Rugby in Wales as elsewhere, is gradually regaining its momentum and, as we slip back into those familiar and much loved Saturday afternoon routines, we thought we’d recommence our tour of the St Helen’s Archive by highlighting one of the most recently completed displays of 2021. The two refurbished displays on the landing were the final sets to receive attention prior to the club reopening. The ‘Commemorative Jerseys Display’ is one that has been on the ‘to do’ list for some time and the emptying of the alcove nearest the St Helen’s Lounge finally gave us the free space to show a set of jerseys that marked significant events in rugby history. If we take these seven jerseys in chronological order, they cover a period from 1923 to 1981. Information cards next to each item give more information on the jersey and its owner. But let us begin by having a look at the earliest.
Object: JY068 – Jersey, England/Wales 1923.
This was the very first of a series of ‘Commemorative Matches’ that were so popular among rugby supporters. The examples below show how this tradition was enthusiastically carried forward. This is the jersey worn by Swansea Wales and ‘Lions’ wing Rowe Harding on 1st November 1923 in the historic “Rugby Centenary Match” played on ‘The Close’ at Rugby School, to celebrate 100 years since William Webb Ellis is said to have first picked up the ball and ran with it in an internal school game there in 1823. The true extent to which his action affected the development of the modern game of rugby football is debatable, running with the ball at the school being an uncommon occurrence until the 1830s and not regularly practiced until 1841. But the Centenary of Webb Ellis’s transgression was a very important beacon to the RFU, especially following the departure of many of the northern clubs in 1895. The Swansea club had the distinction of providing TWO players for the combined England/Wales team that beat an Ireland/Scotland team by 21 points to 16. The other Swansea man was a forward: Welsh cap Gwilym Michael. Rowe Harding gifted this rare historic jersey to Swansea RFC after the match. Rowe Harding played 17 times for Wales and toured with the ‘British Isles’ to South Africa in 1924. He captained Swansea in 1928-29.
Object: JY070 – Jersey, England/Wales 1929.
This jersey was worn at Twickenham on 5th October 1929 by Swansea, Wales and ‘Lions’ forward Dai Parker in the “Rowland Hill Memorial Match”, which marked the opening of the new main gates at the ground, named after the former RFU President George Rowland Hill (1855-1928). The Ireland/Scotland team won by 20 points to 13. Rowland Hill was a long-serving member of the English Union, notorious for his entrenched views on rugby and society and a vehement opponent of ‘broken time’ payments. The St Helen’s Archive still holds the original letter from him (then as RFU Hon. Secretary) to the Swansea club, reinstating the famous James brothers in February 1896, they having been suspended for ‘professionalism’. A strong opponent of payment to players, he must have signed it very reluctantly! The owner of this jersey, Dai Parker played for Swansea from 1923 to 1930 and captained the 1st XV in 1927-28. He won 10 Welsh caps and toured with the 1930 British Isles team to Australia and New Zealand.
Object: JY119 – Jersey, Wales XV 1957.
This jersey was worn by Swansea, Wales and ‘Lions’ back-row John Faull in the Wales XV versus an International XV at Cardiff Arms Park on 6th April 1957. The match was one of many varied events staged across Wales to help raise funds towards Wales hosting the Empire & Commonwealth Games in 1958 (hence the 1958 date on the badge instead of 1957). The Welsh XV won the match 17 points to 16 in front of a crowd of 50,000, in a wonderful exhibition of running rugby by both teams. John Faull joined Swansea in 1953 and after just 2 senior matches, was selected to play for Swansea against the fourth ‘All Blacks’. He kicked 2 long range penalties to secure a famous 6 – 6 draw to add the 1935 win over the tourists. Faull also toured with the 1959 ‘Lions’ to Australia and New Zealand and captained Swansea in 1962-63.
Object: JY072 – Jersey, England/Wales 1959.
The second of two commemorative jerseys gifted to the club by John Faull, this one was worn by him on 17th October 1959 in the “Twickenham Jubilee Match” as that ground marked its 50th season. The England/Wales team beat an Ireland/Scotland team by 26 points to 17. Since the first ‘Commemorative Match’ in 1923 (see above) these special matches became keenly anticipated. With their charity status, players could throw off the shackles of international rivalry and play Barbarian style matches featuring the best players in the four ‘Home’ nations and beyond. This 1959 match was a true celebration of open rugby, involving many of the ‘Lions’ who had recently returned from New Zealand, including John Faull, who afterwards gave this commemorative jersey to the Swansea Club.
Object: JY073 – Jersey, RFU President’s XV 1971.
To mark the RFU’s Centenary season of 1970-71, a President’s XV played 3 warm up matches and a Test Match v England. The XV were composed of outstanding players from Australia, Fiji, France, New Zealand and South Africa. The combined XV featured such names as Jo Maso, Pierre Villepreux (France), Colin Meads, Ian Kirkpatrick, Brian Lochore, Brian Williams (New Zealand), Dawe de Villiers (South Africa), Peter Johnson and Roy Prosser (Australia) among others. They won all these matches. The jersey was gifted to Swansea RFC by Mervyn Davies who, though not playing in this team, did play in the England/Wales side that drew 14 – 14 with an Ireland/Scotland team at Twickenham on 3rd October 1970 in a match that was also part of the RFU Centenary Season.
Object: JY117 – Jersey, Ireland/Scotland 1972.
This Ireland/Scotland jersey was worn by Ireland and ‘Lions’ legend Willie John McBride during the “SRU Centenary Match” at Murrayfield on 14th October 1972. The Scottish Rugby Union was founded in March 1873. A star studded array of players graced each team and on the England/Wales side was McBride’s ‘Lions’ team mate from 1971 (and later, 1974) Swansea and Wales forward Mervyn Davies. At the end of a frantic match, Ireland/Scotland emerged winners by 30 points to 21. Willie John McBride and Mervyn Davies swapped jerseys and Mervyn kindly presented this rare item to the Swansea club. For more on the stellar career of Mervyn Davies, see the permanent display in the St Helen’s Lounge.
Object: JY054 – Jersey, Wales 1981.
The last of the ‘Commemorative jerseys’ set on display, this Welsh international jersey was produced to mark the WRU’s Centenary Season of 1980-81. It was worn by Swansea, Wales and ‘Lions’ Dai Richards in the match against a President’s XV at Cardiff Arms Park on 25th April 1981. Wales overcame a strong team drawn from Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and South Africa, by 32 points to 25. Swansea RFC were also represented in the Welsh team that day by Geoff Wheel and Clive Williams was a replacement. Dai Richards played outside centre in this match. He captained Swansea for the three seasons between 1981 and 1984, played 17 times for Wales and toured with the 1980 ‘Lions’ to South Africa. See his display in the St Helen’s Lounge for more on his wonderful rugby career.
Would you like to know more about the St Helen’s Archive? Do you have anything you’d like to show or discuss with us? Would you like to join the team and help discover and preserve the unique collection at St Helen’s? Ask for the Archive Team or contact us on: [email protected]