A Lifetime in Cricket (Part 2)

  Posted: 19.07.21 at 11:00 by Philip Evans

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In Part One of “A Lifetime in cricket” I praised those who had carried out the umpiring and scoring for Axminster Town Cricket Club over the years. However, I had omitted the late David Swift, who had been the official scorer at Seaton for a number of years, but as he lived in our town, he reverted to Axminster and was an excellent first team scorer for the team, over several seasons.

I also failed to mention Norman Peadon, who had operated the scoreboard most dutifully when we played at North Street and in our first years at Cloakham. Norman was the son of the renowned Fred Peadon, who turned up for virtually every match at North Street, parading the boundary between the groundsman’s shed and the laundry steps.

Fred always wore a grey overcoat, even in the warmest of conditions and brandished a walking stick, which was angrily waved at any opposing player who he thought was disparaging towards an Axminster player. If a home batsman was given out LBW or caught behind, the walking stick was waved, with the cry “that was never out umpire!" Fred appeared just before the start of every match and on one particular occasion, when the match was called off for wet conditions, Fred was heard to shout “but I’ve washed and shaved especially for this match!”

In Part One of “A Lifetime in Cricket”, I covered the early years from the sixties and through the 1970s, during which time I had captained Axminster first team for four years. Phil Spong took over from me in 1978 and during the late seventies and throughout the 1980s, the captain’s position was occupied for two years by Dave Capon, for a year by Andy Cross, with all the intervening years being successfully operated by the evergreen Phil Spong.

League Cricket

However, in local circles, the flavour of cricket changed in 1982 when league cricket was introduced. Axminster Cricket Club, alongside other clubs in East Devon, had seen the formation of the Devon League, together with leagues in Somerset and Dorset. This meant that our ever enthusiastic Fixtures Secretary Les Haynes was finding it increasingly difficult to arrange good quality fixtures on Saturdays. We still had plenty of Sunday matches against the stronger sides, but Saturdays were a problem.

The first shows the teams involved in the final game at North Street. Readers will be able to identify many of those in the photo.

Together with seven other clubs, based in our area, the Exeter & East Devon League was formed. For Axminster, the decision to play league cricket was somewhat reluctant. After all, when we played the likes of Seaton, Kilmington, Uplyme or Chard, the matches were “friendly”, but extremely competitive and played in the right spirit. However, the club embraced league cricket and two years later in 1984, a second division was formed, which encouraged our second XI to join in 1985.

Our first league match was a home game against the “London & Manchester” team, based at Winslade Park, Clyst St Mary. It was a resounding success for Axminster, who bowled London and Manchester out for just 39 runs in 16 overs, with a young and pacey Chris Batten taking seven wickets for 16 runs, leaving Phil Spong to take two wickets, with one run-out. The runs were knocked off in just 10 overs for just one wicket down.

In the 1980s, with league matches on Saturdays and “friendly” cricket on Sundays, I was lucky to get my “pass signed” by Mary to play both days. Later, I had also taken up golf and so there were occasions when I played golf at Lyme Regis on Saturday or Sunday mornings, followed by cricket on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Mary was very tolerant and with both sons keen to get down to the cricket field, this gave them all the opportunity of having fun with bat and ball, behind the boundary line, with Mary acting as coach and umpire.

When the children were very young, the North Street cricket field was like a crèche. We had two Moulding boys, two Spong girls, two Haynes boys, two Guppy’s, a Pike (could be an aquarium?), one Jones boy, Skip Wiilley’s boy and girl and one or two more. They had great fun at North Street and Cloakham Lawns, although my wife Mary preferred travelling to away games, for a change of scenery – not to mention no cricket teas to prepare!

Axminster Town CC in the Exeter & East Devon League

A work party bringing the new water supply into the site at Cloakham Lawns

Axminster Town CC had an extremely competitive side in the 1980s, when league cricket started. Alongside the regulars - Spong, Pike, Jones, Seward, Capon, Scotchford and Cross -we had a crop of extremely talented young players, making their mark in local cricket for Axminster. There was batsmen John Betteridge, Chris Oakland and Ian MacDonald, together with a constant supply of all-rounders in Steve (Ronnie) Reed, Paul Manley, Steve Wakeley, Peter Garner and Steve Downton. The bowling attack boasted Graham Field, Richard Shopland and Mike Summers, whilst Axminster probably had two of the best wicket-keepers for miles around in Howard Midworth and Peter Hayball.

In the 1990s, a number of these players were joined by another group of young players in Paul Miller, Ben Noble, Chris Mottola, Andrew Guppy, Keith Rockett, Robert Moulding, Matt Hewer and Mark Richards. Adding experience to the squad were Don Fell, Colin Atkinson and Tim Allsopp. (I will refer further to some of these characters later in Moulding’s memories).

