Leeds and Broomfield CC - Club

250 YEARS OF CRICKET AT LEEDS CASTLE

From the far-off days when “gentlemen” bowled underarm to other “gentlemen” wearing no protective clothing and defending two stumps and scores were counted in notches, to keenly-fought league games where the batsmen (and now women) face hostile overarm bowling while wearing body armour made from the latest high tech polymers, the story of cricket at Leeds has mirrored closely the development of the game over the last 250 years.

Through all these years three things have remained constant – the patronage and financial support of the owners of Leeds Castle, the dedication of the Club members and the hospitality of the local public houses, initially the Park Gate Inn where “a good ordinary” (a slap up meal) was usually enjoyed after the match, and later the Ten Bells and The George where players to this day continue to dissect the game after rather fewer drinks than their predecessors!

The Leeds Club, later becoming Leeds and Broomfield, was once for 2 seasons the strongest in the land and has seen some notable players wearing its colours over the years including:

The commonly accepted inventor of round-arm bowling.

A former England Test captain who managed the Bodyline Tour to Australia.

An all rounder who was considered to be the W G Grace or Ian Botham of his time.

And, in the current team, an Irish/Aussie turned Brit who took 4 wickets against Australia on his test debut in 1993 when he opened the bowling for England but who now terrorises opposition opening bowlers with his cavalier hitting.

But we must not forget the host of yeomen Kentish Men, Men of Kent and sundry “foreigners” who have been the lifeblood of the club since its inception in 1762. Their names are legion and without them the Club would not have survived. They continue to make the club what it is today.

Our story begins in 1762 with a brief report in the Whitehall Evening Post of a 2 day match between Leeds and Chatham and it is good to see that Leeds won this game. Over the next 50 years games were regularly advertised in the press with rarely, alas, any scores being recorded. Usually there was a stake ranging from 5/- to 5 guineas a man, with an amazing, and probably fictitious, advertised stake of 200 guineas (now worth over £12000!) offered for a match against Sittingbourne in 1785. Such stakes were designed to draw the betting public to the matches. As well as against other Kent Clubs, games were reported in the next few decades against such strange outfits as “11 gentlemen millers” and “5 millers, 3 farmers and 3 bakers”.

In 1806 a notable figure who played an important role in the development of cricket made his first reported appearance for the Leeds Club, also appearing that year in the first ever Gentlemen v Players match at Lords. John Willes esq. of Sutton Valence supposedly learnt the art of round arm bowling from his sister who was unable to bowl underarm because of her voluminous skirts! Willes, bowling very fast in this revolutionary style, became unplayable and soon his bowling provoked great controversy particularly at Lords, then as now the ultra conservative home of cricket. In the MCC v Kent match at Lords on 15 July 1822, he commenced bowling for his county but, being no-balled, he threw down the ball in high dudgeon, left the ground immediately on his horse, and (it is said) never played again. However he did appear in matches for Leeds until as late as 1830.

Around this time Mr Charles Wykeham Martin, owner of Leeds Castle, became the patron of the Club and he determined to make it into one of the best in the land to rival that of his father-in-law Horatio Mann of Bishopsbourne. With his financial input crack local players were attracted to the club, and the foremost of these was Alfred Mynn, known as the Lion of Kent, who made his debut for the club in 1829, aged 22. Mynn was the best known and loved player in England over the next 20 years, a fearsome roundarm fast bowler and big-hitting batsman who made his living from the game playing for the All England XI. With Mynn’s brother Walter, the Wenmans of Benenden and other crack imports the Leeds Club was soon described in The Sporting Magazine as “probably superior to any other society” and with several players “ranking with the first in Christendom”. They beat both the MCC and Surrey (the Clarence Club) twice over the seasons 1834 and 1835 and attracted large crowds to their matches. But the best days were soon over, and Town Malling, later the home of the first county ground, usurped Leeds’ position as the best in Kent. The Mynns continued to appear for the Club well into the 1840s but the other stars went elsewhere and the club settled back into being a simple village team for most of the rest of its life.

