Euphoric times for Chambers Park

Portadown Rugby Club's Towns' Cup title-winning side from 1957.
Portadown Rugby Club's Towns' Cup title-winning side from 1957.

The Portadown Rugby Club captain of the time, Frank Henderson, was a visionary.

He was behind the development of the clubrooms at Levaghery (Gilford Road). And he anticipated the game being introduced into the new intermediate schools (Clounagh and Killicomaine), as well as the possibility of a new recreation ground on the town dump behind Eden Crescent.

Eden Crescent at Edenderry takes us back to the years 1879-84, years of resurgent sporting activity in Portadown. Among the most active participants were Thomas John Collen (1856-1936), the first secretary of the rugby club, and Hugh Hegan (1857-1924), a rugby player and a competitor in a variety of rugby events.

In 1935, Hugh’s son Johnny bought Eden Hall, the home of the Armstrong family who owned the factory (later Wades Pottery and long since demolished) in Watson Street. Johnny demolished Eden Hall and built Eden Crescent (Guinea Row) just before World War Two. He later donated the swampy 10 acres between Eden Crescent and the railway lines to Portadown Council of Social Service for recreational development. Massive infill was needed and the Social Services Council leased it to Portadown Borough Council for dumping.

When it became clear that early fulfilment of the recreation clause was unlikely, the chairperson of the Council of Social Services, the legendary Dr Winifred Hadden, invited Harold Thompson, a local solicitor and Rugby Club Captain, to chair a meeting of both councils and other interested parties. When neither council was in a position to proceed, the Rugby Club took up the challenge.

It was a euphoric time. The successful run of the first XV had engendered a club spirit of the highest dimension and captured public imagination. A number of prominent and public-spirited citizens sponsored a public appeal – H. Anderson, C. Cooper (Mayor of Portadown), S.S. Corbett, J. Finlay, A.D. Gibson, Senator M. Greeves, K. Irwin, R.J. Magowan, W.A. Mullen, D.W.J. Woodman Portadown College Headmaster), W.H. Wolsey (founder of the Portadown Times).

Two committees, representative of the Hagen gift and the composite sports requirement for grants, were appointed -

Appeals Committee - S. McGredy (chairman), J. Chambers, J. Gilpin (secretary and author of this history), K. Irwin, C. Mullen, W. North, D. Robinson, W. Sinnamon, W. Stewart, H. Thompson, R. Vaughan, C. Wright.

Ground Committee – (Rugby Club) H. Thompson (chairman), J. Chambers, W. Douglas, B. Hawthorne, K. Irwin, D. Logan, S. McGredy, C. Mullen, W. Sinnamon, A. Talbot, T. Wells, C. Wright. (Hockey Clubs) D. May, B. Pentland, G. Bond, S. Jones, M. Stevenson. (Council of Social Services) C. Bell.

The scheme was supported by a 50 per cent grant from the Ministry of Education, £1,500 from the Watson Trust and £105 plus a £400 loan from the National Playing Fields Association. A.J. Hall and Sons were the main contractors and En Tout Cas and Co constructed the all-weather pitch. The Sports Turf Research Institute, Bingley, Yorkshire, were the consultants. R. Heathwood, the Portadown contractors, donated surplus topsoil from the Unidare factory construction at Seagoe.

The naming was obvious – the simplest part of all. The new facility was called Chambers Park.

Many players were involved, and four teams took the field at the genesis of Chambers Park. This is an imperfect attempt to record players who may have helped –

First XV – B. Hawthorne, F. Richardson, M. Matchett, R. Agnew, D. McIlroy. B. Gordon, R. Stewart, W. Smith, D. Myles, G. Douglas (captain), H. Matchett, W. Morrow, D. Logan, R. Long, G. Graham

Second XV – G. Leathem, D. Nesbitt, W. Lyness, D. Tucker, P. Graham, K. Bell, J. Robinson, D. Livingston, M. Graham, R. Best (captain), J. Rolston, A. Hatch, A. Bell, W. McKinney, J. McConkey,

Third XV – W. McKee, N. Clarke, K. Shortt. K. Turner (captain), M. Cassells, M. Gordon, S. McCollum, T. Benson, V. Gordon, M. Anderson, A. Gregson, D. Hillis, J. Ferguson, T. Gibson, O. Brown.

Fourth XV - J. Copeland, E. Magee, A. Uprichard, L. Best, D. McKiterick, J. Finlay, J. Chambers, G. Coleman, B. Maxwell, S. Robinson, G. Scott, E. Gilpin, C. McDonald, J. Gilpin (captain), D. McClements.

The Press paid tribute – “Chambers Park is a credit to the town, a memorial to the foresight and ingenuity of the men of the Rugby Club who turned drawing board plans into a reality in what can be regarded as a very fast time.”