Some Observations on Cricket in Biggleswade
by M J King
Marcus King was born in 1919 and died in the year 2000 and click here to read his autobigraphy. His 6½ years in the Army from November 1939 are recorded in Biggleswade History Society newsletters 144,147,152,157,165,167. Ken Page transcribed this article from a photocopied original draft donated by Malcolm Housden.
The town’s records were destroyed in Lincoln Cathedral by fire, when Biggleswade was in the Lincoln Diocese. Records were rather skimpy until around 1812, but historians think cricket was played well over 200 years ago in the town. In 1816 William Brunt Jnr, a draper, loaned Mr. Perkins of the Crown Hotel a black tilt cloth as a sightscreen for a cricket match on Biggleswade Common. During the night the cloth was stolen and six weeks later George Barrett was charged with its theft on the evidence of his wife after he had hit her over the head with a frying pan whilst drunk. Further charges were to follow as the cloth had been made up into clothes; poor lady. Results of the game could be published in the Bedfordshire Times for 2/6d (now 12½p) but few clubs could afford this luxury. One match that was reported was Biggleswade under 20’s v Potton that Biggleswade won 111-77.
Mr. H M Lindsell of Fairfield House bequeathed Fairfield to the organized adult recreation of the town to be used as in his lifetime and to be called the “Cricket Field” with the proviso that priority be given to the Cricket Club at all times and still is applicable today. The groundsman at this time was Mr. Lindsell’s gardener Mr. Tuthill whose assistant was Henry “Cuckoo” Page and no one set foot in Fairfield without his authority in fear of sudden death by Cuckoo. Mr. Tuthill’s house Fairfield Cottage was opposite and a handgate was made in the fence to allow him direct access to the ground. Pens of sheep were used to keep the outfield under control and a donkey complete with leather shoes (to avoid damage to the wicket) was used to pull the roller; this donkey had its own grazing. The Donkey Meadow was just beyond the pond and a cricket pitch for the Ramblers and a football pitch for the Rovers were made when it became Albert Lincoln’s meadow. One ball hit over the trees landed in a passing coal truck and is probably in a Scottish Museum as The Original Haggis. Playing against Dunton Vic Gauge hit five balls over the trees into the pond and these sank in the mud. An expensive innings as at 5/- a time this cost a small fortune.
The Royal Engineers took over Fairfield during the 1914-18 war and criss-crossed the fields with roads for the horses and wagons. These being made of clinker and asphalt probably accounts for the magnificent draining properties of the ground as hardly a game is cancelled despite its proximity to the river. The cricketers moved into the northeast corner of Albert Course’s meadow (now Fairfield Park Estate) and a matting wicket laid with a sand base. Fairfield was handed back to the Sports Club in 1923 and Albert Course and his son Jack were given the task of restoring it to its former glory. A table was laid at a cost of £50 subscribed by club members. Dick Rogers of Bedford Modern School was responsible for this task and being an advocate of a plentiful supply of Nottingham Marl prepared a hard, fast and true wicket. Latterly experts have suggested different kinds of loam and with a more grassy outfield, scores have been lower and sixes more difficult to hit, as the ball comes onto the bat more slowly, besides batsman having to encounter the occasional mole hill.
