Reflections on Village Cricket 1925-1935, in the village of Barford where introduction to this great game was made
by Francis Bacon
My thoughts on village cricket are deliberately restricted to the decade from 1925-1935, the explanation being that, as a boy in 1925, I had already begun to take an active part in our village cricket, and that in 1936 the cricketing outlook tended to change, as thought was being given to improved facilities and fixtures being obtained with Clubs of a somewhat different nature in which to play our matches. However from 1925 to 1935 the village cricket continued on an unchanged course, and from the knowledge gleaned from my father, did not vary a great deal in the years prior to 1925.
On looking back on those years one is struck very much with the camaradie that existed, not only among our own players, but also with the members of the local village teams, whom we continued to meet year after year, and indeed whom we looked forward to seeing each subsequent season; opponents on the field of play, but real friends after the cessation of the game.
A second feature was that everything necessary for the game to continue was accomplished on a voluntary basis - preparing the pitch, organising each match, and giving attention to all the incidental matters that arose. The financial situation, which was always parlous, was met with an annual subscription, normally 2/6d (now 12.5p); this was augmented by the donations from the President and Vice-Presidents of the Club, At that period there resided in the village "The Gentry", occupiers of the large houses. Armed with the Subscription Book one visited their homes, and presented the Book for an annual subscription; this request was never refused, and sums generally in the region of £1.00 were given; the President and Vice-President responded generously to our request - it has to be remembered that there were other organisations in the Village also asking for financial help. If the Club had not been in receipt of this form of income it would have been very difficult to have remained solvent.
The other remaining source of income was provided by the holding of the annual Whist Drive and Dance but alas this was not always of a successful nature, and I can clearly recall that one year we only managed a meaningless profit of 9d. Fortunately expenditure was not excessive. From time to time a new bat would have to be acquired and this purchase would be a heavy blow to that particular year's finances.
Our means of travel to the away games was in two ways, by bicycle or by hiring a van, the property of the village Haulier; alas this was of low horse power, and when proceeding up such inclines as the West Street in Warwick it was quite a regular occurrence for some of the members to disembark, thus relieving the weight, and not only that to give a welcome push to enable the van to reach the summit of the hill, and it would then proceed on a somewhat spluttering manner to reach our destination.
Now as to the game itself. Although to gain a place in the team was considered a personal achievement, and we thought that life was taking on a heavenly look, I should imagine that our Cricket was hardly of a classical nature, as doubt contributed to by the pitches on which we played. Most of the scoring was made toward the "on" side, and glorious "Hammond cover drives", or masterly cutting were seldom indulged in; we played, however, with a keen eye and shots to the "on" were executed with precision.
It seems so unreal now, but to achieve a total of 60 or over was to be in a winning position, for an individual to enjoy an innings of double figures was an achievement - for the player concerned an afternoon of sheer delight, would make the whole week a memorable one, to enjoy bliss until the following Saturday.
Recalling individual games, how many there were containing such excitement, but one will always be in my thoughts until the day when "The One Great Scorer" comes. One Saturday we visited Hatton, batting first we made the "handsome" score of just 21, our "star" batsman was run out having not received one ball, we had a natural "hitter" who scored 11 in one over; I proceeded to the crease, the last man, making my debut and scoring 2 not out .... Our opponents commenced their innings. Their first wicket fell at 13, our prospects looked grim but we did not give up. 13 for 1, became 18 for 9 wickets, victory was in sight! The last pair added 2, then one player made a hit of such a height that one run was actually completed, but then the ball came to rest in a fielder's hands. The most unlikely result had been achieved.
Whatever the game's result, shortly after the opening time of 6.00 pm, both teams congregated together in the "local". After a friendly chat on the day's event, the piano was forthcoming, and a musical evening developed. A number of the players had their own particular song which they always rendered. I can recall them now: our Scorer who had retired to Barford from London, where he had been a Policeman on the Thames gave us "Poor Old Tom Bowling" that haunting sea refrain; my father, an accomplished singer, (he kept a complete drawer of musical programmes, which included the score of The Messiah - how silent at home we had to be when the Messiah was broadcast) would render such songs as "We All Come Up from Somerset" and "On The Road to Mandalay"; my own efforts were in a sentimental vein - "Drink to Me Only" and "An English Rose". This musical evening would continue until it was time to return to our native village; the afternoon's match and evening's musical provided such pleasure - how we looked forward to Saturdays! In the frugal days of that decade this day of the week was a pinnacle to be reached.
What of the teams we played and the personalities of that age? The matches were arranged with village teams in close proximity to Barford, namely, Ashorne, Moreton Morrell, Hatton, Norton Lindsey, Leek Wootton, Kenilworth, and two teams in Warwick, then known as Warwick St. Nicholas and Warwick St. Pauls, presumably named after two of the town's churches; to travel further afield would have been too much of a strain on our slender financial resources. Many personalities can be brought to mind; Ashorne was always thought of as the local "Derby", it would take literally a deluge for this fixture to be called off! O many an occasion have we continued in pouring rain fielding in pools of water so that the chance of scoring over Ashorne should not be lost.
