"The Chronicles of a Country Parish" - A village appraisal of Sulgrave published in 1995

(Back to Chapter 3 Index)

There is really no written material on the history of Sulgrave Cricket Club. A score book from the early 1950s survives, as does the odd team photograph in prsonal collections. Evidence, whether first-hand or second-hand, is therefore almost entirely anecdotal.

Exactly when cricket was first played in the village is not possible to say, but it certainly was some years prior to the 1914-18 war. One elderly resident, Lewis Wootton, now in his ninety-fifth year, remembers both his father, Leonard, and a Doctor Johnson, the village doctor, playing when he was a boy. Indeed Dr Johnson's keenness for the game was such that he had a practice net in his garden at The Corner House and paid village boys to bowl to him! Incidentally, after military service in the 1914-18 war, Dr Johnson moved on to Culworth, and continued both his medical and cricket careers there.

There is evidence that early cricket was played in Jakeman's Field, The Green and Madam's Close. Certainly soon after the 1914-18 war - perhaps with Sulgrave's participation in the South Northants League, the 2nd XI played only friendlies. So, in that period, there must have been matches in the village on most Saturdays during the season.

During that era, the wicket in Madam's Close was end-on to Little Street and Manor Road. More than one person remembers the exploits of big-hitters, such as Charlie Vickers and Captain Franks, blasting the ball into Mrs Bird's conservatory at Sulgrave House (as it now is) and The Star, with great regularity. It appears that, in particular, breaking the glass in Mrs Bird's conservatory was a challenge that some could not resist even if it did not produce the most orthodox strokes, but there are no recollections of who had to pay for the damage done!

Sulgrave Cricket XI - 1930

Sulgrave contined to play at Madam's Close until the mid-1930s when there was, by all accounts, a tremendous row over some cricket issue between Fred Starkey Carter, the chairman of the Club (and curator of the Manor) and Captain Franks, who had not long arrived in the village and who claimed, according to local oral tradition, to have played for Sussex County Cricket Club. The exact cause remains unknown, but several people still resident in the village rmember them both as strong, determined characters. Whatever the cause, the upshot was that Mr Carter planted two trees in the middle of the wicket, and, consequently, the Cricket Club had to find a new home. That was Browns Dairy Grounds, just below the water mill, which was the Club's home in the years immediately before and after the 1939-45 war. Play was abandoned for the duration of the hostilities.

It appears that another result of the row between Mr Carter and Captain Franks was the defection of the three Carter sons from Sulgrave to Thorpe Mandeville, and also of Frank Middleton, who worked at the Manor, and of Fred Golby. Whether this also had something to do with the former Sulgrave players, Captain Faulkner and Jack "Juno" Wilcox, being members of the Thorpe Cricket Club, is a matter for conjecture. The story goes that, after Captain Franks left the village, most, if not all, of the defectors returned to play for Sulgrave.

Play was resumed at Madam's Close shortly after the 1939-45 war, but with the wicket then parallel to Little Street and Manor Road, with Mr Carter's by now well-established two trees (still to be seen today) close to the pitch. Another complication for the fielding side, if not the batsmen, was the odd pedestrian using the public footpath which crosses Madam's Close. It is thought that matches continued to be played there until Suglrave ceased to participate in the South Northants League. Their last competitive season was 1954.

When Sulgrave played at both Madam's Close and Brown's Dairy Grounds, tea would be taken at the Manor House Tea Rooms. That establishment was run, at one stage, by Lorna's Cafe of High Street, Banbury, under the watchful eye of a Mrs Bond. It was then taken over by Captain Franks. Could the row between him and Mr Carter have arisen from some Cricket Club catering dispute, one is bound to wonder? As a footnote, it may be added that, when Captain Franks left the village, the tea rooms closed down, and the Six Bells became the provider of Cricket Club teas.

