The last Saturday this month will mark the 150th anniversary of the first international match played in rugby union. It was between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place in Edinburgh, with the home side winning by one goal and a try to a try. Each side had 20 players, most of them forwards, and if last year’s autumn series was hardly an advertisement for adventure, it was an attacking orgy compared to what was served up in the game’s formative years.

“The early matches were dull affairs with the ball rarely reaching the backs, whose chief responsibility was to defend,” wrote the historian John Griffiths in his book on the history of international rugby union. Some things have not changed in a century and a half, although the diet for players then in the buildup to a game of underdone beef and beer has rather fallen out of favour and matches are played over two halves of 40 rather than 50 minutes.

England’s try scorer at Raeburn Place was Reg Birkett who, at a time when the football codes were blurred, helped create and draw up the rules of the FA Cup and was capped against Scotland as England’s goalkeeper in 1879. His brother, Louis, also played for England in rugby and his son, John, was another history maker, and not just for the record 21 caps he won and 10 tries he scored in the early 1900s when he captained England five times.

He scored the first try at Twickenham in 1909, after the old cabbage patch had been turned into a rugby stadium, while playing for Harlequins against Richmond and, like his father, served on the Rugby Football Union’s committee. His son, Brian, played for Harlequins and Headingley as well as the Army, the English game’s earliest dynasty.

Reg Birkett was appointed the captain of Clapham Rovers in 1870-71: the club then played association football one week and rugby the next and in that season, the secretary of Richmond Football Club used newspapers to persuade clubs “who play the rugby-type game to meet to form a code of practice as various clubs play to rules which differ from others, which makes the game difficult to play”.

Clapham Rovers were among 21 clubs whose representatives met at a restaurant in London’s Haymarket to found the RFU, two months before the game against Scotland. Birkett was elected on to the 13-strong committee and was at the birth of international football as well as rugby, gaining an FA Cup winner’s medal in 1880 after Rovers defeated Oxford University 1-0.

Fittingly given the anniversary of the Raeburn Place encounter, the auctioneers Rogers Jones & Co will, on 17 April, have a number of lots going under the hammer at their Cardiff sale room. The prime ones are the Birkett collection, which were discovered 16 years ago by the Cardiff-born auctioneer Richard Madley when he visited a house in Oxfordshire to assess some Chinese antiques owned by John Birkett’s granddaughter, Lady Evans.

As he was about to leave, Madley was asked if he was interested in rugby. He was taken to an airing cupboard where, hidden under towels, was an array of rugby memorabilia: shirts; the cap, which is in pristine condition, presented to John Birkett to mark his England record; after-match dinner menus; ties; photographs; and autographs.

And an item described by Madley as the finest piece of sporting history from the Victorian era that he has ever seen. Reg Birkett chronicled the football and rugby season of Clapham Rovers in 1870-71, the foundation season of rugby union. He wrote down every team Rovers fielded that season in football and rugby and cut out newspaper reports.

The items have been put up for sale by Reg Birkett’s great-great grandsons, who feel it is an appropriate year to bring the story of the family’s sporting dynasty to public attention. Birkett was a hide and skin broker who died at the age of 49 when, suffering from delirium induced by diphtheria, he dived through an upstairs window of his house in Wimbledon and fell 20ft to the ground.

The rugby memorabilia market is buoyant with value enhanced by age. Six years ago, Rogers Jones & Co auctioned a rugby jersey brought in by a woman who had inherited it from her husband. It had a probate value of £15,000 but research established it was worn that year by the New Zealand captain, Dave Gallagher, on their pioneering tour of Europe. It went for £180,000, still the highest price paid in the UK for sporting clothing.

Reg Birkett with the England team who played against Scotland at Raeburn Place in 1871
Reg Birkett is pictured with the England team who played against Scotland at Raeburn Place in 1871. Photograph: Lordprice Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

Among the other lots at next month’s sale are four jerseys the former Wales and Lions centre Jack Matthews swapped with opponents – two of them on the 1950 Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia – along with a scrapbook and photograph album from the trip that spanned more than five months along with gramophone records of the tour party singing.

Rugby union then had long established itself in Britain. Back in 1871, a crowd of 4,000 paid one shilling to watch history being made after England accepted an invitation from the captains of Scotland’s five leading clubs to play the match. England were all in white with a red rose adorning their shirts while Scotland played in brown shirts with a thistle and white cricket flannels.

It was played under 59 rugby rules with the penultimate one stating: “No one wearing projecting nails, iron plates, or gutta percha on any part of his boots or shoes shall be allowed to play in a match.” Gutta percha later became useful when differences of opinion required a visit to the dentist.