The Golden Years
Advertisement on display. High Street, Brentwood 1857
My earliest memory of the cricket club and its lovely ground dates back to school days and the first World War, when no cricket or cricketers were on view and the grass grew to three feet and more, the pavilion a sort of floating haven to complete an altogether dismal picture. When I became a playing member in 1924 CHARLES ELY and willing hands had restored wicket and outfield to good condition and one team was playing home and away matches. I came to learn, as seasons came and went, that the club was very fortunate in its tenancy, its facilities and the regular support of non-playing members, not to mention the constancy of its groundsman. Fly and his faithful horse (or was it a mare? I cannot remember) could be found at work at all hours in favourable weather, a tightly-knit little partnership which was interesting to look at and grow whimsical about. Fly was a small man who tucked himself in at the near side of the horse's head, right hand on head harness and right foot very close to the shaft of the roller, the general impression left on the interested watcher, broadside on, being a movement of four front legs, two rear ones and a tail.
Horse and master were philosophers both, and gentle, unobtrusive ones, chatting hoarsely to one another as they journeyed from West to East or East to West, laughing unrestrainedly at the antics, foibles and occasional misdemeanours of players and members, with the mutual understanding of what really constitutes a "horse" laugh and being quite proud of the knowledge. May their souls rest in peace, and in cricket unison; no longer need for the horse to complain if Fly forgot to put on his leather overboots on a damp day. And before we pass on to another memory let us pay tribute to Mrs. Fly, who, not blessed with good health, never failed to provide us and opponents with an excellent tea at home matches.
No surprise, therefore, that when I became a playing member in 1924, club facilities were back to normal and wicket and outfield very playable. CLIVE MORTLOCK was reigning Captain, a "quiggly' left-hand bowler and orthodox right-hand bat, who took his cricket seriously and personal failures, which were not all that numerous, very seriously indeed. I have before me a club photograph taken in the 1924 or 1925 era, in respect of which a cricketing friend recently commented: "How clean everyone looks!" PAT BARROW is in the vice-captain's chair. Another left-hand bowler who could flight the ball and boasted a heavy bat which we said weighed at least three pounds. In a match at Shoeburyness against the Garrison Artillery (after lunch, I would briefly comment) he and SIR GEORGE ROWLEY put on 160 runs in an hour, thanks mainly, so it is said, to some 1900 Taylor's port - plus, of course, good eye and even better footwork. Pat Barrow was a musician of considerable talent and old stagers like myself well remember the duets and, at end-of-term, school sing-songs played and sung by him and his fiancee Miss Hilda Dearberg. Stagers not so old may remember the "Coventry Suite" of musical sketches composed by Barrow during night duty as Wing Commander (Ops) at an RAF station. The composition was prompted by his listening to the fateful and seemingly endless drone of German bombers bound for Coventry on the night of the 14th November 1940, and subsequently earned a reputation by its inclusion in a television documentary on air defence. I am looking as I type at the photographs of brothers WOMERSLEY, ALEC the smaller and elder, LEONARD the taller and younger. A. D. was an accomplished batsman and an electric cover-point who kept batsman and home wicket-keeper at all times on their respective toes. L. D. was an Oxford Authentic and something of an autocrat, with an Elizabethan flourish. He could bowl leg-break and googly, and encouraged younger players in an engaging way. I see, too, E. P. PAUL standing and J. F. GIBSON sitting, both enjoying a few hours away from the duties of pedagogue. "Old Brentwood" cricketers remember with relish and affection the part played, on and off the field, by these two good friends in advancing the cause of end-of-term cricket weeks at School in the 1920's; which is not to say that their support of the Brentwood Club was in any way lacking. Then there was the great LESTER DOBSON, who became the Father of the club after some 20 years of membership, sadly to die suddenly on the golf course. Christened "Lester John" he very soon became "Jack" Dobson to friend and foe alike. I have many mental pictures of him: the tidy footwork when batting and the great, raking stride when cutting off a ball from the boundary; the deep inhalation of his pipe tobacco, which was somewhat frightening, his brusque comments to be followed by a gruff but reassuring laugh. He scored a memorable hundred against Southend in the mid-1930's and was a good captain. Other centurions, I remember, were J. D. C. STONE and JAMES SMALL; one had to hasten quickly in a half-day game to get so far. BALDING the fast bowler, G. S. BAKER, B. C. BOARDMAN and your scribe complete the picture, with the umpire, whose name I cannot recall.
