The history of Wirksworth & Middleton Cricket Club
- Credit: Archant
As local cricket makes its return, Nigel Powlson explores one local club’s proud hsitory
The glorious early summer weather would have been a boon to cricketers in any other year.
Sadly, coronavirus has denied us the sight of cricket whites on village pitches and instead gave us an early summer bereft of the sound of leather on willow.
Normally, Wirksworth & Middleton Cricket Club has three teams in the Derbyshire County Cricket League, a Sunday side in the Mansfield Sunday League and youth sides for all ages for girls and boys.
For a club that has survived two world wars and numerous economic and social challenges, it has been a blow but it hasn’t stopped club historian Roy Pearce, former head of Anthony Gell School in Wirksworth, delving into the archives to discover stories from the earliest known match by Wirksworth players in 1757 through the formation of the club proper in 1849, all the way to modern times.
Wirksworth CC was established in 1849 by Francis Hurt, a cricket enthusiast and for a short time MP for South Derbyshire. Middleton Cricket Club was founded 30 years later, and the clubs merged in 2008.
Roy has looked back 150 years to August, 1870, when 22 men of Wirksworth played against the famous All England XI.
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This band of tough, travelling cricketers made good use of the new railway network and played for a ‘fair sum’, promoting cricket while entertaining enthusiasts through the northern counties, according to a press report in the Buxton Advertiser.
Wirksworth celebrated with a brass band, refreshment stalls and, according to one report, 3,000 spectators for what was a social and sporting highlight for an isolated Victorian town.
This was the third match against All England with Wirksworth having drawn the first two games in 1866 and 1868 respectively. The visitors always batted first and then bowled out the home team. In 1870, Wirksworth couldn’t hold on, with the XXII bowled out for 52.
The wealthy Edward Miller Wass, owner of the great lead mine at Mill Close, was chief sponsor and played an important part in establishing the club in Wirksworth as well as Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
Those early years introduced local cricketing legends, not least Wirksworth-born Joe Flint who played for Derbyshire - including in 1873 at Wirksworth against Nottinghamshire. He took six wickets for seven runs as Notts were all out for 14. In the second innings, he recorded 4/44. With four Wirksworthians in the side, Derbyshire won by an innings.
There was a second county match at Wirksworth, sponsored by Edward Wass, in 1874, again with four Wirksworth cricketers. Derbyshire beat Kent by 33 runs, with Flint taking eight wickets in the game for 52 runs.
In 1874 when WG Grace, the great Victorian cricketer, came to Derby as captain of the United South of England XI, Derbyshire won and Flint took 11 wickets in the match, including WG Grace - c Humble b Flint for 11.
According to local legend, WG Grace came to Wirksworth to play in Joe Flint’s benefit match in 1895 but Roy Pearce hasn’t found any evidence to confirm this.
John Bowmer (1845-1920) was another influential figure as a player, Treasurer and President. Sadly, his presidential period coincided with the First World War and he died in 1920.
He had five sons, three of whom, Arthur, George and Edgar, went on to become outstanding cricketers who played for the club with distinction from the distant Edwardian days to the 1950s.
Arthur captained the 1904 team, ‘the unbeaten XI’ acclaimed as the strongest in Wirksworth history. Edgar was still ‘diddling out’ the opposition in the 1950s.
All three sons skippered club teams, with Arthur captain for ten years, claiming he needed no holidays as playing cricket was his joy. He once cycled from Leicester to play in a match against Wye Valley Wanderers.
Edgar was the youngest and best, selected pre-war for Derbyshire, but lost five years of his cricketing prime due to the conflict. A cultured batsman, he scored many runs, twice reaching 150.
Edgar’s bowling was formidable – he even took 13 wickets for the First XI aged 60. Remarkably, Edgar played before WW1 and after WW2.
Another family with long-lasting connections with the club were the Taylors - club members for a hundred years.
‘Old Walter’ was father to four sons; all outstanding players. Two brothers played for Derbyshire and Will Taylor (1888–1976) served as a secretary to the county club for 52 years.
All four fought in the First World War - Will and Frank badly injured; Charlie and Bard killed.
Frank, a county player before the war, became a bank manager in Bakewell and carried on playing until 1939.
Will, with a metal plate in his head from war injuries, held the county club together through difficult days by his devoted work. He had a genuine welfare concern for the professional players, most of whom were born in the county. Will also supported his home club, providing in 1946 a box of balls polished by former soldiers and used several times. Will later became Wirksworth’s President from 1966-76.
