175 Years of cricket at Bridgnorth 1 of 6

1. History - Victorian Beginnings

In 2014 Bridgnorth Cricket Club celebrated its 175th anniversary of recorded cricket participation in the town. The club was one of the earliest to establish the game in Shropshire, though it had been played in south-east England for much longer. As it gained popularity and spread, "The True Blue Club" was formed playing on Bridgnorth Racecourse. The first recorded fixture of the newly formed club in 1839 saw the Bachelors defeat the Marrieds by 16 runs.

In 1840 the Club played the county's strongest side, Eyton CC, on the lawns of Eyton Hall recorded in the Shrewsbury Chronicle on 30th July, and a return fixture in September. The Eyton Club won both games convincingly. Few fixtures were played in the early years due not only to a lack of variety in opposition but the distance travelled to games had to be within walking or horse drawn distance. Some away trips were made by boat, and then in the 1860s the train arrived and therefore opened up the role of the fixture secretary.

The early star player, records suggest, was local butcher George Edwards, who was a puzzle with his slow under-hand bowling and he regularly kept his side in games.
Fixtures began against Shrewsbury, Dudley and Wolverhampton as the Club grew in the 1840s and became more effective. Double headers seemed to be the style and the contests were more than on field encounters as each club strived to outshine the other in hosting skills.

During the 1850s the number of local clubs grew and fixtures increased. Shifnal, Enville, Kidderminster, Trysull, Much Wenlock and Bridgnorth Grammar School provided stern tests to cricket skills and livers! Bridgnorth formed a 2nd XI who played the most exciting fixture, travelling by boat to face a Quatford XI as well as several other matches. Despite the increase in interest in the sport in the town, as the decade ended other clubs were struggling for players and fixtures began to dwindle.

Unfazed by the drop in fixtures the Racecourse pitch was re-laid in 1858 as talk turned to employing a professional for the coming season. Other clubs had gone down the route of a paid player so Bridgnorth felt the need to remain on a level footing by appealing for donations to fund their aspirations.

The early 1860s produced a crisis as few clubs were arranging matches and locally the appeal of the Rifle Corps saw men choosing the gun and bullet rather than the stick and ball to spend their leisure time. Much of the activity on the field saw inter-club fixtures as the committee strived to a man to keep the game alive in the town. Some local personalities also raised teams towards the same ends.

In February 1864 drastic measures were seen to be needed and a new Bridgnorth Cricket Club was formed, new in the sense of a properly organised club with a constitution and a new venue. The old Club’s assets were used to buy and level a field on Love Lane for the princely sum of £20! Fixtures built up again and lunches were taken at The Harp where the treasurer was the licensee.

There then followed a period of growth for the club as the Rifle Corps band attended matches and dancing went on late into the night at home fixtures. Fixtures now became more regular with Wolverhampton, Bewdley, Much Wenlock and Dudley featuring throughout the decade, but new teams Church Stretton, Shrewsbury School, Malinslee and Coton provided new tests as Bridgnorth's star players Deighton and Haslewood came to the fore.

The 1870s saw Bridgnorth play cricket under the names Bridgnorth United, Bridgnorth Working Men's Club, Bridgnorth Friars Club and Bridgnorth Town Cricket Club and it appears to have been a trend as opposition names took on variants. Match venues changed around the clubs as well. In 1870 cricket was played on the Mill St Ground, next to The Bandon Arms and the strength of cricket in Shropshire saw more clubs playing the game. 1871 saw the Love Lane ground back in use by Bridgnorth Cricket Club but games were still being played on Mill St by Bridgnorth Friars.

The following season the club made a concerted effort to raise membership with an event at The Agricultural Hall starring the renowned Edward Dale's Company staging their "Concert Comique and Operetta", attended by the Mayor and dignitaries of the neighbourhood. The Committee of the day contained the names of some of the town’s powerful families. More local clubs were springing up and concerns were raised that Bridgnorth's players were appearing elsewhere.

Records for the 1880s appear to be scarce but the continuing Friars and Town clubs were seen as unworkable so a merger ensued. Many of the clubs existing before the inception of entry to the Birmingham League featured in regular cricket in Shropshire during the decade. The most notable event of the decade though was the move to the Victoria Road ground in 1887, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year, where the club is resident today.

The original ownership is sketchy but it appears that agricultural land was acquired and the membership worked to make it fit for cricket by the summer. 2000 yards of turf was re-laid, levelled and fenced off and a new pavilion readied for the 1888 season. This was on the opposite side of the ground to today's structure, though its west facing aspect made viewing cricket late in the day a challenge.

Apley Estates, the ground’s current owners, purchased the pitch in 1906 at the same time that Nock Deighton's Smithfield Market opened on its east side.

The early 1890s cricket chatter was around a professional again and the clubs committee felt that funds were strong enough to sustain one. EK Home was employed for his cricketing prowess in 1889 and claimed 82 wickets with his pace bowling.

Henry Sherwood of Nottingham was recommended for the following season by Shropshire County Club seeing him as an asset for his coaching skills but he proved disappointing as a player.
Worthington of Calverton (Notts) then took a two year contract at the club before being succeeded by Longhurst of Town Malling (Kent) for two further seasons until finances took a belt in 1894 and the employment of such men became unviable.

Cricket expanded during the decade with games on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays increasing fixture lists against many local clubs, but in 1896 Bridgnorth hosted a team on tour from Rochdale. Members of the Haslewood family were successful at their chosen sport, regularly in the reports for runs and wickets in the decade. In 1898, Guy Haslewood, in a game against Burwarton, became the first Bridgnorth batsman to register an individual century, run out for 102.

As the decade closed Bridgnorth Cricket Club were struggling for players as they were called up for active service in the Boer War and fixture lists were reduced. The War dominated life at this time and the patriotic club flew the Union Jack at one end of the pavilion in support of troops thousands of miles away on a still unknown continent.

Much work would be needed for the club to progress in the new century dawning ahead.