“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. Men like Bill Skinner, who played in the first season before joining the committee served the club for more than 60 years. Eric Mills, 1st 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. These are the stories of four men who provided the leadership and vision, and on whose shoulders we now stand.
BINGLEY GIBBES PULLIN, in his own words on retiring from playing in 1894, “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 1stNovember 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, was a local solicitor and 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 2ndTeam 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.
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.
1905 Team - Tommy Fitzgerald hold the ball, Freddie Orchard standing right in straw boater.
1950-51 team - George Bolt sitting 3rd right.