Brightwell versus London 50 Years Ago

This is a light-hearted, but none-the-less reasonably accurate, account of a day’s cricket played on the village recreation ground in 1948.

Following the long years of war, cricket clubs were springing into life again, and our club secretary arranged the occasional fixture with a club from the London area, and these games proved to be a great success.

The day began, as it should for cricket, under a cloudless sky with bright sunshine. ‘They’ve come! They’ve come!’ the children would shout, as a large red bus crawled slowly round the moat corner, looking for Mackney Lane. Soon it was parked on the grass just inside the gate, and from it emerged mums and dads, uncles, aunts, grandparents and a host of excited children.

For a moment the grown-ups noticeably paused, held by the surrounding new fresh green that belongs only to the month of May. In no time at all large coloured rugs and blankets were spread out on the grass under the elms, soon to be held down by baskets of sandwiches and bottles of various drinks. Next, the home team would arrive. The one car was parked on the grass alongside the bus, and the ten bicycles were left leaning against the railings by the pavilion. At 11am the white-coated umpires would lead the home team out onto the field - and play would begin.

Still the sun shone, to the delight of everyone. The children dutifully watched the first few overs, then they were off! The boys to climb the willows around the ground, while the girls, accompanied by one or two adults, made their way over the footbridge to the next meadow to look for flowers. Very shortly a London boy would come running across from the ditch with some squirming creature held in his fist. Some of the mums looked closely at this captive with great interest - while others gave only wary glances from a safe distance.

A thin burst of clapping from the pavilion denoted a good catch, a boundary four or perhaps the fall of a wicket. Sometimes a good hit would send the ball soaring through the air towards the pavilion. If it landed with a dull thud - you knew that it had hit the thatched roof, and would soon roll off. If it landed lower down - it would hit the tin roof of the verandah, making everyone jump! If it landed lower still - it would then hit the concrete floor and ricochet into the open pavilion, much to the consternation of those inside, including the two scorers perched up on their high seats.

Presently, the girls could be seen running back from the meadow proudly carrying bunches of buttercups, moondaisies and ‘ragged robins’. The look of sheer delight on the faces of these London children would live long in anyone’s memory. Play stopped at 1pm for dinner. The home team usually went home, though some joined the visitors for liquid refreshments at the nearby pub. With the welcome warmth of the sun and with the incessant calling of the cuckoo from the lower meadows the afternoon’s play commenced. Runs were scored and wickets fell. A lone appeal from the bowler (unlike the crescendo of today) saw the umpire’s raised finger, and the forlorn batsman retraced his steps to the pavilion. A few of the elders of the village would leave their well-tended allotments and gather by the large wooden gate at the entrance to the ground. They would never come in, but would rest their elbows on the top bar and watch their cricket from afar. The children too loved this top bar. They would climb up and sit along it like a row of sparrows. How many jacket sleeves and trouser seats this old gate wore out we shall never know!

The tea ladies, as always, did a magnificent job providing sandwiches, cake and buns with hot sweet tea. No cricket match would have been complete without their constant dedication. The scoring of runs and the fall of wickets had to be registered on the scoreboard for all to see. The youthful operator, no doubt to draw attention to the importance of his duties, would drop the discarded tin number-plates on to the concrete below with clangs that could be heard all over the ground. The last man in was often a lad, and if he survived two or three overs, or scored a run or two, his day was complete!

As the evening shadows from the tall elms crept across the field, it was time to draw stumps and the day’s cricket was over. All the visitors and some of the home team made their way up Mackney Lane to the Red Lion where, for an hour or so, voices and laughter denoted a happy time for all.

With the cricket field now silent and deserted and with the small pipistrel bats flickering up and down the lane, it was time for the visitors to leave. They slowly trooped out of the yard calling their goodbyes. All agreed it had been a very enjoyable and memorable day - and I am sure that before that bus had gone many a mile, most of the younger children would be fast asleep on their mothers’ laps, still clutching perhaps their bunches of now faded flowers.

Ron Wood

First printed in The Villager (June/July 1998 edition)