Blackheath Rugby is to move its first-team matches away from the Rectory Field on Charlton Road, and will start next season at its Well Hall ground in Eltham.
The world’s oldest rugby club, which started playing at the Rectory Field in 1883, says it needs to move to Eltham to ensure its financial stability.
Blackheath are currently second in National League One, English rugby’s third tier, and are battling for promotion to the Championship. Club bosses say if the side is to progress, it needs a ground that can be developed in the future.
But they say women’s, youth and social sides will continue to play at the Rectory Field, the club’s “spiritual home”.
The new ground on Kidbrooke Lane, known as Club@Well Hall, boasts an all-weather playing surface and newly-laid pitch.
Chairman Russell Ticehurst told members at the club’s financial annual general meeting: “There is a lot of history associated with Rectory Field and it will remain an important part of our portfolio,” he said.
“Some of the first England test matches were hosted there, you can dig out YouTube footage of the All Blacks and Springboks there in the inter-war years, and county cricket was regularly staged until around 1970.
“But therein lies the problem! Rectory Field is a shared facility with cricket, tennis and squash and the pressure of running semi-professional rugby, which continues to become increasingly competitive year-on-year, in a shared environment is too great.”
“Club@Well Hall gives us so much potential to improve the match day experience for everyone. A lot of work will go in to make sure we have the infrastructure facilities for spectators and sponsors alike, and with its close proximity to the A2 and Eltham railway and bus stations, as well as on-site parking, it has excellent transport links for people coming from all over London and Kent.”
Ticehurst said he appreciated the emotional ties many felt to the Rectory Field: “As a player myself at Blackheath the 1990s, and now in my third year as Chairman, I fully appreciate the heartache of moving our primary activity away from Rectory Field, but it will remain our spiritual home with social, youth and women’s rugby all played there.
“However, if Blackheath is to remain a leading name not just this country, but in world rugby, we need to ensure our financial stability with a venue we can develop, and Club@Well Hall gives us the potential for a bright and exciting future.”
Club members have been invited to discuss the plan at an open evening at Well Hall on 28 January.
The move means means there are seven home fixtures left to play at the Rectory Field, including matches against Rosslyn Park this Saturday and Ampthill on 30 January (3pm kick-offs, £15 entry). The match against Richmond on 5 March is a clash in the oldest club rugby fixture in the world.
Blackheath FC was founded in 1858 by old boys of the long-gone Blackheath Proprietary School and became the first open rugby club without restricted membership. To this day, fans shout for “Club!” rather than “Blackheath!”, as early matches were against the school’s side. In its first years, matches took place on the heath itself, with players changing in the Princess of Wales pub.
It was a founder member of the Football Association, before walking out within weeks over plans to outlaw “hacking”. It helped set up the Rugby Football Union eight years later.