Bats of Willow and Balls of Leather

The History of Burbage Cricket Club

The Cricket Ground

American Airmen from the 82nd Airborne Division relax at Hinckley Road
American Airmen from the 82nd Airborne Division relax at Hinckley Road in the weeks preceding the D-Day landings in the spring of 1944. Roller with shafts in the background.

We have received reports of cricket being played at various locations in the village — the Outwoods and Banky Meadow being two areas mentioned. Clarendon Nomads played at the ground previously used by members of the Sketchley Sports and Social Club off the Rugby Road and cricket is played at Hastings High School. The main area of land known as the 'cricket field' for many years is now Hinckley Road recreation ground. The field outline is clearly seen on a map of 1582 when the land was known as the Notwong Furlong. Ownership of the land would have been held by the heirs of the Hastings family from the Prior of Coventry from the time of Domesday. By the 16th century the Grey family had title to the name of Hastings and the Greys held the manorial rights until they were ended in 1935.

The Tithe Map of 1838 shows the land as number 79 and leased to James Bonner who was the landlord of the Cross Keys Inn. This land was now called the Bottom Close and was leased from Nicholas Hurst as pasture for £1 .Os. 9d. per annum. Additionally James leased Top Close (now Grove Park) and Love Lane Close (now part of the recreation ground and the junior school playing field). The link between the Inn and the cricket club has existed and has not been broken for over 100 years.

The 1901 census shows Frederick Hall, with his wife Florence, was the landlord at the Cross Keys by which time the club had been formally established and a member of the South Leicestershire Cricket League. Cricket had started to become a popular game in the late 18th century and it is most probable that games were played in this part of Leicestershire from the earliest times. Barwell's cricket records go back to 1806 but the earliest written record of a match involving players from Burbage is from 1859 when a team played the Hinckley Wideawakes — unfortunately too wideawake for Burbage who were soundly beaten.

The cricket field was accessed through the Inn yard and was rough pasture land. At one time cows were kept on the land — cow pats were a common hazard for early cricketers — and later a horse was a resident, keeping the grass as short as possible. The horse had another duty — he was used to pull the roller that flattened the cricket square. He wore special leather boots over his hoofs to protect that part of the ground from damage. In the background of the photograph, the roller complete with shafts can be seen.

Air view of the Hinckley Road ground in 1978 still showing Warings Field. Air view of the Hinckley Road ground in 1978
Air view of the Hinckley Road ground in 1978 still showing Warings Field. (left/top)
A photograph taken in 2005 from the Church tower. The trees planted around the catholic church and along the school perimeter now have over 20 years growth. (right/bottom)

Florence Hall, now licensee at the Cross Keys, purchased the cricket field from Eleanor Hurst (presumably a descendent of Nicholas Hurst) and Henry Nichols in November 1920 and she then purchased the access onto the Hinckley Road from John and Mary Sanders and Edith Horwich in September 1924. The purchase may have been an attempt to keep Wilfrid, her son, at home and remain a cowherder, which is how he is described in the 1921 census. Wilfrid, however, left Burbage in 1925 to play professional cricket in North Wales and later Scotland.

By 1927 Florence had been a widow for ten years and, much to the concern of the cricket club, the land was put up for sale by auction; it was described as 'being most centrally situated and ripe for development for a building estate'. This information must have been generally known for at the club's Annual General Meeting in March 1926 a report stated that 'the ownership of the cricket ground which was shortly to be offered for sale, was causing some concern though the hope was expressed that it would still be available as the home of village cricket'. Happily for everyone, except perhaps Florence, the land was not sold at that time.

The field, with access from Hinckley Road, was eventually sold in 1934 to Burbage Parish Council for £1050 as a recreation ground. Prior to this in 1933 Florence had purchased a strip of land, part of the Top Close, to form the Cross Keys Inn garden with access to the cricket field. There are stories that the club was offered the ground for around £300 but members could not find that money. This surely could not be correct as the club had many prominent local tradespeople and dignitaries playing for the team and honorary vice presidents. A sum of £300 should have been found!