Mark Richards equals the record of the great Gary Sobers

I cannot mention the undoubted ability of a young Mark Richards, without recalling his feat in the East Devon League in 1996 at Upottery Cricket Club.

We are all aware of the record set by Gary Sobers in 1968, when he hit six sixes in an over, playing for Nottinghamshire versus Glamorgan at the St Helen’s Ground in Wales.

A young Mark Richards having hit six sixes in an over against Upottery.

Upottery was a renowned high-scoring ground, but Axminster 1st XI were struggling to set a competitive score, when Mark Richards strode to the crease. In 27 minutes, Mark smashed 68 unbeaten runs, which included nine sixes and only one four. However, within this carnage, the unfortunate Upottery bowler Gary Kennard was hit for six sixes in one over, which I had never seen before or since.

Relocation and the development of cricket at Cloakham Lawns

As mentioned previously, our tenancy with the Cawley family at North Street eventually came to an end, when the laundry business closed and the cricket field came on the market for housing development. This cast a shadow over the club’s future and a number of potential sites were investigated. However, we were ultimately offered the pasture land at Cloakham Lawns by Harry Dutfield – a former president of the club – and in 1986, we entered into a 30-year lease from Axminster Carpets Ltd.

What had we let ourselves in for? We would need to level the site, lay drains, create an outfield and lay a new cricket square. We needed water and electricity services brought to the site – AND Mr Dutfield was keen for us to bring other sports to the Cloakham Lawn site – possibly bowls, tennis, etc. We certainly had the groundsmanship expertise from Phil Spong and Bert Pike - BUT where was the money coming from?

We started to engage with East Devon District Council, who had an excellent history of support for sport and recreation. We asked for a site meeting, where we could lay out our plans – initially for the development of cricket. The chairman of the Amenities Committee was Cllr Tom Fraser, who was not available on the date selected for the meeting – but he was able to arrange for the vice-chairman, Cllr Gwen Denton, to visit us on behalf of the council. When Mrs Denton arrived, there was not much to show her – and indeed her immediate reaction was “what are you asking me for – this is just a field?"

One of the benefit matches with Gloucestershire, which includes Phil Bainbridge and David (Syd) Lawrence. (Geoff Enticott lurking in the background!)

However, we must have ticked a few boxes, as Amenities Officer David Pagett was detailed to get involved and could envisage our long-term vision. We also had tremendous help from Jack Hodge from the Sports Council, who also assisted with advice and funding. We held public meetings, including a ceremonial signing of the lease of the land and received great support from the community, with cheques being presented by Axminster Carnival, the Inner Wheel Club and many others. We also ran our own fund-raising events, on which I will elaborate in a further edition of Moulding’s memories.

Although our Axminster Cricket Club members were keen to get stuck into the development of the ground, led by Phil Spong and Bert Pike, we needed expert advice, which we received from the Sports Turf Research Institute under Mr Perris. As we started to acquire the necessary funding for the project, we went out to tender for the work required to form a cricket square and outfield. The contract was awarded to Parsons Landscaping of Taunton, whose excellent work was completed by September 1986.

We were fortunate that we had the makings of a groundsman’s shed, which was an old fodder store, which we were able to extend upwards and install a roof. We didn’t have a club-house or pavilion and plans were prepared and planning approval sought.

Emerging additional sports at Cloakham Lawns

Although we had received planning approval for a cricket pavilion, a selection of ideas was coming forward for additional sports. At a public meeting in the Guildhall in March 1987, we were able to present plans for indoor bowls, a rifle range, changing rooms for a range of sports, together with a clubhouse and bar. This new concept eliminated the need for a cricket pavilion, as all the facilities required for cricket would be provided in the new building.

In November 1987 East Devon District Council agreed a package of support in the form of grants and loans. We were also grateful for funding from Axminster Town Council and together with support from our bank, plus debentures and life memberships, we were able to go out to tender for the new building. Planning permission was received and the contract for the clubhouse development was awarded to Pearce Construction of Taunton.

Moving towards the commencement of cricket at Cloakham Lawns

Whilst the proposals for future sports were coming to fruition, the cricket ground was evolving. The grass on the new field was growing quickly and Simon Dutfield offered his Drysdale sheep to keep the grass down – with the cricket square roped off.

We obtained a grant from the Lord’s Taverners which enabled us to appoint Notts Sport to provide a non-turf artificial pitch.

The grass on the outfield was growing quickly and eventually we had to replace Simon Dutfield’s sheep with contract grass cutters, as at that time, we didn’t have the appropriate machinery for the job.

We also planted a number of trees, with assistance from a group called “The Men of the Trees”. Unfortunately, some of the trees struggled to survive in a particularly dry summer.

