrong in deciding that the ball was ripped off the Falcons prop Ian Peel before Paul Burke and Ryan O'Neill ushered him in to touch’
Revenge was swift; within two months, Quins beat Newcastle before defeating Narbonne to lift the European Challenge Cup. Three years later, Quins again won the Cup; beating Montferrand, now Clermont Auvergne, in the final.
However, at the end of the decade, the Club’s league inconsistency caught up with it and we were relegated. But this proved to be the start of more successful years.
The thirteenth decade
The last decade before professional rugby started was a very successful one for the Club on the playing field in terms of silverware. It started with winning the Middlesex Sevens in 1986. This we did five years in succession, a record for any club taking our total wins to 13 another record for a club. Indeed such was the club’s prowess in producing sevens’ players that in the 1989 final of the fourteen in the Harlequin and Rosslyn Park sides, ten had played in Quins’ winning sides. Not to be outdone, the fifteen-a-side made it to five cup finals in the decade.
In 1988, after a shaky progress through the rounds, an undistinguished victory away against lowly Berry Hill in the mud and beating Wasps after extra time in the semi, the Club met Bristol in the Final. Quins were very much the underdogs. As The Times reported before the match
‘If they are to become the first London club to win the Cup, however, they must survive the first half-hour, during which Bristol’s greater experience of the great occasion will be to their considerable advantage.’
and, presciently continued
‘As a match, this has comparison with Bristol v Leicester in 1983, the best final so far’
Afterwards, the same papers report read
‘it was the best cup final ever’
‘It was hard to believe that Harlequins could have so dictated the pace of the first half that they turned round 18-3 ahead’
Bristol fought back but Quins triumphed 28-22.
Quins succeeded again in 1991 beating Northampton. They made the finals in 1992 and 1993 but lost to Bath and Leicester respectively. By now, the Club had gained the reputation of being knock-out specialists who struggled with the routine of League rugby. This was borne out by our position in the League tables. Only for 3 seasons were the Club in the top half of the table.
However, there was talent a plenty in the Club. The most notable example of this was the 1991 Rugby World Cup final in which nine Quins were involved though one, David Pears, was on the bench and did not get onto the field. This remains a record for any club.
Another significant change was the 1st XV’s retreat from Twickenham. Though the Club could still play up to 13 matches a season there, the players became less and less enthused about playing in a large stadium virtually empty of spectators. The Stoop finally became our home ground.
“The Wilderness Years”
The twelfth decade
The next decade saw great pressures on the playing side of Harlequins with the introduction of National Merit Tables which later became National Leagues. The Club amazed the rugby world by staying in the top tier despite great inconsistency in its performances. This could not be blamed on captaincy or individual ability but was probably due to a lack of stability in teams. This was in part due to injuries but also on the greater demands on the top players. The County Championship for the Home Counties moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays (Quins supplied many players to Middlesex and Surrey as well as London) and the national sides demanded that players be available for training weekends, tours, etc.. It was the beginning of the pressure on players’ time that contributed to the creation of professional rugby. A manifestation of this problem was for a number of seasons over 60 players turned out for the Wanderers (2nd XV).
There were plenty of notable internationals who turned out for Quins in the decade: All Blacks Nick Allen, Jamie Salmon, Andy Haden and Bernie Fraser; Scots Ian Milne and Bill Cuthbertson; Fijian Bosco Tikoisuva, who lead Fiji to a famous victory over the British Lions in 1977;and David A and David H Cooke for England. However as reported in The Times in 1980 when Quins defeated Oxford University;
‘Surely too, a better team than Harlequins, blessed with so much possession from all phases, would have cracked the cover and run in more than one try……Harlequins were their own worst enemies: they regularly conceded penalties for technical offences in or around the Oxford 22 and the English penchant, for three-quarters to turn inside to find their forwards was displayed for all to see.’
A bright spot on the playing side was winning the Middlesex Sevens for the eighth time in 1978.
Off the field, the administration of the club was being put on a more professional footing through the involvement of Roger Looker, Colin Herridge, John Currie and others. There was an expression of player power in 1979 when the committee’s nomination for captain was outvoted and Adrian Alexander was elected. Adrian ‘went North’ to Rugby League and Terry Claxton took over. Terry was not your typical Harlequin. No city slicker, Terry was a truck driver from Whitton and a very experienced and hard prop. Times were certainly changing.
