Hatched in Devon, grown in Somerset
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richard Walsh recounts the formation and early days of Somerset County Cricket.
There have always been very strong cricketing links between Somerset and Devon and no wonder that’s the case because Somerset County Cricket Club was founded in Devon at Sidmouth more than 140 years ago.
Top class club cricket was played at Lansdown Cricket Club as far back as 1825 and the game became popular across Somerset with matches against Oxford University and William Clarke’s All England XI.
By 1845 some sort of a county team had been established because Somerset played two games against Dorset, both of which were won.
W.G.Grace once played for Lansdown when he was 14 years old against an all England XI in 1863 but made little impression after he failed to bother the scorers in either innings. Later that season playing his third match for Gloucestershire the legendary figure scored 52 not out and claimed six for 43- against Somerset.
However it wasn’t until 1875 that the Somerset County Cricket Club was established. On Wednesday August 18 The Gentlemen of Somerset travelled to play against their Devon counterparts at Sidmouth CC where, after being victorious, a meeting took place chaired by the Rev A.C. Ainslie of Henstridge at which Somerset County Cricket Club was established.
Following the Sidmouth meeting a letter was sent out from the newly appointed secretary , Edward Western of Fullands in Taunton, stating four main points, which were:
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That there should be no County Ground.
That the club shall depend for support upon voluntary subscriptions,
That county matches shall be played on any ground in the county that may be selected by the committee.
That a President, Vice President, treasurer and secretary be nominated; and a committee consisting of nine gentlemen- three from each division of the county- shall be appointed.
The letter went on to say that matches had been arranged against Dorset, Devon, South Wales, Incogniti and the Civil Service and that subscriptions of 10/6d, (52.5pence) were invited to become a member of SCCC.
The result of the appeal was that in 1876 there were 112 subscribers and the first season ended in a profit of nearly £32.
Things didn’t always go swimmingly in the early years and 10 years later a new management was set up with Murray Anderdon (who later became President) as secretary.
Under Mr Anderdon’s stewardship the club took a 19-year lease on six acres of ground that was held by the Taunton Athletic Company, which is now known as the Cooper Associates County Ground.
However, at that point the newly acquired ground wasn’t fit to play county cricket upon and Somerset played Hampshire and the Gentlemen of Devon at Wellington and Warwickshire at Bath.
Financially the fortunes of the club were looking good and the club worked hard to get the ground fit for top class cricket, covering the running track, improving the turf, building a pavilion (The Old Pavilion) and providing stands, as well as recruiting players for the Somerset team.
In 1886 Sammy Woods made his first appearance for the county. A genuine all rounder, the Australian born Woods began a long, highly successful and colourful association with the club that lasted until his early death in 1931.
Lionel Palairet, a stylish top order batsman was also a very influential figure in the early years and he too went onto captain the county as well becoming president in later years.
Eventually after finishing top of the Second Class Counties table in 1890, during which they won all eight of their matches, Somerset were granted first class status.
In that first season in the top division of what was then known as the Championship Competition the newly promoted Somerset beat Surrey at Taunton, Kent at Maidstone, Gloucestershire both home and away and the mighty Yorkshire at Bradford to end the season in joint fifth place out of the nine teams.
However, it wasn’t until 104 years later that Somerset won their first ever trophy, and the long wait still goes on to lift the coveted county championship title!