Devon cricketers enter the 20th century

Devon cricketers enter the 20th century

As Devon cricket approached the start of the new century, it was in a very different state from that of Victorian days.

Gone were the ladies’ tea dances and the gossip of the privileged on the balconies of the pavilions. Times had changed rapidly and the local aristocracy had found new places to gather.

Their departure meant that membership fees fell and running costs had to be reclaimed from players who could not afford them.

By the late 1890s Torquay Cricket Club’s fixture list had become so tedious that it included home and away matches with the Montpelier School and Weston School.

In 1900, the team they fielded against RNE College was described as “weak”, and a match was not won until Kingskerswell visited Cricketfield Road in July.

In September, one year before its 50th anniversary, the unthinkable happened and the annual meeting voted to disband the club!

Frederick Miller, vice president and father of Agatha Christie, sent a letter to the Torquay Times explaining the reasoning behind the committee’s decision.

He blamed insufficient support, a reduction in subscriptions and rising maintenance costs, resulting in £90 income and £150 expenses.

The site was purchased by Mr Little, who owned Weston School, and it was not until 1903 that the Mayor of Torquay encouraged the club to re-establish itself ‘for the good of the town’.

Mr. Little agreed to offer the grounds so long as the new club’s bylaws said it would not tolerate class distinctions or prejudice.

This new mood affected cricket clubs everywhere, and even the MCC agreed, appointing Pelham Warner, a very unremarkable batsman, to captain their team for a tour of Australia.

And then, on a dreadful day in March 1906, the members of the new Torquay club awoke to find that their pretty, ivy-covered wooden gazebo had burned to the ground!

His last ties to Victorian splendor were now severed.

The pavilion on Cricketfield Road burned down in 1906.  Credit Roger Mann
The pavilion on Cricketfield Road burned down in 1906. Credit Roger Mann

Meanwhile, other long-established cricket clubs such as North Devon and Exmouth survived by opening their doors to the new customer base.

The only Devon club to retain its Victorian exclusivity was now Teignbridge, which still required two references with every application for membership.

So proud was the club of its reputation that its board never got used to the new century and in May 1910, after 87 years, this great club finally gave in to the inevitable and Devon Cricket was changed forever.

Looking back now, we realize that these seismic changes have ensured the game’s long-term success… but there are always casualties.

Old Collegians CC arrive to play Torquay in 1926
Old Collegians CC arrive to play Torquay in 1926

When I walk by Cricketfield Road these days, I think of Agatha Christie’s father, Frederick Miller.

For 16 years he organized theater performances for club funds, he constantly warned the committee against thoughtless spending.

Eventually, as club vice president, it was he who had to write the letter announcing the dissolution of the club in 1900.

Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to witness the club’s rebirth in 1903.

Very little cricket was played in Devon during the First World War and Cricketfield Road was acquired by the Corporation and assigned to the secondary school.

Torquay Cricket Club was again re-established but was not allowed to attack at goal. Finally, in 1925, the club moved to its present location on the coast.

Travel teams were now arriving on the road and the club ladies had started making teas.

Old habits are hard to break, and while the 1920s and 1930s were far more inclusive, professionals were still given separate dressing rooms and stayed at different hotels than amateurs.

Old Collegians come out batting at the Recreation Ground during Torquay's first season.
Old Collegians come out batting at the Recreation Ground during Torquay’s first season.

It wasn’t until after World War II that cricket really became a sport for everyone.

For the first time, coaching was available to all youth and national programs could be accessed.

When Len Hutton was finally appointed England’s first professional captain in 1952, the sport finally shed its mantle of privilege.

It had taken 200 years to do it!

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