Sporadic reports of the Leeds Club appear in the press until the turn of the century when the club’s fortunes seem to have revived, largely due to the recruitment in 1902 of a fine all rounder W C Betts from Lenham, a player once described as the local “WG”, and the bowler J J Ellis from Bearsted. For the next 12 years until the first world war the club had many local triumphs, regularly beating sides such as Ashford. Betts’ feats with bat and ball were many – in 1903 inside 5 days he took 8-28 in one innings against Wrinsted Court and then 14-19 in two innings against Gore Court. In 1906 he took 15 wickets against Ashford in a two innings game and overall that year took 70 wickets in 142 overs at an average of 6.7. He was generally also to be found near the top of the batting averages and had a top score of 114. J J Ellis was a demon bowler whose best figures for Leeds were 10-35 against Gore Court at Otham. Among many one-sided matches was a victory over Sutton Valence in 1902 by 283 runs (Leeds 293-3; Sutton Valence 10 all out) and a score of 435 against Mr Pemberton’s XI.

In 1911 Leeds played Kent County Constabulary at the Castle, winning by an innings thanks to P F (“Plum”) Warner who scored 126. Warner captained England on the Ashes winning tour of 1903-4, managed them on the infamous Bodyline tour of 1932-33, and was President of the MCC in 1950. He lived for many years in Caring Lane Leeds and brought top players of the day to play friendlies on Bearsted green and at Gore Court. One such who also turned out with Warner for Leeds against the Police was Irishman F L Fane who played for Essex and himself captained England 5 times.

The First World War war intervened and when cricket restarted fully in 1920 some changes had occurred at Leeds – the club was now known for the first time as Leeds and Broomfield and the 2nd XI made its first appearance. In that 2nd XI appeared a young George Wratten who, like his son Dave was a fine all rounder. George played for the club until 1952 and son Dave completed 50 years as a player in 2005 giving this father and son combination over 80 years playing service. George was to be seen at the ground until well into his 80s, generally reminding the younger players that “they knew how to hit the ball in my day” And as all current players know his son carries on the tradition!

Many well known local family names first appeared for the Club in the early years of the 19th century – Edmed, Russell, Fermor, Charlton, Bristow, Wood, Cheeseman, Fridd to name a few, and these families have continued to provide life blood to the Club over many years.

Sadly records and research are currently lacking for the period from 1930 until 1960 so we must resume the story in the 1960s. The Club was then still playing friendlies against local teams and only put out a 1st XI until the 2nd XI resumed in 1975 (for League cricket). Mainstays of the team were all-rounder Dave Wratten and John Dunk who formed a formidable opening partnership, and Dink Fermor an off spinner who took 103 wickets in 1970. The arrrival of Umpire and later Club President Ron Law and his contacts led to the arrival of several talented players the foremost of which was Bill Cummings, a bullying batsman who murdered most local attacks. In 1972 Cummings scored 2,065 runs at 64.5 (the only time 2000 in season has ever been passed) and over the 5 seasons 1970-74 scored more than 6,000 runs at an average of over 50, with a top score of 201* which remained a Club record until 2011. Another top recruit was medium paced swing bowler Mike Sharrett who once played Minor counties cricket for Staffordshire, and who took 113 wickets at 7.1 runs each in the 1973 season.

The successes of these years led the Club to venture into League cricket in 1974 when it joined the Mid Kent League where it enjoyed many happy years until the late 1990s when it left the MKL and joined the Invicta League, which was essentially a collection of good local village teams who, at that time, did not want to join a structured league system. This was indicative of the general attitude then prevalent in the Club – a desire to play competitive cricket against good village sides but with a lot of emphasis on the after match social aspects of the game.