“The party before fortunes change”
The eleventh decade
This decade started where the previous ones left off. It started with a successful tour to South Africa, the first undertaken by a club. Then the Club celebrated its centenary season under the captaincy of Grahame Murray with 22 wins from 36 matches. However, the icing on the cake came at the end of the season came at the end with the Club’s seventh win in the Middlesex Sevens and its first for thirty two years, not without some effort. The Times reported
“They came from behind in each of the last four rounds, which they could not have done without a well drilled team. Hiller scored 40 of his side’s 67 points. But Lloyd and Rutter were fast and crafty, and the rest of the team dovetailed admirably.”
Indeed so unexpected was the win that the team missed the flight for a Club tour of France and had to join them the following day. They also missed the social highlight of the centenary year, the Ball at Twickenham. 1,140 people enjoyed three bands and numerous sideshows held within an enormous marquee that ran halfway down the side of the RFU’s old West stand. Most were loathed to leave at 4:00 am when it ended.
This spectacular start hid a fundamental problem. John Reason of The Daily Telegraph presciently wrote in 1966:
“The Harlequins face another difficulty. The richest recruiting grounds for the Club have been Oxford and Cambridge, who have produced some of the best players in the country. This no longer applies if the present obsession with academic standards resulting in the alarming decline in standard of rugby at the Universities continues. The Harlequins will have to look elsewhere. “
Quins' fortunes did suffer despite the appointment of Earle Kirton, the All Black, as the Club’s first coach and players such as Bob Hiller, Bob Lloyd, Peter Dixon, and ‘Stack’ Stevens being picked for both England and the Lions. Probably, the lowest point was losing in 1973 to Wilmslow in the quarter finals of the first national club knockout cup. However there were positives; a successful tour to East Africa in 1973 and scoring ten tries to beat a Toulouse side that included Rives, Skrela and Noves at Stade Toulasain in 1974.
“A glorious decade”
For Harlequins, this decade was the Indian summer before rugby started to change from its amateur roots and started its march towards professionalism. The club had strength in depth. The story goes that the Wanderers (2nd XV) challenged the 1st XV to a match. The 1st XV declined for fear of being beaten. Indeed four players were capped for England whilst playing for the Wanderers. England capped amongst others; Ricky Bartlett, Vic Roberts, John Wilcox, John Young and that famous second row pair, Marques and Currie. Scotland picked Micky Grant and Joe McPartlin. Guy Stener and Gerry Gilpin turned out for France and Ireland respectively.
It was also a time for innovation and touring. The first floodlit rugby matches in Southern England were initiated at the White City. Such games did not sit well with traditionalists. In The Times, the one against Cardiff was described thus:
“Opinions vary, both among players and spectators, on the subject of floodlit Rugby Football…..There are those to whom Rugby and candlepower, instead of the game’s natural complement, daylight, are strange bedfellows”
Indeed this was reflected in the size of the crowds, which had shrunk from the 20,000 at the first match to 2,000 for the games five years later. The innovation did not last much longer.
In addition to our annual Easter pilgrimages to South Wales for the 1st XV and South West France for the Wanderers, there were two major overseas trips. The first of these was to Romania in May 1956. A strong team was accompanied by an ITN film crew, various members of the Press and senior Club alickadoos. Two matches were played. The first game, against the national shadow team, was watched by 20,000. The second against Romania was in front of 50,000.
Five years later the trip was to East Africa. This was at the invitation of Kenya Harlequins, who had invited Pretoria Harlequins to a tripartite meeting. Again large crowds turned out to watch the matches. The parent club won five and drew the sixth.
Off the field, the Stoop Memorial Ground, as it was then known, was opened. The original plans had been to upgrade the ground in Teddington and rename it in Stoop’s honour. However, the council’s compulsory purchase of Fairfax Road stopped that and the Club was offered the present location. More than half a century later, we can be very glad of that.
