The Cricket Club
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One wonders what sparked the enthusiasm of a few Blackheath inhabitants, gathered in the tap-room of the old Forest King, an ale house at the edge of the common land, to decide to level a strip of rough heathland and start playing cricket.
Was it youthful enthusiasm helped along by cheap beer or was it the fact that the first Australian touring team had just beaten the M.C.C. at Lord’s in a single day in May 1878.
It is thought that the first game of cricket in Blackheath was played in 1878 when the pitch had been manually cleared of the heather. Matches occurred irregularly, the team usually consisting of woodmen and farm workers playing against teams from Shamley Green and the Chilworth gunpowder factory.
Organisation was haphazard and the dress primitive. From theses unpromising beginnings, however, considerable enthusiasm was inspired and some of the early players must have worked hard to get the ground free of the gorse and heather and made fit to play. The square, which is still in use today, was originally laid in 1896, it was extended in 1908 and again in 1949.
Early stalwarts of the cricket club were Jabez Cannon, Arthur Atfield and James Atfield. Jabez and James also played for the gunpowder works team. Another regular was Tommy Payne who played for over 30 years into the 1930’s. Edward Sink became secretary in 1909 and seldom missed a home match.
By 1914 the team run by the Gunpowder works in Chilworth were the main force in the vicinity. Many of the Blackheath people were employed at the mills and also played for their team.
Another team in existence at this time was that of the Barnett Hill Estate, a private club of Mr Frank Cook. The team played on it’s own pitch opposite the entrance to Barnett Hill. The pavilion can still be seen today.
Before the First World War the pitches at Blackheath were sporting and the outfield usually uncut. Slogging, mainly in the air, was the order of the day for the batsmen and, although many a great hit was achieved, the innings rarely lasted long. It was exceptional for a team to score many over 50 in total.
One notable player was Frank Chitty, the local postman, he suffered from a limp and had only one eye but, so it is said, he saw more with that one than most people did with two. He was the team’s wicket keeper. Other notable players were Laddie Edwards, Billy Edwards, Syd Hayward and George Raggett.
As is the case today, the doings of the cricketers had a lighter side. One story which is told of that time relates how Blackheath were all out in one over, The team had been celebrating after an away match and returned to the village via a horse-drawn vehicle. They had the misfortune to be tipped out on the road when the wheels ran up a bank and the vehicle turned over.
Horse-drawn transport was a luxury in those days and players often had to walk considerable distances to away matches. Later the bicycle became the favourite form of transport. One member recalled travelling several miles to a match on the crossbar of a teammates bike complete with bat and pads strapped on to it.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s Len Saunders was one of the mainstays of the club. A sound, reliable batsman and Captain for many years.
Between the wars two elevens were run on Saturdays and although the grounds men were appointed annually, pitches were still under-prepared and sandy. One team, Shamley Green, refused to visit Blackheath again after fiery bowling on a lifting pitch had injured three of their batsmen.
Ted Rose was the village policeman and the team’s opening batsman during the 1930’s, he was one of the few players to make a century. In his off-duty periods he spent many hours rolling the pitches.
Around 1936 the club was renamed Blackheath and Chilworth Cricket Club. There were three reasons given for this. The cricket club at Chilworth had closed down, several people from Chilworth were playing for Blackheath and it was felt that there would be greater scope for recruiting. The name was later changed back to Blackheath cricket Club. This proved unpopular with the Club Cricket Conference, which already had the famous Kent club of the same name. Eventually a compromise was reached and the club is officially titled Blackheath (Surrey) cricket Club.
In 1937/1938 the cricket ground was also used by the Blackheath rovers football Club but this was a short-lived and the club was never revived.
Cricket was curtailed in August 1939 on account of the imminence of war but efforts were made to continue to 1940 with a limited fixture list. John Macdonald was elected as Captain for the first time but joined the RAF and was unable to complete the season. From 1941 to 1946 the club ceased to function but occasional matches were played on the ground between the Home Guard and the service teams stationed in the area. The common around the pitch was requisitioned by the Ministry of Supply, enclosed in barbed wire and used as a park and camp for the Canadian Army.
After the war cricket happily resumed. The mainstay of the team in the years after the war was undoubtedly Bert Ayears. A natural athlete, he excelled in every department of the game but, such was his temperament, the responsibility of being by far the best player in the team lay lightly on his broad shoulders.
In 1948 Francis Hayes became the official grounds man of the club for the princely fee of £10 per annum.
In 1966 Ken Barrington, the leading cricketer of the time, played for Eastwick Park at Blackheath and was caught off a bowl by Hayes.
The 1950’s began auspiciously for the club. Only eight matches were won and financial losses were made, In 1953 Dave reeds, who had played for the village some years earlier returned to the village and immediately made his presence felt.
The Forest King, for so long the headquarters and ‘pavilion’ of the club had closed and a new permanent pavilion was becoming an urgent necessity. In 1957 the present pavilion was opened.
In 1963 Sir Edwin Tangley became the Chairman in 1962. At this time the club fielded some powerful sides. From 1947 to 1965 John Macdonald captained the club. His knowledge and enthusiasm for the game were unrivalled.
The pavilion was extended in 1972. 1976 was one of the busiest and successful seasons for the club.
Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s the club went through many ups and downs in their standard of play and support as a whole but luckily today the club is thriving.
Following the award of ECB Club mark status last autumn, the rapid development of the club’s junior section in recent years has now been recognised by Blackheath’s elevation to a Focus Club.
The club thrives today in 2020.