Rectory Field

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Rectory Field
Location Blackheath, London
Surface Grass
Opened 1873; 141 years ago (1873)
Tenants
Blackheath F.C.

Rectory Field is a playing field in Blackheath, London. It was developed in the 1880s by Blackheath Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis Company and became the home of Kent County Cricket Club and rugby union team Blackheath F.C.. It is of historical importance as a sporting venue hosting many international rugby games; at one time, along with the Richmond Athletic Ground, it was the unofficial home of the England national rugby union team before the development of Twickenham. The field is named after the Charlton Rectory that once stood at the site.

History[edit]

Located slightly away from the more recognised area of Blackheath, the Rectory Field is situated south of Greenwich Park. Before the adoption of the Rectory Field, sport had been played on the Blackheath grounds, or Heath, for many years prior. Blackheath Football Club played on the Heath from 1871, but as the popularity of the sport grew, the games began attracting crowds. After a match with Richmond was abandoned in 1877, due to a pitch invasion; the club decided to adopt a proper demarked ground. One of the club members, Maurice Henry Richardson, knew of a part of the heath that was owned by his father, and the club rented this part of the park for their matches. The pitch become known as Richardson's Field, and this playing ground hosted several internationals, including the first rugby match between England and Wales in 1881.

Richardson's field was bought for commercial use in 1882–83, and the team were forced to find a new ground. Blackheath rugby club captain, Lennard Stokes, who also captained his country on five occasions, located a new ground for the club, just east of the old Richardson Field on the Charlton Road. This location was a five acre plot, which would become the Rectory Field; and in 1883 Blackheath F.C. played their first game on the pitch against Guy's Hospital. During the same period, cricket had been played on the Heath by several teams, many informal, but by 1885 Blackheath Morden had emerged as one of the more prominent clubs. With the aid of their club secretary, Montague Druitt, Morden negotiated the use of the Rectory Field during the summer months when rugby was not played. With several sports now using the ground, the Blackheath Cricket, Football and Lawn Tennis Company was formed to provide amenities for the players.[1] In October 1885, Morden changed its name to Blackheath Cricket Club. The first cricket match to be played on the Rectory Field was between Blackheath and G.G. Herane's XI on 26 April 1886, with the first county game was in 1887 when Blackheath hosted Surrey.

On 2 January 1886, Rectory Field hosted its first international rugby union match, with England facing Wales as part of the Home Nations Championship. With England withdrawing from international rugby in late 1887, the field was not used by the national team again until the arrival of the world's first touring Southern Hemisphere rugby team, the New Zealand Māori in 1889.[2] England continued to use three sites for international rugby, Rectory Field, the Athletic Ground in Richmond and Whalley Range in Manchester, but after 1900, only the two London locations were used. In 1910, Twickenham became the new stadium for the England team, but not before Rectory Field was allowed one last historic international when it hosted the first touring Australian rugby team in 1909.[3]

When the initial lease expired, the Rectory Field was in danger of being sold for commercial development. After £9,000 was raised through debentures, the field was purchased in 1921, providing a permanent home for the cricket and rugby teams.

Although most sport was abandoned during the two World Wars, cricket was still played to some extent on the Rectory. During the Second World War, the ground was hit by eight bombs, one landing on the tennis hard courts; though after 1945 sport resumed on the site. Directly after the war, Richmond and Blackheath merged for a season, and several other teams were allowed the use of the grounds, including Irish exiles London Irish. In 1972 the venue was dropped as a county cricket ground, mainly due to the poor car parking provisions.

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Coordinates: 51°28′41″N 0°1′41″E / 51.47806°N 0.02806°E / 51.47806; 0.02806