The collection contains correspondence, minutes, annual reports, record books, audio-visual material, photographs including team photos, programmes, press cuttings, and published books relating to the club and players
The decision to form a representative rugby club for Bristol originated from two games played in 1888 by Bristol United, a team drawn from a variety of local clubs. One game was played against Cardiff Harlequins and one against Clifton. The matches were arranged by the Carlton club, and at the end of the season this club invited Redland Park and Westbury Park to join it in forming the Bristol Football Club. Westbury Park declined the invitation, although some of its members joined Bristol a year later when Westbury Park disbanded. However, Redland Park accepted and the Bristol club came into being. Prior to Bristol’s foundation the chief club in the city was Clifton. Other clubs which remained independent after Bristol was formed included Oakfield, Bristol Hornets, Bristol Harlequins and Medicals. Bristol's first game was at Cardiff on 6 Oct 1888. They lost 24-0, which would have been 80-0 under modern scoring values. However, by their fourth season, inspired by the captaincy of W “Tommy” Thomson they had found success and won 20 out of their 24 matches.
The Gloucestershire County Cricket Ground was opened in 1888 and during the first four winters both the Bristol and Clifton Association clubs played there on alternate Saturdays. Subsequently Bristol had the ground to themselves in the winter months until the First World War. In 1915 the ground was transferred to JS Fry & Sons and a new ground was required for the rugby club.
Following the war, games were played on a rented sloping field on Radnor Road until an area of six and a half acres of freehold land known as "Buffalo Bill's Field" was purchased and donated to the club. The ground had been seized by the Ministry of Agriculture during World War One and let as allotments until it was released in 1920 but once it was available, fundraising and building work began and on 24 September 1921 the Memorial Ground was opened. The club still play there today, sharing the ground with Bristol Rovers FC.
During World War Two games were played under the title of Bristol Supporters (see 41582/AM/3). During part of World War Two the ground was given over to the Army and so games were played at The Imperial Ground in Knowle instead. The Memorial Ground was officially reopened on 8 September 1945.
Notable players include JW Jarman, who became Bristol's first player for England in 1900, James 'Jimmy' Peters who would later become the first black man to play rugby football for England, WR Johnston who won 16 international caps, former Olympic athlete Jack Gregory, Len Corbett who made 222 appearances for Bristol and 16 for England, captaining both sides, John Pullin who made 42 appearances for England, John Blake who made 339 appearances for Bristol, Sam Tucker who won 27 England caps and Mike Rafter (17 England caps and Captain for Bristol's 1983 Cup victory). More recent players include Martin Corry (64 England caps 1997-2007), Kyran Bracken (51 England caps 1993-2003) and Josh Lewsey (55 England caps 1998-2008) who played for Bristol whilst studying at Bristol University.
In 1959-1960 the best ever record was established by the team of 36 wins and 834 points. This was surpassed in 1971-72 when Bristol won 39 games and scored 1145 points. In 1983 they won the John Player Cup and were runners up in the same competition in 1973, 1984 and 1988 (see 38169/Ad/P, Ad/Sp and PB/15/6 for John Player advertising and rugby yearbooks). They were also Powergen Shield Champions in 2004 and British and Irish Cup Champions in 2011.
In 1998 the club was relegated from the Premiership resulting in Chairman Arthur Holmes putting the club into administration, with a clause in the ground-sharing agreement allowing Bristol Rovers to buy the rugby club's share of the memorial ground for £10,000. Local businessman Malcolm Pearce and others came forward and a new company, Bristol Rugby Ltd was formed, allowing the club to take its place in Premiership Two. The team won the league and returned to the Premiership the next season. They were relegated in the 2002/03 season before winning promotion in 2004/05. They were then relegated again in the 2008/09 season, won the playoff final in 2015/16 to return to the Premiership but were relegated again in the 2016/17 season.
In 2012 Bristol Rovers announced plans to sell the Memorial Stadium and move to a new stadium on the campus of the University of the West of England. When this fell through, the rugby club had already agreed to move to Bristol City's Ashton Gate stadium.