An early form of football, called ‘outhurling’, used to be played centuries ago on the commons. Two sets of stakes, some half a mile apart, were the designated goal posts and two teams of 25 to 30 men used to play with a pig’s bladder covered with pieces of leather.
Torrington FC was established in 1908. Their home ground is the Vicarage Field and, at present, they play in the top division of the North Devon League.
In the 1920s each street had its own football team and practised on its own bit of commons: Mill Street on Mill Street common, Calf Street on Quiet Possession, Town Boys at Barley Grove, and New Street on the Old Bowling Green, which was also the location for the annual inter-street finals. In 1931 the ‘Street Shield’ was won by Mill Street.
In a letter to the Commons Conservators in 1895 a proposal was made to form a Torrington Golf Club. This proposal was accepted and a nine hole golf course was established on the Old Bowling Green where play continued until the First World War. After the war, a new course was made and opened at Darracott. The club moved to its present site at Furzebeam in 1932.
The bowling club is said to have been founded in1645 and is the third oldest in England. It stands on the site of the old castle overlooking the Torridge valley.
As well as football, golf and, presumably at one time, bowls, the Old Bowling Green has been used for shinty and women’s hockey and as a venue for special events such as the Coronation Sports of 1902.
Rugby was played in the past (I’ve seen a photo of the 1898/99 team) but the present club started in 1985. Before the clubhouse was built in 1996, home games involved changing at the comprehensive school, a walk up to the pitch at Donnacroft on Hatchmoor Road, and then, after the match, down to the Newmarket Inn in town for a few beers.
The ’round the tree race’ at May Fair is a long-held tradition. In the past, when there were fewer trees and bushes on the commons because of grazing, the runners used to plunge straight down over Castle Hill and wade through the river.
Tennis club records go back to the 1950s but an elderly woman who lived in Torrington in the 1930s says she belonged to the junior section of the tennis club and was coached by Bruce Blatchford, who had a saddler’s and sports shop in Potacre Street. They played on two grass courts down by the gas works, where the three hard courts are now. Facilities at the tennis club were always poor – an old shed with no toilets. Promises of improvements by the local council in 2011 came to nothing and tennis is no longer played in Torrington.
There used to be a bathing spot in the river below Castle Hill and, in the late 1920s, a concrete platform and changing shed were built. The shed was divided into two, for women and men, and boys used to punch holes through the dividing wall to look at the girls! The present swimming pool was built in 1972 on the site of the old market.