Sawbridgeworth Cricket Club
As with many old town or village cricket teams, it is hard to establish exactly when the modern cricket club was founded as cricket within the town has slowly evolved and developed over hundreds of years. Although there was a Sawbridgeworth side for many years before, the foundation date of the Sawbridgeworth Cricket Club is set at 1862 as this was the first year that a proper club was set up. The modern club has derived from this 1862 club.
Cricket originated in south east England in the Middle Ages. It probably began as a children's game in the forest clearings of the Weald across Surrey, Sussex and Kent and it is thought that there was a stong Flemish influence, it being particularly played amongst immigrant Flemish weavers. The first definite reference to the game is from a poem by John Skelton in 1533. The game spread slowly, and by 1724 cricket had reached Essex when eleven gentlemen from Chingford took on Mr Edward Stead's eleven, and was first mentioned in Hertfordshire when a team called Essex & Hertfordshire played London Cricket Club at Epping Forest "for £50 a side" in 1732. Cricket was played just six miles west of Sawbridgeworth in 1737 when Stanstead Abbotts took on the Corporation of Hertford. It was first recorded in Harlow in 1774 and in Bishop's Stortford in 1806. Although no evidence has survived, it is reasonable to assume that cricket was being played in Sawbridgeworth in one form or another by the mid-eighteenth century, probably informal local games, as well as one-off matches against neighbouring villages. Cricket in those far-off days would seem almost unrecognisable to the modern game; the "bat" resembled a hockey stick until c.1745 as until then the ball was rolled rather than pitched to the batsman, after which bowling was underarm and then round-arm until 1864 when overarm bowling was legalised. The pitches were mere clearings or meadows, often on village greens.
The earliest surviving reference to organised cricket in Sawbridgeworth is from 1823, when the town side played two games against Saffron Walden. The first game was played on Wednesday 2nd July 1823 at Walden Common, Saffron Walden, and Sawbridgeworth lost the two-innings game by 23 runs; T. Pratt top-scored with 22 runs, and Challis took four stumpings. Some of the names on show, such as Silcock and Pratt, were to be associated with Sawbridgeworth cricket for many years to come. The return match, on July 8th 1823 was played at Pishiobury Park, near Sawbridgeworth, and again Walden were the narrow victors.
These are the scorecards for the first known Sawbridgeworth matches, played in 1823, as reported in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal.
Sawbridgeworth cricket continued in a sporadic fashion, and other known early games were against Bishop's Stortford (1836 and 1858), Hatfield Broad Oak (1843), Matching (1849), Ware (1849 and 1854), Puckeridge (1850) , Moor Hall (1851 and 1852) and Broxbourne (1859), with the home ground presumed to be Pishiobury Park. Several games were played against Moor Hall, a strong club at the time, based close to Harlow. The scorecards indicates how differently cricket was played in these early days: overs were comprised of four balls, bowling was roundarm or underarm lob and there were no boundaries: the batsman ran until the ball was retrieved, wherever this may be from. In the first Moor Hall game in 1851, one Moor Hall player got off the mark with a '9' and followed this up with an '8''! Players wore little protective clothing, fielding was sedate as it was unfashionable to dive around the field, and batsmen played within their crease, mainly for self-preservation, but also as moving aggressively down the wicket was considered unethical!
Cricket in the town was played in this rather piecemeal manner for many years until the Sawbridgeworth vicar, Reverend Arthur Drummond Wilkins, decided to form a new club. Sawbridgeworth Cricket Club was formed in 1862 by Rev. Arthur Wilkins, who was "desirous of encouraging manly exercises viamongst his Parishioners, which might also counteract inclinations towards idleness - public-house frequenting etc.". It was initially formed as Sawbridgeworth and High Wych Cricket Club, although the latter part of the name was quickly dropped. Rules were drawn up by a committee of clergymen and schoolmasters, and all was set in motion.
