IN THE BEGINNING...A BRIEF CLUB HISTORY
The Old Pavilion, Old County Ground circa 1984.
The first in a series of three articles written by the President of Brentwood Cricket Club, Malcolm Webb and published in the 2011 Lashings World XI Match Day Programme. The second and third instalments, “To the Present…” and “And so to the Future....” can also be found on the website
Brentwood Cricket Club: 1881-2011
In the Beginning...
This year Brentwood Cricket Club celebrates its 130th Anniversary.
We know that the Club was formed in 1881 because the ‘Essex Weekly News’ edition of Friday, 4 February 1881 reported that “On Monday evening last a public meeting was held at the town hall, for the purpose of considering the best steps to be taken for forming a Town Cricket Club”. The outcome was the incorporation of a provisional committee charged with forming Brentwood CC and finding “a suitable ground”.
Despite the essentially rural nature of the town at that time, this wasn’t as easy as it may have seemed. Although Brentwood had never had a town team, cricket had been played in and around the area for many years. The ‘Chelmsford Chronicle’, as far back as 1777 states that “a cricket match was played at the Chequers, Brentwood, in the forenoon, with a genteel dinner provided at one o’clock”, and a poster was displayed in the High Street in 1857 promoting a match between teams drawn from Brentwood and Abridge to be played in the town on 18 June, with “refreshments provided by Mr Marten of the Lion and Lamb, Brentwood. Dinner on table at seven o’clock”. Even at the inaugural meeting, a Dr J Earle was reported as saying “Many present will remember 25 years ago when Brentwood was noted for its cricket. Surely we all agree that the town should have a cricket club; all the villages around have got one!” All these village teams tended to play their games on a ground “through which Alfred Road was cut” and the only possibility appeared to be a piece of land “next to the Robin Hood public house”, which wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm, apparently.
Incidentally, the afore-mentioned Dr Earle was generally regarded as being the first President of the Club, and the initial Committee contained three members of the Earle family: as well as the good doctor, one H Earle was the Hon. Secretary and the third member was “a regular attender of (Committee) meetings”. According to those early records, all three were also “no mean cricketers” themselves. Far be it for me to make any comparisons between then and now, but the French have quite an apt phrase: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”………………!
But I digress. There was of course one venue situated right in the centre of the town that was eminently suitable for the new Club. Unfortunately it was the headquarters of Essex County Cricket Club (themselves only founded in 1876), and nobody really imagined that the County would be inclined to allow this newly-formed, untried and untested bunch to violate their beautiful ground on the Shenfield Road. Then, all of a sudden, and with the start of the season looming, the Hon. Secretary announced at a Committee meeting on 24 March 1881 that an offer had been received from Essex CCC to allow Brentwood to play there – albeit an offer with a couple of pretty severe regulations: Brentwood players were forbidden to practice at the ground whilst the County were playing, but the County were free to practice on the outfield during any Brentwood match! Flushed with the enthusiasm that has been a necessary characteristic of his successors over the next century and a quarter, the Secretary went on to state that challenges had been received from the clubs at Ongar, Forest Gate, Barking and Ilford for the coming season. Membership was growing apace, and subscriptions already amounted to £100.
It was too good to last, of course, and the inevitable bombshell came barely a month later, when the County announced that the offer should never have been made in the first place, and that had the attendance at the general meeting held to validate such offer been higher, it wouldn’t have been – implying that not all was above board at the meeting.
Predictably this didn’t go down too well with the new club who promptly held a general meeting of their own resulting in the annulment of the agreement that had just been drawn up and a lengthy period of animosity towards the County, during which time the club had to revert to “another field kindly let by Mr Burgess”. It was a further two years before the relationship with the County was repaired, but eventually a new agreement was set up and Brentwood CC moved to the Old County Ground (after further agreeing that a “portion be allocated for Lawn Tennis”) in 1883, where it has played cricket to this day.
And just to put the final piece in this inaugural jigsaw, the first officially recorded match of Brentwood CC was played on Tuesday, 24 May, 1881, against Barking. We lost comfortably.
Of course, one could be forgiven for assuming that the ground was actually owned by the County throughout all this wrangling. In fact it wasn’t! It was purchased from the Crown by a Mr Horne-Payne, a leading executive of the Canadian National Railway, along with Merrymeade, which became the country home for him and his wife, and its grounds. At that time, a great oak tree was situated inside the playing area, rather like the similarly large tree at Kent’s headquarter at Canterbury (until it was felled in a storm a few years ago), and it was only relatively recently that the size of the outfield was reduced so that the oak is now a part of the gardens of Merrymeade. But it still survives, as does Merrymeade itself, having undergone a recent renovation to restore it to its former glory.
In a further quixotic twist, Mr Horne-Payne nearly didn’t have the opportunity to acquire the ground. Before he arrived on the scene, the then headmaster of Brentwood School, Mr James Foster Hough, purchased much of the land in the vicinity of the School for playing fields – indeed, to this day the School owns the ground adjacent to ours, which they rent to us and where our 3rd and 4th Xls play their home games. For some unrecorded reason, though, the headmaster made no attempt to acquire what even then must have been one of the country’s most attractive cricket grounds.
Over the years Mr and Mrs Horne-Payne became great patrons of Brentwood Cricket Club and could often be seen watching games from the idyllic surroundings of their gardens. Mrs Horne-Payne was President of the Club from 1929 – 1938, after the death of her husband, and in her later years she sold the entire Merrymeade estate, including the cricket ground, to Essex County Council, with two covenants – the first that she be allowed to continue to live there, rent free, until her death, and the second that Brentwood Cricket Club be allowed to play there in perpetuity. Both caveats were agreed to, although with the inevitable pressure that demand for town centre land for redevelopment brought to the County Council in recent years, the County Ground Club eventually felt it was only a matter of time before we were squeezed out, with the result that we successfully bid to them to purchase the freehold of the ground, and formally took ownership of it in 2003.
From 1883 until the Second World War, Brentwood Cricket Club actually incorporated a Tennis section. It was only thereafter that the Tennis section became independent and is now, of course, a completely separate club – albeit a fellow constituent member of the County Ground Club, founded in 1955, along with Brentwood Hockey Club who have had their home at the Old County Ground since 1910.