Blackheath Rugby to move first-team matches from Rectory Field to Well Hall, Eltham

The Rectory Field has been Blackheath FC's home since 1883
The Rectory Field has been Blackheath FC’s home since 1883

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.

Blackheath FC get Rugby World Cup community boost from Greenwich Council

The Rectory Field: No insulting the referee here
The Rectory Field: No insulting the referee here

Greenwich Council has agreed to lend Blackheath rugby club £35,000 to help it improve its community facilities ahead of the autumn’s Rugby World Cup.

While the cash will be spent at Blackheath’s training base in Eltham, news of the interest-free loan puts a spotlight on some of the community work done by the world’s oldest open rugby club, which is somewhat overshadowed by other work done by its round ball neighbour at The Valley.

The interest-free loan will be topped up by a £65,000 grant from the Rugby Football Union aimed at funding Rugby World Cup legacy work, with another £35,000 coming from Greenwich University.

Blackheath aim to spend the money on improving its main pitch at Eltham to help it withstand greater usage, such as being able to host other clubs’ matches. Club bosses hope revenue from increased usage will help the side increase participation among men, women and children; while better training facilities will also help it increase the calibre of players the side attracts.

The club’s community work includes tag rugby sessions and summer camps for children from Charlton Triangle Homes, whose Cherry Orchard Estate is next door to the Rectory Field.

Other work includes targeting schools in the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham, as well as working with male and female university students in the area.

Blackheath was a founder member of the Football Association in 1863 before walking out within weeks over plans to outlaw “hacking”. It became a founder member of the RFU eight years later, and has been based at the Rectory Field in 1883.

The club still attracts healthy crowds to the Rectory Field, where it plays in National League 1, the third tier of English rugby.

A trip to the Rec for a match is one of SE London’s most idiosyncratic but fun afternoons out (at least if you’re used to watching soccer, anyway…). You may be thrown at first by hearing well-spoken chaps bellow out “CLUB!”, but you’ll soon be reassured by the friendly crowd and the ability to enjoy a drink while watching a game.

The next home match is against Old Albanian on 10 January at 3pm.