Back in 1872, Rugby started up in Wigan town by a group of Cricketers who wanted to stay competitive during the winter months and also bring in a good stream of revenue to keep their Cricket ground healthy. These men met in the now vanished Dicconson Arms pub on Upper Dicconson Street and decided to set up a rugby team and play a few trial matches. A meeting of the Cricket Club was called for the 21st November, 1872 and was to be held at the Royal Hotel, Wigan to discuss the possibility (whilst sober) of forming a Wigan Football Club. Once this was all agreed, the Cricketers decided to find a venue for their trial matches in the hope of forming a team. The Wigan Cricket Club based on Frog Lane were doing quite well in their respective league and of course, there was no chance of tearing up the wicket pitch whilst playing this new sport of rugby.
The Cricketers knew of an expanse of land which was big and wide enough to carry out the training needed, an area known as Folly Field. It was located inbetween Mesnes Park and Swinley, to the North West of the town centre up towards the Royal Infirmary. It was only a stroll from Cricket HQ and a stones throw from the watering hole of the Dicconson Arms. Of course, thirty years earlier, the Field would have been much larger. Wrightington Street in this map cuts across Folly Field and the building of dwellings along Avondale Road, Shaw Street and Sandycroft Avenue have also eaten into this land. You have to remember, in 1906 Wigan no longer needed Folly Field.
The Field was first used by an original Wigan Football Club a decade earlier in 1862/63. Back then there was a report of gaining members by meeting 'On the field at the end of Dicconson Street'. This field in the 1850s and 1860s was used by the Rifle Volunteer Corps for shooting matches.
The first trials match was watched by around 2,000 people on 30th November 1872. It'd be like, in todays money, 2,000 people turning up at Aspull Civic Fields watching a group of men trying their hand at Gaelic Football, such was the foreigness of the sport to the masses.
Every Saturday afternoon throughout November and early December, trial matches were called and the numbers involved started to dwindle - not because of lack of interest but many men who tried were better spinning a ball than passing one. By early 1873, the Wigan Football Club was ready to play their first match against Warrington. The final trial match prior to this was attended by many supporters and well wishers at Folly Field.
The first team to represent rugby in Wigan were: Kyrke (captain), Blakeney, Bromilow, Hughes, Sayer, Sowter, Tarbuck, Wilson, Woodcock (forwards) Hayes, Sayer Jnr. (halfbacks) Clar [sic,Clare] (three-quarter) H & W Wall, E.R. Walker (backs). The game with Warrington ended in a draw, somehow.
Folly Field wasn't anything special, it was just a large field big enough to play and entertain rugby. There were no stands or turnstiles to start with and members of the club had to rely on donations and money collectors during matches. As for changing rooms, the players used the Dicconson Arms Hotel, their HQ in the earlier years and in the latter days, the Legs of Man Hotel in the town centre.
There can't really be much more to say about Folly Field. It had served it's purpose and had established Wigan to the rugby world. The original Wigan Football Club didn't last very long and due to a lack of finances and quality players, the club disbanded and merged with Upholland in 1876 before again getting into difficulties. Wigan Wasps, set up in 1879 had much more success and that team eventually moved into a purpose built area at Prescott Street in the mid-1880s but still had Folly Field as a base until then.
The pitch itself wasn't flat, think of Bradford's Odsall as it curls up ingoal at the corners, but worse. The pitch at Folly Field was sloping and below street level (worse than Batley's Mount Pleasant), and the fullbacks of those days had a rough time of it. In the North West corner of the field, between the try line and the dead ball line, was a small hill. When the full-back made a save over his own line, he would find it an advantage to run up this hill to punt the ball back into play. But all too often his opponents would grab him by the legs and haul him down again. It is unknown how big this hill was but it must have risen about a foot in height.
In those early days, hacking and punching was permissable and so too were mauls in goal which by all accounts seemed like a perfectly legal brawl. You had to be tough to play at Folly Field (although 'mauling in goal' was abolished in the 1880s) and the picture shows the eighteen men who brought home the Wigan Union Charity Cup in the 1884-85 season ater defeating Haigh in the Final. The photograph was taken by H. Wragg, a Mesnes Street commercial photographer, possibly in the Dicconson Arms (since colourised). The lineup is believed to be Samuels, Ingham, Holt, Astle, Slevin, Presst, Rutter, Dawber, Murphy, Webb, Thomas, Crowshaw, Baguley, Layland, Norris, Marsden, Anderton. Holt, the captain at that time (back row, third from left), is holding the trophy. Mad scenes were often seen at Folly Field involving these men. An account states that when Wigan Supporters were playing Pagefield Supporters (extreme local derby), there was a maul-in-goal which became so boisterous that the police had to make a baton charge to sort out the combatants.
The earlier years of Folly Field were unremarkable. When the Wasps kicked in and started to grow, a great rivalry was struck up with Aspull over the coming years which meant bumper gates. As the crowds grew each year so did the need to improve the ground. Wigan went from having a roped off field to upgrading the ground via a Pavilion standand canvassing, which encircled the enclosure so that people had to then pay to watch (although you could still see the game for free on the higher adjoining streets). Floored boards were put down and a small premium was paid for the use of them.
In the early 1880s, Wigan drew crowds of between 800-1500 spectators. As bigger and more faous clubs got onto Wigans card, often crowds of 7,000 or 8,000 would gather at Upper Dicconson Street to watch clubs such as Rochdale Hornets or Swinton. The biggest gates seen were often against Aspull. Gates and crowds can be seen elsewhere on this site but the greatest of them all came right at the death.
The Charity Cup brought in massive crowds, peaking in the last game seen on Upper Dicconson Street on 24th April, 1886. The scenes were of which never seen before on a rugby field in Wigan. it was the Wigan Union Charity Cup Final between Wigan and Aspull, on this ground, and such as the hype and rivalry, between 15-18,000 people assembled on the Field, climbed trees and sat on rooftops to witness the game. You couldn't move. That particular weekend the Wigan v Aspull game attracted more supporters than seen in any Association football game in the country such was the popularity. The turnstyles were over ran and thousands got to see the game for free. The police could not keep order and several times play was stopped for people on the pitch. Aspull ended up winning, sadly, quite convincingly. Imagine the scenes as thousands of people rushed to the grand stand to see Aspull lift the Cup.
What a fitting end to a fabulous ground.
Sadly there are no images or drawings of Folly Field, but if anyone at anytime comes across anything please get in contact. It is quite a Holy Grail in terms of images.