The ninth decade
In July 1945, shortly after VE Day, the club held a meeting St Stephen’s Tavern, Westminster Bridge. It was attended, amongst others, by club luminaries Adrian Stoop, Teddy Wakelam and ‘Holly’ Ward, the long-serving treasurer. The finances of the club (£5,000 in the bank) were respectable. However, with so many club players still away serving, as was likely to continue for some time, once again the first task was clearly to rebuild the player complement and fixture list.
Unlike in WW1 when club rugby stopped for the duration, there were many club games played during WW2. However, the difficulties in raising a side meant that many clubs combined. In the case of Harlequins, this was done with Rosslyn Park. Though, once a year a Harlequin XV played a Rosslyn Park side. So it was appropriate that the first peacetime fixture was against Rosslyn Park on 22nd September 1945 at Old Deer Park.
Fittingly that was a draw. Ken Chapman captained the side in that match and for the first post-war season as well as taking over from Adrian Stoop as Secretary. The next couple of seasons was spent rebuilding the fixture list and recruiting. It was not helped by hardly a match being played in the first two months of 1947 due to the appalling cold weather. Gradually the usual crop of international players were attracted or produced. Ricky Bartlett made his debut as a 16 year old in 1947. Micky Steele-Bodger, Jika Travers, Johnnie Matthews, Bob Weighill, Maurice Daly, Phil Davies, Vic Roberts and many others joined the ranks. Amongst non-internationals, characters such as Alan Grimsdell, Hugh Forbes, Roger ‘Chalky’ Whyte and David Brooks added to the strength and flair of the side. On the 1955 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, five current and future Quins travelled: Phil Davies, Clem Thomas, Johnnie ‘The Lemon Drop Kid’ Williams, ‘Tug’ Wilson and Jim Greenwood.
In 1949 both Adrian Stoop and ‘Holly’ Ward stepped down as President and Treasurer respectively after many decades in those roles. Adrian was succeeded by another great Harlequin, Wavell Wakefield. In the same year, the 2nd XV changed their name from the ‘A’ XV to the Wanderers.
Phil Davies remembered this time as
‘full of joy, the variety of background from barrister to paddle-steamer engineer, the camaraderie, the good humour, the intense commitment and the intensity of training and preparation.’
“War saves play”
The eighth decade
Financially the remainder of the 1930s continued to be a struggle. At a committee meeting it was noted that if the current situation continued the Club’s position would be untenable. Reluctantly, it was proposed to double the annual subscription to 2 guineas (£2.10). Though another suggestion to move 1st XV matches from Twickenham to Teddington was rejected. These diificulties did not stop the Club for partying well. The Annual Dinner was a notable occasion complete with its own cabaret, the Harlequeens. Ken Chapman, Robin Prescott, Thomas Tilling, Jay Gould, ‘Pop’ Dunkely, Colin Laird and others all took to the stage.
Quins’ fortunes on the playing field continued satisfactorily during this period. The club’s England internationals included wing forward Edward Hamilton-Hill, centre B.E. Nicholson, full back H.D. Freakes and forward R.M. Marshall. Elsewhere wing threequarter M.J. (‘Maurice’) Daly won his cap for Ireland in 1938. Charles Beamish, Tom Huskisson, Robin Prescott and ‘Pop’ Dunkeley toured Argentina in 1936 with the British and Irish Lions as did B E Nicholson in 1938 to South Africa.
Though the Second World War was declared on September 3rd 1939, club rugby did not cease as it did in WW1. The Harlequins played 19 matches in the 1939-40 season until it became apparent that not only was it becoming more difficult to find opposition but also for both sides to raise teams. So after that season Quins only played an annual game against Rosslyn Park. However, that did not stop a number of Harlequins from playing a lot of rugby.
Ken Chapman, Joe Mycock, Freddie Dunkely and Robin Prescott played in many of the representative fixtures. Indeed Robin played in 14 of the 18 wartime England internationals, captaining England in 11.
“Different stories on and off the pitch”
The seventh decade
The 1925/26 season was the most successful since rugby restarted after WW1. Out of 28 matches only six were lost and for the first time both games on the Easter tour to Wales were won. Then on 24th April 1926, a Harlequins VII under Bobby Davies consisting of six internationals won the first annual Middlesex Sevens tournament at Twickenham Stadium. Over the next decade, the Club appeared in 9 out of 10 of the Sevens finals, winning six of them.