No outstanding successes were recorded in these leagues in the early days apart from in 1990 when the 2nd XI won Division 2 of the MKL under the canny leadership of Alan Vidgen who today umpires for the 1st XI. The Club always seemed to be short of a few top players and relied on the old stalwarts such as Dave Wratten who appeared indestructible and took his total runs and wickets for the 1st XI to over 20,000 and 1,000 respectively. Other notable players in this period included Andy Creamer who first played while at school in Maidstone in 1971 and became a prolific opening bat passing 20,000 runs for the Club (with 1,916 in 1984 as his best return). Brian Fridd was a Derek Underwood-like medium paced left-arm spinner who played in the late 70’s and early 80’s and took 108 wickets in 1982. Adrian (“Sam” or “Sammy”) Samson who played against the Club for the Mote as a 15 year old in the late 1970s was persuaded to join us by Bill Cummings. He was (and still is) a tricky off spinner who defeats batsman by guile as well as a very useful batsman, with a season’s best of 1,268 runs at 42.3 in 1988. Adrian took over 100 wickets in each of the 3 seasons 1990-92 with 116 (a club record) as his best return in 1990 and has now taken over 1,000 wickets and scored more than 10,000 runs for the Club. John Hartshorn also played against the club for the Mote as a teenager before he joined us and became a powerful opening bat with a very solid defence. John has now also scored over 20,000 runs for the club and has passed 1,000 runs on many occasions with 1,530 at 35.6 in 1989 as his best.

In 2009, the final season in the Invicta League, the 1st XI finished top of Division 2 under the able captaincy of James Ingarfield, who went on to lead the Club to victory in 2010 in the Kent regional Village League, and also led a very young Sunday League side containing many 14 and 15 year olds to two League tiltles. This makes James the most successful captain in the Club’s history.

From 1973-1999 the Club enjoyed many happy tours to East Anglia when, as is the norm, off the field activities often predominated and many young players learnt the hard way how to hold their beer! The tours were organised by Ron Law and Alan Ault. Alan, a woodsman at Leeds Castle, played a few games in the early sixties before realising that care of the ground and administration were to be his forte. He served the club with great distinction for over 40 years as fixture secretary, secretary and groundsman.

In 1978 the players on their way to the ground for a midweek friendly against The Enzymes found their entrance barred by armed police and troops. The reason for this was the Arab Israeli peace talks being held at the Castle. John Dunk (clearly considered a terrorist threat) was accompanied to the pavilion to get his kit by a helicopter gunship. Later the Club received a cheque for £50 from the American Embassy in recompense for the inconvenience!

The ground from the early days was positioned down by the lake where its remains can still be seen. Before fire destroyed the pavilion, the Club possessed a photo from the 1920s of a horse-drawn roller on the original pitch. It was moved to its present position around 1947 by Lady Baillie who bought the castle in the 1920s. The original pavilion on the present ground (better described as a hut!) lay down to the east side of the lime tree with the boundary only just to the west of the tree making the ground in those days very tiny. The pavilion moved up to the Southwest corner around 1962 (still without showers or toilets) and was replaced in 1984 by a larger affair (complete with showers and toilets) when the ground was first enlarged by 5 yards on the western boundary. Many members toiled valiantly to ensure that the Club could carry out this project within its then limited funding. This pavilion was named the John Butcher pavilion after the headmaster of the village school who played for the Club in the 1920s and 1930s and later held many offices in the Club. But sadly disaster struck in the winter of 1998/99 when a fire destroyed the pavilion and the Club was left in a desperate position, being underinsured by £15,000. But, not for the first time, the Castle came to our aid and allowed a further extension to the ground as well as rebuilding the pavilion at their expense. The Club ceded ownership of the pavilion to Leeds castle Foundation and the rent was increased from six old pence to its present £500 per year. Further ground expansions came in 2006 and 2011 when the Castle generously gifted the Club (with no additional rent) the whole of the adjoining field to the west which now forms the site of the storage shed, junior Flicx pitch (constructed in 2005) and new artificial wickets.

It cannot be stressed highly enough how grateful the Cub is to the Castle Foundation for its continuing support and generosity over all the years. Without this vital input we would never have got to where we are today. All players and visitors to the ground are fortunate to play and watch cricket in such a beautiful setting overlooking the Castle.

