Landlords and not Tenants: 1925-1932
It was in 1925 that the Club took the momentous decision to purchase the Victoria Ground from the Agg-Gardner Estate. Nine hundred debentures each of £5 were created, although the Committee resolved not to issue more than 720 of these. As late as March 1930 anxiety was being expressed about repayments, but twelve months later, Ernest Field, the Treasurer, was able to report that all debts had been paid off and the Cheltenham Cricket Club had clear possession of what over succeeding decades has become an asset of incalculable value. The President of the Club could tell the 1957 Annual General Meeting “You must be very thankful in these days that you are landlords and not tenants!”
Simultaneously with the main purchase substantial pieces of adjoining land were acquired, both on the Hales Road side and in the direction of Hewlett Road. Here a number of allotment holders were still established, and when negotiations with these failed to produce a settlement it was necessary to give them notice, which expired on 29th September 1926. By the 1927 season Brighton Lane became a new access for car parking spaces set out on the old allotments. This entrance to the ground was eventually closed in 1964.
On the opposite side the original plans had provided for the main the main entry to be from Hales Road, with parking spaces here as well; but although the land for this was acquired a drafting blunder on the part of the Club’s solicitors left insufficient space for vehicular entry after the erection of houses in Hales Road, and this access was lost. A pedestrian entrance remained until 1955.
The tennis courts which stood on the north-west side were also extended by 1927, and new courts were added in 1930.
The Club’s playing season of 1925 was dominated by two men who set new records in their respective departments. Woof, now 43, took 112 wickets, his best performance being eight for 43 against Bristol Schoolmasters. Jewell’s haul dropped to 44, but he included in that six Evesham batsmen in a match when Woof, after starting with seven maidens, ended with only one wicket for 60. In July Jewell sent back Cirencester’s first five batsmen before he conceded a run. When Cirencester were eight for 6 Jewell was injured, and scarcely played again that season.
The other pillar of Cheltenham’s cricket in 1925 was Hedges. His club record of 1014 runs stood for over half a century until David Brown’s year of 1976. He scored five centuries, two of them against Merton College. Another had already been taken off the Cirencester bowlers before Jewell started to remove their batsmen. Hedges began the season with 64 at Evesham; but when Evesham batted “over twenty” catches went down, and Cheltenham were beaten by five runs. The only other defeat was at the hands of Stroud, for whom that steady all-rounder George Wedel took six for 21 and made 47 runs. For a draw against Fry’s the Town were indebted to Rex Horton and Ernest Field who added 84 after seven had gone for 118. There was greater excitement against the Schoolmasters when Cheltenham were left eighty minutes to score 169 and got them with two minutes to spare.
This was also the year that saw the entry into senior cricket of two teenagers, both following a family tradition. C.S. Barnett made only two appearances all season, but his son Charles John, who from his parents’ home in Kings Road had virtually grown up on the Victoria Ground, appeared against Gloucester at the end of August, only seven weeks after his fifteenth birthday. He was, and remains, the youngest First XI player in the Club’s history, though his father in 1899 and his uncle Edgar in 1900 were little older. (The only 15-year-old who has broken this Barnett monopoly was Bob James in 1962). A few weeks earlier P.W. Woof, son of Bill, played against Worcester. Most of the regular side were already absent touring Devon, but even so Cheltenham made 265, and then the 17-year-old Philip took seven for 65 and Worcester went down by 105 runs.
Yet one of these two bright prospects was never to become a regular Cheltenham player and it was many years before the other did. The future would lead Charlie Barnett to higher things for Gloucestershire and England; while injury, illness, business in Bristol and Gloucester and finally the Second World War deferred Woof’s first full season with the Town until 1947…and that was as captain of the First XI.
