A cricket ground beyond compare

This is a special year for cricket at Shipton as we celebrate 100 years of the club at our lovely ground. In two previous articles I have outlined the club’s history and discussed how our club badge came into being. Here I write about the land itself.

The fields that now comprise the cricket ground were for many centuries part of the home farm or demesne lands of Shipton Court. The main ground wasn’t transformed into a cricket pitch until 1910, the smaller Nursery Ground not until 2010. Originally the two fields formed a single block of pasture and was used for grazing. The local tithe map of 1831 has it as such, but by 1881 the OS map depicts its division. The ha-ha, a type of sunken fence, still a feature of the main ground, was added, presumably to stop sheep or cattle from wandering on to the avenue of lime trees that led from the Court and, at some point, a tunnel was constructed under the Avenue enabling sheep to get to and from the field to the north. The tunnel wasn’t blocked up until 1989 when it was thought to be a danger to village children who might be tempted to crawl through it, but its entrance is still obvious from the main pitch.

The ha-ha has survived a couple of threats to in-fill it, including 1981 when the then owners of Tall Trees were constructing a car park and wanted somewhere to dump the spoil.

On the southern side (Burford direction), a wooded or shrubbery walk fringed the field, allowing residents of the Court and their guests the chance to wander to the side of and above the level of the road into the Wild Garden, and back along the Avenue to the Court. Of course, there was no Tall Trees to block the way; that patch of land was only developed after WWII.

The 1881 map shows a stand of trees on what is now the main pitch and what looks to be a small hut. The second, western, field was then the larger of the two, the Wild Garden being extended into part of its area over the following decades. Viewed from any side, the fields must have presented an ideal of the picturesque, with elements of formality and bucolic charm. It still does, of course, but with the bonus of cricket.

When the ownership of the Court passed into the Pepper family in 1901, change followed and by 1910 the eastern field had been cleared of trees, levelled, and a cricket pitch and pavilion installed. Many villagers helped in the process. The pavilion was the same one we see today, although only half its present size. It was extended in the same style to the side in 1962 to include a bar, and to the back in 1969 when a shower block was installed.  A tearoom was constructed next to the pavilion in 1975. Until 1976, access to the ground was from the current Tall Trees entrance, after which the present entrance off the High Street was created with gates donated by the Hartley family and a beech hedge planted to the side. A scorers’ box and umpires’ changing facilities were added in 2002.

The club didn’t buy the main ground until 1947 after the break-up of the Court estate, and the Nursery Ground wasn’t acquired until 2008/9. Use of this field had been a bone of contention for many years. In 1960, it was proposed that a piggery be sited there. Six years later the club secretary wrote to the Sanitary Inspector to complain about the ‘continued dumping of pig manure’, and in 1981 the field’s owner applied to have the planning restrictions for ‘agricultural use’ rescinded to allow it to be developed. The club had always objected to such a change and to the field’s unsightly appearance – trees were planted to provide something of a screen – and the club was delighted when the chance came to buy it.

The wall that forms the club’s southern boundary has similarly been a perennial problem for the club and has had to be repaired on many occasions. In 1951, the club agreed to sell to the County Council a 170 square yard parcel of land to widen the A361. The sale price was just £1 with the Council building a retaining wall which the club has had to maintain.

Some of England’s finest and most famous cricketers make up Mr C E Parke’s team on 28 September 1922 for the Radcliffe match at Shipton Court. Back Row (LtoR): Hart, Young, C.M.Edgington, Parker, Strudwick, Funnell (Umpire). Front Row (LtoR): Fowler, Jack Hobbs, T.G.Goddard, C.E.Parkes, G.Treweeke, Parkin, Hayward.

Following the development of the Nursery Ground with its wooden pavilion, and the installation of the three-lane practise nets in 2016 there has been no further change, but, as we enter our second century, the club has plans for future improvements.

We aim to renovate and modernise (internally) our lovely old pavilion and then replace the tearoom, scorers’ and groundman’s ‘huts’ with two new buildings. See the photo for our architect’s (Hayward Smart of Shipston on Stour) vision of how it might look. It is very early days – we have not yet fully costed the designs or gone to planning – and we’d be very keen to receive the views of locals. As former chair and president Brian Gorton said recently, ‘it’s a beautiful ground and a wonderful club’, and we are determined it remains so.

We have produced a 32-page brochure to mark our centenary. It includes a mix of history, our four Lord’s finals, player biographies and more information about our plans. It can be purchased from local shops and our website at www.shiptoncc.co.uk.

Graham Nelson

October-November 2021