By 1930 two teams were in regular action and fixture-lists well established. Fixtures, some whole-day, took place with such sides as Hampstead, Westcliff, Leigh-on-Sea, Old Citizens, Brentwood Mental Hospital, Chelmsford and Wanstead. The latter club was captained for some years by T. G. Grinter, who always opened the batting and nearly always made a century against us. Odd happenings and visiting personalities come to mind with regard to these encounters. Something had transpired in a home fixture against Hampstead - an unwelcome umpire's decision, perhaps - which meant a sticky renewal next year and aloofness at the tea-table. As it transpired, the game drew towards its close with Hampstead wanting some thirty runs with the last two men at the wicket. At this point the rain descended in torrents and the game should have ended without more ado. However, the home captain, with a quixotic rush of blood to the head, called upon his side to expiate the sin, probably imaginary, which had poisoned the relationship with Hampstead and felt a wet justification of his decision when the match at last went to the visitors. Colourful characters in the Old Citizens' side were F. C. Hawker, later Sir Cyril Hawker and a high official in the Bank of England, and G. H. C. Lewis. The latter had lost most of his left arm in the 1914-1918 war yet remained a most effective off-break bowler. This satisfactory achievement was brought about by tucking the ball tightly into his left armpit before withdrawing it at the point of delivery and presenting the opposing batsman, at any rate at the onset of attack, with a conjurist's illusion. The fixture was continued for many years until, alas!, one hot summer's evening the Citizens became equally overheated and set about the cold water supply of a local hostelry with awkward effect, after which they were inevitably erased from the fixture-list. Shenfield and Hutton were, at this time, for the most part, two-evening fixtures, but before very long they graduated to equal status with Brentwood. And then, as the war clouds gathered in 1939, we went to the Mental Hospital ground with our best available side but not over-optimistic as to the outcome of the match; there had been too many beatings under the enthusiastic leadership of Dr. W. G. Masefield. The date was 19th August. We made a reasonable score - I forget the details - then JACK MACINITYRE, a fine all-rounder hitherto unmentioned, took 7 Hospital wickets for 24 runs, and we were home and dry. Five days later, those of us who were Territorial soldiers went off to war in very good heart, taking the ecstatic Macintyre with us - in khaki, of course.
And now I look at my second club photograph, dated unmistakably 1936. Gone are the mighty men of yesteryear, except for the evergreen Dobson, shorn of some hair but resolute as ever. He and I, not surprisingly I suppose, were the only players to remain from the 1924 photo, but we welcomed a number of new personalities and their respective skills, as, for instance: F. J. GREEN, an effective left-hand medium-paced bowler and capable right- hand bat, of great nature and friendliness; the COLLIS twins, JACK and CYRIL, the three brothers HIGNETT, the HUNTER brothers HERBERT and BOB, CHARLES BONNER, KEN FORD from Chingford, T. F. HUNT, a free-scoring Marlburian, "MURUS" WALDRAM, who so longed to bowl his leg-breaks but rarely had the chance, GEORGE ROGERS the neatest of scorers and STAN WILMOT an umpire of care and thoughtfulness. Meric Hignett was an effective wicket-keeper and a prolific scorer of runs. Herbert Hunter was a most useful all-rounder, his brother an opening left-hander who took up the Army as a permanent career and sadly died some years back. Jack Collis was an excellent all-rounder, a quickish bowler of off-breaks with a nice whip off the pitch, especially if a bit of extra grass was present. Both he and his twin were good touring companions and Cyril I remember as a reliable team-secretary before he went East to join the Angle-Persian Oil Company. Charles Bonner, a good cricketer and even better hockey player, Desmond and Harry Hignett, both keen and effective players who served the Club unselfishly. Of course I cannot name everyone as I would wish, and for omissions I ask the reader's pardon and that of the forgotten.
HOWARD WILKINS is one of the oldest surviving members of the Club, and almost certainly the oldest Club captain still alive, having skippered the 1st XI for a number of years during the 1930's. He is remembered as one of the best batsmen ever to have played for Brentwood, and he probably holds the record for length of membership of the Club - 57 years so far - having been a Life Vice President for many years since his retirement. Like many other members over the years, Howard has happily and successfully shared his cricketing allegiances between Brentwood and the Old Brentwoods and is, in fact, a past President of the Old Boys.