Sidmouth Cricket Club - the history from hard times in 1840 to 1940
PUBLISHED: 07:24 25 April 2020
Continuing our history of Sidmouth Cricket Club...
The club hit hard times in the 1840s and, although Captain Clark did what he could when he returned periodically from service, membership dropped, the cricket house fell into disrepair, and bills mounted up, writes Neil Gamble.
The club ceased to function for a short time, but revived in the early 1850s with new members, and a consolidation of the fixture list including regular games against Exmouth Torquay, Plymouth (Dock) Dawlish and Seaton. The rent on the Fort Field of £21 pa was paid by Sidmouth Improvements Committee, the forerunner of the Sid Vale Association and the return of Captain Clark one more time to help out. The pitch and ground were improved and a marquee was installed on the ground. Harvey’s Sidmouth Directory was able to report on August 5, 1853: “We are gratified to find the Sidmouth Cricket Club revived, under the most favourable auspices; and that nearly the whole of the Gentlemen of Sidmouth and its neighbourhood have become subscribing members. From the unequalled situation of the cricket field, we have no doubt of its proving highly attractive to the lovers of this manly sport. However, the cricket club had gone from strength to strength and is currently one of the top cricket clubs in Devon.”
In the 1860s, the club established itself further with the arrival of Mr RN Thornton, a London solicitor, aged 33, who bought the Knowle estate and determined to take the club to a new level.
He persuaded his London friends to come down to Sidmouth to play, laying the foundations for the regular visits of players and touring teams from elsewhere, and cricket weeks were introduced.
Sadly, only 10 years after his arrival, RN Thornton died, but he had set the future direction of the club with a regional and even a national perspective.
Three of his relations, AJ Thornton, RT Thornton and WA Thornton, like him alumni of Winchester College and Oxford, also encouraged friends and cricketing acquaintances to spend part of their summers in Sidmouth.
The gifted brothers played regularly for the club and Devon over the next 20 years with much distinction. One of the teams that came to Sidmouth for the first time in the early 1870s, the Nondescripts originally from Hampstead, continues to tour annually nearly 150 years later.
Another incomer who had a significant influence on the progress of the club at this time was RW Hine Haycock who purchased the house that subsequently became the Belmont Hotel.
He was a skilful administrator of the club and County and his brother, Rev TR Hine-Haycock, Wellington College and Oxford, was a fine cricketer for Sidmouth and Devon.
The tennis section was founded in 1881, with the building of an asphalt court.
The cricket fixture list changed over time so that in the first part of the season all games were played against local opposition or within the county, but in July and August fixtures against touring teams such as MCC, Incogniti, Emeriti, the Will O’the Wisps, the Butterflies, and the Nondescripts took place alongside games against long-standing local teams...
A splendid new thatched pavilion, the basis of the present structure was completed in 1879 and a bore hole was dug to service what had previously been an earth closet.
The influx of public school and university men in these two months every summer reduced the opportunities of local club members so in the 1880s Sid Vale CC was formed to enable more cricket to be played in the valley and to provide some locals with regular opportunities.
The team played at various venues - the Blackmore rugby field, on a pitch in Bickwell Valley, and very occasionally at the Fortfield.
The club was run by gentlemen primarily for the working-class cricketers of the town and a set of fixtures was gradually built up.
However, by the mid-1930s Sidmouth CC experienced difficulty running two teams at weekends and Sid Vale CC struggled to raise sides on occasions so a merge took place, to mutual advantage.
Devon CCC was founded in 1861 and the Fortfield was used regularly by the County over the next three decades until it folded in the early 1990s.
Also, in August 1875, after a match at Sidmouth between the Gentlemen of Devon and the Gentlemen of Somerset, the latter set up their own county organisation and Somerset CCC was born.
The 1890s were a decade of further consolidation and the further encouragement of teams to come down for a week or more to play at Sidmouth and other local seaside clubs.
The standard of cricket was good with several minor counties’ players and Oxbridge blues playing in various teams.
Local newspapers received scorecards and produced unofficial league tables. Sidmouth CC usually did well in the rankings.
The Golden Age of cricket nationally up to WWI, also saw halcyon days for Sidmouth CC.
Talented cricketing families such as the Russell, Leese and Marzotti brothers graced the Fortfield as did SB Brutto and his sibling, Rev EB Brutton, vicar of Aylesbeare, who also played rugby for England, and score 24 centuries for Sidmouth. Freddie Orchard went one better with 25 hundreds for the club.
In addition, FH Carroll was an excellent club and county batsman as was EA ‘Ted’ Futcher a highly dependable opening batsman.
The professional at this time was HC Tate, brother of Test bowler Maurice Tate, a very good all-rounder for club and County.
In 1902 and 1903 Arthur Conan Doyle played for the MCC against Sidmouth but without much distinction!
Devon CCC re-formed in 1901 and Sidmouth introduced croquet in 1907. Sidmouth staged its first Minor Counties cricket match in July 1914 against Monmouthshire who were defeated by an innings.
Carroll, the captain, scored 197 and Fulcher 51. Monmouth collapsed in their second innings with Exeter professional, Billy Light taking 5-11 and Sidmouth’s Maurice Fishwick 4-36.
It was to be one of Fishwick’s last matches as he soon went off to war and he was killed in action at Passchaendale in 1917.
After the war, Sidmouth had six players in the Devon team including Ernie Whitton an excellent player and subsequently outstanding club administrator.
In 1926 Fulcher and Whittton put on 107 for the first wicket in a meeting with the Surrey 2nd XI in a Minor Counties match.
On September 16 and 17, 1926 Sidmouth experienced two very special days.
W Cooke brought down an all-star team to play with their line-up including JB Hobbbs and F Woolley each of whom scored a century!
The sun shone, the crowd exceeded 2,000, and the match lived long in the memory.
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