Sidmouth CC history continued - from Test captains playing at the Fortfield to Bess brothers playing in the same Devon XI

Sidmouth Cricket Club at The Fortfield

Sidmouth Cricket Club at The Fortfield - Credit: Archant

Throughout the 1920s, Sidmouth cricket Club prospered, and more touring team fixtures were added to the fixture list.

The Sidmouth team of 1936. Picture: SCC

The Sidmouth team of 1936. Picture: SCC - Credit: Archant

FR Brown, who captained England in Australia in 1950-1, and was first selected for his country in 1931, began playing with distinction for Sidmouth in 1929.

Over time, in addition to Brown a series of Test captains have played at the Fortfield – JC White (England), CW Taylor (S Africa), FCM Alexander (W Indies), TC Lowry(New Zealand) and IVA Richards (W Indies).

The sun again shone kindly on Sidmouth in 1930s and the 1st X1 remained powerful with several long serving County players still representing the club.

In 1936, Col Balfour, president of the Sidmouth CC and owner of the Knowle estate, agreed to sell the Fortfield.

The Bess brothers who all played in the same Devon team

The Bess brothers who all played in the same Devon team - Credit: Archant

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A Trust was set up and around 300 people each subscribed a minimum of £5 to help purchase the freehold.

At the same time the Town Council bought the frontages of the cricket field above the present shelters for £3,000. In 1937 it was possible to add a second storey to the pavilion. Overall membership rose and the club also benefited from the merger with Sid Vale CC. An up and coming player, Frank Irish, showed his promise in the late 1930s and was to become Sidmouth’s star batsman over the next twenty years.

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Some cricket took place on the Fortified during the war, and Canadian troops also played baseball. By 1947 cricket had really taken off again, scorecards were produced every day and more touring clubs applied for mid-week fixtures.

A growing number of cricketers applied to play for Sidmouth in such games often taking up to two weeks of their holidays in the town.

The availability of many retired personnel to help run the club was vital and the likes of FC Hopwood, A Skinner, E Mann, J Pepperall, DLH Mercer, Mary Grenside, John

and Dorothy Page, Charles and Kay Hockin and Cyril Williams ensured that seven day a week cricket was very well organised.

Frank Irish scored 14 centuries for the club in his career, his best years being 1948, 1949 and 1952 when he averaged 80 in each season.

He was a Devon regular and played for the Minor Counties against India. In 1950, he had a summer with Somerset and although he did well in the first half of the year, he was disappointed with his overall performance and turned down a contract for 1951.

Sidmouth continued to attract very good players to the club and some excellent “holiday cricketers” came in July and August including from 1948 onwards, JMA Marshall, a superb all-rounder from Warwickshire. In the early 1950s in an innings defeat of S Oxfordshire Amateurs Marshall took 19 wickets for 89 runs between lunch and close of play. CT Wilkinson, a former captain of Surrey in the 1920s, who had a fifty-year connection with Sidmouth, continued to play impressively at the Fortfield into old age, and in August 1952, aged 68, he scored 53 and took 10-27 against the Nondescripts!

From the 1950s to the late 1980s local man, Johnny Palmer achieved a record 2,000-plus victims, including 100 wickets in a season on no fewer than five occasions!

He subsequently dedicated much of his time to the club - doing extensive annual repair work to the pavilion and making improvements around the Fortfield.

He was the ultimate clubman. His career ran parallel with that of Lloyd Baker the club’s most prolific run-scorer with over 28,000 runs, 28 hundreds and a thousand runs in 12 consecutive seasons.

Sidmouth CC, not unlike many other male chauvinist sporting organisations, had a pavilion sign by the members enclosure which stated, “No dogs, No women, No children.” However, this did not apply to two very senior ladies one of whom was in charge of the catering. Times did eventually change, the sign was removed in the late 1970s and ladies and children were eventually allowed into the hallowed areas of the pavilion.

From the 1970s onwards, other good cricketers made the team formidable including several ex-Somerset players including all-rounder John Harris, spinner Peter Eele. and local off break bowler, Alan Wardrop., Stylish. batsman Terry Wood who also played for the County was also successful and the side was captained by Gordon Penman.

The Devon League was formed in 1972, but Sidmouth were reluctant to join. However, it was soon realised that fixtures could not be achieved from elsewhere and the SCC signed up in 1974.

The club struggled to win trophies for over a decade, but eventually, in 1988, under the captaincy of Oxfordshire batsman Tim Lester, strengthened by Exeter University players, South African wicketkeeper/batsman, Steven Palframan, and with batting stalwarts Roger Smith bowling stars Steve Palfrey, Graham Bess and John Rhodes the League was finally won.

At about this time, Len and Pam Sage as dedicated committee personnel, set up the Friends of the Fortfield to socialise and to raise money for the club.

Over more than 30 years they have raised over £140,000! The 1988 side broke up quickly losing Tim Lester, Roger Smith, John Rhodes and Drummond Johnson, and so much rebuilding was needed if the club were too become competitive again. In 1995, however, while in the A division of the League, the team captained by batting stalwart, Anthony Griffiths, including Dave Carnall, Saj Patidar and John Goodwin, carried off the Tetley Bitter Cup for southwest sides at Gloucestershire’s ground, against the odds.

From the late 1990s until 2000 the club won little silverware and fluctuated between the Premier and A Divisions.

1n 1997 Tennyson Roach, a Barbadian professional, performed well and took all 10 Bideford wickets in an overwhelming win which helped Sidmouth to promotion from the A Division. But over the next several years the team improved steadily.

The return of excellent Australian professional, Neil Hancock, the maturing of Josh Bess as one of the best all-rounders in the League, the dependability of Anthony Grifffiths and Matt Cooke at the top of the order, the accuracy of Scott Barlow and the shrewd captaincy of key bowler, Will Murray, provided the driving force for a League winning side in 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In 2018 the League was secured again under the captaincy of Luke Bess. The Devon Cup was won in 2000 and 2002 and also in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In more recent years the explosive batting of Liam Lewis often in partnership with Josh Bess and the emerging talents of Zak Bess and Luke Bess and Charlie Miles have made the team even more powerful. In June 2017, the three Bess brothers played for Devon against Dorset - the first time since 1879 when the legendary Thornton brothers were also selected for the County together.

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