Young men returning home to Barnet from the First World War established the club in 1919, and that October they played their first match against a team from St Barts Hospital in a rented field, Macklin’s meadow, at the bottom of Barnet Hill.
Barnet Elizabethans RFC is the oldest rugby club in continuous existence in both the Borough of Barnet and Hertfordshire, and according to Simon Moy, who is writing a history of the club, its formation was probably inspired by the overriding desire of those who had survived the war to return to normal life.
Today the club runs three adult sides and an academy side – around 80 playing members – at the Byng Road playing fields, which have been the club’s home since 1957.
Two hundred young players – plus 30 or so coaches – make up the mini and junior sections.
The grand finale of the centenary season will be The Rematch on Saturday 19 October 2019 – the 100th anniversary of the original Barnet v St Barts match, to be followed by a barbecue and fireworks at the Byng Road clubhouse.
Centenary events kick off this autumn with a mini rugby festival with local clubs on Sunday 7 October; a junior rugby festival on Sunday 7 April 2019; and the members’ centenary ball on Saturday 7 September 2019, with a three-course dinner and live music in a marquee in front of the clubhouse.
Barnet has a fine sporting history: Barnet Football Club, which left Underhill in April 2013 and now plays at the Hive, in Camrose Avenue, Edgware, was established in 1888 and has been celebrating its 130th anniversary.
Mr Moy, who has been researching the rugby club’s history for his book, 100 Years of BERFC, to be published in December, says it was a group of old boys from Queen Elizabeth’s Boys’ School, including H A Dalton and J L Howton, together with the headmaster, H M Lattimer, who came up with the idea of forming the club in May 1919.
They decided against calling it the Old Elizabethans because they wanted it to be open to all comers, and not just old boys from the school.
But 16 years later old boys from the school did decide to form a separate Old Elizabethans RFC, which was established in 1935, and which continued for just over 60 years until it merged with Barnet RFC to create the combined club in 1997.
After starting off at Macklin’s meadow in 1919 – at a rent of £5 a year – Barnet RFC moved to the playing fields of QE Boys’ in Blenheim Road before moving on again to share a pitch with Barnet Cricket Club in Barnet Lane – “probably because it had a pavilion and a bar,” says Mr Moy.
After spending some years at the Gypsy Corner grounds in Mays Lane, the club moved to its present home at the Byng Road playing fields in 1957.
Mr Moy says the centenary has given the club a unique opportunity to collect and collate a comprehensive history, and a chance to pay homage to a dedicated membership and a host of great people from past and present.
Among the personalities being remembered are Archibald Klon Kerr, a renowned First World War veteran and one of the founding members and presidents; John Macfarlane, known as “Mr Barnet” who as president oversaw the club’s expansion; and Dennis Newell, president of the Old Elizabethans at the time of the merger, who “despite his intense loyalty to his club and consequent misgivings, gracefully accepted that the merger with Barnet Rugby Club was really the only way forward”.
Shaun Harris, the centenary year president, can still be “found refereeing or even playing the odd game when it suits” and he traces his roots way back to the Old Elizabethans.
Talented players, from county to international players, picked out by Mr Moy include Tom Palmer, an outstanding England lock (2001-7) who was introduced to rugby at Barnet when he enrolled as a six-year-old in the club’s mini rugby section; and Glenn Taylor, who was honoured to be captain of England Colts in 1986 after a captaincies with Hertfordshire Colts, Barnet Colts, Four Counties and Southern Counties.
100 Years of BERFC is due to go to press in November and will be an A4 colour hardback costing £25.