Last match at North Street

Cricket was still taking place at North Street and in September 1987 the last match was played at the site where the club had played for many decades. This was a sad occasion, but a memorable game, with Phil Spong captaining the first team at that time whilst President Frank Rowe, appointed myself as club chairman to captain a team of former players. Jokes and reminiscences were in abundance.

My President’s XI included the Marsh brothers, Gerald and Michael, who were then playing for either Seaton or Kilmington. Dorchester and Dorset County cricketer, Roger Hurrell was in the batting line-up, together with our great friend from Bridport, Alan Jones, plus Neville Pritchard, who was plying his trade as a wicket-keeper/batsman with Buckingham CC. The hard hitting batsman and quick bowler Tony Rockett was in the middle order, together with the lightning fast bowler Dick Sturch; whilst further bowlers included Robert Harris from Wimborne CC and Gerald Copp from local neighbours Stockland and Yarcombe. Behind the stumps was the legendary Martin Leach who stumped Ian MacDonald, Axminster’s top scorer.

Michael Marsh scored a stylish 68 and Roger Hurrell made 28, which enabled the President’s XI to put together a challenging score of 159 runs. Terry Guppy took four wickets and there were two wickets each for Graham Field, Andy Cross and Richard Shopland.

When Axminster’s team batted, runs were accumulated regularly and they reached the required total with three wickets to spare. Ian Macdonald, with 46 and Phil Spong with 36 were the main contributors. Gerald Marsh took three wickets and Robert Harris took two. What a day!

First Match at Cloakahm Lawns

April 23 1988 became a landmark day when Axminster played its first game at Cloakham against Chard with Dave Pike top-scoring for Axminster, whilst Terry Guppy took four wickets and Keith Rockett took three.

Adjacent neighbours

Generally, the residents living in houses in North Street were delighted to see cricket being played on Cloakham Lawns – and if balls entered their property, they happily threw them back. However, right from the start, we were made aware of potential problems with cricket balls being hit into the adjacent garden of one particular resident, who had requested that we erected a fence at a height of between two and three metres high. Understandably, he was particularly concerned about his greenhouse and his pond, which contained a number of koi carp. Another resident had a garden gnome demolished by a towering six-hit!

When we encountered a ball crashing through a window of one of the properties, we felt that we needed something higher than three metres to prevent balls from hard-hitting batsmen descending on our neighbours. So with the assistance of one of our members, we acquired some telegraph poles and some netting from KP nets. With help from Bill Newbery and his “cherry-picker” we were able to erect the fence to a height of six metres. So far – so good.

As the years went by, even the six-metre high fence could not prevent every ball from plummeting onto the properties – and when in 1995 a ball smashed through the roof of the greenhouse, whilst the resident was inside, tending to his plants, we were in trouble. He appointed solicitors, so things were starting to get serious.

Court Case

We made enquiries and it appeared that through a company called “Tildenet” we could consider a 10-metre high fence - but at a significant cost. We included the provision of this structure in an application we were making in the mid 1990s for “Future Sports Provision” for Cloakham Lawns.

However, before our grant application could even be considered by the National Lottery, court proceedings were underway to implement an injunction to prevent us playing cricket until a ten-metre high net was erected. Secretary Geoff Enticott and myself as chairman were summoned to the Magistrates Court in Exeter, just prior to the start of the 1997 cricket season, to respond to the case presented by the North Street resident’s solicitors. It was a very worrying situation. We couldn’t afford to appoint our own lawyers, but failure in our defence could mean the cessation of cricket for Axminster Town Cricket Club at Cloakham Lawns.

Geoff and I listened carefully to the case presented and responded as best we could, stating that we were hopeful that our application to the National Lottery would be successful and that we would then be able to erect the 10-metre high fence. In the meantime we could play all our early matches on the lower part of the cricket square, or even consider bowling from one end only!

The magistrate, donned in his wig, looked very concerned as he gave his decision on the case. He eventually said that he felt it would be ludicrous to bowl from one end only, but that he would insist that we played only on the lower end of the square, until the 10-metre high net was erected – and if we contravened that adjudication, Geoff and I would immediately be back in court. “However”, he said, “I hope you have a good season!” Speaking to the appellant’s solicitor after the hearing, he said “you were lucky – the magistrate is a keen cricketer!”

Eventually, our National Lottery grant application was approved and we were able to engage “Tildenet” to erect our 10-metre high net. The person we dealt with at Tildenet was former Gloucestershire and Dorset cricketer Julian Shackleton – son of legendary Hampshire bowler Derek Shackleton. Julian was a charming man and great to deal with over the swift installation of our net, in order that we did not incur the wrath of our friendly magistrate.

Water and drainage

In order to bring water to the site, we had to connect in North Street, traverse the Mill Brook and connect water en-route to the cricket square, the groundsman’s shed and the new building. Most of the excavation work needed to be done by hand - so it was literally all hands to the pump. Volunteers were pressed into service.