In 1936 Burbage Parish Council was disbanded and the land came under the control of the Hinckley Urban District Council. The land at this stage was still a very rough piece of land that relied on grazing animals to keep the grass short although there was an impressive wooden pavilion on the ground.

In front of the wooden pavilion just before the First World War. George 'Big Spoff' Charlton is seated at the far left and Wilfrid Hall is seated second from right. A photograph taken during the 1950s, 'Big Spoff' Charlton is the tallest, second left at the back.
In front of the wooden pavilion just before the First World War. George 'Big Spoff' Charlton is seated at the far left and Wilfrid Hall is seated second from right. (left/top)
A photograph taken during the 1950s, 'Big Spoff' Charlton is the tallest, second left at the back. (right/bottom)

In 1937 the Urban District Council applied to the Ministry of Health to borrow £700 for improvements to the ground which would include a 'sanitary convenience, additional seats, footpaths and a high fence around the ground'. The toilets ceased to be used as such during the 1970s when the cricket club applied to the council to use the building as a kit shed and store and there are still very great lengths of that original high metal fence visible today.

In 1937 there were complaints in the local press about damage to the ground and facilities, and the cricket club members were asked to keep a watch over the land with the threat that if anyone was caught they would be severely dealt with.

Although water was laid to the toilets, there was no water at the pavilion. Teas were made by the wives and mothers of the players and hot water provided by Mrs Foster whose garden backed up to the ground. Teas were served from a wooden shed at the side of the pavilion that had a hatch on one side. By the late 1950s the pavilion showed signs of wear and tear — the roof had been replaced several times with corrugated sheets and representation was made to the council for a replacement to be considered. In 1963 the surveyor from the council met with club officials to discuss their requirements for changing facilities and also to include somewhere to serve and have teas. The council agreed that a new building could be provided but the cost should be no more than £1900. The new pavilion was completed in 1965 at a cost of £3000. This again had a splendid verandah and large windows and was formally opened by the Chairman of the Urban District Council, Cllr George Pryce-Jones who stated "this will last you years and years provided you don't have vandalism such as we have in some areas". Unfortunately these words fell on stoney ground and the windows were broken on many occasions and eventually had to be boarded over. The old pavilion was still of sufficient use that it was sold to a local farmer to be used as a chicken shed.

The opening of the latest pavilion in 1996 with the Mayor, Cllr David Wood and the Parish Council Chairman, Cllr Keith Lynch and Parish Clerk, Peggy Howard.
The opening of the latest pavilion in 1996 with the Mayor, Cllr David Wood and the Parish Council Chairman, Cllr Keith Lynch and Parish Clerk, Peggy Howard.

There had been several instances of rough sleepers using the pavilion and especially the verandah area. On one occasion during the winter the original wooden pavilion was broken into from underneath (the pavilion was on stilts) and when the cricketers returned in the spring they found the tea urn had been used as a toilet! These problems ensured that, when a replacement pavilion was built in 1996 with grants from the Foundation for the Sports and Arts and the Lottery, no windows or verandah were provided. The cost had now risen to £78,000 and although the building is rather stark from the outside, it has remained complete and is in very good condition and the facilities are regarded as some of the best in the senior league. There is a separate changing room for the umpires and disabled facilities, shower, changing and toilet facilities for both teams, kitchen and tea area together with boiler and storage room.

