Plymouth Cricket Club
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Plymouth Cricket Club is a cricket club who have four teams playing in the Devon Cricket League. The club was formed in 1843, although there are references to the Plymouth and Devonport Cricket Club prior to this. The first and second teams play at Mount Wise Cricket Ground, formerly used by the United Services Cricket Club and before them The Garrison Cricket Club.
The birth of Plymouth Cricket Club was an inauspicious one, and whilst no records exist of the first incorporation of the club, a 1936 article in the local Independent gives reference to the discovery of the Secretary’s Letter’s Book dating from 1857. Correspondence clarifies that the club had just been formed and gives details of the first ground, literally a field on The Hoe, where houses of Elliott Street, Lansdowne Place and Holyrood Place now stand.
An article in the Evening Herald makes reference to the club forming in 1843 – reports of the AGM of 1946 suggests the club existing for at least 150 years and the AGM of 1973 has Honorary Secretary Jack Douglas stating "……but more proud of belonging to the club which has a history going back 200 years."
Purchasing and maintaining ground equipment is a challenge that the club still faces today, and the heady days of the mid 19th century were no different. The club had to go to Arbroath to obtain a mowing machine, and records exist of a letter asking for one to be sent down from Scotland at a cost of £7. In order for the expense of carriage to be reduced, it was suggested that the mower should be dispatched via London and then by steamer to Plymouth.
The first mowing machine didn’t last long, another letter a few weeks’ later states that "a nail got in the way of the mowing machine and has given it a terrible shake and a screw was broken. We have had to ask Arbroath to send another screw".
The Club also seemed to have its fair share of difficulties in the early years. Facilities were basic and there was evidently no pavilion on the ground for there is another letter addressed to a firm in London ordering a "Crimean Tent @ 55 shillings washed". Dog-walkers may not have been a problem in Victorian times but there is a letter addressed to owner of an adjoining field complaining that one of its pigs had been "parading over the cricket ground and a pig might do considerable damage to the turf in a few hours".
The earliest scorebook in existence dates only back to 1936. A report, and although it gives Modbury as the opponents it doesn’t suggest how long it took, or indeed how, their opponents got to Plymouth. It also details a remarkable thirty-five wides and a general lack of direction in the round –arm bowling. Games tended to start at 11 or 12 with lunch and tea breaking the play and it would be commonplace for a military band to entertain the crowds, either on the ground or at the bandstand, on The Hoe, that was bombed during World War II.
The club also seemed accountable for their performances, much like modern day football managers. Defending one’s team away from the pitch was common-place, never clearer than by the correspondence exchanged via the Western Daily Mercury newspaper in July 1860. It concerned a match that Plymouth had lost to Tavistock earlier in the season. Mortimer Collier, the Honorary secretary of Plymouth CC was making the point that the team put out against Tavistock was in fact, a 2nd XI (and not a full strength one at that) as Plymouth had not accepted a 1st team challenge and that until Tavistock proved they could beat Plymouth’s 2nd XI, Plymouth would not accept a match against their 1st team (the corresponding match in 1859 had seen Plymouth IIs beat Tavistock 1st team). Collier goes on to predict that Plymouth IIs would beat Tavistock in the return at Plymouth’s ground should Tavistock accept the challenge – it has not been possible to ascertain the outcome. His letters even refer to the uncertainty of the tenure of the ground then.
Plymouth Cricket Club’s life on the Hoe was short-lived. With the land bordering Plymouth Sound in great demand and valuable, the city’s Victorian fathers were keen to maximise their assets and the club was soon given notice to vacate their existing facilities. The predicament was discussed at the Annual General Meeting of 20 December 1862, and with only four members attending it seemed that the club’s short life was already coming to an end. However, Plymouth managed to resolve its first ground crisis by taking up residency at Astor fields, now South Devon Place. How this came about, or who owned the fields is unclear, but with the club’s future secure the membership grew and the club prospered.
However, things have rarely run smoothly in Plymouth’s history and after tenure of forty one years, the club were forced to move out of their second ground since formation in 1904. The end of the season saw the last game played at South Devon Place, which had been earmarked as building land. With nowhere to go the club became itinerant, playing away games only as they searched for a new permanent home.
The club had by all accounts been fielding weak sides over the turn of the century. There were obviously some fines players; Whiting, who on 2 July 1887, smashed the hapless South Devon attack for 230 out of a total of 497, and the professionals Cort and Whitehead would regularly carry the side. With the gradual demise of the playing staff so came the decline of the club, an unfortunate loss of players to South Africa to fight in the Boer War finally hammering another nail into the coffin, and so the extremely grand affairs that were the end of season dinners, attended by the dignities such as the Lord Mayor, came to an end.
Eventually Plymouth took a further step toward extinction in 1914 as World War I and the conscription of most active young men brought a complete halt to cricket in Plymouth and left the Barbarians CC, who later became known as the Devon Nomads, as the only civilian side left in existence.
First thoughts of reforming the club came to the fore in 1916, with a few stalwarts keeping the idea alive until finally, in 1919, Plymouth Cricket Club again took to the pitch, playing against the RGA at the Citadel. A good score of 200 for 5 on a matting wicket and an eventual victory augured for a happy and successful future. Despite the resuscitation, the club still had no ground, and experienced significant initial difficulties, however the enterprise of those responsible was significant and again all games were played away, except in August when Ford Park (Plymouth College’s home ground) was available. The club had long been promised use of Beacon Park but this had yet to materialise.
