Memorial to first Welsh rugby match, Lampeter

Memorial to first Welsh rugby match, Lampeter

lampeter_first_rugby_match_memorialThe stone rugby ball on the university campus commemorates the man who instigated the first recorded rugby match in Wales.

The Rev Dr Rowland Williams (1817-1870) was born in Halkyn, Flintshire, and educated at Eton College. At Kings College, Cambridge, he witnessed the arrival of Arthur Pell from Rugby School in 1839. Arthur founded the Cambridge Football Club to continue playing the game he had learnt at school.

In 1840, Old Rugbeians challenged Old Etonians to a game of football where they handled the ball and ran with it, as they had done at Rugby School, much to the Old Etonians’ annoyance! Rowland may have played in this match. He witnessed the growth in popularity of the “Rugby Rules of Football” at Cambridge during the next 10 years.

He was an eminent theologian, and in 1850 was appointed Vice-Principal and Professor of Theology at St David’s College, Lampeter. The college had been founded by Bishop Burgess of St. Davids in 1822. The earliest students were mainly destined for Anglican ordination. Sport played little part in their lives, so Rowland introduced cricket, croquet and rugby football.

The Lampeter students had no one to play rugby against until other academic institutions in Wales adopted the game. In 1866 the first recorded rugby match in Wales took place in Lampeter between Lampeter College and Llandovery College. The score isn’t known.

During the 1870s the game spread through industrial South Wales, and the experienced Lampeter team played against such clubs as Swansea, Cardiff, Newport, Llanelli and Neath. Lampeter were founder members of the Welsh Rugby Union in 1881. Two Lampeter students played for Wales in 1885 and 1886.

Lampeter College played top class rugby until they could no longer compete with the large industrial towns in the early 20th century.

The University of Wales Trinity St David erected the memorial in 2016, the 150th anniversary of that pioneering match. The ball is made from masonry kept from the old Canterbury Building, replaced by the current Canterbury Building (near the memorial).

Postcode: SA48 7ED    View Location Map

With thanks to Selwyn Walters, of the Lampeter History Society

Website of University of Wales Trinity Saint David