The Club’s Beginning – 1885
The following is an extract from the history of the Club which was published in 1986 to celebrate its centenary.
1881 – Like all rugby clubs celebrating their centenaries Ashford’s is clouded in the mist of time. In fact as the following extract indicates we are only four years late: Report from the Norton Knatchbull School Sports Records January 1881 “We played (Rugby) football that term on a field leading to the Cradle Bridge between the School and Town, and very curious football it was. One player got a try by dashing his cap in the face of the opposing full-back. When we pushed in the scrummage we (or at any rate some of us) faced our own goal and pushed with our backs.”
1885 – Ashford became affiliated to the Kent County RFU and we also joined the Rugby Football Union.
1886 – Nothing changes – at the AGM on 17th March the account showed Income £16.16s 4d Expenditure £17.16s 3d.
1887 – On 1st April Ashford came second to an Ashford Grammar School Past and Present XV by two goals and six tries to nil. Later in the year on 16th December, Ashford RFC (as it was called for the first time) played Ashford Volunteers winning by three goals and three tries to nil.
1888 – In order to preserve our representation we took to playing schools. On 3rd November we defeated Cranbrook by eight goals and four tries to nil. The result was in doubt to the end.
1889 – We continued to struggle to raise a team and on 19th October this obituary was recorded in the Kentish Express and Ashford News: – “Rugby Football in Ashford seems to have received its death blow, for at the AGM of the Ashford Club on Thursday evening at the Saracen’s Head Hotel it was decided to wind up the affairs of the Club. There was a very meagre attendance, and after discussing their position, the members, of whom there are not enough to form a team, considered that they could do nothing but break up the Club.”
1909 – Lloyd-George introduced his Welfare budget in time for Ashford RFC to re-emerge after a twenty year break.
1914 – On the 1st August it was all quiet on the Western front at Ashford RFC but a month later we bowed to a more significant game abroad and cancelled all fixtures for the duration of the war.
The period 1885-1914 was clearly the formative stage of our history. In sympathy with most rugby clubs of the day we chose not to have any international players.
The Club’s First Home – 1956
In 1956, we had our own Suez Crisis. Mr. G. H. Kynaston (Kinney) died and he stated in his will that if the Ashford Rugby Club was able to find and purchase a ground of their own within three years of his death, three hundred pounds would be donated from his estate towards the cost of the ground. At this stage, the total Club finances stood at around sixty pounds. Thus, the incentive was provided for members to search for and purchase Kinney’s field at Bybrook, which took very nearly the whole of the next three years. By the middle of 1957 two sites had been examined but nothing concrete had resulted. Worse, Victory House (British Legion) had become Associate House (Kent Education) for Adult Education and so, once again, we had lost our headquarters. We used temporary facilities at Ashford Grammar School.
We hadn’t exactly ‘got our act together’ because by 1959 we were still looking at sites at Westwell, Leacon, Maidstone Road and Bybrook. Time was running out but finally we secured eight and a half acres of rather wet ground at Bybrook, within easy walking distance of the town centre. The alternative site was ten acres of well-drained land at Westwell Lane at a much cheaper price, but it was felt that it was too remote.
Application was made for a drainage grant; a loan was obtained from the RFU and with private loans from several Club members and the £300 from Mr. Kynaston’s estate, we purchased the Bybrook field. Now, we could look forward to consolidating our playing success. In 1961, we bought a wooden sectional American Air Force hut surplus to requirements from Manston airfield.
About 20 Club members with a convoy of six lorries had proceeded to Manston on a Sunday and under the direction of Joe Fagg’s foreman had dismantled the hut (60ft x 20ft) and had deposited it on the new ground at Bybrook for a temporary Clubhouse. The Club was still waiting for planning permission to erect the pavilion and changing rooms.
In spite of the drainage scheme the new ground at Bybrook continued to be troubled with the appearance of springs, and improvement would be a slow process over several years. Consequently, the Club had to make use of the Old Council ground at Spearpoint for a longer period, particularly in view of the expansion of sides to four and sometimes five XVs a week.
Moving to the current ground – 1976
About this time, the Club was aware that it would have to move to make way for the M20 motorway, and the Club started searching for alternative venues, including the 21.5 acre site at Bybrook. During 1977-78 a compulsory purchase order was served on the Club in respect of land running through the 1st XV pitch on Kinney’s Field. The search for a future site for playing was becoming more and more urgent. A ten acre site on the Ashford by-pass offered by the Department of the Environment was turned down owing to a stratum of rock beneath it.
The 21.5 acre site at Bybrook was therefore being pursued with renewed vigour, the main obstacle being access. An offer of £37,000 had been made to the owners of this site subject to planning permission.
The new twenty-one acre site on the opposite side of the A28 from Kinney’s Field was purchased in September 1978 prior to planning permission being granted. The difficulty had arisen owing to the narrow access from the new ground on to the main road. This was overcome in a comparatively short space of time and permission was granted to use the new ground for rugby football.
So sadly we said goodbye to Kinney’s Field after 18 years and work commenced in earnest to prepare the new field and build a new pavilion. Eight-and-a-half acres were drained, levelled and seeded; the design for the new Clubhouse was placed in the hands of an architect and an appeal for finance was launched.
Meanwhile games were played on part of the rest of the ground and we were still able to use our old pavilion and car park.
The new clubhouse opened in 1980 and since that time the Club has made many improvements to the original building.