At the time a prominent member of the club was former Albion three-quarter Teddy Butcher (who was to also go on to play cricket for Devon) and he, along with officials JW Robins, Cecil Cornish and Sid Solomon, (a player so experienced that he had actually taken the wicket of WG Grace in a game between a Plymouth & District team v MCC in 1902) turned the club into a team of some ability and resolve. By 1921 the club won 13 and lost only 4 of its 19 competitive matches and finally moved into its new ground at Beacon Park for the start of an exciting 1922 season under the new name of Plymouth’s Own Cricket Club.
The excitement didn’t last long. On Tuesday 6 June 1922 the Western Evening Herald reported that the "sight of a glowing sky shortly after 12.30 this morning created alarm. It was first thought that the Bath and West Show Ground had suffered an outbreak of fire, but in fact Plymouth Cricket Club’s new Pavilion had burned down barely 6 weeks after completion, destroying all playing equipment, records and minutes and causing the postponement of a home fixture against Penzance the following Saturday. With the origins of the club already unclear after the Beacon Down blaze, a fire at the Guildhall in 1941, caused by German bombing, further muddied the waters by destroying all the remaining records and leaving the club without a traceable history.
Despite the destruction of the Pavilion, the affairs of club were encouraging both on and off the field. By 1923 the acquisition of the new ground at Beacon Park had helped swell membership from a post war low of 15 to a more healthy 53. However, at the end of 1923 the club again encountered ground troubles. Plymouth Corporate Officers, who had been instrumental in the redevelopment of the burned out Pavilion wanted the ground for their own use, and come end of 1923 Plymouth’s Own Cricket Club again found themselves homeless for the third time in a little over 65 years.
However, as we all know, every cloud has a silver lining, and predominantly due to efforts of the incumbent club Secretary at the time, one FG Elliott, the next few years were to become some of the finest in Plymouth’s history. Firstly, a new ground was secured and this was announced in January 1924. The "field" was in the occupation of a Mr Cundy, and formed part of his farm, but possession was to be immediate with rent set at £60 per annum, and work on the wicket was to start in time for the coming season. At the time it was known as Venn Park, named after the adjoining lane, but later it was to become known as Peverell Park, the name which was to become synonymous with, but also bring so much trouble to, Plymouth Cricket Club during the late 20th Century.
The field was part of the Bath & West Show, which continued for a couple of years after the Cricket Club started to use the site, which initially belonged to the mighty Lord St Levan. The surface was uneven, but the club predicted it would be one of finest in the West within two years, with a slight curve making for natural drainage. An immediate lack of funds would hinder development – a Pavilion was first priority – but future plans on the huge site included Tennis Courts and a Bowling Green.
It was around this time that Frank Midgley, a fast bowler of some repute and taker of 345 wickets for the club (in the games that have been found), made a particularly special impact with the bat. Having never scored a half century, Midgley strolled to the wicket against Kelly College with his side in some trouble at 20 for 6. Undeterred, the fast bowler belted a whirlwind 40 not out including 2x6s, 2x4s, before heading off to lunch. A renowned cider drinker, Midgley somewhat overindulged himself at lunch time and sickness caused him to retire in the 1st over after the resumption. He had to wait another 7 years before scoring his first and only half century for the club, 51* (not out) against Exeter in 1931.
Midgley, at 6’2", was a terrifying prospect on the ill prepared strips of the time, often occupied by batsmen with no protection. His fierce pace, the fastest this side of London according to John Weekes, who at 96 has can claim to be the oldest surviving Plymouth Cricketer, devastated batting oppositions – often claiming wickets with his 1st and/or 2nd balls of a match.
As previously predicted, Peverell Park soon became one of the most prestigious grounds in the South West. Club Minutes from 1925 mention ‘the splendid condition of Peverell ground’ – in first rate condition although it was only acquired the previous year. However, it appeared that the locals had yet to wake up to this fact, and after a particularly poor attendance for a game against the old enemy Exeter, on 13 June, when a Plymouth victory confirmed their status as the strongest team in Devon, secretary Elliott bemoaned the lack of support stating in the Evening Herald; complaining that "we hope that when the public of Plymouth realise strength of team they have, that they will attend matches in even greater numbers".
With the ground now in order, the Club Committee made a decision on 18 May to go ahead and build the Pavilion, at accost of £365. To that point the club had raised £80 and had a considerable deficit to make up. They needed to raise a further £100 by 20 May and then a then another £65 by 30 June.
Fifteen Tennis Courts were laid (with three earmarked for special use by members only) – to pay for the pavilion, with the separate fund raised to avoid touching the club’s existing income. To add to the fund Club Members were issued with lottery cards and all were expected to contribute by selling them to local residents and businesses, whilst a deal was also struck with local Building Contractor and philanthropist GE Wakeham to erect the structure at cost price. The final touch was a clock over the entrance, a gift from Samuel Edgcumbe.
Meanwhile, an important deal which was to shape the future of the whole city was being negotiated in the background between Lord St Levan and Plymouth Corporation – later to become known as Plymouth City Council. 201 acres of prime grazing land was presented to the city the following November, which is now known as Central Park, part of which was Peverell Park, making the Corporation the club’s new landlords.
Finally, after two years of negotiation and development, on 11 July 1925, Plymouth Cricket Club’s new Pavilion was opened by Deputy Lord Mayor Littleton. After a brief opening speech at luncheon the club’s new flag was unfurled in club colours of black, white and green. A short speech by club president GH Smith congratulated the club on its vicissitude since its inception, and having expressed his satisfaction at Plymouth Corporation’s purchase of site, he paid particular tribute to the efforts of its most prominent officials, particularly Secretary Cornish, Treasurer Tolkien, and the late Treasurer Elliott, in securing the lease to Peverell Park This opening of the Pavilion was to be an annual affair, usually performed at the 1st XI’s opening game of the season by either the Lord Major/Lady Mayoress or their Deputy.