In 2003 a decisive moment in the Club’s history came when we were approached by John Higgs of Harrietsham Cricket Club (then sadly in its death throes) with a view to continuing Harrietsham’s promising junior section (started in 1999) in combination with Leeds and Broomfield. Thus was born LBH and in the same year the u13 team won the Weald of Kent Cup on the Leeds ground. After this start much hard work was undertaken by John, Bob Patterson, Richard Atkinson and a team of dedicated coaches to bring the Junior section to its present position as one of the most highly regarded in Kent, a tremendous achievement for a small village club. With the gaining in 2005 of ClubMark accreditation (only the second club in Kent to achieve this) and Focus Club status has come the opportunity to apply for funding.

The Club’s 5 year £65,000 fundraising campaign led with great acumen by Chairman John Fletcher culminated in 2011 with the official opening by the Sports Minister of the new £20,000 synthetic net facility which provides 2 all weather pitches of top quality on which our young players can practise. In addition many new items of equipment have been purchased and a new and enlarged groundsman shed constructed to house them.

The junior section now runs 7 squads ranging from under 9 Kwik Cricket to under 15 girls and mixed teams entering county and national competitions. At the end of the 2011 season it had around 110 young people on its books with ages ranging from 5 to 15, and among these were 8 county players (2 boys and 6 girls).

In addition since 2006 under “A Chance to Shine” the Club has worked with several local schools to carry out coaching and promote cricket with young children.

In 2009 a ladies section was formed when Mote Ladies split away to join us. They now play in the Womens’ Southern Cricket League and have already provided at least one player for the mens’ teams.

To cope with the pressure on the ground the Club acquired the use in 2008 of a second ground at Tower House thanks to the kindness of Tony Cotton and hard work of Dave Wratten.

With the junior development effort now bearing fruit and many of its graduates playing for senior sides the time had come for a change. In order to keep hold of its good young players the club realised that it had to move with the times and enter the larger Kent League structure, even though at first some drop in the standard of opposition would have to be accepted. So in 2010 the first game was played in the Kent Regional Village League (Division 1A central). 15 out of 18 matches were won that season and the Club gained promotion to the Championship East.

In 2011, despite finding the going tougher, the Club again won their League, winning 10 out of 18 matches and thus have gained promotion to the Premier Division. During this year veteran Martin McCague surpassed Bill Cummings’ 1971 highest score with an astounding innings of 234* against Wye which included no less than 14 sixes and 29 fours (200 runs in boundaries!). But, at the same time it is extremely gratifying to see over half of the 1st XI and at least as many of the 2nd XI being made up of young players who have come through the LBH/LBJ system.

What John Willes or Alfred Mynn would have made of this who knows? After 250 colourful years the stage is surely set for the next 250!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I have had the privilege and pleasure of playing many games at our lovely ground ever since I moved to Maidstone in 1973 and a Club member who came to fit some carpets in my house spotted my cricket bag and mentioned Leeds and Broomfield CC. For the rest of that summer I read the reports in the KM and was intrigued by the run scoring feats of messrs Wratten, Dunk and Cummings. So I turned up for nets at the start of the 1974 season just as the club was reaching the end of the “Cummings era” and embarking on League cricket for the first time. I was immediately struck by the surroundings and the warmth of welcome I received at the Club and was fascinated by its long history which grabbed my interest to such a degree that I spent many hours in the Maidstone Reference Library scouring dusty old newspapers for mentions of cricket at Leeds. Looking back I consider myself to have been very fortunate to be able to bat in such beautiful surroundings where I managed to occasionally control my impetuosity and profit from the excellent batting wicket. Bowling my leg spin was often a trial on such a pitch and small ground, especially before it was extended, and I well remember the day when I (as captain) put myself on to open the bowling against the Chatham Nomads and saw each of my first 5 balls (long hops) despatched for 4, only to take a wicket with the sixth and end up with eight altogether!

I am proud to have been Club captain for several seasons and to have served on the committee for 30 years. Over this time I have worked with many of the hard working members who make it all happen behind the scenes for those who simply turn up and play – Fred Gibbons, Alan Ault, Ron Law, Frank and Alan Vidgen, Andy Creamer and many more. If I have omitted to mention any of you please forgive me. But first and foremost playing cricket for Leeds has given me many happy hours spent playing the best game in the world with (and against) some great people – who could ask for more?


Peter Bowden