In the meantime Hedges, who had been elected to that office in March 1926 did not equal his 1925 aggregate, but specialised instead in devastatingly fast scoring. Six of his scores of 50 or more were made at over a run a minute; these included 120 in 79 minutes against Bristol Schoolmasters and 70 in 47 minutes against the Gipsies. On 3rd July came a still more astonishing feat. At the Victoria Ground Gloucester, batting first, quickly collapsed to 40 for 6; recovering bravely from this disaster they went on and on until finally dismissed for 204, by which time Cheltenham had 59 minutes batting left! Even this did not deter the Town from trying; in their allotted time they actually made 176 for 3, Hedges contributing 87 in 51 minutes.
Apart from Hedges, Cheltenham had Bernard Bloodworth being consistently useful somewhere or other, and in addition to the new generation of Woof and Barnett three more young players were introduced in 1926. Hugh Jowett, who had been a member of the College XI of 1925, totalled 301 including 82 against Swindon in a match eventually won when George Dennett, who had just succeeded W.A. Woof as College coach, took five for 28. Lionel Ince arrived in the First XI only at the end of August, but had scored 104 runs by the close, while Ronnie Yeend this year began more than two decades of service to the Club as batsman and leg-spinner as well as on the Committee.
A sad landmark was reached at the end of the year when the East Gloucestershire Club disbanded its cricket section. From its foundation in 1882 until the turn of the century it was superior to the Cheltenham Club itself, but in post-war conditions it could no longer compete. It would be half a century before another senior club evolved in the town.
Although the weather of 1927 generally was poor, Saturdays escaped lightly apart from a period of violent storms in mid-August. The batting was normally adequate, with two hundreds from Hedges, one against Gloucester and the other at Swindon, while he had helpful support from P.J. Morris, Richard Juckes and (when available) young Barnett. When still not seventeen Barnett took six wickets for 41 and scored 104 not out against the Outcasts, a body of people seeking to keep the East Gloucestershire Club alive after its death. Another distinguished cricketer who made an appearance for Cheltenham was B.H. Lyon, who left his mark on Stroud with a brisk 76. Against Exmouth on the tour, to a total of 299 for 8, Simmonds contributed 105, the third consecutive season in which this was his highest score, and it must have pleased the Town’s bowlers to get rid of Gloucester for 64 on Whit Tuesday. In less happy moments they themselves were put out cheaply twice by Merton College, for 60 and 69, losing the second time by ten wickets. And in September Cheltenham bowled out a Tewkesbury side which included D.F. Pope of Essex, D.N. Moore and Charlie Barnett for a mere 116…and went down by 54 runs.
The next year began unpromisingly with defeat at Evesham in the opening fixture, when the loss of Jowett, Hedges and Walter Jessop at the start for only 13 runs proved ultimately fatal. In fact, despite better treatment from the weather the Town’s batting in 1928 did not reach its expected standards. Neither Ince nor Yeend got into the First XI at all, Simmonds played only intermittently, Morris had a wretched season, and Jessop’s would have been as bad but for a most valuable 102 against Cirencester on the August holiday.
There were a few better days. Merton College must have expected to follow their 1927 double with another success when they reached 205, but Hedges (130 not out) and Bloodworth responded explosively to knock off the runs by themselves in 89 minutes. Later the same pair shared another opening partnership of 195, this time at Stroud’s expense. In mid-July another new recruit from the teaching profession, E.S. Hoare from Dean Close, joined and made 5 and 96 in successive matches. There was another 96, by Charlie Barnett, but this score was made for Tewkesbury against Cheltenham on 5th May, and the Town lost. Another who made Cheltenham suffer was Bert Lloyd, a Swindon Town footballer. For Swindon’s cricket club he made 132 on the Victoria Ground, and followed it with 70 on the County Ground in July to help Swindon to a double.
A new boy in Cheltenham’s ranks was to achieve distinction, but not in cricket. F.P. Arrowsmith joined the Club on leaving the College and played occasionally in the First XI; thirty years later, as Sir Edwin, he governed the Falkland Islands.
The return fixture with Evesham on 25th August was a real thriller. Evesham made only 122, but must have felt themselves safe when the Town’s ninth wicket fell at 73. Then Charles Jessop and Billy Woof added 49, only for Jessop to fall leg-before with the scores level. At the end of the season Charles Parker made a second appearance for Cheltenham, after 15 years. His 54 runs and six wickets for 27 defeated Worcester by 95 runs.