There was no Pavilion so we sheltered under what ever protection could be gained from a clump of towering trees. Often tea would be interrupted by a shower, but no hazards of climate would be allowed to interfere in our game, if at all possible. Ashorne had in its ranks one of the most complete cricketers - Harold-, a most uncanny accurate medium bowler, such a splendid hitter of the ball, Linked with a sound defence, and his throwing was phenomenal; looking back to the age in which Harold played I often think that with the greatly developed facilities now existing he would surely have graced the ranks of County players. Hatton possessed in Harry an off-spin bowler of considerable accuracy; we always thought the pitch was prepared where a strip of moss laid, in which Harry could consistently pitch the ball to give opposing batsmen moments of concern. Warwick St Paul's could field a team of almost one family and close relatives - the Tandy family. They were all splendid sportsmen and the father, at one time an active player, was a past Mayor of Warwick.
Now of our own members, writers on village cricket tend to romanticise a little. The Squire, the Parson and the Blacksmith, the latter portrayed as a demon fast bowler, duly equipped with braces. These picturesque descriptions are not always quite relevant. However, we did have the Squire, one of the noblest of men one could wish to meet; his family provided the Club Pavilion, a wooden structure beautifully designed, that would rank high in artistic merit. The Squire served in the Guards during the First World War and every year he invited his old comrades, with their wives to Barford, providing the most handsome refreshments, which naturally included a Beer Marquee, which ran quite dry toward the end of the boisterous evening; an annual cricket match was arranged between the Squire's team and the Old Comrades; it hardly mattered who the victors were, honours were evenly divided, but it was truly a magnificent day for the Ex-Guardsmen, the highlight of their Association's year.
The squire's estate had a garden adjacent to the cricket ground cricket ground which had a greenhouse. The Squire had on offer the sum of 10/- (now 50p) to any player who could despatch a ball onto the greenhouse. This required a gigantic hit to square leg, and only on one occasion did I witness it accomplished. Charlie had the one stroke, a mighty hit on the on-side. This particular day the timing was exact. High in the air flew the ball to land with an almighty crash on the greenhouse, the glass flying in all directions. Charlie was an "old contemptible" whose rapid rifle firing caused astonishment to the Germans in the first World War.
We had in our team Bob, who was in all probability the most adept of all village cricketers; his stroke play was, not like the majority confined to the leg side, shots to the off were deftly executed; a medium fast bowler, who frequently "thought" his opponents out, Bob was the automatic Captain of the Club, cricket was very much in the family blood, and he would be so proud today to know that his grandson was wearing the England Blazer,
There were other players with various quirks - Frank - he was no-balled once and thereafter bowled a full yard from the Crease. Fred - we all knew when he had done well, a double figure innings, a wicket or two - then he would keep his white cricketing attire on all the evening - Ah the Village knew Fred had been successful. A low score or failure with the ball, Fred was not in view.
Harry, not only the most tremendous hitter of the ball in the whole of the village cricket circles, also a very clever spin bowler, but alas, if we fielded last, we lost Harry after a time. "Sorry" he would say, "I have to go now to carry out the evening paper round" - a supplement to his low income. Our village Vicar was close to retirement years, but took a keen interest in the Club; he was a Greek Scholar, a distinction held by few.
In the Pavilion there hung a photograph of the 1914 Cricket Team. One item is self-evident, only a minority wore Whites - their social position was such that the acquisition of cricketing attire would be beyond their means. There is a note of sadness in this photograph. Many of the younger men were in their last season, their cricketing days numbered. Within a year or two they would be among the "lost generation" of the First World War. On the Barford War Memorial are the names of these young cricketers, their lives alas so short. One Sunday evening while attending Barford Church, the Vicar based his sermon on the following quotation:
"And when the last Great Scorer comes
To write against your name
He will write not that you won or lost
But how you played the Game"
This quotation from the works of an American writer, Grantland Rice I read on a Gravestone in the Church Yard in Eyam, North Derbyshire, a tribute to a player whose career was with Derbyshire, but not one of the well known names in County Cricket circles; looking back at the era of Village Cricket I have written about, I feel so sure that all our cricketers who never got beyond our grade would merit such a tribute. We would hardly have had this in our mind at the time, but the conception of what should and what should not be done on the field of cricket was of the highest order.
It will be observed that the story of village cricket for a period of 10 years is one of great enjoyment gained from what would be thought now to be rather a simple mode of life, but this description is how we played and put every endeavour in to making Saturday afternoon cricket in our villages an age to recall with such pleasure. In the current era, the cricket played in the Warwickshire villages bears no resemblance to ours, being on a far grander scale with the pavilions well equipped and the pitches and outfields on a much superior scale. If as a team we exceeded a score of 60, one reads now of players scoring a century during the afternoon's play. Players come from far and wide to play for a team bearing a village name, whereas we all resided in our respective villages. I have no doubt that the present players enjoy and uphold the game's glorious traditions, as we did all those years ago, a period of cricket history now departed, and cannot by the very nature of progress recur again.
Now and again I visit Barford Churchyard, where so many our cricketers now rest, quietly walking around remembering them so well and their contribution to the game. One can pause and call to mind the opening line in one of the verses in Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard":
"Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast ….."
And at that stage I will leave our village cricketers.
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