Common to Meadow – a story of the Pavilion
David Barrs continues his series of occasional articles on the history of Saffron Walden Cricket Club in this, its 150th anniversary year.
Cricket was first recorded in Walden in 1758 and until 1954 it was always played on the Common. Although the Common was much loved there were also those who felt that the outfield was impossible to maintain to a high standard and there was no doubt some frustration with the public who, after all, felt it was there right to walk across the Common during a match. In 1945 an opportunity arose when the American forces proposed a gift to the town in honour of their fallen comrades. The memorial was to take the form of the Anglo American Memorial Playing Fields with a Memorial Apse. Agreement, however, was hard come by and it took until 1954 to realise the project. Some regarded it as “Custerson’s Folly”. Joseph Custerson was Mayor at the time, and subsequently chaired the Playing Fields Committee. He was a strong advocate. Others considered that it would become a financial millstone and was too far removed from the Town Centre to be successful. Custerson, on the other hand, felt it was a much needed facility and that it would create much interest in the town. One Councillor felt it would rival Stratford as a major attraction for American tourists!
The first game at Anglo American Playing Fields was against Sawbridgeworth on 1st May 1954. The start was delayed by rain but Walden won by 82 runs. SWCC finished that first season with 12 wins from 21 games with 2 defeats, 4 draws and 3 abandoned. They scored 2791 runs against 1642. Jeff Goodwin topped the batting at an average of 36.48 followed by Eric Swan. Swan, who taught Maths at the County High, was the first to score a century at the new ground and was presented with a bat by the President to mark the occasion. Eric made 101 not out. The opponents were Haverhill who scored 143. Walden, batting second, scored 154-3 – Haverhill staying in the field until Eric scored his century!! Sid Frankland topped the bowling with 70 wickets at 19 apiece. He took an impressive 10 catches as well. The President also offered a bat for the first hat-trick but there is no record of who might have achieved this honour. The 2nd XI won 9 of their 17 fixtures.
The Secretary was able to give a very positive report at the AGM that year. Not only had it been a very successful playing year for both teams but the quality of the new ground had defied the sceptics. The only criticism was the ridges on the square but 60 barrow-loads of soil had resolved that one criticism! A new practice strip had been laid and a fence had been erected around the pavilion (see photo). Plans were in hand for more seating, wooden sight screens and a scorebox. Even the Treasurer was happy although income from collections during matches was less given that the new ground was not as public as the Common. He may also have been happy since the records showed far fewer transactions for the year. A part-time groundsman had been employed which meant there was no room for complacency. Eric Swan announced a plan to establish a Saffron Walden and District Cricket Association and the meeting unanimously agreed to support it. Eric was, at that time, the Hon. Secretary of the Area Junior Cricket Coaching Council, sponsored by Essex CCC. Club skipper, S.C. Skingley proposed a 5s membership for junior players “especially the senior boys from the Secondary School on Town”. This is the first recorded mention of junior players and a desire to be pro-active in recruiting them.
The reassembled pavilion with the white picket fence
The ground was formally opened on 13 August 1955 and to help get the ground ready, Custerson invited children to clear stones. According to Arthur Coote, a local resident, they did so in large numbers. Before that Jossaume Plant Hire levelled the land. It was then owned by John Jossaume, uncle of Chris Jossaume who played for Walden in the 90s. John Jossaume also transported the old Pavilion over to the new ground and the Town Council helped to re-assemble. In a remarkable coincidence, the author met John Joassaume’s son, also called John, on the same day that he wrote this article! He met him at the bottom of his drive in Hadstock.
The opening was performed by Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and Major General Roscoe C. Wilson (Commander 3rd United States Air Force). A dedication ceremony for the Memorial Apse was also conducted. The 65th USAAF Fighter Wing had had its HQ at the Grammar School and had stations at Boxted, Debden, Little Walden, Steeple Morden and Wattisham. The Officers and men gave £5,500 (50%) towards the original scheme which was to include a Memorial Hall, a “well-fitted canteen”, Tennis Courts, a Bowling Green and Children’s Playground. Inflation meant that only the playing fields were completed at the time. As part of the celebration SWCC played Harlow. Access to the ground was from Castle Street adjacent to the Five Bells. This is now for pedestrians only.
The Memorial Playing Fields Committee comprised three Aldermen, including His Worship the Mayor of Saffron Walden, Alderman Ellis Rooke M.B.E, J.P who chaired the committee. There were 12 councillors and seven co-opted members including familiar SWCC names – D.P. Bennett, R.S. Faircloth, E.C.F. Land and S.C. Skingley. H.C. Stacey, the Town Clerk, and T.W. Cloughton, Borough Engineer, also served on the committee.
Local residents Mick Sparrow (Mick is still active in the club today- as 1st XI manager – the longest known active association with the club by an individual), John Ryan, Arthur Coote and Dick Thake were all present.
Olive Newman was secretary to the Town Clerk at the time. Rain was forecast and Olive was told to get umbrellas and to take them ahead to the Playing Fields. The guests and councillors met in the Town Hall to begin with, then it rained – but the umbrellas were already at the Playing Fields! They huddled together in the Apse. Olive recalls that “it all went very wrong”!
In the 1955 season, the first full one at the Meadow, the 1st XI played 26, won 15, drawn 7, lost 4. Sid Frankland took 100 wickets and scored 500 runs, topping the averages with bat and ball. Willy King, Eric Swan and Ken Pluck also scored over 500 runs. Ted Pratt married and left to live in Chelmsford in 1955 -he now lives with is wife in Littlebury Green. Ron Moore took over as secretary and now lives in Ely. Ron Muggeridge began a long an illlustrious career as umpire until is death in 1986 There were 36 Vice Presidents listed at the time including Cleales, Rayment and Co and Saffron Walden Steam Laundry.
A centenary match was held in 1959 against A.B.Quick’s XI – Quick was an Essex Player. For many years the ground was shared with Saffron Walden Hockey Club and a new pavilion was opened on 7 July 1962 to support both clubs.
Centenary Match at the Meadow 7 August 1959
The Anglo American Playing Fields has now matured into one of the finest amateur cricketing venues in the region – and all thanks to our American Allies. According to Jeff Goodwin, bowlers loved it in the early days. Some consider it to be one of the reasons that Saffron Walden Cricket Club is itself one of the strongest club sides in the region and who were national club champions as recently as 2002. There are still those who affectionately call it “the Meadow”. Local artist, Margaret Hammond, has produced two delightful watercolours for the club’s 150th anniversary, which are available as limited edition prints.
“Cricket on the Meadow” by Margaret Hammond
Did you attend the opening ceremony in August 1955? Do you have any early memories of the ground ? Who completed the first hat-trick at the new ground? When did the Castle Street entrance cease to function? Please contact David Barrs [email protected] . He would be delighted to hear from you as he continues to piece together the history of local cricket and SWCC in particular.