In 1929 a plaster and wood pavilion was erected and opened by William Fletcher a prominent solicitor in the town. A full County side was Biggleswade’s opponents for this big occasion and Fairfield then became the Mecca for local Cup Finals etc, as with the magnificent grandstand the facilities were better than any other local club. Fred. Emery, Coffer to everyone, due to his seemingly unending supply of “butt ends” was the next groundsman and his wages were paid jointly by the Urban District Council and the Sports Association (A committee drawn from all clubs using Fairfield) now superseded by the Town Council. Mr. Emery was adept with a scythe and should the only mechanical mower break down would cut the whole field laying the grass in neat rows to be collected later. His tip was “Keep the right-hand low to avoid sticking the point in the ground and hone the blade frequently with a rubstone”. As a slow bowler his advice was always carry a piece of resin in pocket and rub your fingers on it to impart more spin on the ball” Was this the fore-runner to the lip-salve used by the Aussie fast bowler which in one test caused the ball to swing a prodigious amount and caused the downfall of the English batsmen. His test career was very short. “No lip salve, no wickets”
The club then ran three very strong sides, two on Saturdays and a Thursday XI comprised of shopkeepers and often a guest or two. Two stalwarts of this team were Jack Bennett opening bat and bowler, and Harry Smith opening bat and wicket keeper. When accused of monopolizing the proceedings they batted 10 and 11, but still managed the majority of the runs scored. Jack’s favourite shot was a square cut which used to crack against the grandstand like a rocket. Jack did monopolise one game at Henlow against a strong (too strong) A R Carlisle’s XI). Going first, Jack was last out (run out) for 85. He immediately opened the bowling, took 8 wickets and caught the other two batsmen out in the slips. On another occasion he scored a 100 out of a total of 152, but this his greatest moment was when asked to play at Three Counties Hospital (a marvelous ground then) for a select 16 against a full County XI, made up of pros from Middlesex, Surrey, Essex and Worcester led by Jack Durston (of Clophill) and Middlesex, Cutmore, Jack O’Connor, Russell all of Essex, Russell having just taken a hundred off the Aussie tourists. Andy Ducat was a spectator and to Jack’s great delight gave him a congratulatory pat after his 54 runs, scored after going in to prevent a “hat-trick”, the two previous “first bailers” being two combined University Batsman members of the only team to defeat the Australian Tourists that season. Jack is still hail and hearty and ready to reminisce as I found in a very pleasant four hour conversation with he and Mrs. Bennett (almost as knowledgeable as Jack as regards sport) which covered Cricket, football, (Jack was approached by Bedford to turn pro.) hockey and golf. When asked by a young Essex pro. playing Bedfordshire Young Players at Fairfield, “have you scored any runs when you played and any centuries” Jacks’ reply was “a few” When a colleague interjected “He meant centuries as he scored more runs than any other Biggleswade player” to the younger mans’ chagrin, as he had not done too well on his visit to the wicket. The other guest players were the Dennis brothers Jack and Alec who went on to Lords but had their promising careers cut short by the 1939 war. Jack was with the fire service in Nottingham with the police in Southampton. On a visit to watch Hampshire play the Australians I met Alec who was stationed opposite the ground and was to be found across the road either watching or playing cricket and due to his 21st year there was allowed a little licence by the top brass.
The three Brown brothers were also members of the Thursday XI and Walter had returned to Biggleswade after a short spell at Surrey and then becoming pro. for Idle in the Lancashire League following Jack Hobbs who was there previously. Sam once turned up to watch with a float full of piglets and when asked to play, tied the cart to the gate and had a good game. (Whether the pigs enjoyed the game is not clear). Oss would pull the horse roller single-handed if given the initial push (difficult now to get anyone to sit on a motorized one). Dick Furbanks and Len Coville from St Neots and Ted Smith from Sandy (Everton then) probably played his first game on a Thursday. Len Coville once up on a horse, which he hitched up in the outfield. Mr. L H (horseshoe) Collings and his son Raymond (windmill) because of his flailing arms and legs when bowling were two other regulars as were Joe Dobson, Dick Burles, Dick Fennemore, Frank Banes, George Randall and Skit Endersby. Mr. L H Collings found it difficult to get anyone to bowl to him in the nets and as an inducement would put six pennies on his middle stump and as this was twice weekly pocket money we were willing to bowl forever. It usually turned out to be a lucrative pastime as a ball pitched well up and straight usually meant a ‘whoops’ a clatter and the jackpot. Mr. Collings introduced us to TV as he invited us to his home at Brunswick House to watch a Test Match on a nine-inch screen probably the first set in the town. The first West Indian Darkie Roachford played a few games as guest for the Thursday XI.
