Cherry & White: Facts, Legends and Myths

1897 - 1898 Team

THE PAINSWICK STORY

There is a story that Gloucester are the “Cherry and Whites” because, when the Club was first formed in 1873, they were loaned a set of jerseys by the Painswick Club, which was founded a year earlier in 1872, and already played in those colours. This story has been oft repeated over the years, and, in being passed on from one generation to the next, has solidified belief amongst many that it is true. The purpose of this article is to examine the evidence.

THE PAINSWICK VERSION

The Painswick RFC website declares that “Painswick is proud of its association with Gloucester RFC, and refer to ourselves as the “Original Cherry and Whites”. In 1873 we loaned our shirts to the newly formed Gloucester RFC and since then, they, as the more famous ‘Cherry & Whites’, have achieved significant success in rugby. In the meanwhile Painswick RFC has enjoyed the camaraderie of the wonderful game of Rugby at a slightly lower level.

The moniker “Cherry and Whites” relates to the story that there was obviously no formal sportswear in those days, players wore hobnail boots and ordinary clothes, and Painswick wore cherry red sashes around their waists to distinguish themselves. The source of these sashes was the local squire, who allegedly made use of his cherry red curtains at home. His wife’s reaction is unknown.

The colours were adapted into shirts, and as mentioned, were loaned to the newly formed Gloucester RFC at their inception. On Painswick’s 130th Anniversary, Gloucester RFC kindly repaid the favour by donating a set of their Zurich Championship winning strip to the Club, following a commemorative match against former Gloucester Players – The Cherrypickers.”

EARLY CONTACT BETWEEN THE CLUBS

The Painswick and Gloucester teams met on the field of play three times during the 1870s. The first match, at Painswick on 21st December 1875, was won by “the heavier men” of Painswick by two tries to one. So, it was more than two years after the formation of the Gloucester club that the two clubs met on the field of play. The return fixture that season, played at the Spa, Gloucester, on 25th February 1876 ended in victory for Gloucester by three tries to nil.

In the third match on 12th January 1878, Gloucester newspapers record the opposition as the “Painswick Institute”, whereas the first two matches had been against the “Painswick Club”. By this time, Gloucester had moved to a different level in terms of playing strength, and recorded a huge win by seven goals and nine tries to nil. It was the last time the clubs’ first teams played one another.

In the brief newspaper reports on these matches, there are no references to the colours worn by either team. If Painswick were indeed wearing red sashes over normal clothing in their early matches, then it seems less likely that, within a year of their club’s formation, they would have had a set of jerseys to give to Gloucester, nor would it have made sense for both teams to have played in similar strip. And it is known that Gloucester had their own jerseys of a different hue from their first season onwards

GLOUCESTER CLUB COLOURS

There is no evidence that Gloucester played in cherry and white during the first twenty years of the Club’s existence, but there is a good deal of evidence of them wearing jerseys in different colours. When the Gloucester Club played its first match on 4th October 1873 against the College (King’s School) on the College ground at Dean’s Walk, there is no contemporary record of the colours they played in. However at the time of the Club’s jubilee fifty years later, it was reminisced that Gloucester had played in black and blue jerseys. Much later (in Dave King’s history of the Club) it was asserted that these were the only available colours, but the source for this information has not been identified. A crude sketch of the first match was published in the Magpie a few days after the event, but shows all but five of the players in a scrummage (more like a melee) in the middle of the pitch, and their jerseys are blank.

The Football Annual for 1878-79, an authoritative publication covering all the clubs registered with the RFU, lists Gloucester’s colours as violet and black. The earliest known photograph of the team was labelled as “about 1876-77” when it was reproduced many years later in the Club’s centenary booklet. This has now been pinned down as dating to 1878-79, the only season in which all the players listed appeared for the Club. The grainy black and white photograph shows only jerseys with light and dark bands, which are difficult to interpret, especially since jersey colours then were not colour fast and tended to fade over time. Given the documentary evidence, they are almost certainly black and violet rather than cherry and white – the dark bands are so dark as to be more likely black than cherry, although the light bands are very pale.

The Football Annual for 1884-85 lists the Gloucester colours as dark blue with City arms, and a team photograph taken at the Spa dated 1884-85 clearly displays this strip.

Although the Football Annual for 1885-86 again lists the Gloucester colours as dark blue with City arms, the Club colours had in fact been changed. A Club membership card for 1885-6 describes the playing strip as “red, yellow and black jerseys and stockings, and dark blue knickerbockers”, and this strip was then worn for about ten seasons.

The Football Annual for 1888-89 records similar colours as red, fawn and black. This is borne out by black and white photographs dated 1890 of both 1st XV and United teams, in that they exhibit jerseys with stripes of three different shades (some more faded than others).

The match report for the first game at Kingsholm on 10th October 1891 describes “the rainbow colours of the Gloucester team”. However, later that season, a Gloucester match is reported as “the decisive victory which the orange and black brigade gained over the Leicester team”. Maybe red and yellow had merged into orange in the wash!