Great St Mary's Church and the local school provided the focus for the early Sawbridgeworth Cricket Club in 1862
The pitch for the first few weeks was granted by Edwin Hurst on "a field well situated between the Parish and the District." The first known match for the new club, as reported in the Herts and Essex Observer, was from a match played at Sawbridgeworth on Monday July 28th 1862 against "Eleven players of Bishop's Stortford." Sawbridgeworth won by 67 runs:
The probable first match for the new club, Monday 28th July 1862.
From August 1862 the club's home ground was at Rowney Mead, next to Rowney Farm, a pitch granted by Mr Beale B. Colvin, the owner of Pishiobury. Four matches are known to have been played in this watermark season, and all of them were won by Sawbridgeworth: two victories over "Eleven players of Bishop's Stortford" and two victories over Bishop's Stortford Cricket Club. As well as the success on the field, practice games were well attended, and Reverend Wilkins's expectations in the formation of the club were most satisfactorily realised. Subscriptions were 2/6d for clergymen per quarter, 1/-d for adult members and 3d for schoolboys. The club was initially created for the schools and choirs of Sawbridgeworth but it was proving so prosperous that on 29th September 1862 a meeting at the National School in Sawbridgeworth decided to admit other members. The club remained strong in 1863: five of the six games played were won, including victories over Bishop's Stortford, Farnham, Moor Hall and Harlow, and the two undoubted stars of the team were the Brace brothers, Shadrach and Thomas Brace, who scored runs and took wickets freely. The wicketkeeper, John W. Truswell, would in later years become the first known Club Captain. The season finale involved a "Married v. Single" game at the Rowney Mead home ground, followed by a lavish dinner and entertainment at the White Lion Inn.
Before the 1864 season the Rowney Mead pitch was levelled and re-turfed at considerable expense to enable a better standard of cricket, and a small club balance of £17s 6d was reported in February, after £12 had been expended on the ground. In the four years 1862-1865, 19 games are known to have been played against other clubs, with Sawbridgeworth winning 16 of these. There was however a double setback in 1864, which ultimately led to the club's demise. Firstly the club's founder, Rev. Arthur Wilkins, took up a new position as the vicar of Dewsbury, Yorkshire, in February. Then in September, Beale B. Colvin, the owner of Pishiobury and the Rowney Farm ground died. Eventually, in 1867 the club lost its ground, and with no home for the next ten years, could only play the occasional away fixtures, such as at Matching Green in 1874. Many Sawbridgeworth players were forced to play their regular cricket at other clubs: John W. Truswell, D. French and William A. Prout regularly played for High Wych, Matching Green or Moor Hall.
John W. Truswell: the first Club Secretary and first known Club Captain. Mr Truswell was a fine wicketkeeper/batsman and played at Sawbridgeworth from 1862-1892.
Sawbridgeworth cricket teethered on the brink in this fashion until it was revived in 1877 due to the kindness of a Mr Frederick G. Unwin, a solicitor who lived at Roselands (now called Sayesbury Manor), off Cock Street (now Bell Street) in providing a ground. This new ground was Town Fields, and the club has played there almost continuously ever since. Described as a "park-like meadow in front of Roselands" and "charmingly pictoresque", the ground provided the club with a renewed focus, and several fixtures were played in this year. The first reported match at Town Fields was a Sawbridgeworth Juniors game against Harlow Juniors, a game in which the "singularly unfortunate" home side was bowled out in its first innings for just 4 runs! (this set a record low at the new ground from which the only way was up!). It was also in 1877 that another team, the "Sawbridgeworth Clown and Comical Cricketers" played two games against Gilston. The Sawbridgeworth side was in "full costume" and perhaps this was the primary reason for Gilston achieving an easy victory.
