Neath Rugby Football Club: A foundation date of 1864, 1871 or 1872?

On this site I have concentrated on the history of English football clubs but coming across this tankard made me investigate this Welsh club further. From their official site I see that they claim a foundation date of 1871 but when I checked the Charles Alcock Football Annuals I found a contradictory date in their first entry in the 1882 edition.

Code: Rugby

Foundation 1872

Ground: Gnoll Park road

Changing: On ground

Strip: Black and white

Hon. Sec. D.J. Price, 108 Windsor Road

Played 15, Won 7, Drawn 3, Lost 5

The club’s current nickname is the ‘Welsh All-blacks’ based on their strip but they clearly started with a slightly different set up of black and white. In 1848 the Neath Cricket Club was formed and played at ‘The Gnoll’ . They subsequently got into financial difficulties and were bailed out in 1863 by John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn who re-launched the club under the new name of the Cadoxton Cricket Club. In the following year of 1864, he added the game of football in the time honoured way to maintain player’s fitness over the winter months:

FOOTBALL – It is with much pleasure that we announce the formation of a Club for playing this healthy game during the winter months at Neath. On Thursday a game was played in a field near Court Herbert, though the number of players was not so large as may be expected when the Club becomes more formed. As President, we notice the name of J.T.D. Llewellyn Esq., a gentleman well known in the neighbourhood for the interest he takes in all athletic games – under his auspices we think the Club cannot but succeed. The rules of the game, as played at Rugby, are being attended to, and would some other club in this locality adopt the same, a spirited match might soon be looked for. Cambrian, November 4th, 1864.

If local research can prove that Neath FC did indeed start as early as 1864 and survive with an unbroken narrative through to the modern day this would easily place the club in the top ten oldest rugby clubs in the world.

The force behind Neath sport, John Talbot Dillwyn Llewelyn, was born 26th May 1836 and died 6th July 1927. He became High Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1878 and Mayor of Swansea in 1891, ultimately becoming a Knight and a Welsh Conservative Member of Parliament for the Swansea town constituency.

“Swansea” As caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, October 1900

 In the Brecon County Times of 28/12/1867 there is a report of the annual ‘Neath and Cadoxton Cricket club’ dinner. Llewelyn the club president was toasted for saving the club five years earlier and for the major funding of the new pavilion for the current year. (That raises a question mark whether the take over happened in 1862 or 1863). They also discuss the high importance of a successful summer athletics competition to the club’s coffers. Like many football clubs, such as Sheffield FC the annual athletic day was both a prestigious event and an important money spinner. Which brings us to the tankard which unfortunately does not say Neath FC or Neath and Cadoxton Cricket club, but just plain ‘Neath’. Further research show it was won at the club’s fund raising day. In the Cardiff Times of 10th June 1876 Robert Cummins had won the half mile race for boys under 16 and received £1 and 10 shillings. This Whitsunday event is compared to the Cadoxton Cricket club festival day held earlier at Easter, which is clearly the event that the same boy won the tankard but this time for the shorter distance of a quarter of a mile. It is easy to visualise Llewelyn as Club President presenting it to the young Cummins at the Easter fund raiser on behalf of the rugby and cricket club. I found no more press mentions for Robert Cummins but if anyone thinks they know his history I would love to hear from you.

The tankard is Sheffield pewter with an Atkins Brothers mark on the base and an intact original glass bottom. Similar early tankards exist from the early Sheffield FC Athletic days and I have previously written about the wrestling medal won by Pilch a year earlier than Cummins in 1875. This following article explains how few sporting trophies exist from this era:

Sheffield FC 1875 medal won by William F. Pilch (Wednesday FC’s founder)

Read more about the history of early rugby :

‘England’s Oldest Football Clubs 1815-1889: New chronological classification of early football (Folk, School, Military, County, Rugby, & Association)’ Includes a PDF version for search £24.95.