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A Potted History of Leigh CC

The history of any club is more about its people than mere dates and events and Leigh's is no different. For much of its 300-year history, the story of Leigh CC revolved around the involvement of a number of important and long-standing village families: the Stoltons, Brookers, Graylands, Hope-Morleys and more latterly the Batchelors, although as the village and the club opened up more to newcomers in the latter part of the twentieth century, this became less significant.

Although there is some evidence that cricket was played in the village before 1700, the story took off in the early part of the C18th, when large crowds attended major representative games on the Green, so-called 'Fair Days' involving betting tents and player sponsorship. Teams included both county and England players, and Leigh's strong links with Kent CCC were to continue well into the C20th.

By the C19th, the pattern of the cricket had settled down more into friendly games against nearby village sides, although the club continued to boast important connections: Tim Duke (of Duke's ball manufacturers fame) played for the village in the 1850's, a time when it is reckoned some 13 of his ball-makers lived in the village and worked at the nearby factory. One of these was Isaac Ingram who played for the village in the 1870's before going on to represent the county - all-in-all, he was involved in the club for 50-odd years.

Through this time, there was no official club pavilion or changing facility: players either arrived changed or could use the "Iron Room" school hall (replaced by the current school hall building in 2003). Towards the end of the C19th, however, the club was granted use of a parcel of land (rent-free) on the corner of the Green and Green View Avenue adjacent to the old dairy, and proceeded to raise the then-princely sum of £35 to build a single-storey corrugated iron-clad pavilion of its own which was to survive for 75 years.

The 1920's saw the re-establishment of the club after cricket was curtailed during the Great War. The 1930's saw the club flourish with increased success on the field (still all friendly games at this time - league cricket was not to arrive in Leigh until 1979) and necessary new equipment such as mowers being acquired. Cricket continued through the Second World War, albeit with the support of new players. The 1940's and 1950's then saw further significant development, laying down the foundations of the modern club: In 1948, the Hope-Morley / Hollenden family of Hall Place, who have played an important role not just in cricket in Leigh but, in fact, the whole village, made over the Green to the Parish Council, expressing the wish that cricket should always be played there.

The 1950's and 1960's saw further connections with Kent CCC pay dividends as first Ted Witherden moved to the village and began to play for the club before catching the eye of the County scouts. Whilst his subsequent appearances for Leigh were limited, his county ties brought a succession of celebrity and benefit games on the Green such as Arthur Phebey's benefit in June 1960 played against Peter West's invitation XI. Leigh was an ideal location for these games: With the population, in general, becoming more mobile as car ownership rose, the 1960's and 1970's saw cricket in Leigh tending to attract large crowds of spectators, including day-trippers from the London suburbs. The north side of the green was often ringed with dozens of cars, portable chairs, picnics and so on.

Around this time, the club itself began to put down some new roots which would see it through into the C21st: In 1954, Eric Batchelor became Hon. Treasurer, a post he would hold for 50 years (also becoming Hon. President in 1986); in 1958 his wife, Daisy, took up the tea-towel as Tea Supremo, a post she was to hold for many years, even featuring in a 1993 Carlton TV programme on the village and its cricket. The current Hon. President John Knock - a key player since the 1940's - became Hon. Secretary in 1966, again holding this position into the subsequent century.

This developing committee had its work cut out: By the late-1960's, the old pavilion was beginning to show its age and the committee began to plan its replacement eventually raising £6,142 to complete its replacement in 1972 with the current structure. The land arrangement was given more permanency with the generous donation of the freehold of the corner site into a trust on behalf of the club.

The latter part of the 1970's brought much excitement as first the club was represented by none other than Australian test cricketer John Inverarity, then a teacher at nearby Tonbridge School. He reputedly hit the largest ever six on the Green, landing the ball on the roof of the school hall. Then in 1979, the club joined the newly-formed Lilywhite Frowd West Kent Cricket League (later to become the Kent County Village League), bringing competitive cricket in the new-fangled limited overs format to the village, a major step forward in the club's modernisation. Clearly the club, with a crop of talented young players coming through, was ready for such a challenge as in 1984 the side reached the national quarter-finals of the National Village Knock Out competition, falling just two games way from a potential Lord's showpiece final.

In 2000, the club celebrated a centenary with a Festival Week of Cricket including a game between the current side and the 1984 stars.

More modern milestones in the C21st include:

  • The now late Eric Batchelor reached the milestone of 50 years as Club Treasurer before handing over the reins in 2004;

  • The acquisition - aided by a grant from Kent County Council - of a storable practice net system (Radford Ezy Net, marketed by the former test cricketer Neal Radford) to replace the dilapidated string-and-poles structure which had given the club many years' service;

  • The development of the Sunday morning Kwik Cricket junior section, begun by Phil Wynn Owen and Ian Harris in 1998 and continued with unquenchable enthusiasm by Chris Van't Hoff.

  • Undoubtedly the story will continue for many more years….

    Further reading

    Several books have been written about Leigh and its cricket:

    • Leigh Cricket Club From the 1700s to the Present Day, by Nigel Shaw, 1999
    • Leigh in Kent, 1550 - 1900, by Lawrence Biddle
    • Fifty Years of Cricket on the Green, by John Knock
    • The History of Leigh Cricket to 1837, by Tom Watson

    January 2014

    website updated January 2014 by idontlikecricket