An unusual match
- Credit: sub
Sports historian Kerry Miller takes a look at some more unusual Somerset cricket venues that have been used over the years
Somerset County Cricket Club’s brand new multi-million pound pavilion at the County Ground has recently been unveiled and will be in use when the cricket season comes around in April. It is a massive investment at a sports venue which has grown significantly in the past two decades.
During that time the club has left behind the smaller, more intimate ‘out grounds’ which staged various forms of the game.
Mid-Somerset is a stronghold for support for the county and in Frome the local cricket club there ply their trade in the West of England League at what was once the Agricultural Showground in the market town. Situated across the road from the equally historic town football ground in Badgers Hill, the Showground has been a cricket ground, among other things, since 1882.
Somerset played their first Championship match there in 1932 and a further 17 up to 1961 when the venue was discontinued, apart from a Sunday League match in 1970. The ground has had a number of pavilions and has been the home of the rugby club in the past and seems little changed for decades.
Not far from Frome is Stratton-on-the Fosse where Downside School is to be found.
At first glance the school cricket field seems to be a well-kept and occasionally-used ground where hundreds of children of various shapes, sizes and abilities have played the game, either happily or under heavy duress, for generations.
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However, it has seen action since 1898 when the school played Lansdown, another former Somerset CCC home, and hosted its one and only first-class game in 1934 when Glamorgan visited.
Remarkably, Downside School’s cricket ground, part of Downside Abbey monastery, has suffered two air crashes since the war, when in 1943 during a cricket match between the school and an army team, two Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft appeared over the playing fields performing manoeuvres .
Tragically one aircraft nose dived straight into the ground, killing the pilot and nine people on the ground, with 15 others injured, 10 of them seriously. Then two years ago a small aircraft crashed in the school grounds, again causing the death of the pilot, thus relegating its status as a former first class cricket ground even further in importance.
Millfield School in Street is rightly world renowned and has its own impressive sports facilities, which are kept and improved to the highest standards, including the cricket ground which sits within sight of Glastonbury Tor.
Surprisingly Somerset have only played one County Championship match there, back in 1961 when Warwickshire visited, although they returned in 1975 to host neighbours Gloucestershire in the Benson and Hedges Cup. Two years later Somerset played their final List A match at the ground against Hampshire and since then the ground has staged a number of Second XI matches which traditionally do not attract significant crowds, and were last at Millfield in 2002.
The neighbouring town of Glastonbury is famous for many things but staging county cricket is not up there with the Tor, the music festival and pagan rituals. But it has had a cricket venue of some importance since late Victorian times when Glastonbury CC played its first recorded match there.
It was the works sports ground for Morlands sheepskin makers in the town when it was sufficiently enclosed and developed to host first class cricket for Somerset for 21 years between 1952 and 1973 and one day matches until 1978. For the past 30 years it has been known as Tor Leisure Ground and is still home to Glastonbury CC who play their cricket in the West of England League.
A few miles nearer Bristol is the stunning city of Wells, which has had an athletics ground since the 1880s, which when opened, was seen as a dangerous rival venue by those in charge at the Taunton Athletic Ground, now of course the County Ground, as it was seen as more central with good railway links and more advanced. It was a multi sports venue, which was home to Wells CC and Wells City FC, who rose in prominence only to fall from grace 50 odd years ago and re-emerge in the Western League in recent times.
The original oval shaped ground held huge crowds for athletic sports, cycling and football as it often staged county cup finals and was relatively unchanged in shape and appearance until the past 10 or 15 years when the town’s cricket and football teams went their separate ways and the ground changed forever.
Cricket is no longer played at Rowdens Road but Somerset used it from 1935 to 1951 some 11 times, although it was never suitable for first class cricket with few facilities other than marquees and the football stand on the far side. Since then the ground has been sliced in half as the football club now has an enclosed ground while the cricket club now play in Horrington and their half is now home to tennis and kid’s football. The only outward sign of its former use is a series of old concrete seats half hidden and no longer occupied.
However, at the entrance is a tribute to Olympian Mary Rand who was from the city and broke the world record in winning long jump gold in Tokyo in 1964.
The time when Somerset cricket spread itself throughout the county is gone for good as the County Ground develops into an international venue. But memories linger and in most cases the wonderful game is still quietly being played on many of the grounds where decades earlier thousands gathered.