Sidmouth Cricket Club - from humble origins to the powerhouse it is today.

The Fort that once stood on the site that, these days, is thre Fortfield home of Sidmouth Cricket Cl

The Fort that once stood on the site that, these days, is thre Fortfield home of Sidmouth Cricket Club. Picture: SIDMOUTH CC - Credit: Archant

Looking at the origins of Sidmouth Cricket Club

A map showing the Fort Field in 1827. Fortfield is the home of Sidmouth Cricket Club to this very da

A map showing the Fort Field in 1827. Fortfield is the home of Sidmouth Cricket Club to this very day. Picture: SIDMOUTH CC - Credit: Archant

Here we bring you part one of what is to be a three-part history of Sidmouth Cricket Club. Part one takes us from the humble beginnings of cricket to 1836 and our thanks to go to the chair of Sidmouth Cricket and Croquet Club, Neil Gamble for putting this together.

Sidmouth CC was founded in 1823 and is one of the oldest cricket clubs in the South West of England.

The precise origins of the sport are unclear, but there is good evidence that a game similar to that of today was being played at a free school in Guildford in 1598.

The origin of cricket bats. Picture; ARCHANT ARCHIVES

The origin of cricket bats. Picture; ARCHANT ARCHIVES - Credit: Archant

The main geographical areas of cricket activity, initially, were the weald of Kent, the downlands of Sussex and Surrey.

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The oldest continuously operating cricket club is Mitcham CC founded in 1685 in the Surrey countryside.

As the game evolved in the 18th century, the length of a poorly prepared pitch was 22 yards, the wickets were two vertical sticks and a bail, and the outfield was usually very rough, rarely with proper boundaries.

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Runs scored were recorded by the umpires as notches carved on sticks. The ball was propelled underarm at speed along the ground, and the curved bats with their thickness at the toe were made to take advantage ‘skidders and shooters’.

By the middle of the 18th century, cricket had become a spectator sport played by all classes and promoted by the aristocracy. One of its patrons was the Prince of Wales, eldest son of King George II.

Cricket became a sport of gambling, with wealthy patrons hiring the services of skilful cricketers to play in their teams against rival XIs with substantial bets being placed on the outcome.

The Hambledon club from Broadha’penny Down in Hampshire became the centre of cricket from the 1740s to the 1770s staging matches between the best teams in England. Crowds of 15,000-20,000 were not unusual.

As the game evolved laws began to be introduced determining changes in the height, number and width of wickets and bails to be used.

Round arm, as well as underarm bowling, was accepted, the latter having become more sophisticated over time with balls being tossed up and spun to deceive batsmen.

From the 1770s onwards the White Conduit Club, comprising mainly members from the London social elite, began to make its mark and eventually after three moves, the second was to Marylebone, took up permanent residence in St John’s where one of its former employees, Thomas Lord developed a new ground in 1812.

The Marylebone Cricket Club slowly took over the mantle from Hambledon of being the centre of cricket in England.

It fielded powerful sides against various representative teams and came to take responsibility as law maker of the game, but became rather diffident in its enforcement role.

While all of this was happening the game spread to different parts of the country with the formation of county as well as local clubs.

In 1823 the MCC decided that each of three wickets should be 27 inches high and eight inches wide with bails, and bat size was restricted to a maximum width of four-and-a-quarter inches.

Round arm bowling was made legal in 1828 and over-arm bowling became the norm in 1868.

The Fort Field took its name from a small fort at its southern edge.

There had been a potential threat to the South Coast for centuries, both from pirates and from other nations.

In 1628, the main aggressors being the Dutch and French, the Privy Council recommended that a fort be constructed at Sidmouth.

In 1794 the Fort contained five pieces of ordnance, a small armoury and a flagstaff. It fell into disrepair after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and so Sidmouth CC rented the Fort Field in 1823, including the Middle Field which previously had been farmed in narrow strips at right angles to the sea shore.

Sidmouth CC, like so many small town clubs, began as socially-based organisation.

It played its games all-day on Tuesdays with dinner between innings which attracted the business and professional, personnel but ruled out many working men unable to take time off to play.

The club also drew on public school and university alumni and military officers who knew the game well. Early evidence suggests that games were played under old rules – the use of two wickets and one bail only, scoring by notches on a stick, under-am “pea-rolling” bowling etc, and with an outfield without boundaries but with pathways running across the ground

The club found it difficult to extend its fixture list for a number of years and played some internal matches alongside games against existing clubs such as Exeter, Teignbridge and North Devon.

The most important figure in the early years of its development was Captain Clark, sometimes referred to as the ‘Field Marshal’.

Military service took him away periodically and when he was absent the club prospered less well. However, it was praised for its early efforts by Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, which noted on August 14, 1824: “We are glad to find this manly game is increasing in the County of Devon, and we hope to see it become more general because it combines all the requisites of a healthy sport, and is not unbecoming even to persons of exalted rank, by whom it is practised in the upper counties.”

Home and away games were arranged against Exeter CC in 1824. The former was played at the Racecourse, Salcombe Regis in July when in a two innings a side game Sidmouth won narrowly by eight notches.

In September the return fixture was at Quick’s Fields (Haven Banks). Sidmouth again won narrowly, but in highly controversial circumstances when an Exeter batsman was given out caught off his arm.

Exeter referred the matter to the MCC which refused to adjudicate. The bad feeling resulted in the two sides not playing again for over 20 years.

The club extended its facilities after a few years and built a pavilion primarily so that socialising could take place.

It was noted that: “During the interval of the game, the gentlemen dined together in the cricket house, a comfortable and convenient building erected in the field by the members in 1827.

“When the game was over there were promenades in the cricket house.” (Theodore H Mogridge: A Descriptive Sketch of Sidmouth, J Harvey 1836).

This first part of the SCC hiostory is in pront in this weeks edition of the Sidmouth Herald (April 17). Part II of the history of Sidmouth Cricket Club will appear in the Sidmouth Herald on April 24.

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