260 YEARS OF CRICKET AT LEEDS CASTLE
This brief history was updated in July 2023, in the middle of what promises to be another successful season, with the 1st XI topping Division 1 of the Kent League and hoping to join the top 20 clubs in the county next year. In addition, the Sunday side has reached the last 8 of the National Village Knockout Cup, a tremendous achievement, while the 2nd XI are now playing against the 1st XIs of other local sides in the Kent League, and the 3rd XI is ever-improving and providing great opportunities for our promising crop of young players.
Junior coaching of boys and girls of all ages is once again thriving, and the committee is preparing plans to build a new pavilion to accommodate the needs of a modern go-ahead club. This project, if completed, would be the biggest ever in the Cub’s history.
Behind this recent success lies a fascinating history. 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 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 recent times, an Irish/Aussie turned Brit who took 4 wickets against Australia on his test debut in 1993 when he opened the bowling for England and who, for Leeds, terrorised 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 1761. 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 1761 with a brief report in the Whitehall Evening Post of a two 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 roundarm 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, we know that 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 for Leeds 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 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 a 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, detailed records are currently lacking for the period from 1920 until 1960, but newspaper reports show that the opposition was generally very local as travelling to matches was a problem before motor cars were widespread. Scores were very low, and bowlers thrived. Pitches must have been rough, and it is very rare to find an individual 50 in match reports.
We resume the story in the 1960s. The Club was then still playing friendlies against mainly 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 arrival of Umpire and later Club President Ron Law and his contacts led to the recruitment 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 he 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 later umpired 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 Leeds by Bill Cummings. He was (and still is, over 40 years after his debut) 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 scored over 20,000 runs for the club and passed 1,000 runs on many occasions with 1,530 at 35.6 in 1989 as his best.
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!
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 under 13 team won the Weald of Kent Cup on the Leeds ground. After this start much hard work was undertaken by John, Bob Patterson, 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 came 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 provided 2 all-weather pitches of top quality on which our young players could practise. In addition, many new items of equipment were purchased and a new and enlarged shed constructed to house them.
In 2009 a ladies’ section was formed when Mote Ladies split away to join us. They played for several seasons in the Women’s Southern Cricket League and provided at least one player for the men’s teams. Currently the senior ladies team has lapsed but the Club is determined to revive ladies’ cricket at Leeds and a new pavilion, with female changing facilities would certainly help in this respect.
To cope with the pressure on the ground the Club acquired the use in 2008 of a second ground at Tower House, Leeds, thanks to the kindness of Tony Cotton and the hard work of Dave Wratten. This delightful ground is regularly used for 3rd XI and junior matches.
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 titles. The presence and influence of Martin McCague was key to these successes.
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 gained promotion to the Premier Division. During this year veteran Martin McCague surpassed Bill Cummings’ 201* with an astounding innings of 234* against Wye which included no less than 14 sixes and 29 fours (200 runs in boundaries!).
In the following years, under the captaincy of James Longhurst, Chris Davis and Max Aitken the 1st XI made gradual progress through the Kent League divisions, culminating in winning promotion to Division 2 in 2021. A director of cricket, Rick Parsons, had been appointed in 2021 and his professional approach to training led to a huge improvement in results and cannot be overestimated. The following season the team challenged really hard, more than holding their own, and were unlucky not to gain promotion to the Championship Division.
In 2021 the 2nd XI also enjoyed huge success, carrying all before them under the able captaincy of Dom O’Connell. In the opinion of the writer, who watched several of their matches, this side was better than many 1st XIs of the past. At the same time, it was 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 had come through the junior coaching system.
Outstanding contributions were made over this period on the batting front by Max Aitken, who justifiably lays claim to being the Club’s best batsman of modern times as well as being a very effective leg spinner. Max reached 10,000 runs for the club in 2021. George Davis, always extremely promising from an early age, became an exciting opening bat and superb fielder, who is now 1st XI captain. His brother Chris is a skilful batsman and very capable keeper and youngster Ed Scrivens has developed into an outstanding all-rounder at a young age. Chris became the Club’s youngest ever Chair in 2022, at the age of only 34. New recruit, opener James Mitchinson, has added solidity to the top of the order.
On the bowling side, the evergreen Samson continued to shine in the early to mid-2010s and was ably supported by hostile opening bowlers Longhurst and Neil Dibben. Since 2021 newcomers Tom Parsons (son of coach Rick and an ex-county player) and Phil Semmens have made telling contributions in the promotion challenge for the 1st XI.
A sign of the changing times came in 2022 when an Australian overseas player, Michael Ho, was enlisted, followed in 2023 by Ryan Tullia. These imports are necessary at the level of cricket now being played and both have made valuable contributions to team spirit and to the coaching of juniors.
The ground, in the early days was positioned down by the lake where its remains can still be seen. The Club possesses 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 wanted the old pitch for the golf course and allowed the Club to use its existing ground for a peppercorn rent. 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 the Leeds Castle Foundation and the rent was increased from six old pence to £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 nets. 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.
Peter Bowden, July 2023