One of the ever-present volunteers was umpire and fixtures secretary Les Haynes and therefore when Cloakham was looking for someone to undertake the regular cleaning of the toilets in the new building, it was an inevitable job for “Elsan” Haynes.

We soon began to realise that South West Water costs for watering the square were considerable and an attempt was made to extract water from the neighbouring Mill Brook. Our request to South West Water and the Environment Agency was met with an abject no-no – no doubt the authorities thought we would be drawing too much water from the stream and draining the system. We wondered whether the decision to turn down our request was that they would rather sell us the water than give it to us!

However, at a later stage of Cloakham’s development , we obtained grants and applied for permission to drill for a borehole to 45 metres deep and water is now provided free of charge to the cricket square, sports fields and toilets.

Although the need for water is ever prevalent at sports grounds; sometimes we have had too much water at Cloakham and the floods, which pervaded Willhay Lane, Willhayes Park and the Cricketers in 2012, caused severe flooding to the Sports Centre building. Thankfully, this seems to have been resolved as South West Water completed a flood alleviation scheme to the culvert in Willhay Lane in 2017 – and hopefully that will overcome the problem.

However, having been submerged in water in 2012, worse was still to come, when a few years ago, a fracture on the main sewer running across the cricket field flooded part of the outfield. The squelching sewage also flooded the multi use games area and caused more problems for Cloakham Lawns to overcome. Thanks to the excellent work of cricket member Peter Kiy, matters were agreed with South West Water, the damage was repaired and compensation received for interruption to cricket. We were indeed fortunate that we were able to utilise the second cricket ground on “Harry’s Field” to play matches in the Interim period.

Establishment of cricket continuing at Cloakham

Returning to the instigation of high-quality cricket provision at Cloakham Lawns, there was a need for new and better grounds maintenance equipment. We could no longer use the heavy roller we had at North Street and for a short while we hired a roller from Eagle Plant in Chard, until we were able to obtain a grant from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts which enabled us to purchase a new one.

Within our grant application to the National Lottery, amongst other important facilities for Cloakham, we were also able to include new cricket nets on the south-western end of the cricket ground. We were also able to renew the non-turf wicket with a new pitch supplied by Club Surfaces. A little later, we also purchased a mobile net which we could use for practice on the non-turf pitch or grass wickets.

By the time of this grant application in 1996, the cricket ground was looking superb. The growth of cricket in Axminster was continuing to swell and there was a need to consider a home for our newly-formed 3rd XI.

This led to talks commencing with Simon Dutfield regarding the further need for land to be developed for sport to the north of our leased area. Discussion at this time was also taking place regarding the potential for rugby and football. The potential was unlimited.

More benefit matches in the 1990s – but this time at Cloakham Lawns

Following the success of the benefit matches Axminster Town Cricket Club played at North Street against Somerset, our fixtures secretary Les Haynes was keen to repeat similar fixtures at our fabulous new ground at Cloakham Lawns. However, we were having difficulty in arranging an appropriate date for a benefit match to take place with Somerset. But Les was not one to give up easily. He noted that long-serving Gloucestershire batsman and medium-paced bowler, Phil Bainbridge was celebrating a benefit year in 1989 and “knocked on his door”. Sure enough, Phil was delighted to oblige and a match was arranged for the benefit of Phil Bainbridge. Yet again, this proved to be a great success, with Axminster players, particularly the youngsters, able to rub shoulders and enjoy a game of cricket with the likes of David (Syd) Lawrence, Tony Wright, Kevin Cooper, etc.

Syd Lawrence, who played several matches for England, thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Axminster and when his own benefit year came around in 1993, Les Haynes was able to arrange a further benefit match for the former England pace bowler. Unfortunately, David Lawrence had suffered from an appalling knee injury whilst playing test cricket in New Zealand the previous year, but bravely continued to play for Gloucestershire. In the benefit match for Syd Lawrence, he was able to include the legendary Courtney Walsh, Mark Alleyne and many of these who had enjoyed Phil Bainbridge’s match in 1989.

In these matches I particularly remember keeping wicket to the bowling of Kevin Cooper, a renowned swing bowler. I had never seen anything like it – the ball moved like a boomerang. In Syd Lawrence’s match, I had the undoubted privilege of batting against Courtney Walsh. I didn’t see the first ball, the second ball whistled past my left ear – and the third ball took middle stump out of the ground!

The next edition of “Moulding’s Memories” will be Part Three of a Lifetime in Cricket. This will include memorable opponents, our entry into the Devon League with an excellent squad of players, celebrations of the millennium, the development of Harry’s Field and the wacky fund-raising and drinking habits of Axminster Town Cricket Club.

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