The Stop-Go Years 1833-1887
When or where cricket was first played in Cheltenham is lost in time, and it is doubtful if anyone will ever find out the answer. Although it is inconceivable that the rapidly increasing number of pleasure seekers who descended on the town from 1750 onwards would not have included cricket in their pursuits; no written record has been discovered earlier than August 1833. In that month the Gloucester Journal reported on a return fixture (there is no account to be found of the first encounter) played on Gloucester’s Town Ham between teams from Cheltenham and Gloucester. This was won by the Gloucester men (whose own earliest records go back to 1829) “in most gallant style”.
A year later Cheltenham took on the older Cirencester club in Earl Bathurst’s Park and met with greater success, a total of 119 being adequate for victory by an innings and 20 runs. The Looker-On, reporting the proceedings, admitted that it had “long omitted to notice the doings of the Cheltenham Cricket Club”, which is additional evidence of an earlier foundation than we now know of. The same report announced a change of ground. The old site remains unknown; the new one was somewhere west of the Old Bath Road, between Leckhampton and the Shurdington Road. There members were meeting for practice on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and “generally have a strong muster”.
In that year of 1834 there were two more matches against Cirencester. Cirencester won the second match, but the decider went Cheltenham’s way by ten wickets. Cheltenham’s home fixture was watched by “a great many” spectators and it was reported that “the interest excited by the match was very considerable”.
The new ground had but a short existence; by 23rd May 1835 the Looker-On was announcing that the Cheltenham Club would take the field on Monday 1st June at a new location near the Gloucester Road. That year games are known to have been played against Cirencester and Gloucester, the latter winning their match on the Town Ham by ten wickets.
Yet again in 1836 the club moved its tents, to the “Lansdown Ground” near “The Lansdown Turnpike”, which was to be its home for three whole seasons. An agreement had been reached for a “Union” between the clubs of Gloucester, Cirencester, Minchinhampton and Cheltenham so that a full game could be played once a fortnight. The report of the fixture with Minchinhampton in July mentions players suffering a temperature of 120 degrees (in the sun, presumably) from eleven o’clock in the morning until eight in the evening.
In 1837 Minchinhampton were met twice, and in addition the two clubs combined their forces to oppose Cirencester. The following year an aggrieved writer in the “Looker-On” of 14th July complained that the cricket match between Cheltenham and Minchinhampton:
“came on Tuesday last, but little to the credit of the athletes of the former, the
Minchinhampton players having beaten them by chalks. The return is to take place on the
Cheltenham ground on Tuesday August 7th. We hope our townsmen will stand to their
wickets, mindful of their achievements”.
Despite this exhortation the return was lost by five wickets. That season there were also two fixtures against Ross-On-Wye.
And now for three seasons no more is heard of the Cheltenham Club, and it seems certain that it had disbanded. For on 23rd April 1842 the “Looker-On” announced a new cricket club to be named the “County of Gloucester and Cheltenham Cricket Club”. Seven matches were played, three of them against Gloucester. The other fixtures involved Minchinhampton, the Lansdown Club and the Cheltenham Union or Tradesmen’s Club.
In 1843 Gloucester were beaten by one wicket after Frye had made 103 in the City total of 139. Next year Ledbury and Stow-On-The-Wold are to be found in the fixture list, as are Cheltenham College, in the beginning of a long and significant association of the two institutions.
In 1845 Stourport came to a new ground laid out near St. Paul’s Church, now well known as The Folley, the ground of the College of St. Paul & St. Mary. that season the club lost to Cheltenham College and in both matches against Cirencester, but succeeded in drawing with Gloucester. A fixture against “the Bristol Club” was played on the College Ground; Bristol, with a first innings lead of 60 runs, made 106 at their second attempt, whereupon Cheltenham abandoned their own second innings and gave up the match! In 1847 we learn that Birmingham Victoria and “Bristol and Clifton” were defeated, but there is no mention of any of the regular opponents. There is no trace of any activity in 1849-1852; but in 1853 and 1854 Gloucester were played at The Folley, the Town drawing the first and winning the second. And then there is silence again until 1st August 1858.
Certain cricketers had apparently formed a club and had been practising for some time when the local M.P., Captain Francis Berkeley, raised a side to oppose them. The project was welcomed by the Cheltenham Examiner:
“Except among the pupils of our College and Grammar School and the students of the
Normal Training Institute the noble game of cricket has, for some considerable period, been
somewhat in abeyance in the town of Cheltenham”.