With the off-field problems finally resolved the club continued to excel on the pitch. FW Worden followed up a 7–32 haul against Exeter on 28 June 1926 to become the first recorded player from the reformed Peverell Park version of the club to play for Devon. However, the East/West divide still seemed exist – even in the mid-1920s only 1 of 6 county games were played at Peverell, with 4 in Exeter and 1 at Sidmouth – despite the splendid condition of the square and outfield. Locally, however, cricket was booming, a crowd of 3000 turned up to watch a game between United Services and Plymouth at Mount Wise.
Along with the fantastic playing facilities, the club was also now financially sound with a solid membership base. On 14 July 1926, Plymouth Cricket Club fielded three teams for only the second time on a Saturday afternoon, and having survived on its overdraft in the initial years after reforming, the club had finally paid off its debt over the preceding three seasons, and felt in a position to employ their first full-time professional/groundsman.
On the weekend on 1 September 1926, James Meunier, who had previously played for Lincolnshire and Warwickshire, travelled down to join the club from Dudley in Birmingham & District League. Meunier was renowned as fast bowler and attractive free flowing batsmen, a reputation that was soon to be enhanced by his performances on the field.
Locally, Plymouth was also continuing to strengthen. An experienced committee, Cornish was still secretary and Worden now fixture secretary, wisely developed a relationship with the local public school, Plymouth College, with OPM RW Palk becoming the first beneficiary. Despite the loss of stalwart Teddy Butcher to a rugby accident, the club still dominated, picking up former Lancashire second team player Taylor along the way.
Batsmen of the calibre of Cooper, Redman and Billy Baker, and bowlers Midgley, Jinkin, EA Aiten-Davies, EI Terrell and Cec Cornish made Plymouth arguably the strongest side in Devon during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Baker was to finish his Plymouth career with a batting average slightly over 33, a remarkable feat for a club cricketer on some poor wickets which the bowlers found much more to their liking. Chinaman bowler Cyril Jinkin, who eventually ended with 409 wickets for the club, remarkably took 6–0 away at Tavistock twice in successive years – on 6 June 1925 and 7 August 1926 – and also managed club record 36 5-wicket hauls with a best of 8–3 against Liskeard, also in 1926.
Professional Meunier was also instrumental in the continued on field success, and when he announced his resignation at the end of June 1927 it came as a considerable shock. Frantic negotiations and persuasion eventually resulted in the club retaining his services and the decision was vindicated as he took 10–57 against the Royal Navy in June 1929. In doing so Meunier became the first Plymouth bowler to take all ten wickets in an innings, a feat to be later repeated by Dave Mardon and Venu Kondamudi, but the more remarkable fact of Meunier’s achievement was that all ten victims were clean bowled.
Supporting Meunier at the other end was cider fan Frank Midgley, now playing for Devon, and together the two formed a formidable new ball pairing rarely matched for the club in the days since. Regarded as the faster of the two, Midgley had a fearsome reputation and having bowled Commander Rae of United Services in 1929 later measured the carry of the bail at an impressive 43 yards.
These halcyon days were briefly interrupted in 1930 by the replacement of Meunier by his successor as professional, Alf Moule. Moule, formerly of Falmouth (1926–1929), was to go on to play over 100 matches, score 260 runs and take 262 wickets for the club during the 1930s but his biggest impact came off the field.
The employment of the brisk in-swing bowler proved to be a masterstroke by the club Committee. Immediately upon arrival he started to make improvements to the ground, and during his first winter there was an extension to the Members’ Enclosure and plans were implemented to raise the low corners of the ground. Plymouth again fielded three sides but with only Midgley and Redman making the county side there was distinct bitterness, and regular public accusations of an East Devon bias involved in the selection of team. Adding to the divide was the continued lack of County matches at Peverell in the early 1930s. Most were played at Exeter’s ground after a rain affected Peverell pitch fell to pieces in 1929 resulting in the ball shooting along the ground, the farcical conditions resulting in a Devon defeat.
In an attempt to improve the ground sufficiently to bring County cricket back to West Devon, negotiations had started with the Plymouth Corporation regarding the levelling of the lower part of the ground through controlled tipping. Negotiations had proceeded so far that the club had pulled down part of bank along the Venn Lane side of the ground so that carts could enter, but the scheme was delayed after questions arose over finance.
Hardworking Cornishman Moule was a perennial fixture up at Peverell during this time, working endlessly to improve the ground and square, and working wonders to create a playing arena worthy of the club. Moule turned out to be an even more important cog in the Plymouth wheel on the field when the infamous Midgley fell ill and missed half a season. On his return he was quite obviously never the same player again and ended his Plymouth playing days, in the lead up to the Second World War, in the 2nd XI, as a batsman who didn’t bowl.
In the winter of 1933/34 Moule masterminded a vast levelling scheme which completely transformed the appearance of the ground making it as reasonably level as anyone could expect. The "old dip" on the Peverell side of the ground vanished, the surface having been raised about 7 metres and the entire "lifted" area was re-seeded. Added to this the turf on the wicket itself was removed and was re-laid.
The groundworks were not, however, without their difficulties. The outfield became very soft and any ball falling from head height stopped dead, whilst any ball thrown at a low trajectory rolled only a few yards after striking ground. Even worse, heavy rain on 9 June laid bare thousands of small stones used in the levelling works. After what was reported as a "vexatious delay", Peverell Park was re-opened on Saturday 1 July for a fixture against Torquay. The ground was hardly fit but the club felt that they had to start as the club’s financial obligations are heavy, although to help bridge the gap an anonymous supporter of the club offered for auction a bat resplendent with the autographs of fifteen English and Australian test cricketers.
