In the early 1920s the club committee were well aware of the inadequacies of Victoria Park and the necessity of the club to have its own ground. But there was no question in those days of borrowing money for a project like this. It took a couple of largish donations and a highly successful rugger dance held at the Palais de Dance not long after it opened in 1925 before the money really started to come in.
The Palais was located on Lord Street and offered Chinese décor, ornate lanterns and balconies around the huge ground floor. Billy Cotton was the resident band leader, more than 1400 people attended, and the profit well over £100. An annual dance was held every year after the first one and although the dancing boom was rapidly declining the rugger dance remained popular and was the club’s chief means of raising money for the new ground. When the Palais folded in 1927 the dance moved to the Palace Hotel, Birkdale right up to the late 1930’s when it moved to the Floral Hall.
Apart from the profit from the dances, money for the New Ground Fund was raised by the efforts of members and friends from subscriptions and jumble sales organised by the ladies. According to reports in the paper Mrs A. H. Hollings, Mrs White, and Mrs Limont were responsible for two of these very successful efforts. Mr Jack Parry was treasurer and in charge of the Fund which eventually realised £1731.
Southport Corporation agreed to Hillside being the site of the club’s new ground and pavilion. It is not known how or why Waterloo Road was identified as a potential new ground but it is surmised that the Corporation will have played a key part, being owners of Victoria Park and as instigators in the development of virgin dune and agricultural land, and golf courses immediately to the south of Birkdale
to create a new residential area at Hillside, named after an existing farm on the shore side of the Liverpool-Southport railway. It could have been the case that the presence of a rugby club was seen as desirable amenity to attract residents to the new estates.
From 1920 to 1926 the Corporation used new town planning regulations to purchase land known as Birkdale Hills to extend Waterloo Road over the railway and provide a trunk road to join up with Liverpool Road including a new bridge and station at Hillside, which opened in May 1926. The road gave access to a site the rugby club was able to secure for a new ground. This appears to have been on or adjoining part of the original Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club which was compulsorily purchased by Southport Corporation under the Unemployed (Relief Works) Act 1920. The S&A web site History page advises that:
Before it was made into a golf course, the land had been predominantly sand hills with undulating areas of land in between, which had been used by farmers for grazing cattle and sheep.
Prior to 1925, the previous S&A clubhouse, which had been in use since 1908, was located approximately, one mile north on Liverpool Road, near The Crown Hotel, Birkdale. It was due to the building of a new road to Southport (Waterloo Road) that the club had to move to its current location in Ainsdale. The
road cut right through the old course isolating the clubhouse, but twelve of the original holes, which were laid out in 1907 by George Lowe the Lytham professional, survived in some form.
In 1925, a new clubhouse was opened, the old one was sold, and members could begin playing their ‘new course.’ James Braid, who was the first golfer to win The Open five times, laid out six new holes, those which are now closest to the clubhouse, and remodelled the other twelve.
When the rugby club took over the lease the ground the Visiter reported that the ground was still in a rough state, ditches had to be filled and levelling to be done before the pitch was in a condition for playing. The job was done by the Southport Corporation Park’s Superintendent using labour from the pool of unemployed. Most were without any skill and had none of today’s mechanical equipment to help them. It seems that the move to the new ground from Victoria Park was staggered with the third and fourth teams first playing at Hillside on a pitch parallel to the road on what was then known as Waterloo Road Park close to the entrance to the club today.
On 26th March 1927, under the chairmanship of Dr. A W Limont, the club celebrated the opening of the new ground at Waterloo Road with an impressive First XV 11-0 win over Preston Grasshoppers. The match couldn’t be played at Victoria Park because it was under water at the time! The total spent on the pavilion and ground was £1500, all monies raised by the efforts of members and friends at jumble sales, dances,
etc. The Pavilion was previously a wooden hutted ward at the closed fever hospital in Moss Lane purchased for £35, the final price escalating to around £1000! This included the cost of dismantling and transporting it to Hillside, improvements to conform with town planning requirements, the laying on of
public services to Waterloo Road (Lynton Road had not yet been built), bathing facilities, a fireplace in the common room (now the bar), enclosure of the ground, and the railing off and levelling of the pitch.
However, it seems that the move was not fully completed until the opening of the 1929-30 season – a few weeks before the Wall Street crash – but it was not until 1935 that the 200 capacity grandstand was opened. It cost £231.
On 27th November 1937 Lancashire and Cumberland choose Waterloo Road as the venue for their county championship clash, with the red rose side winning 26-3. However, as the Southport club house was not a licenced the magistrates granted a temporary licence to James Dolan, licensee of the Crown Hotel on Liverpool Road, Birkdale, the nearest public house to the ground, from 2 to 5pm for the occasion.
The government requisitioned the ground and pavilion for the duration of the World War Two, but Southport resume playing on 6th October 1946 when Blackburn are the visitors. Contingency plans had been made to use the Terra Nova ground in Lancaster Road in case the main pitch and clubhouse were
not ready, but in the event play was possible on the second team pitch even though the uncut main pitch was described as still looking like a hayfield. The main pitch was back in action the following season when grass was finally cut and it was properly prepared and the famous concrete block wall, now adorned with advertising boards, was built to enclose the ground.
The club was now back in the swing of things and there was a significant development in the 1948-49 season when the prolicensed bar lobby won the debate and the bar was established.
Over the years the facilities in the clubhouse have been improved largely on a piecemeal basis including new bathing and changing facilities in 1966, and extension and alterations in 1972. Refusal of planning permission for a new two-storey clubhouse on the other side of the main pitch in 1996 has necessitated
ongoing repairs and further improvements, especially the kitchen and shower facilities, and summer 2011 saw a full internal and external refurbishment including a small extension to provide additional toilet facilities and provide disabled access.
Waterloo Road has hosted several notable events. A second Lancashire game was played on 18th November 1972 against Northumberland in the clubs centenary year and in 1983 Australia trained for three days prior to their tour match against The North. On 10th April 2011 the Lancashire u13, u14, u15
and u16 Lancashire Plate and Vase Finals were held here and the nationally renowned Sports Tours tournament is now a regular feature at the end of each season. The original scoreboard has been replaced on a couple of occasions and new pitch-side fencing provided on the far side.
In many respects the ground itself still resembles its original setting. As approached from Waterloo Road the club house is still located in the far corner of the main pitch with the iconic wooden grandstand in front and car parking to two sides. The two other pitches still run at right angles, and although the
concrete dividing wall may be a later addition and the main pitch may not have been enclosed the biggest change in appearance since the ground was first occupied is that it has been almost surrounded by houses and bungalows built fronting Waterloo Road, Lynton Road, Clovelly Drive and Dunster
Crescent at various times from late 1920’s to 1960’s. Views of Waterloo Road in photographs taken just after its completion in the mid 1920’s show it to be quite empty with housing development seen today not yet begun, so it is likely that for a while the ground may have been quite open especially to the south. There is still an open frontage to Waterloo Road, with the old tin scout hut still in situ, dominated by the
tower of Our Lady of Lourdes Church. A sign board welcomes all to the home of Southport RFC. The
club is rightly proud of the ground and the facilities at Waterloo Road, testament to 150 years of hard work and dedication by members, none of which can ever be taken for granted as the rich history behind the club and the grounds fully demonstrates.
Source: Southport Rugby Football Club, Grounds Through The Ages, Graham Ellis