The Berkeley Club included a number of leading cricketers from other clubs in the area, and Cheltenham’s performance against them was creditable, with scores of 64 and 50 against their opponents’ 68 and 75. One of the umpires was James Lillywhite, the old Sussex player, who was now the College professional. (His uncle and namesake had split the cricket world in the 1840’s by introducing round-arm bowling in place of the approved under-arm delivery). A few more fixtures were fitted into the closing weeks of 1858; this year has in the past been taken as the starting-point for the life of the present club, though 1833 and 1891 have at least as strong a claim.
Cheltenham continued to use The Folley until 1863. New fixtures continued to appear, such as the Royal Agricultural College in 1860 and Swindon the year after. When Clifton visited the town in 1862 they became victims of one of only two double centuries ever made for the club; F. Brindley scored 202 in a total of 321, while Clifton’s two innings amounted to 80 and 54.
According to the Cheltenham Examiner a formal meeting of the Club in January 1863 was informed that “Mr. F.P. Fenner, a gentleman, well known as one of the greatest players in the country” was to become the landlord of the Royal Hotel in the High Street. Mr. Fenner in fact had been for many years the professional of the Cambridge Town Club, and was responsible for laying out the famous University Ground, which still bears his name. That same report acquaints us with a name that will recur in the history of the Club for many decades; Mr. C.H. Jessop, of Church Street, was appointed Secretary. But in 1863 the Club’s situation was far from happy; the report of the Barton (sic) Vale match complains of a lack of players and expresses the fear that the Cheltenham Club may have to finish.
In the event the decision was taken in the autumn to start a new club on yet another ground. The Cheltenham Journal of 5th December 1863 announced the formation of the Town and County Club; levelling of the ground in Hales Road, roughly opposite the junction with the modern Eldon Road, had already been started. Three weeks earlier the Cheltenham Examiner had reported that:
“In the absence of any cricket centre in the county of Gloucester, an attempt is to be made to
supply that want by the formation of a new ground and the establishment of a club to be
called the Cheltenham and County of Gloucester Cricket Club”.
The Folley, it was claimed, had been unsuitable for a number of years, and for laying out the new field £200 would be needed in the first year.
Notwithstanding the change of name this was still basically the Town Club of 1858-63, with the same players. Francis Berkeley, now Colonel but still the local M.P., was elected President. Colonel hart became Treasurer and Mr. Fenner Secretary, and the first match on the new ground was played on 11th May 1864 against Cheltenham College, who won on the first innings. There are also reports of fixtures against Winchcombe, Hereford and the Working Men’s Club.
Next year the Royal Agricultural College and Gloucester returned to the list, and in 1866, when still more matches were played, the Club achieved its first victory over Cheltenham College. But the annual meeting of 1869 heard again of financial deficit and the loss of players. It was decided to stage an Amateur Theatrical evening to recoup the losses. In 1870 a full list of fixtures could still be played, but on 8th March 1871 it was reported that the Club had fallen on hard times and for lack of support had been compelled to give up the ground in the previous autumn. One more attempt was to be made to save the situation. Three matches were in fact played in 1871, but effectively the Club was once more defunct.
In May 1872 a meeting was called to reinvigorate the Town Club, but little could be done because there was difficulty in gaining use of the Hales Road ground. Lord Fitzhardinge (as Colonel Berkeley had become in 1867) was elected President, Samuel Brookes Secretary, offices both had held in the old Club. Later in the month another meeting was held, at which hopes were raised of obtaining possession of the ground. Over forty people were said to be interested in joining, and on 8th June it could finally be announced that the ground had been secured and that practice was to commence on Monday 17th June. The playing season in fact began in some style on 29th June, when Gloucester were comprehensively beaten by 109 runs to 42. A number of other fixtures were made, and victories were secured over Lydney (twice) and the Cavendish Club, and a draw achieved with the Training College.
Another event of some interest in 1872 was the match played on the College Ground between Eleven of the South of England and Eighteen of Cheltenham, arranged hurredly because Gloucestershire’s game with Surrey had ended in two days. The South had ten Surrey players plus G.F. Grace, the youngest of the brothers; members of the Cheltenham Club taking part included F. Jessop and S.H. Brookes, who was a member of the County Committee. The Cheltenham Eighteen made 79, to which the South replied with 114 for 7.
New fixtures for 1873 were against Dudley (home and away) Evesham, Newnham and Northleach. Gloucester that year were too strong for Cheltenham and a visit in July to Alveston to play Thornbury brought disaster. Thornbury ran up 272, to which E.M. Grace (“The Coroner”) contributed 171, then bowled Cheltenham out for 17 and 46.
The opening fixture of 1874 on 9th May, was against the Training College on a bitterly cold day, which seems to have had a severe effect on Cheltenham’s batting, since they could manage only 29 and 13 in their two innings. Another game played in extraordinary conditions was that against Winchcombe, which took place on Cleeve Hill only a hundred yards from the summit; fielders sometimes had downhill chases of two or three hundred yards to retrieve the ball.
