The Rugby World Cup 2019 is about to kick-off in Japan on Friday and as I come from the town of Rugby (where the game was invented) and happen to be a fan of the sport, thought I’d take a visit to Twickenham Stadium in west London to mark the occasion. It is the home of England rugby and with a seating capacity of 82,000; the largest dedicated rugby union venue in the world.
Twickenham rugby ground had pretty humble beginnings, when in 1907, members of the Rugby Football Union (RFU) purchased for the grand sum of £5,500 12s 6d a 10-acre market garden used to grow cabbages. It’s still affectionately known today as the ‘cabbage patch’. The first club game took place at the newly built stadium in 1909 and the first international match to be played there was between England and Wales on the 15th January 1910. The capacity back then was 20,000, and the stadium has been constantly re-developed over the years and is now unrecognisable from its first incarnation over a century ago.
Although you can take stadium tours, I went to peruse the World Rugby Museum which is housed there and through a collection of 38,000 objects, tells the story of the games' origins through to the present day. Although slightly shrouded in myth, the story begins in 1823 when a schoolboy at Rugby School called William Webb Ellis was playing football and with a healthy disregard for the rules, caught the ball and ran forward towards the opposition goal, sowing the seeds for an entirely new game which became known as rugby.
The first ever international rugby match took place in Edinburgh in 1871 between England and Scotland and the museum has on display the only surviving jersey (and therefore the oldest international jersey) from that game, which belonged to England’s John Clayton (himself a pupil at Rugby School).
The museum charts the spread of the game across the globe and has a vast array of memorabilia reflecting the different countries in which the game is played, establishment of the rules, the development of the women’s game, rugby’s role in the First World War and the players who lost their lives, World Cups, iconic players, memorable moments and so on. Perhaps my favourite artefact was commentator Bill McLaren’s meticulous commentary notes from a match in 1979; a work of art in itself.
If you’re in London and a rugby enthusiast, then the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham could well be worth adding to your ‘To Do’ list.
This year’s Rugby World Cup final will take place on the 2nd November and whichever nation is victorious will lift the Webb Ellis Cup, named after the young schoolboy who may (or may not) have inadvertently invented the game all those years ago.
After graduating from Oxford university, Webb Ellis joined the church and for a time was rector of St Clement-Danes, a church which I wrote about a few years back and pass on my regular Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul’s cathedral.
Many churches in London are affiliated to particular groups of people or associations, like St Paul's in Covent Garden (the actor's church), or St Bride's on Fleet Street (the journalist's church). The church of St Clement Danes which stands alone on a little island close to where the Strand and Fleet Street collide is known as the RAF church. It is the Central Church to the Royal Air Force.
You'll often find that churches occupy sites that have had religious significance for centuries and in this respect, St Clement Danes is no different. There's been a church on the plot since the 10th century. It is often muted that Danish settlers first commandeered the area as an explanation for the 'Dane' in the name. However, although there have been a number of differing suggestions for the title, I'm not sure any have been proved definitive. It seems most are speculation.
Although the church survived the Fire of London (1666), Christopher Wren (as if he didn't have enough to do) built a new one because it was a bit dilapidated, with James Gibb adding the tower in 1719.
On the 10th May 1941, St Clement Danes suffered a direct from an incendiary bomb during WWII. All that remained was a shell, and the outer walls stood abandoned for over a decade. It was finally restored and rebuilt in 1958 courtesy of the Royal Air Force and donations from sister air forces throughout the world, and now, not only is it a regular place of worship, but a memorial to all who died whilst serving in the Royal Air Force.
It's a beautiful church, crammed with interesting pieces of air force memorabilia, poignant memorials, books of remembrance, Coats of Arms and gifts from around the world. Here's just a few things to look out for.
Oranges and Lemons
It's difficult to write about this particular church without mentioning the children's nursery rhyme/song ... 'Oranges and Lemons', which begins with the verse, "Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clements" and name checks numerous London churches and the message their bells are ringing. If you happen to pass by the church of St Clement Danes at the right time, you'll hear the bells ringing out the well known tune. You can be forgiven then, for assuming that the church that stands before you is the very same, so famously immortalised in the aforementioned song. Well ... according to Steve Roud in his book 'London Lore - The legends and traditions of the world's most vibrant city', this particular church basically hijacked the whole thing in the 1920s. The nursery rhyme is incredibly unspecific as to which St Clements church it is referring to, so spare a thought for the church of St Clement's Eastcheap, who theoretically have as much right to the title as their Westminster counterpart. After installing the bells and inaugurating a special 'orange and lemon' service and handing out citrus fruits to the congregation, the church of St Clement Danes have effectively claimed the prize for themselves.
Talking of bells, as I was, the oldest bell in the church tower was cast in 1588 by Robert Mot, the founder of the Whitechapel Foundry, the same company that cast Big Ben ... many years later. Either way, if you happen to be in the area ... why not pop in.
When I read the proposed route for Margaret Thatcher's funeral procession the other week, I wasn't sure whether I should feel honoured or slightly miffed, that they'd blatantly used my Saturday morning walk as its basis, heading from Westminster, down the Strand and along Fleet Street to St Paul's. We pass by the church of St Clement Danes along the way, as did Maggie, who was transferred there from the hearse on to the gun carriage before continuing the journey. Here are Saturday mornings group standing on the Strand, just outside Twinings Tea shop, with the church behind them and the Royal Courts of Justice to the right.
St Clement Danes was very badly damaged during the Blitz in WWII and rebuilt courtesy of the Royal Air Force, who made the church their spiritual home. Members of the RAF still have funeral services and memorials there to this day, and is why it's sometimes referred to as the RAF church. Incidentally, it was a truly international group on Saturday morning, hailing from Finland, India, Portugal, Russia, Holland, I think Kuwait too and a solitary English person just for good measure.
For the afternoon walk beginning at St Paul's, I was joined by the Harris family. Aside from an interest in photographing helicopters, Russell (the dad) was keen to see the replica of Francis Drake's Tudor ship, the Golden Hinde which you'll find down in Borough in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral.
Incidentally, Ant (second from the left) has recently helped set up a great social enterprise through the charity Depaul UK called the Depaul Box Co. It's a simple, but excellent concept, whereby, if you are moving house and need boxes, which let's face it, you probably will, then you can buy them from the Depaul Box Co and all the profits go towards their homeless charity, helping young people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Sunday saw the arrival of a bumper group (that's what a bit of sun does) mostly all actually living in London, but with a strong Irish contingent and a couple visiting from Australia. I was talking to them about an Italian guy called Vincenzo Lunardi who made the first hydrogen balloon flight in 1784, from the Artillery ground in Old Street and Alison (from Australia) informed me that one of her ancestors, called Robert Cocking and an early developer of the parachute, holds the dubious distinction of being the first ever person to be killed in a parachuting accident, which happened in 1837.
That's them just before descending on an already busy Columbia Road flower market. Anyway ... thanks very much to everyone who came on walks this weekend.
Most broken toes - Jenny
Most smartly dressed - Pedro
Least likely to have changed from the night before - Anna
Best moustache - No winners
Tallest - Marijn & Anna (joint winners)
Repeat Bowl Of Chalkers - Jennifer and Ant
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.