Quest to safeguard Sidmouth’s iconic Fort Field

Cricket Club turstees delved back in time

A BID to safeguard one of the South West’s most iconic sports grounds for future generations saw its trustees look more than 70 years into the past.

A vital meeting at Sidmouth Cricket Club this month was the culmination of a nationwide quest that has links to Queen Victoria and a pair of Scandinavian princesses.

Heirs and relatives of the ‘great and good’ of the town – and many others – who helped establish a crucial trust deed at the Fort Field in 1935 gathered there on August 10.

Trustees had tracked down some of the 350 shareholders who contributed to the �5,000 purchase of the site more than seven decades ago.

They hoped the search would help them extend the famous seafront site’s use for sport – as its current permission was set to run out within the next 30 years.

However, hopes the Fort Field could be safeguarded for sport for another century were hit for six by the possibility of having to pay millions of pounds in capital gains tax.

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“We spent many months on this in order to protect the ground for future generations,” said club chairman Neil Gamble.

“We want to retain the Fort Field as a venue for sport forever.”

While sport has been played continuously at the Fort Field since 1823, the ground was privately owned until 1935 when Colonel Balfour, a major local landowner, encouraged its purchase from his family.

A trust came into existence and, through public subscription, the great and the good of the town, and other national and local worthies, purchased shares.

A ground trust came into operation, and trustees pledged that the Fort Field was to be preserved for the playing of cricket, lawn tennis, croquet and archery. Hockey was later added to the list.

The original trust deed was due to run out 21 years after the death of Edward VII’s last surviving direct relative, as of December 1935 – either the present Queen, Duke of Kent, or a Swedish or Norwegian princess.

Twelve subscribers, plus the supporting proxy votes of six others, agreed to variations in the 1935 trust deed when they met on August 10.

“The terms of the length of the trust were changed from 21 years after the death of the last surviving direct relative of Edward VII to descendants of Queen Victoria,” Mr Gamble told the Herald.

“If you spread the net from five descendants of Edward VII to 26 of Queen Victoria, then there is more chance of one of those living at least another 20 years.

“We wanted to extend the Fort Field’s use for sport by 120 years, but that would have meant a totally new trust deed which could have resulted in a requirement to pay capital gains tax on the change in the value of the ground, from its purchase price of �5,000 to its present value.

“That could have been millions, we simply don’t know, and we didn’t want to take the risk.

“The Queen Victoria option gives the trust a possible life of more than 40 years.”

Of the dozen subscribers who met on August 10 were representatives from the Croquet Association and the Nondescript Cricket Club, which has visited the Fort Field on tour since 1880, as well as the Sidmouth Club.

Sheelagh Michelmore, whose husband was an original subscriber in 1935, attended, as did Mike and Derek Ford and David Burgoyne, representing their respective families, Sue Bartlett representing Culverwell and Sons, and Garland Pickard, the grandson of a subscriber.

Members of the Cave and Fitzgerald families were among those with proxy votes – as was Jennifer Coates, from the family of the late Ernest Whitton, and representatives of local firms AJ Mountstephen and RW and J Skinner.

“We’ve also put more power in the hands of the trustees, and less in the hands of the subscribers,” added Mr Gamble.

“Trustees are there to preserve the ground to play sport on.”