Cricket on the Common
Memories from the 1880s to the 1920s
Here are a few facts as recollected by F.H.K.Mardell (written in Nov 1950) – captain of Harpenden Cricket Club from 1894, regarding the Cricket Club in the 1880’s and 90’s.
My eldest brother Henry was Captain during the middle 80’s; he was followed I think by Capt.C.C. Braithwaite, who lived at “Kirkwick” now the Glen Eagle Hotel. He was succeeded by A.J. Higgins and I followed in 1894. Albert Dunham, a baker living at Pimlico, was the club fast bowler. There may be some who remember Bill Gifkins, a real slinger; he left Harpenden about 1890.
In those days we had no sight screens, no umpires’ coats, no boundaries and no pavilion. I remember Ted Duckworth of Hammonds End hitting a ball round to leg which reached the gravel pits and trickled down the bank. They ran 9 for it. There was more gorse around the ground at that time and balls were occasionally lost which meant 6 to the batsman.
The first ‘pavilion’ – on wheels
The late Fred Carter and myself called on Sir John Bennet Lawes (Lord of the Manor) and asked permission to put a shepherd’s hut on the common to keep the club property in and to score from. Sir John thought a box was sufficient to keep the stumps in. After considerable talk and pointing out to him that there were many things beside the stumps, he gave consent but it was to be on wheels and removed at the close of each season. We used that for some years until the Pavilion came. I may add I took the precaution of letting the wheels of the hut about 18 inches into the ground or some of the lads would certainly have had a joy ride.
There were many good cricketers who played for Harpenden during my term of office. I think our best side was just before the first war of 1914. William Marsh won’t say much about himself but few bowlers had a better command of length. Once when a batsman was carting him over mid-off’s head rather frequently, I asked him, as we crossed over, to give him another hit in the next over and to follow it with one about 2 inches on the off side, and he might miss hit it to me at extra cover if I got a little away. He gave him the one to hit and then glanced at me as he went back to bowl. I was walking quietly backwards and the ball was hit in the air giving me an easy catch. Few bowlers in club cricket could be depended on to do that.
The club had got into rather low water about 1903, only 7 matches being played that year. Since that time the fixture list has been nearer 30 and two elevens have been fielded.
I don’t know how much if any of these remarks are worth recording. There are lots of little things that interest members at the time but don’t interest other people years after.