At first sight, the ground of Knowle & Dorridge Cricket Club seems unremarkable, even perhaps a little severe with its boundaries emphasising a plain rectangular shape darkly defined on three sides by ivy threaded hedgerows, but viewed from the tennis courts along its furthest length the space is softer against a background of tall chestnuts, beeches and oaks which shading gardens and mellowing residences seem to merge and blend into the field itself and seem a part of it. Although in fact, it could not truthfully be called a beautiful ground, it has all the charm with which it started seventy years ago, an ordinary country pasture on a country lane linking the village of Knowle with the village of Dorridge.
In the days when the newest popular form of transport was ‘a big wheel with pedals connected to a small wheel behind’ the Committee of the Dorridge Cricket Club met as usual at the Forest Hotel faced with the perennial problem of hiring a field for the coming season. But on this occasion in September 1897, a few of the members at a private meeting with friends in the Knowle Cricket Club had prepared, and now presented a proposition for the merger of the two clubs. The main reason for the unanimous vote accepting the resolution at the General Meeting which followed was the initiative taken by Mr Jesse James, a local resident with a keen interest in activities of his village and although only elected a ‘non-playing’ member or vice-president of the Club earlier that year, collected sufficient support locally to form ‘The Knowle and Dorridge Sports Club Ltd’ which purchased a field some halfway between the villages on the road which linked them.
The inaugural match in the year of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee was a particularly ambitious for villages cricketers no less than the Warwickshire County Club itself with the brothers Quaife and led by their captain Mr H. W. Bainbridge. The pavilion was a tent and wicket cut by ‘a professional also engaged to look after the ground for a wage of 30/- per week.
The record of this game does not survive and the becoming modesty which the keepers of the Club archives displayed in those early days is a characteristic of their successors which lasted until 1929 when the third eleven was formed, and it was noted in the minutes of the Annual General Meeting that ‘reports were received from the captains of the work of the Club’s teams during the season.
For that first cricket match played by the new Club in 1898 the pavilion had been a tent, but within a year a wooden hut was erected comprising a single room in which players could dress. Refreshments were provided by ‘the ladies of the district’ from a small canvas shelter which was set up nearby.
The wooden pavilion had the considerable merit at the turn of the century of being readily available and within the means of the members, augmented as these were by subscriptions from local well wishers and income from the proceeds of dinners, dances and ‘smoking concerts’, but it also has the disability of frailty. Annexes to serve as separate dressing rooms were added at each end in the year 1908, and plumbing installed. Finally, fifty years later, the ladies were at last provided with a kitchen canteen – part of a larger extension built on to one end mainly designed as a bar.
It had taken the Club a long time to gather together all the amenities necessary for the social needs of its members and guests and much care was taken to the pavllion was in harmony with its background not only in the physical sense, but also in keeping with its origins which were those of a village club. The original shell has remained and has lasted until 1969, but the records kept by Club secretaries over the years reveal a long and continuing struggle against wear and tear, repair and replacement and costly make and mend.
There has always been a conflict of priorities but, with truly commendable foresight and determination, the fathers of the Club decided that the game was the thing and the first call on resources was the field itself. There has always been a professional groundsman at the Knowle and Dorridge Cricket Club and it is due entirely to this policy that today the ground at ‘Station Road’ is rated one of the finest in Warwickshire on which matches for the Minor County Championship are played each year.
No history of this club would be complete without mention of the Groundsman who have over the years maintained and improved its quality, especially one who came back to the Club in 1930 from his native Gloucestershire where he had known and played with the ‘Doctor’ himself. Bill Snow stayed for thirty years until he retired on a pension provided for him by grateful members.
Since the days of the penny-farthing distances have of course grown smaller and the Club’s growing membership and strength led first to the formation of a third side, which retraced the steps of the original side among the villages nearby, and to Sunday cricket. Fields on either side of Station Road linking the two villages gave way to houses and gardens and, as the suburbs approached, the cricket club expanded and the ground itself had a new appeal for the residents and a new attraction for the newcomers, representing a part of the fast disappearing countryside in now what had become a town.