The Thursday XI was my first experience of Fairfield except when Hicks Pits College Team was allowed to play the odd school games just off the table. I scored, but after a time Mr. Bennett would leave a message with my mother “can your old boy play as we are one short’. This happened so regularly that I suppose only 10 were selected as my long legs and low throw were very useful on the boundary, especially as many of the players then were not at their fleetest of foot. On batting I soon fell foul of Mr. Smith, Manager of the International Stores who implored me not to run so quickly as he was running out of puff. Ken Crosland, a marvelous left-hander joined the club having had games with Yorkshire Colts as he had moved to Sandy Hills to work as a woodman for Sir Malcolm Stewart. He often walked from his home in the hills through the Common and Furzenhall Farm with his boots tied round his neck and after a long bowling stint and often a long innings would return the same way. Now a car to the pavilion (or inside if it were possible) is the order of the day. Frank Rogers who kept the club running during the 1939 war almost single handed was a real artist with the bat and his maxim was “play cricket and the runs will come” What he would now think of the 40 overs thrash and the circus let by the ringmaster Tony Grieg with his moisture meter, wind chart, helicopter etc. Probably “dress like clowns, play like clowns” Frank’s peak was when selected for Bedfordshire against Sir Julian Khan’s XI at Trent Bridge. Another character was Perce Bowles who would finish one season on a perfect length and without any practice would drop the first ball of the next season on the same spot. A catch off his bowling by a fielder was to Perce only half-a-wicket and he would run well into the outfield to a skier to make sure it was his wicket. His best performance was 9 wickets for 5 against St. Giles 1st XI and he ran the 10th man out. One retired cricketer, but a regular at matches was Mr. Arthur Godfrey with his pencil and cigarette packet checking and correcting (often wrongly) the scores. His advice to all ingoing batsman was “keep your left elber well furrard, they’ll never get you out and as he opened for Caldecote and once went through an entire innings for 1 not out, who could question his logic? Was his cigarette packet the forerunner to a present day reporter’s notebook?
During 1939 Peter Miller and I who had both reached first team status were required to sign for the militia, little realizing this meant 6½ years absence from Fairfield and cricket. It did however afford me the chance of a game in the shadow of the Sphinx and Pyramids at Mena near Cairo against a New Zealand XI. Unfortunately the ball was lost and the game abandoned and a request for a substitute ball to the Chronicle Forces Fund was not successful as the requirement of someone in the wilds of Surrey who was bored and wanted a wireless took preference over us languishing in a fly infested mosquito filled tent in on the edge of the desert at Mena 6 Kilos Camp. On reaching India we had the pleasure of playing on some beautiful batting wickets made from the sticky earth from the inside of the huge ant hills which looked like tree trunks. The wicket could be re-laid after a weeks use as nature (the ants) provided us with a continual supply of materials.
After the war cricket at Fairfield resumed but with no Thursday Team as most of its members had retired (usually to play golf) and with more factories in the town not many younger men were available on Thursdays. A Sunday team was however formed but played all away games and was called M. King’s XI as some of the Committee objected to a Club side playing on Sundays. Eventually Sunday play was allowed but not without protest and an interview on TV with the Vicar. Biggleswade CC and Fairfield also appeared on American TV when a cameraman took a film of the game and also the Saturday Market on the Square, as he wanted local scenes and pastimes. By a strange coincidence, a lady living in the state in which the film was shown and now resident in Biggleswade again saw it and recognised, ‘Neville Hoole and Marc King, among the Cricketers and also saw several acquaintances on the Square shopping,
In 1948 a disastrous fire gutted the Pavilion and destroyed all the Cricket equipment, which was than stored underneath the building. It was after a Whit-Monday all-day game and it was found that a local man who had been sleeping rough had gained access to the Pavilion. Having lit the stove in the kitchen and then slept or was overcome by fumes when the fire spread, only his remains in a tin on the kitchen threshold gave his identity. Caldecote C.C. were most helpful with the loan of playing kit and local tradesmen with donations and the gift of a new mower, and a score board made from an old door, still in use today, made cricket again possible without any cancellation of fixtures. Teams changed under a tarpaulin hung in the Grandstand and Jack Course and family were most helpful in providing storage for all equipment, besides making their kitchen available for tea making. Often water would be carried from a tap to the wicket, in old army coppers and on occasions Mr. Len Revels loaned the club his pumping equipment and water from the river was used to make some fine wickets. Roller squads were available whenever needed and strangely an upsurge in the fortunes seemed to take place.
