Sidmouth RFC - ‘The story of the men who are behind the foundation and development of the club’

PUBLISHED: 11:04 17 April 2020 | UPDATED: 11:04 17 April 2020

The Sidmouth RFC team of 1884. Picture SRFC

The Sidmouth RFC team of 1884. Picture SRFC

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The Sidmouth RFC team of 1905. Picture SRFCThe Sidmouth RFC team of 1905. Picture SRFC

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an old African saying. If we make an analogy to a rugby club, there are many players, officials and benefactors who contribute over the years to its growth and development, writes Terry O’Brien.

Men like Bill Skinner, who played in the first season before joining the committee served the club for more than 60 years.

Eric Mills, who was the first team captain and secretary between the wars.

Henry Charles, as secretary of the Supporters Club oversaw the building of the first changing rooms.

And Len Perry, as player chairman and president, served the club for more than 60 years.

However, as Isaac Newton said: “If I have seen further, it is by sitting on the shoulders of giants.”

To stretch the analogy further, among those ‘villagers’ were a few ‘giants’, who stand out as the leaders.

Here are the stories of two men who provided the leadership and vision, and on whose shoulders we now stand (there will be two more featured next week).

BINGLEY GIBBES PULLIN

In his own words on retiring from playing in 1894, Bingley said: “I started the club 10 years before with 16 players and only five knew the rules”

Bingley Pullin, born in December 1860, was the son of local GP Dr Thomas Pullin who, when a pupil at Christ’s Hospital School, is reputed to have sung solo at Queen Victoria’s coronation.

He passed a medical exam at the Devon and Exeter Hospital in 1879 to gain a scholarship at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. While there he captained the football (rugby) team, which won the United Hospitals Cup (the World’s first rugby competition) twice. He qualified in April 1884 as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and returned to Sidmouth to set up in practice. At the same time, he successfully set about forming a rugby club, which played its first game on 1st November 1884.

In 1885, he married Annie Collard and set up home in High Street in what was formerly SES and now The Cornish Pasty Shop. They had five children.

He was teetotal and a member of the British Medical Temperance Association.

On retiring from playing in 1894, he was elected president of the Club and held the position until 1925, when he retired due to ill health and moved away from the area. While living in Hampshire, his wife died in 1928. However, her funeral took place in Sidmouth, where she is buried along with husband and two daughters.

He was a very popular and active member of the community. In 1893, he was appointed to the Local Board, a predecessor to the Sidmouth Urban District Council, which replaced the Board in 1894. He was elected onto the Council in 1896 and remained a councillor until 1910.

At various times, he held the following positions: member of the Cottage Hospital committee, Lieutenant in the Volunteer Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, Rear Commodore of the Corinthian Sailing Club and District Medical Officer of Health.

Among other leisure activities were cricket, shooting, amateur dramatics and musical comedy. He was a founder member of the Golf Club.

He returned to the area after his wife’s death and was re-elected president in 1931 until his death on Christmas Day 1948.

JAMES FREDRICK ‘FREDDIE’ ORCHARD

Born in 1880, James was a local solicitor and also an exceptional sportsman. In the Devon Schools Sports in 1897, he competed in seven events, winning three and coming second in four. This would have been an independent schools’ competition.

He was one of Sidmouth’s finest ever cricketers, playing many times for Devon in the years before the First World War, topping the batting averages in 1910. He scored 25 centuries for Sidmouth, including one double century and in 1908 scored 1,179 runs at an average of 105. A record which will surely never be bettered.

For some reason, Freddie Orchard only played rugby for two seasons from 1898 to 1900, during which he was top try scorer and goalkicker. He would continue his involvement on the field as a referee.

He was also a member of the Miniature Rifle Club and represented Devon at Bisley.

Like Bingley Pullin, he was a prominent member of the community, serving on the committees of local organisations and was a Lieutenant in the 3rd Devon Volunteers. He was elected onto the Town Council in 1914, continuing after the war.

At the turn of the century, the future of the Rugby Club was in serious doubt. It was in debt and there was a shortage of players, with no second team. The AGM on 4th September 1902 was adjourned due to poor attendance. At the reconvened meeting a week later, Freddie Orchard was elected to the dual role of secretary and treasurer at the age of 22.

At the end of his first season in charge, the Club was in profit, the 1st Team had won 15 out of 22 games and the 2nd Team had been revived.

By the time he stepped down in 1907, the Club was financially sound, had a strong fixture list and running the occasional 3rd Team. At the AGM, Freddie Orchard was thanked for what he had done and assured that his enthusiasm would be missed.

After the war, he resumed his involvement with the Club as a member of the selection committee for many years.

He was heavily involved in the setting up of the Morrison-Bell Trust to ensure the Blackmore Field remained as a recreation ground, securing it as the headquarters of Sidmouth Rugby

Club for the foreseeable future. He almost certainly drew up the Trust documents and was one of the first trustees.

In 1925 he was elected president, when Bingley Pullin moved away from the town.

On Saturday 15th April 1931, he was in his office before travelling to Teignmouth to watch Sidmouth play Paignton in the final of the Devon Senior Cup when he died of a heart attack aged 51.

In next week’s Sidmouth Herald (out on Friday, April 24), we shall feature the stories of two more ‘giants’ - Thomas Edward Fitzgerald and George Bolt


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