Hidden away in a tatty box in lofts for 104 years, a horde of rugby union jerseys, described as the “holy grail” of the game, can at last be seen by the public at the World Rugby Museum in Twickenham.
Historian Peter Jones first set eyes on the collection in 2018, while researching a book, and said: “It felt like the rugby version of finding and opening Tutankhamun’s tomb.”
Charlie Pritchard, a First World War hero who died in the trenches in 1916, collected the shirts while playing for Wales and Newport.
- A No7 New Zealand shirt from their first tour of Britain in 1905, when they were given their All Blacks nickname
- A 1910 England shirt from the first ever game in Twickenham.
- Wales shirt from 1904 season.
The shirts now belong to Charlie’s great grandson Gareth Pritchard, who said: “I know they are priceless, but we will never sell them.
“I see myself as the caretaker of this very special collection to look after and protect, and am honoured to be so.”
Charlie kept shirts swapped after games, sometimes wearing them in charity games. After he died they were packed away by wife Florence at their home in Newport, South Wales.
Unwashed, they were handed down over the next 100 years. Historian Peter, also an author, stumbled on the story of the shirts while researching a book on Newport Rugby Club.
He said: “These shirts are the story of the birth of international rugby. It is an extraordinary find.
“To hold the No7 New Zealand shirt from “The Originals” tour is spine-tingling. It has been a privilege to help bring them to light. They tell Charlie’s story – a story of a great sportsman and a great hero.”
Commenting on the stories about the shirt collection, Eddie Butler said: “Proudly worn, beautifully told – from a simple collection of shirts comes the story of a hero.”
Gareth, 49, an investment manager, from Wimborne, Dorset, said: “These jerseys have been stored in a cardboard box in lofts for decades.
“Only after my move to the countryside recently did I place them in a plastic box. I wanted to make sure they were safe and secure, but they did remain in the loft – in hindsight, a good thing. It helped keep the colours of the shirts as good as they are after 110 years.
“From a young age I knew that my great-grandfather had played rugby for Wales and that we had some international shirts and his Welsh cap.
"The jerseys were rarely seen, I recall just twice, once at a Pritchard family reunion held to view the shirts.”
It was only when an All Blacks shirt from 1905 went up for auction in 2015 and a high value was put on it that he learned how precious the shirts were.
He said: “When I met Peter Jones in 2018 and opened the box, his enthusiasm about the jerseys was so exciting to me.
"It was akin to being a child on Christmas morning, with each shirt a present and opening up the historical importance they held.”
Peter has written “I Did My Bit”, a book about Captain Pritchard, with the title referring to Charlie’s final words on his deathbed. The rugby jerseys are on loan to the museum for the next five years.
But Gareth said: “At some stage I would like for them to be on display in Wales, preferably in Newport, where my great grandfather was from.
“He would have wanted local people to have a chance to see such an important part of Newport rugby history.”
Author Peter Jones will be at Rodney Parade this Saturday for the Guinness PRO14 clash with Toyota Cheetahs.
If you are a fan of rugby history you can meet Peter and get a signed copy of the book about Welsh rugby legend Charilie Pritchard's shirt collection.
Check out our social media channels to see how you could win a free copy!
I see myself as the caretaker of this very special collection to look after and protect, and am honoured to be so...