Midsomer Norton Rugby Club Ltd was established in 1936 and is now in its 84th season. It is located on the outskirts of the town at Norton Down where it has three excellent pitches, a floodlit training area, clubhouse and large carpark. In 2018 we developed some more ground which allowed us to turn the third team pitch by 90° this has removed the steep slope up to the “plateau”. This has produced more level playing areas for the junior and mini teams, it has also provided another pitch size area. This is being used by a local junior football team, while the ground is improving to a standard that rugby matches could be played on.
Mr. Edgar Heal, Chairman of Paulton Hospital asked Ron Tovey to arrange a rugby match in aid of the hospital. A match was arranged on Welton Rovers’ ground in April 1936 versus Cotham Park X V, as Ron had previously captained the Park second XV. The stand was full and over £10 was collected for the hospital. For this match the side was called the Optimists and ran out winning 23-6.
Subsequently a meeting was called at the Greyhound Hotel. Mr. Edgar Heal being in the chair. It was unanimously agreed to form a club. The officials being, President Mr. W. Harvey, Chairman Mr. E. C. Heal, Captain B. A. Edwards, Vice-Captain R. N. Tovey, Match Secretary H. S. Shearn, Hon. Sec. R. V. Hoare, Team Sec. R. N. Tovey, Hon. Treasurer, A. T. Rawlings.
The first ground was Mr. Garrett Taylor's corner field, Withies Lane, with changing quarters and Headquarters at the Greyhound Hotel, and the colours being Cherry and White hoops. The first match was 5th September 1936 versus Wells Cathedral school at Wells, arranged by Ray Taylor, a scholar there.
Norton played with 14 men, a farmer Kremer crying off at 12.45 p.m. and it was impossible at that late time to get a substitute; however, the “Optomists” won by 5-3, thanks to a conversion. Norton's fixtures were mostly 2nd X V 's from Bath and Bristol Combinations.
The next four matches were won, but then played a strong Combe Down 1st XV losing lost 0-35.
After a successful first season in 1937, the Club saw a full fixture list, also a new ground near Coomers Grave. Two memorable games were a thrilling local Derby at Keynsham ending in a 6-6 draw on Boxing Day and a fixture against H.M.S. Osprey from Portland. This was a naval training ship. They brought a big crowd of sailor supporters. Norton put up a fine performance to win 11-3.
1938/39 saw another new ground, North Road, also a new captain R. N. Tovey and Vice-Capt. E. H. L. Shore. The club was strengthened by more rugby players moving into the district. The first match of the season was at Frome. In the first minute Norton were awarded a penalty, it was just inside Norton’s half. George Howgarth scored the first points of the game, with a tremendous kick as it sailed over the bar and the club won 29-3. George didn't stay long as he was soon spotted by Bristol and also played for Somerset.
Another local Derby was against Shepton Mallet, on the showground, the resulting match was a hard fought and bloodied 0-0 draw.
Easter saw the visit of Blackheath 1st X V, the match being arranged by George Haydon, a Blackheath, Bath and Somerset player. He captained Norton on this occasion and a very large crowd saw Norton beaten 3-16, but not disgraced. The following week Norton did well in Bath Seven-a-Sides losing to Trowbridge (the winners) in the semi-final.
1939-40 started with Colin Meadows, Captain and, Prior Smith, Vice-Captain. However, until war commenced, rugby continued on a monthly basis with most of the players being in the forces. Norton were then augmented by soldiers from the Devon Regiment stationed in Norton, also members coming home on leave were given a game.
1940s and 1950s
After the war the Club resumed with a mixture of pre-war members and new young players, mainly from the Grammar School and other players who had been in the services and married local girls.
For the next fifteen years the membership was mainly ex.-Grammar School pupils with two teachers Redhead and Evans encouraging the school players, both having played for the club during the fifties and sixties.
During this period the Club had only one team and Rackvernal Road became well known for its association with the Rugby Club. The Club played on the old pit field for six years after the war, before being forced to move to Norton Down in the field adjacent to its present headquarters. When soccer finished on the council playing field in Rackvernal Road, the Club gained permission to use it and to erect its first changing quarters.