To also help with the financial troubles it was suggested that Plymouth Cricket Club host more matches, and with the Plymouth and District League starting in 1934 the first midweek cricket was seen at Peverell Park. To help the players deal with the ‘dusky’ conditions two new sightscreens on rollers were presented by Capt GM Hele, although visibility didn’t seem to be a problem to the players as even in these early days concerns were raised after several balls were lost and there was the serious suggestion of using ball boys!
The season of 1935 saw further work undertaken on the outfield, again by Alf Moule, this saw a vast improvement on previous years. Recognising the industry of the Club, the Plymouth Corporation rewarded Plymouth for their industry by granting them a further seven-year lease to Peverell Park, in turn prompting Plymouth to make further improvements to the ground – a new scoreboard, registering every detail of play, was installed at a cost of £50, and the erection of fencing around the entire lower side of the ground gave the site a much more finished and contained feel. The new boundary, however, did not seem to deter some hardy fence-jumpers, and a story in the Western Morning News on 12 June 1937 reported four elderly spectators sited at the Home Park End of the ground disappearing into Central Park as the collection tin came around, and then re-appearing when it had gone.
As War approached, Plymouth Cricket Club continued to plan for the future. Now becoming too big for their existing facilities, a plan for a new Pavilion was negotiated with the Corporation, now called Plymouth City Council, who would pay for its construction in return for increased rent payments (an additional £100 per annum) and to be paid back within 30 years, the remaining term of the current lease which had commenced on 29 September 1934.
The first official reports of the new Pavilion came in the Evening Herald on 24 May 1938, with the publication of a photograph showing the skeleton of the new building, designed by the incumbent chairman EG Catchpole. The cost was estimated at £3350 and the new facility was eventually opened later the same season.
The wonderful new construction was only in use for one full season before the Second World War brought an untimely cessation to the activities of the club in 1939. The Pavilion was re-designated as a makeshift war-time school for the next eight years, with near neighbours Hyde Park one of the temporary tenants.
By the time the club eventually moved back into their Pavilion, after the War in 1947, there had been great change in personnel, only four players remained from the pre-war season and not a single member of the 2nd XI had played for the club before. This however, was not going to spoil a momentous occasion, and only two months after the first meeting of the new committee, the club had 40 playing members, seating for over 300 – purchased from old air raid shelters – and new nets. A masterstroke of organisation. The club also had a new professional – Ernie Carless, former Glamorgan County player and ex-professional footballer.
Although Carless was only to play for the club for one season, the remarkable Sid Solomon also reappeared after the war, 45 years after first playing for the club in 1902, and having once taken the wicket of WG Grace he seemed to have lost none of his bowling ability, taking 7–23 to bowl Plymouth College out for a paltry 61 in mid-June.
The war however, had taken its toll on the fabric of the Club. The Pavilion was still used as a school during week and only available to club out of school hours, and the grounds man, Tom Deacon, returned in 1946 to find the lower corner of ground (the site of controlled tipping to level the ground many years earlier, "as rough as the Bay of Biscay". Subsequent improvement was made to lower side of ground by the filling in of the hollows made by subsidence during the war years, and these were filled and seeded by the Council, prompting the Club committee to use a shortened boundary for a few weeks whilst helping to provide additional seating.
Having missed the initial rebirth of the club in 1946, 1 May 1948 saw the grand old club officially reopened by the Lord Mayor HJ Perry, who stated in his opening address that he hoped that the enterprise and energy displayed by club would receive due reward – he agreed that Plymouth Cricket Club was deserving of better recognition by the local County Board. The first post-war captain was Roy Periton, who was ably supported on the field the infamous Harold Keeling, a ‘true’ Yorkshireman, who finally received his deserved call-up to represent Devon in 1947. Keeling was to depart for Bexley Heath the following year, having averaged 33 with the bat and just 10 with the ball for Plymouth, but the seeds of success had already been sown.
The post war years also saw the renewed prospect of large attendances. A bumper crowd of 600 for a game against United Services prompted the club to approach the Plymouth Corporation for an increase in seating accommodation and conveniences, although the Club couldn’t charge an admission as, although nothing in the agreement with the Corporation prevented it, they had no enclosure and spectators could access the ground from almost any part of the boundary.
The Club were also in need of finances to meet their new post war ground rent of ground £40 and annual rates of £150. Total income at the time was £1334, but with expenditure increasing by almost £300, the existing committee felt they were being unfairly hamstrung by the Corporation, and compared their rates to the £60 a year being paid by Torquay. In response, the non-playing member’s subs were doubled to a guinea, with playing members paying two guineas. These were the challenges facing new chairman Cyril Jinkin (that purveyor of left arm chinamen which caused so many problems for those hapless batsmen of the pre-war era), who was originally one of those who had been responsible for restarting the club at Beacon Down after World War 1, and had worked indefatigably to ensure the future of the club was a successful one.
On the field, Plymouth Argyle favourite Billy Strauss made an unusual start to the 1952 season and his Plymouth career, having got off the mark with a nervous three in the first game, he recorded four successive ducks before smashing 109 against the hapless United Services on 30 June 1951.
Argyle provided more than a few players for Plymouth, amongst them, Pat Glover and Jack Chisholm, who eventually went on to play Minor Counties cricket for Bedfordshire. An annual fixture between the two sports was played for many years, and was to prove immensely popular with the public. Plymouth also kept annual fixtures with many sides; P& D XIs, OPMs (Ex-Plymouth College), South Devon, Royal Naval Barracks, Tavistock, Liskeard and several different touring teams; Old Olavians, Merseysiders, Sheffield Collegiate to mention but a few. Until the mid-1990s, with the loss of the Club to other sports, fixture lists were packed with games throughout the summer.