An era ended for Cheltenham Cricket Club with the death of their President, Sir James Agg-Gardner, M.P., on 9th August. It was by then sixty years since he had first stood for Parliament at the age of 21; he represented Cheltenham in 1874-80, 1885-95, 1900-06 and from 1911 to his death. He received his knighthood in 1916 and was created a Privy Councillor in 1924. To him the Club owed its ground in 1897, and in 1907 its very existence.
Sir James’ successor as M.P. was Sir Walter Preston, who upon his election moved his residence to Gloucestershire, where a near neighbour was Beverley Lyon, then captain of the County Club. Lyon suggested to the Cheltenham Committee that Sir Walter could be a very useful President, and in 1929 he was elected, setting a precedent that was followed until 1950.
If 1928 had been an indifferent season for the Town, its successor was even less rewarding. The batting slipped further; even Hedges made fewer than 400 runs in the entire (fine) summer. His College colleague Maurice McCanlis joined the Club and scored 61 not out against his pupils, and Yeend, though not Ince, did enough to regain a regular place in the First XI. There was little worthy of remark about the bowling either, apart from the encouraging development of Jack Watts and the arrival of two newcomers; Jack Jordan, a slow left-armer who was to be a mainstay of the Marle Hill Club for so many years after his spell with the Town, and Walter Dale. It is strange to find that Dale did not bowl on his 1929 appearances, for throughout his career his bowling was a byword for length and direction. Unfortunately business demands confined his cricket almost entirely to the Wednesday XI.
Once again there was a dismal batting display against Gloucester; 55 was the total on the Victoria Ground on 1st June. The side did reach 210 at Swindon, but even then that man Lloyd replied with a very fast 92, and in 105 minutes Swindon got their runs.
There were in fact serious problems with the pitches at the Victoria Ground in 1929, as the County team discovered. There was general relief when the second match of the week, against Hampshire, was completed without much bother after hair-raising moments during the preceding Warwickshire game. Both sides had opening batsmen injured by rising balls on the first day. Reg Sinfield on the Gloucestershire side was able to bowl and field in the visitors’ second innings, but Warwickshire lost Croom for the remainder of the season. Nearly thirty years later, playing in a club match on the ground, R.E.S. Wyatt, when reminded of the 1929 occasion, remarked that he had seriously considered declaring his team’s second innings closed!
The 1930’s began with the loss of the Club’s treasurer and the election of a new captain. William Lane, an ex-Superintendent of police, declined the offer of a lift to his new home near the top of the Old Bath Road following his re-election at the AGM, and died a few minutes after arriving home. Ernest Field, a former Treasurer, resumed the office. At the same AGM Hedges gave way as captain to Billy Woof, who started on a reign of seven years.
In the very first match of 1930 Stroud were routed by 172 runs. Juckes made 91 not out and young Ince 83 before Woof declared at 234 for 4 and went on to take seven wickets himself. Juckes’ score remained the best effort of the year by a Town player, but others were coming on. Yeend accumulated 713 runs with an average of over 40, which made him by far the leading batsman. The development of Ince and Yeend was a considerable compensation for the virtual absence of Hedges.
There were other big totals that year. A score of 236 for 2 against Evesham won the match by 65 runs, and Stratford-On-Avon suffered 233 for 5, but there was still some inconsistent batting. Seven days after the victory over Stroud, Cheltenham came down to earth when they were dismissed for 60 by the College, who won comfortably, though hardly with distinction, by 5 wickets. Three weeks on, and Stow-On-The-Wold were put out for 67, only for the Town’s batsmen to lose the match by seven runs. At the Spa late in June Jack Watts took seven for 49, but the formidable speed of Dr. Callaghan gave him exact parity with Watts’ figures and Cheltenham lost by 115 to 84. Woof on this occasion ordered a special practice on the following Monday night, setting Watts and others on those of his batsmen who had been seen to flinch from the Doctor’s pace. This literally bruising experience encouraged the victims to 202 against Swindon in the next game, but when Gloucester came to the Victoria Ground on 26th July, Callaghan was even more devastating than in June. This time he had seven for 27, Cheltenham struggled to 83 and the City had an easy win by six wickets.