The Hospital Cup was won when Harpur Sports were beaten by 8 runs in front of the first £50 gate, or collection. A second final played at Bedford Modern School Ground on a Saturday afternoon of 36 overs each side was lost after a good game with a strong Bedford Town XI, but this experiment was not repeated. A third final again versus Bedford Town 1st XI was lost, but this game was spoiled by Biggleswade’s innings being played in semi-darkness against a background of dark trees in Bedford Park and against bowlers of the calibre of Dick White (a product of Sunday Cricket at Fairfield) Fred Breeze and Bill Bushby whom it was difficult enough to face on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
A successful seven a side competition with all games played at Fairfield on two or sometimes three evenings a week was enjoyed by players and spectators alike. Councilors, Charles Woodward, Maurice Bennett and George Styles with their staff, schoolteachers under Edgar Wotton, A W Watkin, The NAAFI, Pobjoys, and many other local establishments entered teams, but when local sides entered strong sevens it became more competitive and eventually fizzled out. But not before a club VII had won the cup four times in succession. One big upset was when a seven entered by Eric Linger including A.B. Poole, John Oliver, Eric Howard, F. Rogers, C. Poole etc., was knocked out by Caldecote who caught everything and with a doubtful LBW to dismiss John Oliver (the umpire being Mr. Linger himself) had them out for 21. RAF Henlow entered a strong side which included 4 combined services players and during an Last Beds Shield Semi-Final at Fairfield versus Biggleswade also included Bob Hirst of Middlesex and an opening bat, Heath of Warwick 2nd XI, who had just made three 100s in 3 days in one weekend, but, who was out for a duck and we were still waiting for him to come in to bat. Biggleswade won this game and the final and also won three more finals in a row.
The East Beds Shield was started after a letter in the Chronicle enquiring as to the whereabouts of the East Beds Shield as one had been seen hanging in the village pub (probably Old Warden). After a search three were found and following a letter by me to the Chronicle suggesting a use for them, Biggleswade Cricket Club called a meeting and the East Beds Charity Shield Competition was formed and Fred Page was elected Chairman and I Secretary/Treasurer a post I held for 17 years. As the club was helpful in forming this competition it was agreed that the senior final should always be played at Fairfield. Double Summer Time and a fine summer made it a good season and Fairfield was a hive of activity on most evenings and weekends. The Football Club erected a nissen hut and the cricketers shared this facility. The council in their wisdom then decided to remove the line of trees, fence and hedge dividing Fairfield from the playing field to make a bigger boundary so that county cricket could accommodated here. This was the suggestion of Edgar Wotton the chairman of the council. A new Table was laid next to the existing one, but was never successful and soon a new chain link fence was erected and the club returned to the original Table. One strange diversion, for one season only, was to play east to west to allow the ends to mend. This was “Hobson’s Choice” and as at Potton Recreation Ground this experiment was a resounding fiasco.
One of the pleasures of playing at R.A.F Henlow in all day matches, were the excellent lunches, usually in the Sergeants Mess, although if fielding on a hot day, a steak and kidney pudding was a hard cross to bear even though part food rationing was still operating.
Luton Town 1st XI visited Fairfield but unfortunately a Football Trial Match was scheduled to start at 6.30pm. This meant play was curtailed to 1¾ hours each side. Biggleswade scored well despite the presence of Glyn Owen, a spin bowler with Surrey C.C. experience, but Luton scored 165 to win in the allotted time.