Visiting clubs now came as far as Oxford, from Northampton and from Leicester, Shrewsbury and near Bristol; and for a two day game each season, cricketers from south of the River Thames come again each year to enjoy the pleasant and peaceful atmosphere they find in the field Mr Jesse James and his friend acquired for the sportsman of the villages of Knowle and of Dorridge in 1897.
Among the great players who have appeared at Station Road since those days are among the giants of the gane. After the Quaifes there had been Pataudi of India, Wade of South Africa, Demster of New Zealand, Frank Foster of Warwickshire, and his namesake M. K. of Worcestershire, Larter, Amiss, Rumsey, Spooner, and Cartwright of England and, in recent years a magnificent century by the great ill starred Colin Milburn which will never be forgotten.
And there will be others which will come and come again in the years to come, for more club cricket is being played today than ever before in the history of the game. Cricket originated in the English countryside and this is the environment in which it grows, not in the stadiums and the concrete theatres of the cities.
Edward the first, it is recorded, travelled down to the village of Newenden in Kent to watch the cricket in the year 1300 while away to the north lay watching a spider in some Scottish cave. If there is a malaise in the game today, certainly no evidence of it can be found in clubs such as Knowle and Dorridge or those clubs that visit their ground.
There is however a threat to its future which must be recognised before it is too late. Even those people who are not particularly interested in cricket, or any form of sport must appreciate that the preservation of a cricket club in their district is the best – if not the only means of their disposal of preserving something of the countryside as it fast disappears under bricks and mortar.
The green acres of Knowle and Dorridge Cricket Club must surely be reason for thanksgiving, a gift from a former generation of villagers which it is worth the time and the effort of all the people of Knowle and Dorridge to preserve and cherish.
In many ways the Club, and the cricket that was played continued blissfully for year upon year. This wasn’t allowed to remain the case forever. Major changes occurred to the way the Club had been run for over 70 years in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Off the field in 1969/70, the old pavilion was replaced by the current one.
The new pavilion was designed by Mr Phillip b Herbert who also contributed to the brochure writing:
The new Pavilion is being erected in the same position on site as the old one, now demolished by the contractor for the new building, Mr John W Hassall of Fillongly, who is under contract to have it completed and ready for the 1st match of the 1970 Cricket Season.
The new Pavilion is 97′ in length and 25′ in width and the following planned accommodation on one floor:
Separate Changing Rooms for both home and away teams complete with Toilets and Showers. A large Bar and Tea Room which can be separated when required by means of a folding screen. A well equipped kitchen with facilities for serving refreshments direct to the public. Ladies Powder Room Toilets for the use of the public and storage room for bottles.
There will be a verandah across the front of the building facing the field of play and giving access to the Bar and Tea Room through mahogany and glass doors. There will, of course, be a Clock and Flag Pole.
The building is of brick construction with buff coloured facing bricks all round, dark brown pantile roof and white painted boarded gables.
Many members were involved in this major step, and fund raising events were, of course, a necessary evil. The then Chairman of the Club, Michael Horton, sent letters out to the members on 3 December 1969 enclosing a brochure and outlining the financial position to date and appealing for money. He said,
Many things have happened since my last letter(on the new pavilion). We have received grants and loans totaling £3500. By our own efforts and prize draws and latterly by the fete which produced a superb profit of £775 we have raised £2000. We now have a 35 year lease of the ground and the confirmation of eight generous loans of £250 – to save you totting up the figures, they come to £7500.
On the debit side, we were understandably unseccessful in our application for a Government grant and the cost of the pavilion is going to be £8284, an increase of £784 on the estimate. That remember is a pavilion without furnishings and fittings.
