As early as the last quarter of the 19th century South Westmorland, now part of Cumbria, was a nationally known Rugby stronghold.
Almost all the local villages ran their own sides, but pride of place undoubtedly belongs to the three famous Kendal clubs: the Hornets, the Cardinals and the Excelciors.
The Kendal Hornets were one of the most famous sides in Northern Rugby, and in the renowned Buff Berry they supplied the first international rugby player from the town.
Westmorland was then a County body on its own, and even the famous Maori touring side played in Kendal during 1888.
Around the turn of the century however the handling code almost died out in Kendal, and was superseded by soccer as the town’s winter game.
Fortunately there were still rugby enthusiasts in Kendal and on 25th August, 1905, a group of the “faithful” called a Public Meeting.
From this meeting our Kendal Rugby Union Football Club was born.
A strong committee and team were formed, led by J. D. Blackburn, the club’s first captain, F. R. Todd, J. Stalker and T. H. Turner to operate from the Mints Feet ground.
Then in 1906-07 the club’s first major removal took them to Maude’s Meadow and as the playing record improved public interest reawakened.
It is hard to imagine references to crowds of 3,000 and 4,000 in reports of the games.
A far cry from modern times!
Despite a complete break during the First World War, rugby continued to prosper, but in 1927 unfortunately Maude’s Meadow was lost as the club’s ground, so once again they removed to Shap Road, this time to the Mint Bridge ground.
For extra security and better control of the future, members of the club by hard work and endeavour, raised the money to buy the ground, so that the club had a permanent home.
The move to the outskirts naturally diminished public support, but soon followed the most successful period in the club’s history to encourage many back.
The next decade completely re-established Kendal as a nationally known rugby name.
During the period September 1930 to April 1940 Kendal played 335 games of which they won 272, with 9 drawn and losing just 54, scoring 5546 points in the process with only 1655 against.
A particularly impressive record as it was made against most of the best clubs in the north.
During this period Kendal established an amazing run of home wins over three and a half years: from 7th April, 1934, through 61 games Kendal remained unbeaten at Mint Bridge.
Their record comprised of 60 wins with one match drawn scoring 1196 points to a mere 134 in return!
Many fine sides succumbed during this period including Sale, Headingly, Halifax, Fylde, Broughton Park, Lansdowne and Northern, but on 16th October, 1937, a Kendal side sadly weakened by County calls and injuries surrendered their proud record to a full Northern side by 12 points to 0.
There were many fine players at this time, and Kendal was a team to be feared wherever rugby was played.
Most of the club’s records were established in this decade, with the 1934-35 season proving to be the best in the club’s history, finishing with a tally of 34 wins, none drawn and only 3 lost producing 724 points to 125 against.
The powerful Alex Johnson set three particularly impressive individual records: a career total of 1,280 points, 54 tries in a season and 6 tries in a game.
Sammy Martindale twice kicked 9 goals in a game. Sammy also proves to be the present club’s only full international player, with his game against France during 1929 in Paris with England victorious 6-16.
He was also included in a 1930 tour of Australia and New Zealand playing in all the matches except the four Tests, had four international trials, and 51 County caps to his credit.
During the Second World War a hard-working committee kept rugby going in the town.
Their efforts were rewarded by the success of the side of the late 1940’s, which rivalled the pre-war era. Fred Long’s 1947-48 side was the most successful with 30 wins, 2 drawn and only 5 lost, scoring 679 points to a reply of 173.
Not since the late fifties, however, have Kendal again scaled these heights, with Stuart Davidson’s 1956-57 side also registering 30 wins, with 3 drawn and 7 lost, scoring 417 points to 181 against.
The late 1980s were also successful years for the club. In 1987/88 a "points for" club record of 791 was established with fly-half David Bell, now coach at Penrith, setting an individual record of 377, and Kendal finishing second in league North One to Winnington Park.
Promotion was achieved in the following season, albeit in the days when the league programme consisted of only 10 games, and it was not until after the reorganisation of the leagues, and the full league programme of 1994/5 season, that a comparable record was achieved, with Kendal finishing runners-up to the promoted club.