The following season saw another memorable day. The Club played the NZ Maoris at Twickenham before a full house of 25,000. the club was still producing a steady stream of players destined for international honours: ‘Horsey’ Browne, Colin Laird, Jack Hubbard, ‘Pop’ Dunkley, Peter Brook and Jim Hutton amongst them. One player, who may have joined them save for a terrible flying accident, was Douglas Bader. Adrian Stoop helped him overcome the loss of his legs. Others went on the British Lions tours to Argentina and New Zealand.
This period was a high water mark for Quins’ fortunes on the field of play. Off the field the results were mixed. A ground at Fairfax Road, Teddington, was opened in October 1925, primarily for the Club’s junior sides. This put an additional strain on the finances. Initially the Club remained in profit but falling gates and increasing costs meant a loss at the end of the 1927-8 season. It was minuted at one point that the standard of the back play had deteriorated, resulting in fewer spectators, promptingthe then president Adrian Stoop to urge the backs to follow the example of the pack and “put a bit more into it” as a means of reviving both Quins’ entertainment quotient and finances.
The ramifications of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 added pressure on the Club. Relinquishing the tenancy at Twickenham was seriously discussed. However a legacy of £500 and a £100 Teddington debenture from Arthur Cipriani, the Club captain in the 1880s and 1890s, helped as did prudent financial management by the Treasurer, Holly Ward.
The Club finished the decade in rude health both on and off the field.
“We begin again”
The sixth decade
After four years of warfare, hostilities ceased and rugby resumed. It was perhaps fitting that the last club fixture at Twickenham before the War and the first after it was against the same opposition, United Services. Only four players – two on each side- played in both games. Over sixty Harlequins had paid the ultimate sacrifice. A small group, comprising Walter Ward - acting as Secretary whilst Adrian Stoop was still away on military service - John Birkett, Holly Ward, Campbell Clarke, Hugh Hughes-Onslow and Teddy Wakelam, realised that Harlequins needed to be re-established by the start of the first post war season (1919/20) or else it would be impossible to organise fixtures and recruit players. A rallying call was sent to all former players and a recruitment drive began.
This proved extremely fruitful. Future internationals such as Dickie Hamilton-Wickes, ‘Bobby’ Davies and Archie Gracie joined and the group’s greatest successes was the arrival of the outstanding flanker W.W. (Wavell) Wakefield. He went on to win 31 caps for England, captaining his country on 13 occasions. More importantly, he transformed forward play as Adrian Stoop had back play the decade before.
Unsurprisingly the Club’s results were initially mixed. The first five matches of the 1919/20 season were lost, which included thrashings by both Cambridge and Oxford Universities. By the end of this season, there were more defeats than victories. However the Club was up and running and the basis of a strong side was laid.
The next season started with the Club defeating Bedford 76-0 (107-0 in modern scoring). There were more wins than defeats with only 3 losses after Christmas – two of those were on the Easter tour in Wales. Harlequins were progressing back to their pre-War heights.
On February 9th 1923, the 1st XV became the first rugby team to fly to a match. This was to Cologne to play the British Army of the Rhine. Due to the pilots’ acrobatics on the flight home, it was an experience that many of the team did not want to repeat. Then there was the win at Twickenham against the United States who went on to win the gold medal for rugby at the 1924 Olympics with a little bit of coaching by Adrian Stoop.
Then this decade ended with five Quins being picked for England’s game against the All Blacks. Wavell Wakefield was captain with Harold Kittermaster at fly half and Clifford Gibbs, Bobby Davies and Dickie Hamilton-Wickes in the three-quarters.
“The Stoop Era”
The Fifth Decade
This decade took Harlequin FC from the middle rank in England to the leading club in the world with global recognition. The individual behind this was Adrian Stoop. As the decade started he had already been a Harlequin for 3 years. Though he had spent them at Oxford University, Adrian had been thinking about how rugby was played in the United Kingdom and Harlequins would become one of its leading clubs. In an era when rugby was still a game more for its players than spectators, Stoop’s insistence upon endless passing practice, backing up the man with the ball and being prepared to attack from anywhere on the pitch was a revelation. To play this game players needed to be fitter and he introduced gym training to achieve this. He analysed how the team was organised on the pitch, building on Cyril Wells’ and the Welsh teams’ ideas on back play, particularly the half backs.