Unfortunately, Sulgrave Cricket Club never won the South Northants League, but did have their glimpses of glory, for they were runners-up on two occasions. Although it is not absolutely certain, the balance of evidence indicates that the first occasion was in 1926k when the opponents were Brackley. (It might just possibly have been in 1928, because the records show that Brakley won the final in that year too). Those who were around at the time remember very clearly that the final was played at Thenford Hall in August, and that Sulgrave batted first and totalled 59 runs. Victory for Sulgrave looked decidedly possible when Brackley were reduced to 25 for 5. Then Lady Luck smiled on Brackley. Two vital catches were dropped by Sulgrave, and Brackley, by dint of application without heroics, ran out the winners.

Sulgrave Cricket XI - 1925/6

Alf Kimnell, then a lad of 15, remembers the match well, as, indeed, do other old-timers. having completed harvesting for the day at 4 o'clock, he cycled as fast as he could to Thenford, to witness the latter part of the match and only to be sadly disappointed by the result. But, he was to play in the second final.

This was against Boddington at Wardington. While local memories are not agreed on the year, John Blower's book on the South Northants League, published to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee in 1980, records that Boddington won the final once only, in 1930. This turned out to be a two-innings match, which Sulgrave lost by a handful of runs.

What other highlights have there been in the history of Sulgrave Cricket Club?

In the 1930s, Sulgrave entertained a Northamptonshire County Cricket Club XI, which included two or three County players. Apparently, the intiative in organising this was taken by Captain Franks, through his friendship with J.W.C.Jupp, which perhaps stemmed from the former's connections with Sussex CCC. There are differing recollections of the outcome of this match. One version has it that Sulgrave batted first and made just under 200 runs. Tea was then taken, and, during the break, so much rain was deposited on the wicket, that play had to be abandoned. Another is that Sulgrave lost by no more than half a dozen runs. Whatever the result, it must have been on of the highlights of that particular season.

As far as can be ascertained, there were, sadly, no finals or other particular highlights for the Cricket Club after the 1939-45 war. It competed in the South Northants League up to and including 1954. Thereafter, a few friendly matches appear to have been played, in which Ken Swallow, then serving with RAF Greatworth, and later to play for Derbyshire CCC, appeared occasionally for Sulgrave. Thereafter, cricket petered out completely. Other memories of the post 1939-45 war period are of Albert Cleaver's big hitting and the occasion when Aubrey Belcher took all ten wickets in one innings against, it is thought, Helmdon.

There are other, miscellaneous points of interest in the history of Sulgrave cricket. Frank Middleton, who lost a leg in the 1914-18 war, batting with a runner, fielding at slip and sometimes keeping wicket. Bill "Wick" Willcox, who also played between the wars, bowling under arm. Walter Wootton, who had lost an arm in the 1914-18 war, was Sulgrave's umpire in the 1920s and 1930s. (There cannot have been many other villages in the country who had a one-legged player and a one-armed umpire at the same time!). Joe Vickers, father of Charlie, a long-serving player, acting as a scorer for many years for Sulgrave from the 1920s and possibly even after the 1939-45 war. Canon Pakenham Walsh faithfully attended all Sulgrave's home matches as spectator, according to all reports. Prizes were awarded to the batsman and bowler with the best average each year by the Manor Board in the 1920s.

Regrettably, since the demise of Sulgrave cricket in the 1950s, the village's players have had to go elsewhere to enjoy their game. And still there is no prospect of a revival of the Cricket Club and of seeing green caps sported on Madam's Close!

Players known to have played for Sulgrave at one time or another are listed below. But, there must have been many, many more!

Alfred Archer Aubrey Belcher Arthur Carter Cyril Carter
Fred Carter Bill Cleaver Victor Carter Albert Cleaver
Dennis Collins Eric Constable Captain Faulkner Captain Franks
Fred Golby William Golby Bernard Green Gordon Green
Philip Henn Doctor Johnson Colonel Kerr Alf Kimnell
Frank Middleton Sandy Munro Len Parker Doctor Savage
Ken Smith Ken Swallow Frank Somerton Charlie Vickers
John 'Juno' Wilcox William 'Wick' Wilcox Guy Wood Ben Wootton
Harold Wootton Leonard Wootton Lew Wootton Oliver Wootton
William Wootton John Young