Brentwood & Essex CCC

The association of the Club, its renowned attractive ground, and the County Cricket Club goes back a very long way indeed. There is evidence that the County first appeared at the ground as early as 1876, although in those days of course Essex C.C. did not enjoy the status of a first-class county. By 1885, it had become apparent that the poor attendances at Brentwood meant that the Club would have to look elsewhere for a ground. The move to Leyton followed in 1886.

Essex did not play at Brentwood again until 1922, when one match was played there, against the University of Dublin(!) on July 5th, 6th and 7th. The match resulted in a draw, the University scoring 143 and 256, and Essex 267 for 6 declared, and 3 for 0 wicket. No further cricket was played by Essex at Brentwood for the next eleven years but, following the abandonment of Leyton at the end of 1933, Brentwood was allocated a regular week from 1934 until 1939, and not one of the twelve fixtures resulted in a draw! Essex recorded victories over Hampshire (twice), Cambridge University (twice), Surrey, Gloucestershire and India, whilst being defeated by Surrey, Gloucestershire, Derbyshire, Sussex and of course Kent.

It was that match against Kent, the first of the week in 1934, which heralded Essex's return to Brentwood, and which since then has stood out amongst all county cricket. Not surprisingly, the local press made much of the event, and the sports writer for the Essex Weekly News wrote thus, under a heading of "BRIGHTER BRENTWOOD - BRIGHTER CRICKET":-

"It is a remarkable fact that the return of county cricket to Brentwood, after over 40 years, has synchronised with brighter play. The call for a Brighter Brentwood has been heard for years and efforts have been made to justify the name. This week the town has never looked so well and the thousands of visitors who came because of the claims of county cricket must have been favourably impressed with the amenities of the district. 'BRENTWOOD, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GROUND IN THE COUNTY', was the description given by a sporting writer in a leading paper. And those who were privileged to see the games on the famous Shenfield Road ground would agree that the surroundings were perfect. Tree-shaded but open, sunshine and fair breezes made the pavilion-ringed Old County Ground a charming picture during the play. Favoured by three good days in the first match the attendance returns should favourably reflect the chances of more cricket weeks for Brentwood in future".

Most of the pre-match speculation centred not only on the prospect of such as Woolley, Fagg, Ames and Freeman appearing for Kent, but also the possibility of Jack Hobbs playing for Surrey later in the week. The town and the local cricket club were buzzing, and they were not to be disappointed. A few days before the big match, a game was played at Brentwood between the M.C.C. and the C.C.C. the wicket, splendid to start with, began to misbehave somewhat. A qualifying M.C.C. member, E. W. Swanton, was in the team that day, and he later wrote:-

"... What I was most interested in, as a young cricket writer, was the behaviour of the pitch, seeing that Essex were due to stage the Brentwood week in a few days. When I voiced my doubts to B. K. Castor, the Essex secretary, who was on the ground, he said: 'Oh don't worry we've got something to take care of that'. The happenings of that first Brentwood week are a matter of history. Kent opened up with 803 for 4 declared and beat Essex by an innings and 192 runs. Then Surrey came and after H. D. (Hopper) Read, bowling very fast, had hustled them out for very few (115), Essex made 570 for 8 declared and won by the identical margin of their defeat against Rent. In less than 5 days cricket, 2,363 runs were scored, including 8 hundreds.

It was my first acquaintance with the numbing effect of liquid cow-dung. In effect the Brentwood pitch came out of a bucket.Four years later I know what Bill O'Reilly meant when at the Oval Test - England 903 for 7, Hutton 364 - he said: 'You could smell the damned thing as you came out of the pavilion gate'...."

This and much more has been written of the week - the press, both local and national devoted many column inches to the feast of runs. To cricketers and Brentwood men of today, perhaps some of the mere statistics, again from the Essex Weekly News at the time, may give food for thought: ". .. Ashdown took his score to 332 before Claude Ashton had him caught off Nichols. He batted six and a quarter hours without giving a chance and hit a six and 45 fours. Ames was not out 202 when Rent declared. He batted 3 hours and 10 minutes, and hit a six and 29 fours. Altogether, Rent batted for 7 hours and scored at an average rate of 114 runs an hour. They added 180 runs on Tuesday morning in 65 minutes."

Kent - First Innings
Ashdown c C.T. Ashton b Nichols 332
Fagg l.b.w. b R. Smith 31
Woolley b C.T. Ashton 172
Ames not out 202
Watts c Smith b C.T. Ashton 11
Fleming not out 42
Extras   13
Total (4 wkts dec.)   803

Bowling: C.T. Ashton 2 - 185, P. Smith 0 - 208
Essex replied with 408 and 203.

The match set a precedent, which in terms of sheer numbers of runs was not repeated, though the cricket on the ground over the next five seasons was normally entertaining, and always produced results.

After the war, Essex played regularly at Brentwood from 1946 until 1969 inclusive, but then once again the ground dropped out of the circuit, and the county resumed playing at Leyton. The post-war period is of course well-documented by Wisden but I shall just mention one worthy milestone on the ground, if only since as a child I raced from school to see it: Barry Knight and Roger Luckin adding 206 against Middlesex in 1962 - still a county record for the sixth wicket.

It will be seen that Brentwood's fortunes have been very much bound up with those of Leyton for almost a whole century. Now, of course, sadly, neither has a County week any more.

This article was written by Paul Adams and first published in the Brentwood CC 1981 Centenary season brochure

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