What a change to be able to wash under showers, from the original method using three galvanised baths and a Primus stove to heat the water. Thirty-one persons bathed in these.
From 1947 to 1950 an old scout hut was used adjacent to the ground and Club President, Bob Purnell allowed the use of the cloakroom at Bob's Palace, the local night spot. When particularly muddy conditions prevailed, it was not uncommon to see players washing off the majority of the mud in the High Street river outside.
While Stan and Monica Wilshire and Alan and Bertha Simmons were tenants at the Greyhound, the club's headquarters, they allowed the Club the use of the skittle alley and club room for a bar and dining room. Because of their considerable help, it took much deliberation and an agonising decision to take the plunge and move to the old British Legion headquarters and become completely independent. Thankfully that decision marked the turning point in the Club's history and it has progressed gradually in playing and financial strength since.
1960s and 1970s
As the Club approached the end of the 60s, it became apparent to the Committee that its playing facilities at Rackvernal Road were doomed, as the local council would only let the ground on an annual tenancy with rumours already existing of a proposed future development.
Being a forward looking Committee, enquiries were made in the area for land that would be suitable for a playing field and the present field was made available to the Club. The purchase took place with the financial assistance of the R.F.U. and N.P.F.A. To bring the ground into operation, a large pond had to be filled in and this is under the present car park.
An old army hut was purchased and moved to Norton Down by haulage contractors, Messrs. Durnford and Lucas. The hut was erected by a small army of members during a hot summer.
In 1974 local primary teacher, Alan Smith, had been stopped from coaching rugby at the County Primary School so he approached Bob Browning to see if they could continue at the club. When Alan left Bob decided he couldn’t run it in his own, so a junior committee was established with Ian Thompson, Tony Maloney and Tony Paget and others. This was the start of the very successful Midsomer Norton RFC Junior Section.
Concurrent with the ground development, the Club decided to go ahead with the suggestion to have its own clubhouse and bar in Northway. Wadworths agreed to help the Club, members renovated the premises, the first pints of beer were sold for 10p per pint. As the Northway Club was on a seven-year lease, the committee decided a more permanent club should be built at Norton Down and this was achieved during 1976.
Moving to Norton Down the Club consolidated its playing sides, running five regular Saturday teams with the occasional Vandals team. On Sunday a flourishing Junior Section operated, offering rugby to the 8 to 17 year olds with the addition of an Under 19's team.
The playing performance of the 1st XV had risen to be one of the strongest in both the Bath and Bristol Combinations. The improvements commenced in 1975/76 when the team, captained by Michael, Nipper, Pratt, won 35 out of 36 games played, culminating in 1979/80 when captained by Bill Guild, they won the Somerset K.O. Cup becoming the first 'Junior Club' to win the County Cup thus qualifying for a first round game in the National John Player competition.
The club runs three senior teams with the 1st team in 2019 coming close to being promoted out of Tribute Western Counties North but were beaten by Crediton in the promotion play off game. The 2nd team had a brilliant 2018 19 and were deservedly promoted into Tribute Somerset 1. The 3rd team continue to play in Tribute Somerset 3 South and also play in the Bath Combination Merit table.The Club also has a thriving Junior Section which has over 230 members and provides coaching, training and competitive games for boys and girls from 7 to 12 in its Mini Section on Sunday mornings. There are also teams for each age group from U13s to U18s. Each October, the Club host a Festival for Minis when local teams are invited to play. MNRFC takes the welfare of children in its care very seriously, all age groups have RFU accredited coaches.
The Club was awarded RFU Accredited Status at the end of the 2013-14 season.The Clubhouse has an excellent bar and social facilities which are available for hire. The club has wheel chair friendly access into the Club room and disabled toilets. The extensive playing fields and changing rooms have been used regularly for football tournaments, cross country running events, music events, fun days, weekend rallies and music festivals.