Ashby Hastings Cricket Club
A Concise HistoryBy Michael Cooper
This history attempts to convey the major events in the years since the first recorded match in 1831. It is not intended to be a completely comprehensive work, however, every effort has been made to discover and relate the most significant facts in the history of one of the oldest cricket clubs in Leicestershire.
The Commencement of Cricket in Ashby
Many visitors to Ashby de la Zouch enquire of the reason for the suffix "de la Zouch", and similarly many cricketers ask "why Hastings" is added to the club’s name. The answer in both cases is related to a family associated with both the town and the club respectively. The La Souche family inherited the manor of Ashby after the invasion by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. The cricket club was named after the Hastings family who had been Lords of the Manor from 1461 onwards.
The name “Hastings” frequently appears in the early club accounts and the association is suggested in W. Scotts - The Story of Ashby de la Zouch, where he refers to the Fourth Marquis of Hastings, Henry Plantagenet (1841-1867). He was the club president and a sportsman who used to amuse himself by playing cricket; “he would hit with considerable force but refused to run”. After having lost the match for his side he would treat all the players to large quantities of liquid refreshments.
Henry Plantagenet - The Fourth Marquis of Hastings.
It appears from the earliest available records that the club adopted this family name in the year 1861. The account book of the Ashby Hastings Cricket Club for that year refers to a “balance from the old club”. In 1854 a cricket club called simply Ashby de la Zouch Cricket Club existed as shown by the set of rules illustrated below. It is reasonable to assume that this was the “old club” referred to above.
The Rules of the Ashby de la Zouch Cricket Club from 1854.
Certainly, a cricket club existed in Ashby prior to 1831 and matches played by the Ashby club were occasionally reported in the early Leicester Chronicle and Leicester Graphic newspapers. From 1862 the name Ashby Hastings began to appear in these papers.
The earliest record of a match involving Ashby is to be found in the Leicester Chronicle of 17th September 1831 where Barwell Cricket Club were entertained for a challenge match with a prize of £100 per side offered. The scores were as follows:
8th September 1831 --- Ashby v Barwell
Ashby 38 and 56
Barwell 61 and 35 for 4
Barwell won by 6 wickets.
It may be that matches took place involving an Ashby team prior to this date, but the limited local press coverage of the age, based at Leicester, does not reveal them. There are more frequent entries for matches played in the 1850’s and 1860’s against local opposition from places such as Appleby, Syston, Overseal, Bardon, Measham and Melbourne. A selection of these matches is shown below and it is noticeable that the early matches were frequently low scoring two-innings affairs completed in one day. This may be a reflection of the conditions of the pitches rather than a measure of the poor state of the art of batting:
22nd September 1859 --- Overseal v Ashby
Overseal 41 and 29
Ashby 34 and 72
1st August 1861 --- Ashby v Packington
Ashby 35 and 21 for 3
Packington 19 and 36
26th July 1862 --- Measham v Ashby Hastings
Ashby Hastings 30 and 70
Measham 42 and 27
1867 --- Ashby Hastings v Victoria Park
Victoria Park 59 and 31
Ashby Hastings 91 and 44
By far the most important match that appears to have been played by Ashby in the era, and one that indicates the importance of the town in cricketing terms took place in 1866 when an invitation was received to play the “United All England XI” The letter of invitation in shown below and you will notice that the secretary was Mr. John Wisden. Although no record of this game has been found it is certain that the England XI was very confident of victory as a challenge was issued to 22 men of Ashby!
A copy of a letter of invitation to play the United All England XI dated 1866.
John Wisden played for Sussex and the United All England XI and is best remembered for having started the cricketers almanac that bears his name.
These early games took place on a ground to the rear of the present “Ashby Cottage” hospital in a field fronting the Leicester Road, but the club was undoubtedly installed at its present headquarters by 1880. A pavilion was constructed at the Hospital Ground in 1871 and moved to the Bath Grounds at a later date. This almost certainly made up the central section of the old pavilion, which stood at the East end of the Bath Ground until recently. A copy of the financial account for the construction of the pavilion is shown below. Prior to 1871 it seems most probable that a marquee was hired to serve as a pavilion, as payments for the hire of tents are recorded in the account book. This relocation marked the end of what could be termed the “formative years” of the club and established a solid home base whence the club’s cricket achievements were to flourish.
The financial account for the construction of the pavilion in 1871/2. The total cost of construction indicates the significance of the figure of £10 per side offered for the Barwell match in 1831.
In Grand Style
The early years of the club are notable for the association with members of the local aristocracy. I have already referred to the interest of the Fourth Marquis of Hastings in the game of cricket and during the 1860’s both Lord and Lady Hastings are recorded as subscribers to the club. Other members of the local “gentry” are known to have supported the club both actively and financially during the vital period after its formation. These include Lord Donnington, Sir George H.Beaumont, Lord and Lady Ferrers, Sir A.B.Dixie, and the Earl and Countess of Loudoun. These were all subscribers to the club in the 1860’s, 1870’s, and 1880’s.