The Town Fields cricket field in these early days was smaller than the modern pitch, at 3 acres, as a fence limited the far side of the ground towards what is now the tennis courts. The ground has long been used for other events as well as cricket, particularly in the early days; in 1879 a Polo match was played on the new cricket field, an event described as occuring in "weather which was extremely unpropitious" and with admiring spectators present in large numbers. It can only be conjected how much this Polo match affected the cricket wicket! In 1880, Frank Silcock, a prominent local cricketer of England and Essex fame, played for Sawbridgeworth, as did his cousin Joe Silcock, also of Essex. The club looked to be in trouble in 1883 when Frederick Unwin indicated that he could no longer allow cricket on his ground. However, possession of Roselands and Town Fields was quickly taken by Mr John Prout, who allowed cricket to continue at the old ground. Town Fields had apparently now fallen into a state of disrepair; it was described as "very difficult" in the Herts and Essex Observer, although bizarrely the pitch was not bad enough to stop a Mr C. Earle scoring the first recorded century for the club, 157 versus Monkhams in August.
At the end of the 1883 season the ground was entirely re-laid, at the liberality of John Prout, his son William A. Prout (Club Captain), the Rev. W. Hiley and a few others. In addition a new tent, mowing machine and playing materials were purchased. This put the club into significant debt, to the extent that the Amateur Dramatic Company put on a dramatic and musical show in December at the Fawbert and Barnard School, with proceeds devoted to reducing the club's debts. Sawbridgeworth was commonly referred to as "Sapsed" before the First World War, and the cricket team sometimes referred to as "The Sapsedians". By the end of 1883 a football section had been set up within the club, which in time would split away to form Sawbridgeworth Football Club.
The club had become fairly aristocratic in the mid-1880s: Sir Robert Peel (either the 3rd or 4th Baronet) played for the club in 1886, and Lord Burford, the Duke of St Albans, in 1887. The fixture list in 1889 included teams such as Hockerill, Harlow College, Bishop's Stortford High School and Parndon Hall. Two years later, the club played some games against the ladies of the town (the men playing left handed with curved sticks), which appears to have upset many club members - one irate member wrote to the local paper denouncing the players as "allowing their afternoons to be wasted by ridiculous matches with ladies" and that "the stride to off ... plus a little squeal ... do not add much to the grace of the "soft" sex."! Batting averages from the local paper show that in 1894 the major Sawbridgeworth players were W. Morris, E. Spells and an eighteen year old Harry Boatman. The club colours had been set as dark blue by this time.
At the end of 1894 John Prout died, and Roselands and Town Fields fell into new ownership. The new owners did not support cricket on the ground, and so Sawbridgeworth's home ground moved to Pishiobury Park, on the northern edge behind what is now East Park - the ground was "generously donated by F. W. Buxton Esq." Pishiobury Park was the home ground from 1895-1908. For the 1896 season the club became part of the Sawbridgeworth Recreation Club, and was renamed the "Sawbridgeworth Recreation Cricket Club", playing in colours of chocolate with amber piping for a year. The captain was the Rev. Hermann Coldwell with a future club legend, Harry Boatman, as vice captain. The donation of the ground was enough to persuade the club members to nominate Mr Buxton as their President! The "pavilion" at Pishiobury was a bell tent, and one of the early rules insisted, "no bad language be used and no intoxicating drink allowed".
An early picture taken at Pishiobury Park c. 1900
In 1897 the club reverted back to its dark blue colours and original name of Sawbridgeworth Cricket Club, still playing at the northern edge of Pishiobury Park. It was in 1897 that Harry Boatman commenced a run of eleven consecutive years as club captain. Since that era, the office of club captain has been held more widely, a statement more of the changes in the general environment in which the game is played, than a reflection upon the club and the game of cricket in particular. Sawbridgeworth won the West Essex District League Championship in 1900, playing against teams such as Elsenham, Harlow, Stansted and Takeley. Other clubs to show on fixture cards at this time were Epping, Hoddesdon, Hockerill and Burnt Mill.