The continuing increase in the cost of running the club saw the Plymouth fail to employ a professional in 1952, attributed in records as solely due to the unreasonable charges of the Plymouth Corporation. In addition to the rates, ground maintenance was costing the club £500 per year, whilst the Torquay and Paignton Corporations, as well has charging lower ground rents and rates, also provided labour to help with ground maintenance.
Jinkin’s Committee decided that they had to act, and on 19 April 1953 they took two unprecedented decisions. First of all there was to be charge for admission, set at 6d for adults and 3d for juveniles, and secondly the club would pay all players expenses, except for the first half crown. In addition, to help encourage younger players to the club, they would provide three full sets of equipment to the teams so that young players will not necessarily have to provide their own bat/pads
Adding to the financial problems facing the club, were more ground problems. In early June, just prior to the most prestigious of matches, with the county facing Cornwall at Peverell, ‘saucers’ developed across the surface of Peverell Park. At considerable expense, turf experts of national repute were called in by the club to make soil tests and examine the square. They simply recommended fertilisers as an interim measure until end of season and by the end of July the problem seemed cured.
The committee’s 1953 experiment to encourage younger members seemed to work. Membership increased to 428 for the 1954 season, an increase of over 100 in two years, although the "pay as u enter" experiment was inconclusive, with total gates level with the previous season. The increased revenue and lack of a professional did, however, allow the club to appoint a part-time groundsman to help deal with the ground tribulations, Frank Barber taking up the reins in 1954 and George Enon taking over a year later. Thirty years later George was still there, whiling away his afternoons at Peverell Park!
As mentioned, finances were a constant thorn in the side of the club throughout the 1950s. The departure of the Local Education Authority eventually left the club footing the entire maintenance bill of over £500 themselves, treble what they had been previously paying, and despite an increase in membership in the Cricket and Tennis sections, attendances were in terminal decline, reaching their nadir on 5 May 1956 when only 17s 6d was taken on the gate as the cricket suffered in competition with the televised FA Cup Final between the City’s of Manchester and Birmingham.
However, despite the declining interest, the 1950s again provided Plymouth with very strong teams, made up of the likes of the great Cornwall all-rounder, Cliff Casley (who was also an accomplished billiards and snooker player), opener Jim Warriner, Bill Palmer (who once built a slip cradle for the club), Leo Alvis, one time Somerset trialist Ian McLennan, legendary Devonport High School teacher Harold Mallinson, and Prince Rock Schoolmaster/wicket-keeper Leo Lowson.
The 1950s also proved to be a successful breeding ground for the future players of Plymouth. Devon spinner (although he had started out as a seam bowler) Derek Pring made his debut, and over 30 years and over 400 wickets later he had kept enough about him to twice return to take five wicket hauls for the 2nd XI against South Devon in the early 1990s. Hard hitting Peter Vittle and future captain Bob Healey also made their debuts, Healey going on to skipper the side in 1981 and 1982. In an unusual twist of fate Healey was to later take 8–44 and score 21 not out against Plymouth whilst turning out for local rivals United Service. These two were soon to be joined in the side by future Club Secretary, fast bowler Jack Douglas.
It was also at this time that the first instance of four wickets in four balls by a Plymouth bowler was recorded. In 1957 Ernie Waller managed to destroy the middle order of the Plymouth Police side, a considerable feat and one later repeated by Carl Bradshaw against Cornwood in 2005 and initially performed by slow bowler Aitken-Davies in the 1936. Remarkably, only weeks previously, Waller had watched the appropriately named Trevor Lawless (another Argyle representative) denied a hat-trick off the first three balls of a match versus Paignton by a drop by Thomas in the slips. The first recorded hat-trick was taken by Cyril Jinkin, strangely followed the following week by FC Lucas in May 1923.
The 1950s seemed to be the decade of remarkable bowling feats and in May 1959, former Devonport High School pupil and Devon junior player, 20-year-old Barry Widger (whose brother of Richard who was to later play so many games for the club), made a startling impression against the Royal Naval Barracks. Having been smashed for 14 in his opening over, Widger expected an afternoon of fielding, but surprisingly, his captain, Jack Douglas, kept him on and the show of faith was rewarded with eventual figures of 6–23.
As the 1950s came to a close the declining crowds and constant financial pressure facing the club were starting to take their toll. The over-burdened committee decided to attempt to maximise the use of one of their best assets, their enormous Peverell Park site, by encouraging other sports to merge with the existing Cricket and Tennis sections to spread the financial and administrative strain, a seemingly sensible decision at the time which was to have disastrous consequences for the Cricket Club.
After protracted negotiation, Plymouth Belair Hockey Club was finally absorbed into Plymouth Sports Club at the March Annual General Meeting in 1965, changing their name to Plymouth Hockey Club. Now the club had three constituent sports and a new table tennis section, which although not a great financial contributor, was successful in competition in the local area.
In 1962, former Plymouth Albion back Chris Uren began his 11 season tenure as Captain, the longest any single person has survived in the precarious position, and had under his leadership a group of talented players such as Tom Waldock, Keith Baker, prolific wicket taker and future club chairman Mike Woodward, Brian Hughes, and Doug Martin flourished.
Alongside this group, were two players who went on to play the sport professionally, Devon off-spinner John Swinbourne and all-rounder John Solanky played out the early part of the careers at Plymouth. Dar es Salaam born Solanky, who hit 116 on his Plymouth IIs debut, represented Devon in 1969 and went on to score over 2000 runs and take almost 200 wickets in first class cricket for Glamorgan between 1972 and 1976. He died in Ireland in 2003.
