Memories of Cricket Tours Gone By

The following recollections are extracted from an article in the 2011 Magazine by Denis Tilbrook (Troy, 1954-1961).

A View of the Horsham Cricket Ground

As I reach my 50th anniversary of becoming a life member of the Association in August 2011, I am aware that in July next year, it will be fifty years, since my first appearance on the Old Boys Cricket Club Tour of Sussex, whilst in July of this year, it was fifty years ago, when still a schoolboy, that I scored a century for the School 1st XI in the annual game against the Old Southendian CC. At this special time of my life and as cricket is how many Old Boys now remember me, I felt that now was right to put to paper some of my memories from the Cricket Tours that I attended from 1962-1983.

It is very pleasing to know that the Cricket Tour is still continuing and is still so very much enjoyed by all those who attend; and in this respect, although venues and games have changed since my time, matches thankfully against Horsham and Three Bridges still remain. When I commenced going on Cricket Tours, usually some 17/18 players attended for the whole week, which then was for six days as follows:On Mondays at Swalecliff & Chestfield (near Whitstable); on Tuesdays at Rye; on Wednesdays two games were played (when all those on Tour appeared and others came along just for the day to ensure two sides were put out), one being at Worthing, the other at Littlehampton; on Thursdays at Horsham; on Fridays at Three Bridges; and on Saturdays on the return home at Horley (this was deemed a Saturday 1st XI fixture, so any first team player not on Tour, travelled from home to join up for the game). Sadly, when Horley joined the Surrey Cricket League around about late 1960’s/early 1970’s, this fixture was lost and the Tour then became a five day event.

On the Monday and Tuesday nights, the Tour was based in Hastings and from Wednesday through to Friday, this moved on to Brighton. Of all these venues, my favourite was Horsham, which was the first place I ever experienced on Tour. In 1962, after much pleading with my office management, I managed to get the Friday off work, so was able to travel to Horsham on the Thursday evening by train, leaving Southend Central at about 5pm, arriving at Horsham, sometime after 8pm. I then followed directions given me by David Giles, walking through the main town centre of Horsham and into the older section, before passing through the churchyard of St Mary’s Church and then around a small white house (known as Alfie Oakes’ cottage) to come across a scene that has remained with me ever since- a panoramic view of Horsham Cricket Ground in beautiful warm summer evening sunshine: to the left was the large black wood slatted score box (sadly lost to fire in the 1970’s and now having a brick built replacement), surrounded on all sides by small copses of trees; in the middle was the roped off cricket square, behind which in the distance was the main railway line moving on to Worthing with a forest of trees, sloping up and beyond; and to the right was the old wooden Horsham Pavilion (still there and now forming part of the modern pavilion erected in later years).

The resounding echoes of cricketers’ enjoyment came from the pavilion and cascaded across the field towards me. To complete this wonderful theatre as I walked towards the pavilion, a huge cheer and applause from my cricket colleagues resounded and within seconds a flowing glass of ale was placed in my hand. I was quickly able to appreciate why the Cricket Tour was so special.

The following Friday and Saturday allowed me to play at Three Bridges and Horley and this very special time was made so much more memorable, as I was fortunate to get good not out scores of 50 plus in both matches. From 1963 onwards, I toured the whole week for the following ten years or so (other than 1965);and then from about 1975 due to family commitments, I began joining the tour on Tuesdays until 1983, when I finished playing cricket. I rarely seemed to play at Swalecliff & Chestfield and only at Three Bridges on my first few Tours, but always at Rye, Worthing (only once at Littlehampton), Horsham and Horley. In consequence, most of the memories to come are in games that I played in; and of course the towns of Hastings and Brighton, where the Tour parties stayed.

Tour 1967 – Swalecliff & Chestfield Kevan Pratt, Peter Timms, Trevor Daughtrey, JohnMcIntyre, Denis Tilbrook, Ian Smith, Jeff Anderson, Ron Amesbury, Paul Green, Alan Cooke, Malcolm McLeod, Stan Speller

The Tour commenced with the Monday arrival at noon at “The Long Reach” at the end of the A259 near Whitstable, a fine hostelry to meet and greet one another with the loudest cheers for Ron Amesbury (RJRD), splendidly attired in brown jacket and matching trilby hat, driving the Tour wagon, which was used for ferrying cricket bags and personal cases etc.

After a sociable lunchtime, inclusive of many games of darts, where the scoring was strangely made via a dialling number machine, it was the short journey to the Swalecliff & Chestfield ground. As I recall, this was a small ground with not a lot of character, situated among a number of houses-and as I usually spent the Monday afternoon on the nearby Golf Course with its splendid views across the Thames Estuary to Essex, there is little I recall of the cricket.

Due to the need to reach our hotel base in Hastings, we soon departed southwards. I do remember one occasion, however, when as I was driving into Hastings, I stalled my car at a traffic light and was greeted with jeers and derision from a couple of locals alongside; however their noises seemed to revive my sleeping passengers, Trevor Daughtrey, Peter Timms and Kev Pratt and the appearance of my three colleague at the car windows in less than happy moods, turned the situation and the persons in the other car, speedily took off, coming very close to hitting an on-coming police vehicle. The lodgings in Hastings were at the Castle Hotel at the lower end of Wellington Square, very adjacent to the delightful Old Town area. The hotel was positioned close to the Hastings Priory Cricket Ground and the back rooms had a full view over the pitch and large stands area of the ground, a really delightful scene.

In the lobby area of the hotel was a large moose head, identical to that in the School Dining Hall hole, but having a hook in its nose area-on the ceiling was a string attached to which was a metal ring and the aim was to swing this, so that it landed on the moose head nose hook, not easy to accomplish. Many, many attempts would take place during our stay with hardly any success. In the basement area of the hotel was a full sized snooker table, which saw many late night frames played, where the hotel night porter was happy to accommodate our every wish, especially if these were of a liquid kind.

One other special memory from the 1964 Tour was of a very attractive chambermaid, who serviced our rooms each day. Some two months after this Tour, whilst reading one of the daily papers, her face featured in a large spread, which detailed that she had run away with a the lead singer of one of the popular Bands of the time and was now “shacked up” with him.

Unfortunately towards the end of the 1960’s, the Castle Hotel closed and we moved to staying at the Warrior Hotel in St Leonards for a few years, a hotel located in one of the large 19th Century blocks of buildings, overlooking the Channel with large grass areas, spreading down to the coast road. Near to the hotel was a bowling green overlooked by a statue of Queen Victoria, identical to that situated in the cliffs area in Southend. Once, during a very lively animated game of bowls, among a number of the tourists, which was becoming very rowdy, a sudden voice was heard from the vicinity of the statue, one Robey Wright, stating “Gentlemen, we are not amused!”

Clearly, he was someone, well versed in the history learned at school. The old town at Hastings was very popular, especially “Ye Olde Pump House” in George Street, a wonderful ancient inn, which had sinking foundations, so that the upstairs bar area was quite low. Many enjoyable sessions were spent there, maybe not because of the character of the old building, but possibly the assembly of the many young ladies from the Continent, who seemed to always be in attendance there – and guess what, they did not appear to understand the game of cricket, despite the lessons that were diligently explained to them! The building has now been improved and the foundations underpinned, but the upstairs bar is now sadly a restaurant.

Denis Tilbrook (Troy, 1954-1961)