In 1954 Wells & Winch Ltd erected a brick and slated Pavilion in memory of A J Redman father of Dudley Redman then President of the Cricket and Football Clubs, but still to be The Lindsell Memorial Pavilion. Each dressing room had a large sunken bath, a great improvement on the previous single bath. Showers have now replaced these and the bath raised to floor level a great relief to some of the senior Pros’ who were finding it increasingly difficult to negotiate the steep sides of the bath. President of the FA and FIFA, Mr. (now Sir) Stanley Rouse performed the opening ceremony and a strong Arsenal side entertained a large crowd with some hard shooting especially by Holton and Roper.
In 1975 the Cricket Club members refurnished and decorated the kitchen now quite large and convenient for serving teas in the main hall. In 1978 The old Brewery Club Building in Chapel Fields was given to the clubs and was re-erected at Fairfield as a Joint Social Club to provide social facilities and funds for the Football and Cricket Clubs. All the work was done by a joint band of willing workers whose names are shown on a plaque in the Clubhouse. Another unfortunate fire this time mainly in the roof of the Pavilion occurred in 1982 during Football training when all the electrics burnt out. With the help of The Athletic Club and Des Ball in particular, changing facilities were provided and The Social Club kitchen and hall were utilised for Teas, and another traumatic season was overcome. The Pavilion was again repaired this time under the insurance cover and the only loss to the Cricket Club was a practice mat and that too was replaced by insurance. Luckily the Cricket Club had purchased a shed with help from The Lords Taverners and all equipment had been stored safely away. One other item of equipment not previously mentioned were sight screens a great asset with a dark background. An iron one was constructed at Igranic of Bedford by Mr. Jack Turnbull and including transport from Bedford cost only £10. The cost today would probably be prohibitive. Neville Hoole made the second magnificent one and both are in full use, despite the winds efforts destroy them especially the iron one, which has twice been lifted almost over the fences,
During 1944 a full Parade of Home Guard was held at Fairfield to be inspected by the Queen. So intent was Frank Rogers in the preservation of the wicket that he tried to get the Parade cancelled as a Cricket Match had been arranged and the Club had not been notified! Now everyone plus horses, cars and motor-cycles use it as a short cut and dog owners have turned it into a dogs lavatory, despite official signs to say No Dogs Allowed! 27 items in 1¼ hours is the highest count to date. Nothing is more unpleasant than to be enjoying a game of Cricket, as a member of a London side was, and then find your pullover is covered in excrement. Let us hope with the return to the Pavilion, and with a sound financial position, plus several good youngsters who are improving all the time, the club will have an upturn in its fortunes on the field as occurred after the last disastrous 1948 fire. To paraphrase, “Tis better to have played and lost, than never to have played at all”. Let’s hope The Club doesn’t cancel a fixture because losing would reduce its points average.
Could Mr. A.H. Wood (Jimmy) write as he did after a game at Henlow. “A topping sporting game throughout”. Not in Australia certainly and I see Mr. Geoff Millman has expressed the same fears as the game becomes more competitive. “Go in and compete for the ball” really means “clobber” anyone prepared to attempt to play Football. How things turn full circle. I can remember sending Geoff Reeks a list of Club Secretaries, as Ickwell had decided to forsake the league for the pleasures of friendly games. As some of the attached scores show, friendly Cricket could be and was, ‘competitive (small c) and close without rancour. Points and Plaques seem to have replaced Playing for Pleasure. It has been suggested that an electronic Duck be added to the scoreboard but the poor old chap would be on his knees by Mid-season. As the one seen walking back from The Anchor to Eaton Socon after appearing on the visitors scoreboard only must be by now.
A cricket season is not very long and a cricketer’s span soon ends, so make the most of every moment and above all enjoy the game for its own sake and not for rewards. How we did enjoy the tours of the lovely Sussex countryside with Geoff Millman and his Casuals with “Twiggy” C. Bavington, Geoff Payne etc.
I see the east Beds Shield is being criticized for not providing medals. Four sets would make a large hole in the collections that is after all for charity and the only object of the competition when originally formed.
I have made some minor alterations to the original draft.
Ken Page 23rd June 2005