Your Committee envisages a pavilion to be ready for the start of next season that we can all be proud of. We want to keep it opened and manned all the year round for your convenience and pleasure. Somewhere to come and have a drink on the way home from the office, where cricket will sure to be a topic of conversation. We hope that the pavilion will be a friendly place and that we can take away a little of the trade from your local.
A brochure collated by David Perkins, including a charming history with literary perfection by Guy Shearburn is sent with this letter for you interest.
What we need now is audience participation. Not only a gift or a loan but also your continued support and you presence on the ground. No amount is too great or too small. Please write and tell me whether it is a gift or a loan and I will acknowledge. We feel that amounts of £25 or less should be treated as gifts, but above that sum they are repayable on death or demand at the option of the lender.
Time is pressing – your cheque is needed now. We must raise another £2000 at least and it should not be impossible.
The fund raising was boosted by holding fetes on the ground in 1969 and 1970. The second fete included an unlikely raffle prize for ‘A Night Out With Judy’. Judy was an anonymous member of the Club who agreed to spend a night out with the raffle winner. What the night out included, and who won the draw is not recorded. Does anyone know ? What is recorded is that 500 tickets were sold so obviously Judy was very popular!
On the field, league cricket came to K&D. Whilst the Birmingham League had been around for over 70 years, no other clubs played league cricket. The Midlands Club Cricket Championship was thus formed from the strongest clubs outside of the league.
The first Championship was played for in 1971, the Champions being Moseley Ashfield. In 1972 a Second Eleven Championship was started.
The Club, at the same time, was still running 3 teams an a Saturday and continued to play 2 games of friendly cricket on Sundays.
The 3rd XI had undergone a number of name changes from the ‘A’ team to the name Charlie Smallwood came up with of ‘The Nomads’. With the introduction of the 3rd XI Championship it reverted back to simply being called the 3rd XI.
The early years of league cricket saw K&D have little success. The club was captained initially by Frank Mitchell, of whom more is said in a later article. We had moderate sides in the middle 70’s, those years being dominated by Wolverhampton. It wasn’t until 1978 under Jamie McDowall, that we finished as high as 3rd place in the 1st XI Championship.
The one high point came outside the league when in 1973, under Alan Prosser’s captaincy we reached the last 16 of the National Knock-Out competition. We beat Cheltenham (the holders) and lost to Wolverhampton who went on to win it.
The ‘new’ pavilion was extended in 1982 with the conversion of the changing rooms into the current lounge, and the addition of the new two storey changing facilities. The changing rooms are now by far the most luxurious of any club in the area, with the upstairs changing room reserved for the home team and the provision of a players balcony.
This extension was funded substantially by loans from the Brewery. The extension was built by Peter Herbert, a member of the club, and cost £37400. It was completed in time for the start of the 1982 season.
1984 saw further developments on the playing front. Not only did the Midlands Club Cricket Championship expand to include a 3rd XI league, but also Warwickshire Sunday League was founded. The Club were founding members and now found itself putting out three Saturday sides and two Sunday sides in competitive situations.
Success in League cricket however eluded the Club until 1990. Keith Wilkinson was the first captain to lead the club to a league title. The 2nds XI held off Barnt Green and Harborne in a tense finish with with victory only confirmed on the last Saturday.
Once the duck was broken the floodgates opened. The 2nd XI repeated their success to record a hat-trick of titles from 1993-95 firstly under Keith again and then Tom Jameson.
Perhaps the surprise league title(although not to them) was the 3rd XI success in 1994. A fantastic team effort reflected the spirit engendered in the side by the captain Paul Connally.
In the meantime, the 1st XI had come from a bottom of the table side in the middle 1980’s to challenge for the league repeatedly in the 1990’s, but failing time and time again. Eventually, under Ian Maddocks captaincy, the Championship was won in 1995. This success meaning that in the Centenary Year, the Club was able to fly the 1st and 2nd XI championship pennants.
The description of the early years of the club has been taken from a brochure produced to celebrate the opening of the current pavilion in 1969. It was written by Guy Shearburn and is reproduced in full.