Penarth & Barbarians

The History of Penarth RFC – and its Barbarian past

For a relatively small club, Penarth has played a hugely significant part in the history of the game of rugby.

The club was founded in 1879 by Cyril and Llewellyn Batchelor, the sons of John Batchelor – a local politician whose statue can still be found in The Hayes, Cardiff. The team was first known as the Batchelor XV before amalgamating with Penarth Dreadnoughts in 1882 and being renamed ‘Penarth Football Club’. However, they gloried in the rather more fearsome nickname of the ‘Donkey Island Butcher Boys’ – the early games were played on land owned by local butcher David Cornwall, where All Saints Church is now located in Victoria Square.

In 1891 the team started playing on land owned by the Earl of Plymouth on Stanwell Road – but games were postponed during the 1914 – 1918 Great War when the pitch was dug up to grow vegetables. Right from the start, Penarth RFC players were making their mark on the international scene, with caps for Wales being awarded to Richard Garrett (between 1889 – 1892), George Rowles (1892) and John M C Dyke (1906).

Many other players Penarth players were to follow, and Penarth continued to be one of Wales’ top teams until the 1970s – regularly playing against sides from Cardiff, Newport, Pontypridd, Pontypool, Bridgend, Swansea and Neath, as well as leading teams from across the Severn – including Bath and Gloucester.

The Barbarians FC

But in one very special respect, Penarth RFC occupies a unique niche in the history of rugby union: its annual Good Friday fixture with the world-famous Barbarians Football Club – always the first match in the “Baa-Baas” annual South Wales tour from 1901 onwards. Moreover, their tour was always based on Penarth’s Esplanade Hotel – which they described as their ‘spiritual home’. They would always go on to play Cardiff on the Saturday, Swansea on Easter Monday and Newport on the Tuesday – an astonishing fixture list which would be impossible to see replicated today!

And on their one day off? Easter Sunday was set aside for the Barbarians to play golf at the Glamorganshire Golf Club in Penarth, before going back to hold a gala party for the trip, sponsored by the Penarth RFC club. This, before turning out the next day for a head to head with Swansea RFC!

Over the 75 games between the Baa Baas and Penarth, the home team secured 11 victories and four draws. 1986 saw the final Penarth v Barbarians game, although a special commemorative centenary game was held in 2001 on the Athletic Field next to the Penarth clubhouse – on the day before the Barbarians played Wales at the Millennium Stadium. A plaque was unveiled at the clubhouse to mark the event.

According to the Barbarians’ official web site:

“The Barbarians are unique in that they have no ground, no clubhouse, no entry fee, no subscription, and the clubs they visit pay their expenses in the main. It is in every respect a touring club, for there are no ‘home’ matches. The nearest to a clubhouse was the spiritual home at Easter from 1901-1971, the Esplanade Hotel at Penarth where, as at The Glamorganshire Golf Club, players were cared for with great tolerance.”