Prior to his departure into the professional ranks, Solanky was an exceptional club cricketer, averaging 43 with the bat and only 10 with the ball for Plymouth, and he clearly felt destined for better things. He was rumoured to have once raised the possibility of being paid for his pleasures with the then captain Uren. Several games later, having been out a duck, Solanky was detained, on his own, in the changing room by the captain and informed in no uncertain terms that if he wanted payment he could look elsewhere for a club.
Uren also oversaw one of the most successful eras in the club’s history. He captained the inaugural (Rothmans) Devon Knock Out Cup winning side in 1966 (there were 72 entries – including a women’s team from Exeter – a far cry from the 22 entries in 2007), a feat which was later repeated in 1975, 1978, 1982, 1990 and 1994.
The successful 1966 campaign opened with a fixture against Tavistock and victories over OPMs and Callington set up a trip to Paignton in the quarter final. Victory at Queens Park meant that Plymouth faced Tiverton in the semi-final and after bowling their opponents out for 70 the result was never in doubt. Torquay were soundly beaten in the final, having defeated Exmouth in the other semi. A notoriously successful cup side, Plymouth have also been runners-up in 1967, 1969, 1970 and 1991 but have always failed to win the Devon League – their best finish being runners-up in 1987.
Success brought further ambition to the Club Committee, and further expansion to the facilities at the club was planned, with the demolition of the old Pavilion which was to be replaced with two Squash Courts – the first privately owned Squash Courts in the city – at a cost of £12,000. £9,000 of this money was raised by private contributions and ministry grants, with the remainder coming from collections from at least 200 different members.
Eventually, 45 years after opening, the old pavilion was finally pulled down in 1969 but this wasn’t the end of the developments. With the constantly expanding membership brought by the squash courts, came a need for new bar and catering facilities, and as the Squash Courts were built so the club planned and developed a new first floor bar and lounge extension. Eventually on 27 January 1971, having cost another £3000, the new facilities were officially opened by the sales director of Chrysler (UK) Ltd, one J Campeau.
The Sports Club was thriving with over 500 members and a prestigious cricket fixture list including Lancashire, Lords Taverners and International Cavaliers. 1971 saw the annual Player of the Year award go to Tony Ward, whose son Ian was to later go on to play for Surrey, Sussex and England and nobody could predict the bust that was soon to follow the boom years of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
1971 also saw the first symbolic loss in the decline of the famous old club. Several of the fine old Elm trees which surrounded the ground had to be removed due to infection from the Dutch Elm disease which was rife across the entire city. The next two years saw the last of the 20 Elm trees removed, a loss of trees which had been synonymous with Plymouth Cricket Club throughout the years. With the trees seemed to go the love which had seen the club prosper since the Second World War and by the 1977 the wicket was accused of being a ‘disgrace’ and members were accused of enjoying ‘cheap entertainment’ whilst giving nothing back to the club. A new plan was devised to rejuvenate the club once more, with the list of requirements numbering a third squash court, all-weather surfaces for hockey and tennis, new sightscreens and a groundsman’s hut to house valuable equipment.
Despite the off-pitch decline Plymouth’s seemed to be as strong as ever on the field. The inimitable Mike Kershaw, the leading run scorer for the club (managing 33 half centuries but only 2 tons in his 5490 runs) played in sides containing wicket taker extraordinaire (and captain for 2 seasons) Pete Moxham (317 wickets @ 12), and the prolific all-rounder and former Hull Kingston Rovers Rugby League player Bobby Luffman. Luffman started his cricket with Plymouth Nondescripts and was to go to score over 2000 runs and take 262 wickets for the club. Later, in the 1990s his son, Steve, was to captain the side before leaving for Tavistock. His grandson Jake now represents the first team.
Alongside these two was former Warwickshire slow bowler Warwick Tidy. Tidy made his county debut at the age of 17, and floated down his leg spinners in the first class game until at 21, the skill deserted him. Having taken 81 first class wickets at less than 35 apiece, he joined Plymouth in 1977 and had a very productive club career, taking almost 200 wickets.
Facing a constant battle to maximise revenue to pay for the ever expanding site and constantly escalating maintenance costs, the Squash section pressurised the Sports Club Committee to again invest in the ‘sport of the 1980s’ and build a third ‘show court’ to bring prestigious national events to the club. The Cricket Club has lost control of their own destiny as the Sports Club procured a loan of £16,000 to build a third ‘show court’ adjoining the existing squash complex. This was a decision that was to almost kill the once famous old club as, struggling to meet the repayments throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Plymouth Cricket and Sports Club, as it was now known, could do little to prevent the cost of the loan spiralling out of control. By the mid-1980s the outstanding debt stood at almost £80,000. On field matters also reached their nadir in 1985. Mike Kershaw’s side had the misfortune to be the first Plymouth side to suffer relegation in 1985, although they were to bounce back the following year with an amazing one handed catch from Jed Douce securing the title and promotion against Brixham.
Promotion was little more than a surface gloss. Despite having achieved their best ever Premier League finish (runners-up) in 1987, the Squash debt was becoming unsustainable, and with the club run equally by the Cricket, Squash, Tennis and Hockey sections, the then Chairman of the Squash Club, Keith White, joined forces with the Hockey and Tennis Clubs to transfer the lease to Peverell Park to him and a long-term business partner Bob Widdicombe. In return for this priceless asset, the pair would clear the Squash Court debt and run the club as a private enterprise, although with an emphasis on sporting excellence.