Maintenance of the ground and pavilion is in the hands of Burbage Parish Council and Burbage Cricket Club pays an annual rent to use the facilities based on the number of teams that the club supports. The council cuts the outfield during the season, not as often as the club or the league think sufficient, or early enough in the year sometimes to prevent strong spring growth. Winter maintenance is carried out to the square as soon after the end of the season as possible and the square is fenced to indicate to all other users of the recreation ground that the cricket wickets should be protected and not walked over. During the season weekly strip and wicket preparation is carried out by the club. As mentioned earlier the square was rolled with a heavy roller pulled by a horse owned by Mr. Tunnicliffe during the 1920s and 1930s. After the horse expired, the shafts were modified to enable an army of helpers to take turns at pushing and pulling the heavy roller up and down the wicket! At the beginning of the 1960s a three wheeled tractor had been purchased to pull the roller and this helped to improve the wicket considerably. The tractor had to be started with ether and then went onto diesel fuel. There was banter between players about the wicket preparation — bowlers preferred the wicket to be rough to take spin, but the batsmen wanted a flat wicket. In 1966 the wicket was turned round from east/west location to north/south. This was because of the sun blinding batsmen playing from the eastern end — it had taken over 60 years to come to this decision and the change did cause some comment in the committee meetings and there was a proposal to turn the wicket around again after only one season. However this was not carried out and the wicket remains on a north/south orientation — the only remaining problem now being encountered by the scorers sitting outside the pavilion on a sunny summer evening, having to shield their eyes from the setting sun. The change has also meant that not so many balls were hit into Hinckley Road as apparently frequently happened. One notable hit was the six propelled by Harold Alsop in 1945 into the road to land near St. Catherine's Church in a match against Barwell.

The hand roller was sold in 1975 for £150 to someone at the Open University at Milton Keynes — maybe it is still being used. The club had progressed to acquiring the 'iron horse' in 1972; the motorised roller, still in use, was donated by the 'Friends of Burbage Cricket Club'. The roller had been ordered from the company En Tout Cas in Syston early in the season but delivery was delayed until August because the engine builders were on strike. Because this was a donation, the cost of the roller is not shown in the accounts, but a trawl through the old bank books shows a withdrawal of £948.67 (this could have been the price for the roller) in June of that some year. It can be some what temperamental and needs a skilled hand to drive but for the past thirty four years all the wickets have been prepared using the roller. It was manufactured by T H White Engineers Ltd. (Auto Roller) Norton St. Philip, Bath, Somerset BA3 6LW Tel.No.Faukland401.

A new engine was fitted in 2002 at a cost of £1000, so we can look forward to another thirty years rolling from the machine.

Ian Crisp at work with the 'iron horse' rolling the wicket Ian Crisp using the mower to prepare the wicket
Ian Crisp at work with the 'iron horse' rolling the wicket. (left/top)
Ian Crisp using the mower to prepare the wicket. (right/bottom)

The earliest record we have of a fee paid for use of the ground is in 1965 when the annual rent to the Urban District Council was £11. This steadily rose with the cricket club being the dominant club and the football club paying them a fee to play football during the winter. In 1983 a 28 year lease was signed with the Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council and the rental was then £524 per annum with the football club signing a simple agreement to pay £250 for use of their pitch. In 1986 Burbage Parish Council was reformed and gradually all the recreation grounds were consigned to that authority for management and maintenance. By this time the junior football side Burbage84 were also renting a pitch. Talks were started with the parish council and in 1987 a fresh lease was signed by the cricket club for an annual fee of £675 without any responsibility for the footballers. Today the fee paid is determined by the number of teams playing during a season — in 2006 the club paid the parish council £1183.50 for three senior teams (£263 per team) and three junior teams (half the senior rate) for a season lasting four months. There is some controversy that the Cross Keys footballers pay £263 for a senior team for a total of eight months.

Until 2001 practice nights had always been held on the recreation ground. A concrete strip had been laid in 1951 and this, covered with coconut matting, was used for many years using portable nets. However, the concrete strip was very near to the children's play area and its use was causing concern. The matting also did not replicate grass and the strip ceased to be used for practice by the 1970s. The concrete strip itself was not removed until the 1990s. Practice took place on wickets outside the mown square but increased use of the recreation ground meant that there were some accidents with cricket balls flying in different directions. In 2001 two artificial wickets were laid at Hastings High School at a total cost of £9245. The money was raised by grants from Lottery Awards for All, The Lords' Taverners, Burbage Parish Council, Hastings High School and the club making a donation of just over £2000. The nets were supplied by Club Surfaces with Derek Underwood ex Kent & England player, coming to the school to make recommendations. The nets are now in use throughout the summer by the school and club and practice can be carried out in safety.

Children enjoying the artificial net facilities at Hasting High School More practice at the nets.
Children enjoying the artificial net facilities at Hasting High School. (left/top)
More practice at the nets.(right/bottom)