Progressively during the 1990s, playing standards and levels of fitness were raised and by 1997-1998 the 1st XV were again in serious competition for promotion, finishing third behind the two promoted clubs, Birmingham/Solihull and Manchester.
That same season saw a new phase for the club with the recruitment of players from the southern hemisphere.
The first of these was Ian Voortman from Stellenbosch University, initially on a working holiday, but who stayed with Kendal for six seasons and Casey Mee from New Zealand.
Following the successes of the latter part of the previous season, hopes were high for 1998-1999, but the team got off to a relatively poor start and virtually lost all hope of promotion losing seven games before Christmas.
After that they lost only another three, including an enthralling and very close fourth round Cup game against Premier One side, London Scottish with Kendal scoring four tries to three and only Springbok Janie de Beer's boot making the difference.
That game, as much as anything, showed the potential of the squad, and, in 1999-2000 they had a magnificent run of 19 successive league wins to gain promotion to National League Division Two.
In their first season in the higher league a spirited Kendal team finished a creditable and well deserved fourth putting them amongst the country’s top 30!
This was a major achievement for a club so geographically and economically challenged in a relatively small town of a sparsely populated area.
Much of Kendal's success in recent years was due to the inspirational leadership and direction of former player and senior coach, Peter Kremer, whose tragic death, at only 44, towards the end of the 2001-02 season, left an enormous gap in the whole set-up of the playing side.
The club was fortunate to recruit as senior coach Neil Rollings, formerly Director of Rugby at Sedbergh School (just up the road from Kendal) and Cheltenham College, who during his time at Sedbergh had worked at Kendal alongside Peter Kremer.
Neil was to be assisted by former club captain Mike Healey and current player Jon “Bully” Nicholson and Chris Hayton.
Unfortunately, by the end of the 2002-03 season Kendal was for the first time in their history relegated from any league, moving from National League Division Two to the Northern League Division Three.
The two season’s since proved difficult as the Club tried to steady itself consolidating a position in the top half of the league to gain strength and build for a promotion place in the near future.
As we enter our Centenary year and the beginning of the next 100 years our reputation as a “Northern Stronghold” must be remembered and repeated by all at the Club.
Derek A Kingwell
Turbulent Times (2005 – 2017)
The next ten years were a rollercoaster for the club, with three relegations and two promotions, winning only once in one season, whilst going through another unbeaten in the league, and in a second only losing once.
On the field the Centenary season was not one to remember fondly, with just a draw against Fylde and a win against also relegated New Brighton. The following season saw only one home game lost, but the away form of only two wins put pay to an immediate return to National League. This was however achieved in style in the following season with a 100% league record.
The 2008-09 season saw the team consolidate, finishing eighth in the league, with new wing Lewis Boyd scoring 31 tries. There was further consolidation the following season, despite Boyd only playing five more games and scoring just two tries, due to injury and work commitments. The following season was tougher with the team just above the relegation places in February, before and home win against Leicester Lions who eventually finished third, followed by wins against their relegation rivals saw them survived comfortably.
The reprieve was however shortly lived with the team finishing bottom in 2011-12 with just five wins, 27 points from safety with just one win after Christmas (although 9 games were lost by 7 or less points), and worse was to follow with second relegation in the following season with just five wins, 21 points from safety (this time with 7 of their 21 defeats by 7 points or less)
The following season did not start well with a heavy defeat at the eventually champions Wirral, but after some indifferent results the team finished fourth, and followed this up with third place the following season. The 2014/15 season also saw the retirement from First XV rugby of Billy Coxon after 23 seasons and 461 games.
The 2015/16 season turned into an epic battle with Kirkby Lonsdale, with both teams unbeaten when they met at Kirkby at the end of October, with Kirkby coming out on top. Kendal went through the rest of the season unbeaten, whilst Kirkby lost once and drew once. The return game at Mint Bridge was postponed and took place on the final weekend of the season, with the winner getting automatic promotion. On a bright sunny afternoon, in front of a bumper crowd the team prevailed to secure automatic promotion.
The 2016/17 season saw a respectable mid-table finish as the team played it’s final season at the old Mint Bridge ground, before moving to a new purpose built ground a short distance further up Shap Road.