A constant dissenting voice against ‘sale’ of the lease, the cricket section had lost control of the Sports Club Committee with the incorporation of the other sports sections, and was out-voted 3–1 when it came to making the crucial decision. Other sports had first decided to put the club into debt and then decided to sell what the Cricket Club and its members had worked so hard to build, develop and maintain. Whatever the apparent motives of both parties it was the decision which very nearly cost Plymouth Cricket Club its existence.
Determined to make a viable business of their new asset, the new owners immediately installed and opened a new Astroturf pitch in the summer of late 1989 – with the surplus soil used to build a large containing bank around the cricket pitch. The Lord’s Taverners played at Peverell to celebrate. To maximise revenue and use, new sports were encouraged and Plymouth Sports Club became the new home to the successful Plymouth Admirals American football team. Divisions within the club were increasingly evident in the 1980s. Constant conflict between sports, players and Club Management led to bitterness and rivalry between the sections and within four years, having sold off an asset that didn’t even belong to them, the Tennis and Hockey clubs had departed and the Astroturf fell into disrepair. Once the best squash courts in the county, the millstone that had caused all of the problems also fell into disrepair, and as use dwindled so interest in the club waned.
Even a benefit match for David "Sid" Lawrence, staged after he suffered an horrendous knee injury while on tour with England in new Zealand, couldn’t reignite the passion for the club, although the game was quite an eye opener for some, with Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed fooling all and sundry with his vast repertoire of deliveries, including Duncan Boase behind the stumps.
Mushtaq visited Peverell in halcyon days for spin bowling. Classy off spinner Paul Harding, who still turns out for Kingskerswell, took almost 100 wickets during the late 1980s, and when he left the club at the end of the 1989 season the void was filled by South African Larry Hobson. Hobson can lay claim to having been the club’s most successful ever overseas player. He had an astonishing 1990 season, taking 58 wickets in the league, still a club record, although it could be argued that he had considerable assistance as twenty complaints were received during the course of the 1990 season concerning the playing facilities at Peverell Park, already falling into disrepair under the new ownership.
Hobson’s successor was almost as successful, New Zealander Pat Hounsell claiming 50 wickets at just 14 each in 1991. Hounsell also topped the batting averages with 614 runs at 50, but eventually moved to London due of a lack of working opportunities and wasn’t ever adequately replaced. He also played an integral part in setting one of the more remarkable playing records at Plymouth, one unlikely to be broken in the near future, when during the course of 1991 wicketkeeper Duncan Boase claimed 23 stumpings, mostly off the bowling off Hounsell.
Having finished 3rd in 1992, the club again looked in good shape on the pitch, but when plans to develop the Central Park area were announced in January 1993, it seemed certain that the club would have to look for another ground. Estover School was mooted as a possibility, as was Mount Wise, although the latter was ruled out owing to the Admiralty refusing to release their land. With no apparent future, a mass exodus of players, led by Devon duo Keith Donohue, David Tall, and followed a year later by county wicket-keeper Duncan Boase, resulted in the club being relegated from the top flight of Devon Cricket for the second time at the end of the 1995 season – despite 18-year-old Kevin Barrett shining with 579 runs at the impressive average of 72.
Boase, recognised as an exceptional keeper, had come through the junior ranks with Martin Cooksley and Tall, and was a significant loss but more of a problem was the powder puff bowlers (as the attack was regularly described by the local press!), who were no match for the quality of the Premier Division.
This time, unlike in 1985, there was to be no immediate return, the club was in terminal decline, hamstrung by disinterested, loss-making owners and deserted by players fed-up of competing for second rate facilities with other sports and clubs. After the players left, so did the other sports, and by 1996 Peverell Park was almost deserted.
Desperate to off-load a priceless, but loss-making, asset the owners, Widdecombe and White, continually searched for an exit route. Even though the Central Park plans never came into fruition they were soon to be replaced by a far more sinister prospect. In 1997, David Lloyd, the former Great Britain David Cup tennis player and captain announced his intention to build a £6m outdoor tennis and leisure centre on the site, having reached agreement with the owners. It was a shock to all concerned, but the club had found considerable resolve in the meantime. Chairman Dennis White, Secretary Ted Brankin and Captain Steve Luffman fought to remain, and with planning permission not forthcoming development had to be delayed and then abandoned. Eventually the committee persuaded the owners to hand over tenure and sole occupation of the ground to the cricket club, and the club was once again, to some extent, in control of its own destiny.
The constant fight was taking a significant toll. Despite occasional highs, like the National Cup victories over Exmouth and Exeter in 1998, the club was suffering. Having failed to gain promotion back to the Premier Division by just one wicket in the same year – promotion rivals South Devon securing a losing draw 9 wickets down at Peverell Park, and North Devon delaying a losing cause at Plympton to precipitate an abandonment and the receipt of a league winning six bonus points – and subsequently suffering a disappointing 1999 campaign, captain Luffman led another mass exodus at the end of the 1999 season, predominantly to Tavistock, leaving just 6 senior players left at the club come the start of the 2000A Division season. Amongst the 6 were batsman Derek Solomon, scorer of 4294 run for the club throughout the 1990s, Martin Gill the club record wicket taker (566 and still with power to add!) and Devon opening bowler David Burke.
A new Committee, featuring husband and wife teams Ken and Jenny Wheaton and Jo and Fred Butson – parents of Plymouth junior players – took over, and come the start of the season new captain Burke took young side to Braunton for the first match, a side containing 7 players under the age of 16 (the newly promoted second team started their Premier League campaign with just two players over the age of 18). At Braunton, the future path of a recently rudderless ship suddenly became clear. Inspired by the new generation, Plymouth recovered from a disastrous 38–8 to post a reasonable 141–9, and despite losing they fought hard throughout the season, eventually suffering relegation by finishing just 9 points behind Abbotskerswell. Unbeknownst to either club, the game between the two at Peverell Park in June was to shape their seasons. Having bowled out the away team for just 61, the youthful Plymouth team were 41–0 in reply when heavy rain caused the match to be abandoned, costing the club survival.