His other key skill was talent-spotting. This he started whilst at Oxford with Birkett, Lambert, the Ward brothers, Sibree and Powell. To these, he added Tom Kelly, ‘Khaki’ Roberts, Henry Brougham, Ronnie Polton and many others who gained international recognition. Adrian himself was capped 15 times and probably would have had more had he not broken his collar bone twice in successive seasons. The revolution he brought to Quins influenced the RFU to invite the Club to be the tenants at their new ground at Twickenham and attract spectators to this rural and out of town location. The first match at Twickenham was played on October 2nd 1909 against local rivals Richmond. Quins won 14-10.
The fixture list strengthened as other sides wished to play Quins. Gloucester, Bath, Bristol and Swansea appear. The first Easter tour to South Wales took place in 1911. There were also matches in Paris and Frankfurt. The core of our fixture list for the next 70 years was established.
In the nine seasons up to the First World War the 1st XV scored 996 tries – an average of 110 each season – and only 24 penalties. This was a reflection of the open running rugby that has become the Club’s trademark. The outbreak of the First World War brought this to an end. Virtually every playing member enlisted immediately and the Club agreed to cancel all fixtures until hostilities cease. The end of an era and the passing of the Club’s first 50 years was signified by the death in November 1914 of William Smith, who had been a member of the Club since its Hampstead days and in his time player, Secretary, saviour and President.
The fourth decade
This decade was a difficult one. A number of factors brought the Club to its knees and almost saw its demise.
In 1897, after twelve years at Chiswick Park, Harlequins saw the ground sold from under them to St Thomas Hospital. This meant a move to Catford for two seasons and thence Wimbledon Park. This uncertainty, combined with the outbreak of the Second Boer War in which a number of players fought, saw the membership decline dramatically and our results suffer. In the 1898-99 season, the 1st XV only won 3 of 21 matches. At the EGM on 30th January 1900 with 45 members present, the President and club stalwart since the Hampstead days, William Smith, stated that the Club was broke and asked for a collection to save it. Sixty six pounds, nine shillings and six pence (£66.475) was raised – the equivalent in 2016 of £38,650 - and the Club survived.
The 1901/1902 season saw the club move to play their home matches on Wandsworth Common and it was here that the club’s fortunes began to flourish. The catalyst was an influx of younger players of great promise and later renown such as forwards Sidney Osborne, William Grandage, the Ward brothers (R.O.C. or ‘Roc’ and H.E. or ‘Holly’), Vincent Cartwright and, amongst the backs, John Birkett, Dan Lambert, Kenneth Powell, Ted Dillon, Hugh Sibree and -from 1902 –a half back, one Adrian Stoop. The Club’s first Golden Age was starting.
“Sand in our Knickerbockers”
The Third Decade
In our third decade we settled down. There was stability in that Chiswick Park was our home throughout. The pitch was level, always in good condition with short and thick grass. The accommodation was primitive – only a handful of wash basins and cold water for the whole team – but players were less particular then. We elected our first President, William Compton, a local military clothing entrepreneur.
The Club had its first player to play for England whilst officially representing the club in half-back William Leake. He made his debut in 1891 against Wales at Rodney Parade, Newport and went on to win 3 caps in total. A product of Dulwich College, he joined the club after winning won three rugby blues for Cambridge and later became a founding member of the Barbarians.He was followed by Cyril Wells, also a half-back with a Dulwich and Cambridge blue pedigree.Winning six caps in all, Cyril made his debut against Scotland at Headingley in 1893. He is also credited with being one of the first to create the specialist half back roles of scrum and fly half we recognise today. The Club’s captain, Aubone Surtees, toured South Africa in 1891 to become our second ‘Lion’.