Another Wirksworth stalwart, Ken Wilson (1938-2009), served the club for 54 years. Ken was the instigator of the crucial decision that Wirksworth should play league cricket from1971. He initiated youth cricket and was an astute treasurer. His prowess was recognised; appointed treasurer of the Derbyshire County Cricket League and the Premiership.
His enthusiasm and reliability led to a wide variety of club duties - First XI scorer, fixtures and press secretary, (over a hundred games a year); administrator of a flourishing bar and the sensitive tea rota; caretaker of the ground and pavilion; organiser of the traditional annual dinner and so on. In total, at the height of his powers, Roy Pearce calculates Ken had 23 jobs.
Ken was also club President for 18 years and took the club to Lord’s in 1999 in its 150th anniversary year to play a game on the Nursery Ground.
Cricket has been played at the Broad Meadow ground since at least 1849. The ground was, in the early years, on the edge of town and owned by the Duchy of Lancaster. It was bought for the club originally by a local solicitor from a keen cricketing family.After his death, Edward Wass bought it for use by the club but died himself soon afterwards. Then Broad Meadow was purchased my Miss Arkwright, who established a committee of trustees which owns the ground in trust for the use by the town forever. The cricket club was the original beneficiary, now joined by footballers and bowlers. The trust survives and has granted a 99-year lease to Wirksworth & Middleton Cricket Club.
The ground has always won praise for its beautiful setting, with the old lead-working hills on one side and the Ecclesbourne Valley ridge on the other.Originally, there was a small hut, no pavilion, and All England in those early days changed in a marquee erected for the occasion.
By the 1970s there had only been minor changes and the ancient Victorian pavilion was still used, though much altered. The pitches, for many years flattened by a heavy roller pulled by a donkey, were very tired.
The 21st Century has seen great changes. The ground was extended to include the old horse field with a new match square. There is now a modern pavilion with up-to-date changing and social facilities and the community social area and bar are popular for parties, which can overflow onto the sunny field.
In 2015 the club moved from traditional paper scoring and opened a new digital age press-the-button scorebox.
Sadly, 2020 is the first time cricket has been suspended since WW2. In 1939, the club resolved cricket should be suspended for ‘the duration of hostilities’.Through six unhappy war years the pavilion and ground were used by the military, at first by a RASC detachment. When cricket returned in 1945, they found the club facilities in a disastrous state. The field was overgrown, the ground equipment rusted, the enormous hedge uncut, the pavilion had been badly damaged (vandals rather than soldiers) and crockery broken. The boundary fence was rusted, sightscreens had decayed and wooden benches broken up for the victory celebration bonfire. This was a moment of supreme crisis.
The club survived thanks to the efforts of Arthur Killer, Hon Secretary, who had served during the war and who was devoted to cricket and his club. He surveyed the shattered scene and spoke to the men saying, ‘This is what we have been fighting for’.
The men worked hard to repair the ground and played their first post-war match in July 1946.
After such trials, the club is confident it can survive Covid-19 and carry on the traditions built up over more than 170 years.
Sue Marshall, Chair at the club for the past 12 years, had just heard that cricket was to resume when Derbyshire Life spoke to her.
Sue was delighted that letters members had sent to Derbyshire Dales MP Sarah Dines and her support for the resumption of club cricket had resulted in allowing play to begin again.
‘It was tortuous getting there,’ says Sue. ‘We got as many people as possible to write to our MP and Sarah Dines came to see us and was very supportive; within a week things changed. I like to think we made a bit of a difference.
‘Now, the Derbyshire League has put teams into small geographical groups and, while it won’t be a competitive league, we have ten games. It would have been a catastrophe to have lost the whole season.
‘We put a lot of effort in to keep things going and have eight youth teams - we don’t want to lose them to other interests. Financially, we need to play as cricket clubs rely on bar money and can’t exist just on membership fees. Sadly, we missed the early weeks when the weather was lovely - fingers crossed now we get some more good weather.’
All three of Sue’s children, two boys and a girl, have played at Wirksworth and, while she’s never played herself, she picked up the love of the club from her family.
‘It’s quite unusual to have a woman as chair but it’s like running a business really; there’s a lot to do,’ she says.
‘It’s a special club with a long history. Although it’s a small town that hasn’t got a large catchment area, merging with Middleton 12 years ago made a difference with more players and volunteers coming together. It’s a lot of people working together, and we have a great community spirit.’