LRF hold Champagne breakfast at birthplace of Rugby in Leeds

The first event of ‘Leeds 150’ was a resounding success as invited guests, including the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Leeds, gathered on Woodhouse Moor to commemorate the exact time when rugby was first played in the city.

On the 20th March 1864, at 6.30am – following an advert placed in the 'Leeds Mercury' by railway clerk Henry Jenkinson – 'hundreds' of people turned up on the Moor to begin an association with the sport that has been at the heart of Leeds ever since.

Indeed, the greatest sporting event in the city remains the 1938 Rugby League Championship final when Hunslet beat Leeds in front of over 54,000 fans at Elland Road.

With Leeds Grammar School also situated on the Moor in 1864 and fellow pioneers in the spread of the game and municipal Leeds showing similar expansion at the time, all came together at a champagne breakfast at the Library pub, organised by the Leeds Rugby Foundation Heritage Committee.

Committee Chairman Phil Caplan welcomed the guests and outlined the historic events that led directly from that first meeting 150 years previously and Professor Tony Collins gave a further insight into the early history of the game in Leeds.

Leeds City Libraries and Friends of Woodhouse Moor also contributed to the commemoration, as the Under-14s teams from the Grammar School at Leeds ‘reclaimed the Moor’ by participating in a short game on the site of the original gathering.

Leeds Rhinos President Harry Jepson raised a glass to officially toast Henry Jenkinson and his like, with LRF trustee Cllr Lucinda Yeadon drawing the proceedings to a close. The 150 year celebrations are supported by the sponsorship of engineering company A.Taylor & Son – who are also celebrating their 150th anniversary.

Kevin Carson, Deputy Head of academic study at GSAL told the assembled gathering that he believed school and rugby perfectly complement each other. “Teachers see the values that rugby offers students. It gives them respect and discipline and it is appropriate that this celebration is the legacy of the success of rugby in our city,” he said.

Phil Caplan commented on the need for the event. "It genuinely felt like walking in the footsteps of history, a perfect synergy of sport and culture in its widest sense.

"It was extremely important to mark the contribution of Henry Jenkinson and those who set the footprint for rugby in the city of Leeds 150 years ago that we have been fortunate to enjoy since."

The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Tom Murray added: “Leeds is a great sporting city. It is filled with great teams and fanatical fans. Rugby started 150 years ago here on this morning. It’s important to celebrate what Henry Jenkinson and co set out and what has been done since.”

Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council Executive Member for Leisure, Culture, Jobs and Skills noted: “This celebration proves just how important rugby is in the city of Leeds. Long may the success continue.”

Leeds Rugby Foundation now look ahead to the next event in the calendar of 150 celebrations which is a City of Leeds ex-players Reunion Lunch at Headingley on Saturday 29th March.

It will commemorate the contribution of former players and officials of the city’s three professional clubs – Leeds, Hunslet and Bramley. Tickets cost £30 and all bookings should go through Derek Hallas on 01943 864458.