In 1909 Stuart C. Grant took a lease on Hatters Croft (the renamed Roselands) and the adjacent Town Fields ground and he allowed cricket to resume on its old pitch that year up until the Great War. During the Great War the entire Town Fields ground was dug up, with the exception of the cricket square, to enable vegetables to be grown. After the war, it took a while for the club to get going again and Sawbridgeworth Joinery Works, which fielded two sides, was the only opportunity to play cricket in the town. Local benefactor Sir Arthur Cutforth bought Hatters Croft in 1921, and that year led a consortium which formed the Sports Association, with the aim of providing a ground and facilities for all the most popular sports in the town. The Sports Association consortium bought Town Fields and the adjacent field in 1922 and presented the new 6 acre ground to an alliance of cricket, tennis and bowls sports clubs. The new ground was not ready immediately so when in 1922 Sawbridgeworth Cricket Club was reborn the cricket members characteristically chose a temporary ground beside the Hand and Crown. The cricket club resumed residence at the expanded Town Fields ground in 1924, and has played there ever since.
Players gather in front of Sir Walter Lawrence's newly built clubhouse on Saturday May 3rd 1930. This match, against Matching Green, was one of Harry Boatman's last.
A few years later, the club received considerable help from Sir Walter Lawrence, an eminent businessman in the field of construction and house building (he owned the Sawbridgeworth Joinery Works) and who from 1934 presented the Lawrence Trophy for the fastest First Class hundred of the season, still awarded each year. Sir Walter was Club President throughout the 1930s. His son, Pat Lawrence, whilst Club Captain, donated the Captain's Cup in 1936, which is awarded annually to the player who has shown the most special distinction in the field of play.
Sir Walter's Lawrence's interest in the cricket club was of benefit in establishing the first pavilion here at Town Fields in 1930. His company built the pavilion (which is now part of the changing rooms) for the sum of £300; Sir Walter personally matching the funds actually raised by the club membership. It contained two rooms each 12 feet by 8 feet for the two teams to change in, plus a main room 20 feet by 12 feet to provide "teas and sustenance" for the players. Sir Walter had his own ground, at Hyde Hall, to which he invited many eminent invitation XIs to play against his own side.
In the years after the Second World War, although not lacking in hard work and enthusiasm, the club struggled with results on the field, losing most of the games played. All cricket was only played on Saturdays until after the Second World War, when a full Saturday and Sunday fixture list was provided. Things were developing off the field as well. The club had a new crest from 1951, when it took Sir Walter Lawrence's family crest of the orthodox cross and two panther heads, as its own. The facilities at the club were extended through the generosity of the Pyle family, who built the tea pavilion, which was opened in 1952. Their support was extended throughout the next years through both Phil and Pat Pyle, both of whom played for the club. Junior teams have been fielded sporadically since 1877, but in 1957 a new junior section was set up by Barry Bousfield and Stanley Mansfield, which helped provide the strong 1st XI of the 1960s. This tradition is carried on today by the Junior Chairman Andrew Meadmore and ably assisted by Chris Pask, Carl Waring, Chris Howard and many others.
The growth in importance of the motor car led to club members constructing a new car park in 1959 with a new access point from Springhall Road. Prior to 1964 players would drink in the King William IV pub after a game, but in this year the tea pavilion was altered to house a small bar so the profits went to the club. The 1960s saw some big fixture changes with the club moving away from playing Hockerill, Rickling Ramblers, Quendon Hall, Epping, Dunmow etc to a fixture list which was the same as that of Bishop's Stortford, who were the premier side in the area at that time. The fixture list included Southgate, Loughton, Buckhurst Hill, Ilford, Woodford Wells, Colchester and East Essex, Hertford, Berkhampsted, Bedford Town and Orsett. This was largely due to the increased strengths of the sides; the First Eleven boasted at least seven players who had Minor County or County Second XI experience. In 1965 came the first cricket week and in the following year Sawbridgeworth became the first club side in three years to beat the Essex Club and Ground team which included Keith Boyce, a future West Indian Test bowler.
The 1965 side during cricket week, in front of the old tea pavillion which had been built by Arthur Pyle.