Three sides were regularly put in the field and a fourth for the 1891-92 season. Moseley, Birkenhead Park, Dublin Wanderers and Weston-super-Mare appeared on the fixture list. Then in 1894 a tour was organised at Christmas to the Midlands when Rugby and Coventry were played The following year Leicester were added. Cyril Wells remembered that that after the Leicester match
‘some of us left behind our jerseys and knickerbockers as they were too wet and full of sand’
At the end of the decade the Club was well established, had a regular fixture list and sound administration.
The Second Decade
Harlequins' second decade was one of consolidation and survival– in 1878 the membership of the club slipped to sixty-nine and at the start of this decade the club’s reputation was declining. This was not made any easier by a lack of a permanent ground as the club continued to wander around the western fringes of London. There were a range of different ‘home’ grounds at or near Earls Court, Putney Heath, Kensal Green, Turnham Green, Stamford Brook and Devonshire Park, Chiswick.
Progress was not uniformly upwards and onwards. However the five year captaincy of F.W. Burnand seemed to steady the ship and the Club made a rapid strides towards the front rank. Whilst the fixture list remained London focussed – Wasps, Richmond and London Scottish were regular opponents – matches were played further afield such as Oxford University and Maidstone. Then in 1882 the first fixture (a draw) against Welsh opposition, Cardiff, took place in Cardiff. Newport was added the following year.
Players, who were to become internationals, made their debuts. In 1880, Andrew Stoddart joined – in 1888 he took over the captaincy of the first British Isles tour (later known as the British and Irish Lions) when Robert Seddon was drowned in Australia – and George Jeffrey came in 1882. Unfortunately Harlequins were not credited as their club. In 1884 Aubone Surtess played his first match. Though he was not an international, he did play in all three Tests on the 1891 British Isles tour to South Africa.
Other well known members who made their debut were Arthur Cipriani in 1882 – played regularly for the next 15 years and was a member of the RFU committee that oversaw the break in 1895 with the Northern clubs that lead to the establishment of Rugby League – and Billy Williams in 1884 who later sold his ‘cabbage patch’ in Twickenham to the RFU to make a permanent stadium.
The Club ended this decade in a far better state than the started it. It had a nucleus of good players and Chiswick Park had just became their home and remained so for the next 12 years. The future looked bright.
The first Decade
In August 1866, thirty men assembled at the Eyre Arms in Swiss Cottage to form a football club to play under rugby rules. The first annual subscription was 5/- (25p); the club’s name Hampstead, its motto ‘Nunquam Dormio’, I Never Sleep. It played in black jerseys with gold hoops. One of the driving forces behind the new club was the nineteen year old, William Titchener, who lived down the road from the Freemason Arms, Hampstead, which provided the club with changing room and refreshments. Their first ground is now occupied by Hampstead Cricket Club. William was the first Secretary and its second captain. Hampstead became known as ‘Titchener’s side’
Like many a new organisation, Hampstead F C had its ups and downs. In 1867, it survived the disagreement between Titchener and William Alford that lead to the defection of Alford and half its members who founded Wasps. Despite this, within three years there were enough members to run two sides though it could not guarantee to turn out a full fifteen for every game. Then, at the AGM in August 1870, a momentous decision was taken. As the membership came from further afield then just Hampstead, it was felt the club should change its name. However, they wished to retain the initials ‘H F C’. A dictionary was produced and the Secretary proceeded to read out the ‘H’s. When he arrived at ‘Harlequin’, the meeting agreed that was the name. So Harlequin F C came into existence. It was also decided that black with gold hoops was not appropriate colours and our famous quartered jersey was created. The first Harlequin captain was a promising half back called Percy Wilkinson.
In 1871, Harlequins was one of the twenty-one clubs represented at the founding of the RFU. It is the only Founder club playing in the Premiership. When Percy Wilkinson – the first Harlequin to win international honours – played for England against Scotland at The Oval on 5th February 1872, he was officially described as representing the Law Club. In his book Harlequin Story, Teddy Wakelam quotes from a contemporary newspaper that this misattribution had due to ‘the Harlequins being then little known’ …”
Some well known opponents started to appear in the fixture list. The first match against Richmond was in 1869 and that against Wasps in 1872. However, the club did not have a permanent ground for more than a couple of seasons. It left Hampstead behind and started its wanderings that were to last for nearly 40 years.