The first match of the Englefield cricket club is reported to have taken place against Bradfield on the evening of Wednesday 8 June 1864, although there is a record of a match between an eleven from Englefield and an eleven from Aldermaston Wharf played in a meadow near the Three Kings, Jack's Booth on 9 August 1858, which Englefield lost by an innings and 72 runs. Reporting the 1864 match, the Reading Mercury commented: “The game of cricket was somewhat of a novelty to many of the Englefield players, yet they proved too strong for their experienced opponents”. Englefield scored 45 in their first innings and 22 in their second; Bradfield made 21 and 43. The game must have been played with some speed to get four innings in before the light failed. There is no record of the players but the Secretary was the Curate (the Reverend D Yonge) and when he left the parish the office was taken by the Rector, the Rev A Clutterbuck, Mrs Benyon’s brother.
Englefield were not so lucky in a match in August the same year when they lost to Sulhamstead by an innings and 15 runs. The team on that occasion was: W Ford, W Stannard, W Parsons, Carey, C Pollard, W Robey, H Buxey, Pierce, W Smith, W Horn, Nightingale. There were evidently plenty of players for in June 1869 a match was played between Englefield Club and Englefield Rovers and two matches were played during the same week later that year: on Monday 30 August against Mr Wood’s Eleven from Tidmarsh and Pangourne and on Wednesday 2 September against Theale. Five men played in both matches, including the Curate, Mr Yonge. Mr Yonge took eleven wickets in the match against Mr Wood’s team, E Haygarth taking the remainder, one of which was caught by Mr Yonge and another stumped by him. In the match against Theale J Cox took 5 wickets in the first Theale innings and W Horne took seven in the second.
In 1890 the Captain was F Cosburn, the sub-Captain D Horne and the Secretary A E Robinson (the schoolmaster). The committee was: J Battram, J Claydon, G Davies, L Harris, A Mayer and W Smythe. Mr Benyon was the President. The members paid a subscription of one shilling each. The matches to be played in 1890 were against the Biscuit Factory at Reading, Calcot Park, Burghfield, Abbey Wharf, Woolhampton College, Woolhampton Village and Yattendon. The proceeds from village entertainments staged in the Long Gallery at Englefield House were given to the club. In 1891 a photograph was taken of 13 members and the Umpire and a copy hung in the Workmen’s Club.
The season traditionally opened and closed with a “married versus single” members match and “House versus Yard” fixtures were also played in addition to the ones against other local teams. Mr Benyon provided a tent for the use of members at home matches and this was erected by the Club caretaker who also acted as groundsman and supplied the teas.
In 1891 L E Bligh, who had played cricket for Kent, came to live in the village. The following year he became Captain of the cricket team and continued to play in 1893. In June that year the Rector notes that “The match against Bradfield ended in a severe defeat…but when first-rate players are brought to play against a village team, the results are not very uncertain”. Clearly, Bradfield had their own imported players, too. Further friction occurred the following month when, while taking the waters in Homburg, the Rector writes that “The intelligence of some little difficulties connected more or less with the cricket club has reached Homburg...". Reading between the lines it seems to have been a dispute, then as now, over an umpiring decision. To prove further that nothing changes, the Rector comments on the team’s hard luck in not winning a match against Bucklebury Fireside in June 1896 when “time” was called with Englefield needing 3 runs to win with 3 wickets in hand: “…one of the opposing team going on to bowl about a quarter of an hour from ‘time’ robbed our team of a certain victory by wilfully wasting time”.
As with the first match in 1864 there seem initially to have been two innings each side but later this changed to a single innings starting in the afternoon, play not being permitted on Sundays until after church. On Bank Holiday Mondays longer matches would take place starting in the morning and thus lunch was provided as well as tea.
In 1894 an improvement in the fielding was noted, though the length of the”tail” was causing concern. In July 1896 against Earley, Englefield scored 222 for 7 and then dismissed their opponents for only 33. Two matches previously, against Whitchurch, C Perrin had taken three wickets with consecutive balls. The quality of the fielding had obviously improved greatly by then, according to the report of a match against Aldermaston on 22 August 1896.
On August Bank Holiday 1914, took place the annual House and Gardens versus Timber Yard match, some of those involved playing while under notice of mobilisation. Normal service was resumed on Whit Monday 1919 with a match against the old enemy Theale.
From the beginning tea was provided at a cost of 6d a head and consisted of beer, bread and cheese, and lemonade at each home game. Initially visiting teams also paid but in 1891 it was decided that, as the Englefield team invariably had the benefit of a free tea at away matches, visitors to the village should receive the same. The bread, beer and cheese were given up and a free tea was provided by “a member of the club” for all the teams that visited. Englefield players could have tea at 3d if they wished. Mineral waters (1d) and biscuits were also on sale in the tent. The tea urn, crockery and cutlery were provided from the Workmen’s Club.
James Claydon, the caretaker of the Workmens’ Club was the groundsman, erected the tent provided by Mr Benyon for the use of the team and club members at home matches and supplied the teas. His successor, Mr Cook, also took on these jobs, although the building of the pavilion had rendered the tent unnecessary.
During the 1930s the cricket ground was used in the winter by the South Berks Ladies Lacrosse team, of which Miss Winifred Benyon was a member, with Mr Cook again acting as groundsman. After each match the teams went to the Club where long trestle tables were laid for tea. The Berks Ladies brought all the food with them, mostly from the kitchens at the House. Afterwards several of the ladies: Miss Nancy Fair, Miss Puxley and Miss Arnold, would insist on helping with the washing-up in the Club kitchen. Any left-over food was also placed on the kitchen table.
In the summer things switched to cricket, as Emily Cook recalled:
“First the pavilion had to be spring-cleaned. The deer would roam all over the pitch so the floor got very stained. Father and I would spend the day scrubbing and cleaning to have it all ship-shape for the first match.
Cricket season meant clean, white umpire’s coats, no nylon but cotton drill, starched and ironed every week. Friday was spent oiling the bats and cleaning, then whitening, the pads ready for Saturday. When Jim [her brother] wasn’t available I would be roped-in to fetch and carry for Father when he prepared and marked-out the wicket, also with hoisting the sight-screens. None of your wooden jobs pushed around on wheels for us, these were heavy white canvas held up by three long poles and fixed with guy ropes and tent pegs - a tough job on a windy day.
In the afternoon it would be tea for about 30 people with the washing-up to follow; the morning had been spent making the sandwiches, and no sliced bread either, for which we were paid 6d a head”.
All these duties ceased with the outbreak of war in 1939 and afterwards the refreshments were provided by Kitty Dance. The account on the right, actually from a Whit Monday match just before the war, has the drinks bill in her handwriting. The bill for the groceries is in the hand of her son William (Bill) Dance who until the war worked in The Maypole at Reading serving groceries. William and his brothers Ken, Roy and Norman all played in the team. Ken, Norman and Roy are seen in the photograph from the late 1940s and Ken and Norman were still playing 20 years later.
© 2021 Richard J Smith