At the Club’s AGM in March 1875 Samuel Brookes resigned the Secretaryship after seven years in all with the Club and its immediate predecessor. At the time he was said to be owed £22. He still continued as a player; later he became Club Captain. He was the Town Overseer, and also the printer and publisher of the Cheltenham Express and Evening Telegram which regularly reported the Club’s affairs and ultimately evolved into the Gloucestershire Echo. A Mr. Thompson took his place as Secretary.
That year fixtures were resumed with Hereford and in 1876 with the Royal Agricultural College. Cam were the other newcomers in the latter year, when an interesting match was played against Cavendish House. A Cheltenham total of 27 gave them victory by ten runs; a press report of the game described the pitch as “very fiery”.
Still the fixture list continued to expand. Malvern and Worcester came in in 1877, Newport and Stroud in 1878, in which year Ross-On-Wye returned. Travel to away games was of course by train, and remained so until the early 1920’s. By now F. Jessop, who had been captain a dozen years before, W. Newman, C. Travess and W. Margetts (of another family famous in municipal and Club affairs) were stalwarts of the XI. The Rev. Percy Hattersley-Smith also joined at this time. A College master, he was soon to be heard of in the foundation of the East Gloucestershire Club.
In 1879 there were wins over Worcester, Cirencester, Gloucester, Ross-On-Wye (twice) and Newport, the last named a two=day fixture at Rodney parade. In all seven matches were won, three lost and two drawn. C. Tillard scored 206 runs at an average of 41.2 and Hattersley-Smith 165 (including 64 against Cirencester) at 20.6 (Only batting averages were published in those days).
Two more local clubs came into the fixtures in 1880. The St. Peter’s Club, formed in 1878, which hitherto had shared the Hales Road ground, moved to a new one in the Tewkesbury Road by the Midland Railway Bridge. Even more significantly for the Cheltenham Club’s future, the Beaufort Cricket Club was founded and acquired a ground in Hewlett Road on the site of the present Berkhampstead School. The Beaufort began life under the auspices of the Cheltenham Conservative Club.
Although it now shared players with both of these clubs the Town managed to continue its own existence in 1880, playing Ross-On-Wye, Gloucester, the Training College and Broadway. A District XI played the Canadian tourists at Hales Road over two days. Presumably rain intervened, for the match was drawn with the Canadians making 83 and 62, Cheltenham and District 46 and 38 for 2.
On 14th September 1880 the last match was played at Hales Road after seventeen seasons, as the ground was needed by its owner. It had originally belonged to Charles Andrews, who farmed the Battledown Estate; his son was a playing member. He had persuaded Mr. Fenner of the Royal to help with the making of the square, but it was never going to equal Fenner’s success at Cambridge. There was too stiff a slope and a clay soil, and the task was hopeless.
In 1881 there was once more no Town Club; virtually all its players had gone to St. Peter’s. That year W.A. Woof, a young Gloucestershire professional, also joined St. Peter’s, beginning a link between the family and the Cheltenham Club which still holds today, in the fourth generation. Then in May 1882 a meeting was called at the Queen’s Hotel to start an entirely new major club in the Town. One of the guiding spirits behind this scheme was Percy Hattersley-Smith, who told the meeting that three years earlier there had been a good club in Cheltenham, but it had been deprived of its ground. This meeting was the start of the East Gloucestershire Club, which now provides tennis, squash and ladies’ hockey, but no longer cricket, as we shall see in Chapter 7. It obtained a lease of a ground in Charlton Park, but it was an exclusive club, not open to all townsmen.
Notwithstanding this development the Cheltenham Club itself was back in business in 1882, obviously a re-labelling of the St. Peter’s Club. (At the AGM of 1908, the President described the Town Club as the direct successor of St. Peter’s Cricket Club). Matches were played against Cheltenham College and Gloucester, but both were lost.
Cheltenham played seventeen matches in 1883, winning eight and losing the same number; one of the victories was over a Thornbury side including E.M. Grace. Samuel Brookes was now Club Captain and William Wrathall secretary. Next year six games were won out of fifteen, with five defeats. Henry Margrett headed the batting with an average of 17.6; Woof, though by now playing regularly for the County, took thirteen wickets for the Town for only 28 runs. In 1885-87 the Club appears to have been flourishing, winning about as many matches as it lost; and at the Annual Dinner in November 1887 a presentation was made to Wrathall for his ten years’ service to the Club as Secretary and Treasurer.
And yet when cricket resumed in 1888 there was again no Town Club. This time nearly all its better players were turning out for the Beaufort Club on that ground in Hewlett Road. And that was still the sad situation at the end of 1890.