The strip had not changed when the Magpie set the scene for the 1892-93 season by reporting that “the red, yellow and black jersey boys are bracing themselves up for the long list of tussles”. However, there was some change in the kit, because it was also reported that “there is to be an improvement in the jerseys of the players. The material will be changed from wool to merino, and the colours rearranged with a greater regard to good taste than is manifest in the present garment, and it is satisfactory to know that instead of sending the order out of the city, the committee have given it to a local firm – Messrs Ferris Bros of Northgate Street”. At the start of that 1892-93 season, the Journal reported that “at a committee meeting of the Gloucester Football Club on Monday evening [5th September], the new jersey was adopted, and may be seen in the windows of Ferris Brothers, Northgate Street. Besides being a much better article than the one worn by players last season, there is a slight alteration in the colours. Before, the stripes were equal-sized; now the red and black predominate considerably over the yellow, which makes the jersey appear less gaudy.”

By 1897, the colours had been changed to cherry and white. A black and white photograph of the 1897-98 team was tinted to add bands of cherry.  So it appears that cherry and white was adopted as the Club colours at some point in the mid-1890s. There is no evidence of Gloucester playing in these colours any earlier. Dave King reports that these colours dated from 1894-95 – the evidence for this has not been found, but there is nothing to contradict it. Later photographs, although in black and white for many decades, appear to consistently show these colours.

From the 1890s to the 1990s, the strip remained much the same for a century. At first the colours were often sometimes referred to as red and white, and in 1933, the specification for an official club tie called for “turkey red and white stripes”. Over the years cherry and white became the standard description of Gloucester’s colours.

In 1931 the committee approved a new set of jerseys in blue, to be used when club colours had to be changed because of a clash with those of the opposition.

Only with the advent of professional rugby were significant variations made to the cherry and white, and a much wider variety of colours introduced for the away shirt.

ORIGINS OF THE PAINSWICK STORY

No reference to the Painswick story has been found until well after after the Second World War, i.e., the best part of a hundred years after the alleged event. It has been retold on numerous occasions in the last fifty years, and appears to have gained mounting credence with repeated retelling during the latter part of the twentieth century

It has been claimed that, up until the advent of professional rugby, Gloucester Rugby used to send a letter every year to Painswick RFC asking for a renewal of their permission for Gloucester to wear Cherry and White, which was then granted. No such correspondence exists in the extensive archive of Gloucester Rugby material now held in the Gloucestershire Archives. What is more, several former senior officials from both clubs confirm that they never wrote such letters, nor heard of any such arrangement. It seems that part of the story can be dismissed as a myth.

However, the Painswick story was revived again when the “Original Cherry and Whites” came to celebrate the 130th anniversary of Painswick RFC in 2002. Bob Rumble of Painswick and Ken Nottage of Gloucester got together, and it was agreed that Gloucester should return the set of jerseys which the story said had been loaned by Painswick in those early days. A celebratory game was played between Painswick and the Cherry Pickers, a side made up of former Gloucester players. After the match a couple of Gloucester First XV players ceremonially presented a set of jerseys in repayment of the loan. And a very good time was had by all.

CONCLUSION

Although not completely conclusive, the available evidence suggests that Gloucester did not adopt cherry and white as their Club colours until the mid-1890s, and that the story of those colours being used earlier as a result of jerseys donated by Painswick is a more recent invention and therefore apocryphal. But it’s a good story!

Comments about this page

  • It’s true that until November 1875, the only way of scoring was to convert the try to a goal:
    November 1875: “A match shall be decided by a majority of goals, but if the number of goals is equal or no goals be kicked, by a majority of tries.”

    October 1888: “A match shall be decided by a majority of points. A goal shall equal 3 points, with the exception of a goal kicked from a kick awarded by way of a penalty, which shall equal 2 points, a try 1 point. If the number of points is equal or no goals be kicked or try obtained, the match shall be drawn. When a goal is kicked from a try, the goal only is scored.”

    We think that means that all the records are correctly recorded!

    By Dick Williams (28/11/2020)
  • A query: your reports of the games prior to 1890 record the scores in tries [eg ’25th February 1876 ended in victory for Gloucester by three tries to nil’, para 5]. I thought before 1890 a try was of no value, it needed to be ‘converted’ The Rugby History Society has on its website: ‘Originally, points were not awarded for tries; kicked goals were worth 1 point and the only time that tries were considered was when the same number of goals had been kicked by each side’. So should the scores we recorded as ‘goals’ rather than ‘tries’. Or were none of the tries converted? Touching down meant you could ‘try’ to ‘convert’ into points?
    Thanks,
    Herbie

    By Herbie Renfield (27/11/2020)
  • Only 14 players in the photo ?

    By Roger Goldby (26/11/2020)
  • A fascinating and well-researched article, Malc. Its seems fitting that the very early Gloucester teams were reported as “black and blue” , before they even went on the pitch!
    Best wishes to you and the current Gloucester Rugby Heritage team.

    By Chris Brind (26/11/2020)

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