Continuing our look at the individuals behind the foundation and development of Sidmouth RFC
PUBLISHED: 10:33 26 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:33 26 April 2020
Here we continue our detailed look at four of the key individuals who were so very much part of the foundation and development of Sidmouth Rugby Club.
Last week we looked at Bingley Gibbes Pullin and James Fredrick ‘Freddie’ Orchard, and this week the spotlight falls on Tommy Fitzgerald and George Boot, writes Terry O’Brien.
THOMAS EDWARD FITZGERALD was born in September 1877 into a less privileged background and learned his rugby on the Three- Cornered Plot. However, he was one of Sidmouth’s finest players who played in the Devon Senior Cup winning teams of 1896 and 1897 as a teenager.
Tommy Fitzgerald played ten times for Devon. He was also invited, well enticed would be a more appropriate word, to play for Devon’s foremost team Devonport Albion for a few seasons. (Devonport Albion would later amalgamate with Plymouth to form Plymouth Albion).
His first job was in the Manor office of Colonel Balfour. He made such a good impression that he was appointed as manager of the Fortfield Hotel, owned by the Lord of the Manor.
In 1920, he bought a house called Belmont next to the Fort Field, extended it and turned it into an hotel. He became a very successful businessman.
He was elected onto the Council in 1913 serving for a period as chairman. He remained a councillor until his death in 1939. As part of his duties, he opened the Grand Cinema and was responsible for naming the Connaught Gardens. He was also a Justice of the Peace.
He played a major role in restarting the rugby club after the First World War, when he was elected as both chairman and treasurer, positions held until his death. He was very much involved in setting up the Morrison-Bell Trust and was also one of the first trustees. He was a referee. He was made a life member of the Club in 1931. He also served on the Devon RFU committee including a term as president.
He played for the Sid Vale Cricket Club and was its president.
Tommy Fitzgerald was a prominent Sidmothian and very much a self-made man.
GEORGE BOLT was born circa 1890 but, unlike the previous three giants, he was very much a one trick pony. He worked as a bricklayer for RW & J Skinner, but rugby was his obsession and Sidmouth Rugby Club his spiritual home for which he served as secretary for 35 years. And he was clearly supported by his wife, who was elected as a Life Member of the Club soon after George.
He only had an Elementary education but must have had a gift for the English language. A secretary in his time had to communicate using pen and paper with no spell-check.
He served a long apprenticeship before being elected as Sidmouth RFU secretary in 1931. His first role as a secretary was for Sidmouth Albion, a club formed in 1909 from the Pullin Cup winning Mudlarks. The following season he was playing for Sidmouth.
When he retired from playing after the Great War, he took on the role of secretary of the newly formed Colts. He was elected as secretary in 1931 with a stated objective of improving the Club’s playing record. One of his aims towards achieving this was to recruit students from Exeter University and St Luke’s Teacher Training College. There was some resistance to this idea, and it was not immediately embraced.
During the Second World War he kept a valuable record of the Club’s activity and happenings at the Blackmore Field.
As Stalin had taken power in Russia as the Secretary of the Communist Party, George Bolt took control at the Rugby Club after the War. He achieved his aim of recruiting Exeter students to boost the playing strength. Players such as Geoff Ryall, Bob Sloman, Derek Rees and Arnold Pascoe helped to turn a very good team into one of the best in the county. Between 1950 and 1955 the Chiefs averaged 28 wins a season with 35 in 1951-52 remaining a Club record, which will never be beaten.
With the increase in television ownership and other distractions during the 1950s, the numbers attending matches began to decline and, as the decade progressed, it became clear that another source of income was needed to supplement gate money. Pressure grew to build a clubhouse and bar. At the AGM in 1960, George Bolt threw his weight behind it stating that he “hoped the ambition to build a clubhouse would not be long delayed”. He was a member of a sub-committee set up to organise the project.
Constructed using volunteer labour, the clubhouse was opened in November 1961. When the clubhouse was extended in 1969, it was dedicated to the memory of George Bolt.
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