With the focus now firmly on community and youth development, the club gradually strengthened again. Promotion in 2002, inspired by 623 runs from Queenslander Martin Raadschelders, saw the club return to the A Division, despite a forgettable fixture against Plymstock on 1 June get as both XIs were bowled out for a paltry 42 against local rivals Plymstock. Relegation swiftly followed after just one season, the young team simply too inexperienced to deal with the higher level of cricket.
With the club only in possession of an implied annual lease, rather than a written agreement, the Committee waged a constant battle against the threat of eviction, and although unable to apply for any form of funding to develop Peverell Park, continued to beg borrow and steal to maintain and improve the dilapidated and neglected facilities.
Meanwhile, the constant attention to growth from within was beginning to pay dividends. Plymouth became the first club in Devon to be awarded the prestigious Club Mark award in 2004, and a loyal and committed playing group saw success on the field. Back to back promotions saw the 2nd XI, under the tutelage of the inspirational Dave Watson, back in the Premier League for the 2005 season, a feat repeated by the new 3rd XI in 2005 and 2006 under the captaincy of the ebullient Al Stewart. The procurement of the former United Services ground for the 2006 season finally allowed Plymouth to become only the second club in Devon to have 4 league teams, as a young side led by 17-year-old Joe Cunningham finished just one place outside the promotion spots in just their first season.
However, 2005 and 2006 saw the deaths of three great characters of Plymouth Cricket Club. In 2005, Gordon "Larry" Lusmore died. No better than a 2nd team player for Plymouth, diminutive Larry played in "Queries" teams on Sundays when Sunday play was first started, and proceeded to captain the side into his late 1970s. He was renowned for practical jokes and tales such as tossing with two-headed coins and placing his false teeth in drinks were commonplace.
Lusmore played in a "Queries" game with Phil Barrow in 1988, and confessed to having played with his grandfather Stuart Mills, 40 years previously. He toured many times with the Gentlemen of Devon and after his death an award was named after him for the best tourist. One can only imagine what went on with Larry and best mate Stan Morrish in those heady days in the 1950s.
Popular umpire John Philp, and tenacious former secretary Ted Brankin also died in 2006. Philp spent 30 years as an umpire at Plymouth, and his death prior to the season left an enormous hole at the club. Never the quickest to get to the bar, only good things can be said about John, who would umpire anywhere at any time. Give him a fixture book in April and he would emerge from his favourite corner of Peverell Park to umpire every game until September. Another regular with the Gentlemen of Devon, only nice memories are held of John. Ted Brankin died too, having spent the last decade fighting successfully for the future of Plymouth Cricket Club. He first saw Plymouth take cricket back to Mount Wise, he then watched as a first team comprised predominantly of former juniors that he had introduced to the club win the inaugural Plymouth Twenty20 tournament. He gained great satisdfaction knowing that his hard work had been a success.
2006 didn’t just see the Twenty20 trophy come to Peverell. With their young players maturing, the 1st XI was to realise their undoubted potential. Inspired by a devastating seam bowling quartet of Burke, Luke Minett, Andy Horrill and Tom Whitlock, who filled four of the top seven positions in the league averages, they romped away with the B Division title, added to it the Corinthian Cup. In response, determined never to return to B Division cricket, the Committee signed the club’s first ever Test cricketer – Sri Lankan Hasantha Fernando the player charged with leading the club into a new dawn.
The club was promoted back into the Devon Premier League for the first time in 8 years, after a successful 2007 season which saw the team finish 2nd behind Sidmouth CC. In their first season back in the top league the club survived a relegation scrap that went down to the last day, with Torquay securing a tie Plymouth managed to finish 1 position above the drop. Largely thanks to the league’s top wicket taker Dave Burke who took 38 wickets at 12.68 and Andy Horrill who took 31 wickets at 18.35. Over the next few seasons Plymouth consolidated their position in the league and developed into one of the strongest clubs in the county. In this latest period of Premier Division cricket Plymouth’s highest finish is 3rd, achieved in the 2010 and 2012 season respectively. The club has also seen success in the shorter format of the league. Winning the West Devon Twenty20 competition 6 years in a row, in 2012 the club performed fantastically well in the national twenty20 tournament losing a close match against Bristol CC in the Southwest final, only 2 games from the Sky Sports Finals day at the Rose Bowl.
The 2013 season saw the club involved in an incredible record breaking match, with 4 Premier League records being broken over the course of the afternoon. Budleigh Salterton batted first and scored a record 368-3 in their 50 overs, with James Burke scoring 196, an individual best in the Premier League. Plymouth then chased down the total in a thrilling chase which saw James Toms slam a fabulous 153 (a Plymouth 1st XI record) and Jake Luffman power his way to 115* off 65 balls including 8 sixes, the game was won with 2 balls to spare. The 4 records broken in the game were: Highest Individual Score, Highest Team Score (twice) and Highest Successful Run Chase.
Plymouth Cricket Club played on land near the Hoe until 1863 when they moved to South Devon Place (now Astor playing fields). The club went into abeyance in 1905 but was resuscitated in 1918 by a small band of people, in including Cecil Cornish, Teddy Butcher and Cyril Jinkin. There was no home ground to play on until 1923 when they played at Beacon Down before securing Peverell Park (initially known as Venn Lane) in 1924. They remained there until 2009.