From the mid-1960s to mid-1970s Sawbridgeworth had one of the strongest First Elevens in the county, and this attracted some big-name fixtures. In 1973 the club played Essex County Cricket Club for a Keith Fletcher benefit game, watched by almost 1,000 spectators. Then in September 1976 Town Fields hosted an Essex side again, complete with Keith Fletcher, John Lever and Graham Gooch. A reported total crowd of 1,500 watched the game, the highest ever attendance at Town Fields. In 1988 Sawbridgeworth played against Barry Hearn's "Matchroom Mob" at Town Fields, which included the top snooker players of the day including Steve "Interesting" Davis.
The club joined the Herts Competition in 1972. Over the next year Club Captain Tony Puncher gained support from a number of other leading clubs with the idea of forming a county league, as they were unhappy with the structure of the Herts Competition, which prompted the official Herts cricket administrators to create a formal county league in 1974. The club was therefore a founder member of the Herts League in 1974. Tony Puncher captained Sawbridgeworth for eight years (1965-1972), arguably during the period when the club underwent most transformation and had its strongest First eleven.
Over the years there have been many ground improvements at Town Fields. Showers and toilets were added to the changing rooms in 1972, a professional groundsman was employed from 1973, and artificial nets were first laid down in 1979. It was also in 1979 that through the generosity of Phil Pyle, a second cricket ground was laid at Crofters, the home of Sawbridgeworth Football Club. The Town Fields clubhouse was completely knocked down, rebuilt and extended to be opened for Cricket Week in 1987.
Sawbridgeworth won the 1st XI Herts League championship in 1984. The 1st XI came very close again in 1986, when Bishop's Stortford just beat them to the title in the last round of games. Bishop's Stortford's won their game when car headlights were alleged to be trained on the field of play to allow the game's completion. Sawbridgeworth also won their final game, and after the match drove over to Stortford to help their local rivals celebrate their league victory.
By the mid-1990s playing membership had declined slightly, but the club has since expanded quickly to become one of the biggest amateur clubs in southern England. In 2003, the club enjoyed its best-ever season on the field, The 1st XI recorded an unprecedented double, winning the Saracens Herts League Division One championship and the Becker Transport Cup while the 2nd XI also gained promotion after finishing third in Division Four. The 3rd XI finished in ninth position in Division Nine but only after extending their unbeaten league sequence to 28 matches, a club record. Since 2004 the club has played Premier League cricket in the Home Counties league.
Sawbo after winning the Becker Cup in 2003.
In recent years there have been further improvements to facilities: the former pavilion, which now serves as the changing rooms, was doubled in size and reopened by the Mayor of Sawbridgeworth in April 1992 and in early 1997 changes to the bowling green resulted in the removal of the slope in the outfield at the bottom of the ground. Most recently in 2006, the clubhouse was extended to create a new kitchen, and a second ground was unveiled at Leventhorpe School, at which players will change in the new sports centre there from 2011.
These ground developments have helped the club become one of the most picturesque grounds in the county and one of the more popular to visit. Development of the clubhouse has allowed the club to provide an extensive social programme that is a major support to the cricketing activities here; activities range throughout the winter and previously climaxed with a Mid-Summer ball for over 350 people, which was the major black tie event to be held in the locality. Sawbridgeworth is now one of the top cricket clubs in southern England, fielding five league sides on a Saturday and having almost 250 playing members.
Families and the continuity they provide have played a major role in the club's formation. Many fathers and sons have played for and served the club in a wide range of capacities. Various generations of Boatmans, Punchers, Pyles, Felsteads, Birchs, Leveys, Burrells and Marshalls have served the club with distinction in many diverse ways. No doubt, all of us associated with the club can recall with great pleasure and some nostalgia names of men we have played with and against on the cricket field at Sawbridgeworth.
Sawbridgeworth cricket has provided much pleasure and enjoyment, not only to its members but also to its visitors and opposition over the first 150+ years. A reputation for humour and treating those two impostors, success and failure with the same attitude helps reinforce the notion that cricket is only a game - but a very serious game. Come and help us enjoy it.
(c) Anthony Marshall