The weather of 1931 was nearly as dreadful as that of 1924; nine fixtures were abandoned or cancelled. Nevertheless some cricket took place and Cheltenham welcomed a new batsman, F.C. Smith, who arrived with an outstanding reputation made in Services cricket overseas. His 419 runs indeed proved to be the year’s best aggregate, but he was a one-season transient; of more lasting benefit to the Club was the move from Hatherley and Reddings of his namesake T.R. Smith. A splendid all-round sportsman, Reg was to enliven the Cheltenham scene for many years as a batsman and (in his younger days) as a brilliant deep fielder. Down in the Second XI for the time being appeared another player equally good in the outfield, A.E. Meadows. Of the other batsmen Yeend was the most consistent while George Arthurs, coming into the side for the first time, made the season’s best individual score of 76; on the other hand Ince was lost for the remainder of the year when his motorcycle was involved in an accident early in July.
Once again most of the bowling was done by the captain, who was well suited by the year’s slow, damp pitches. Yeend supported him with 31 wickets, but Watts, hampered by the prevailing conditions, bowled only 40 overs in the entire season. There was an excellent game at Gloucester in May, when Cheltenham’s bowlers defended a poor total of 98 so well that the City struggled to win by only three wickets; this was the only fixture out of three arranged between the great rivals that the weather allowed to be played. A week earlier that subsequent pillar of Cheltenham’s batting, W.T. Mustoe, played his first match on the Victoria Ground for a Tewkesbury side well beaten by 136 runs. Cirencester on the August Bank Holiday suffered even more. Hedges, in a rare appearance, scored 74 in a total of 228 for 3, after which Cirencester were dismissed for 36, Yeend taking five for six. (When the teams met again at the end of August, Cirencester won easily, by six wickets).
The summer of 1932 was still unsettled, though a vast improvement on 1931; but Saturdays seemed to be favoured by the weather and there were only two blank days, both in May. On one of these the sun shone continuously, but Tewkesbury’s Swilgate ground lay under the River Swilgate. There was a further improvement in playing standards as well. Hedges appeared regularly once more, while Reg Smith was joined by his younger brother J.W., who displaced the marvellously steady Fred Bliss behind the stumps. Jack Smith, most of the time a brilliant ‘keeper with occasional lapses into the dreadful, was just as good, and more consistent, in his other role of left-handed opening batsman. A young player came from Cheltenham College in the holidays...F.J. Sewell; and there was a new and very promising bowler in A.H. Bowen. But a Player of the Year award for 1932 would have had to go to Billy Woof, who celebrated his fifty years by breaking his own Club record of 1925 with 116 wickets. This new record still stands, and is unlikely ever to be surpassed in the modern environment of league and cup cricket. Yeend and Dale were his chief supporters.
Batsmen contributed too: J.G. Edge made two centuries and Hedges two 94’s. Jack Edge’s hundreds were both taken off Swindon’s bowlers. At the County Ground on 2nd July Cheltenham lost their first three wickets for eight and were not much better off when Edge came in at No. 7. Jack Smith, most improbably batting at No. 10 arrived at 97 for 8 and stayed while Edge went to 103. Smith’s contribution to the stand of 87 was just seven. Cheltenham did not win this match, but they did so at the Victoria Ground three weeks later. This time Edge opened, and his 100 exactly equalled Swindon’s total.
At Fromehall Park Stroud, tackling a Cheltenham total of 215 for 9, lost their first five wickets for six runs, four of them to Bert Bowen, but they recovered to 113 for 9 and saved the match. And in the last match of the season, in Earl Bathurst’s Park, Cirencester ground on interminably to reach 165. Yeend and Sewell were sent out to begin the reply with a threat from Hedges, who was already known to be the Committee’s nominee for the captaincy in 1933, “If you two score any runs you won’t play for me next season!”