The financial backing which such people were able to provide must have been an important factor in the establishment and growth of the club. This involvement also benefited the club on the field of play as well as on the balance sheet during these years. Many members of the local “gentry” played for the club and indeed it is true to say that the club was dominated by the middle and upper classes for many years. It was not until 1936 that the club minute book records that “membership of the club be opened to all and sundry decent fellows of the town and district” Yet it is evident that many persons of more humble backgrounds played for the club before this date.
An indication of the activities of the club is revealed by studying some of the early fixture cards which have survived, illustrations of which appear below.
Early fixture cards which reveal the small number of fixtures compared with the present day.
Despite the slow modes of transport of this era, fixtures were played over a comparatively large area. The club has retained many of the early fixtures and matches are still played against Tamworth C.C., Hathern C.C., Nuneaton C.C., and Loughborough Town C.C. who were opponents in the early days. Away matches must have been reached by horse-drawn coaches over toll roads which were often poorly maintained. Early account books catalogue the payments made at various tollgates.
e.g. 31st May 1862 Ravenstone Toll Gate 1s. 0d.
12th July 1866 Donnington Toll Gate 1s. 0d.
Journeys took such a long time that dinner seems to have been taken “en route”. On 24th August 1866 the account book reveals that dinner for the Burton match cost a grand total of 15s. 6d. !
The number of matches played in a season was considerably less than at present. Each was listed on a written account at the end of the season, giving scores and results, see the document below which shows the account for the 1870 season.
The account for the 1870 season.
Few scorebooks remain to catalogue in detail the events in each match, but that for 1883, costing 6d. is shown below.
The cover of the club's scorebook for the 1883 season.
From an early date strong connections were formed with the Leicestershire County Cricket Club. A regular fixture with the Club and Ground XI was held from the late 19th century and several players from Ashby Hastings represented the County in this period. Notable amongst them were J.J.Hughes-Hallet and F.M.Joyce. From 1896 until 1913 a professional was employed to play for Ashby Hastings and frequently a Leicestershire player fulfilled the coaching and playing functions involved. However, the most important link with the County Club was forged in 1912, when an offer to stage a county match at the Bath Grounds was accepted. County cricket continued at Ashby without interuption until 1964. Ashby had several cricket weeks, many of which were dogged by bad weather, and has staged more Leicestershire games than any other ground in the county outside of Leicester. Such matches were often well attended, particularly during the boom period after the Second World War and Ashby boasts to have the largest attendance on any ground in Leicestershire apart from Grace Road. This was between 7,000 and 8,000 v Derbyshire in 1948 during the three days play.
However, the County Club found that the cost of staging fixtures around the county became increasingly high, whilst attendances began to fall. The decision of the County Club in 1964 to centralise its facilities and fixtures in Leicester deprived Ashby of a fine spectacle, and its local cricket followers of a chance to view County Championship cricket close to hand. However due to the exceptional quality of the Bath Grounds wicket, the County returned to play four days of 2nd XI cricket against the MCC Young Cricketers in 2009 and to date have returned every year for a three day fixture.
The first county cricket match at Ashby
Leicestershire v Derbyshire
20th to 22nd June 1912
Before progressing to the more recent history of the club one must first consider the period between the two World Wars, when circumstances combined to threaten the future of the club at the Bath Grounds.
Mr Hutton, the then proprietor of the Royal Hotel and owner of the ground, felt the club’s standards had fallen and threatened to terminate the club’s tenancy of the ground. This prompted a number of serious discussions at the club’s committee meetings. However, Mr Hutton was undoubtedly anxious to encourage the club rather than destroy it and at the Annual General Meeting in 1936 is recorded a statement stating that “As a remedy to check this downward fall”, so far as he was concerned, he would, if need be, be prepared to back the club to such an extent that it would, if need be, be relieved of all financial burden, if only it could be placed back on the high pedestal to which it belonged. In actual fact the club maintained a high standard throughout this period producing such fine players as W.S.Hurd, J.E.Dickinson, S.Smith and P.M.Webster, all of who represented Leicestershire in their careers.
W.S. Hurd, an outstanding batsmen who played for the club in the 1920's and 1930's.
As a result of Mr Hutton’s passionate pleas, annual subscriptions were cut by half to encourage more playing members and monthly committee meetings were inaugurated. A revision of the club’s rules was commenced and new club colours of Maroon & Bottle Green were adopted to further the new image. In 1937 an amalgamation with Ashby Western Park Cricket Club was proposed but did not materialise. Nevertheless, membership began to grow to such an extent that the 2nd XI was reformed and began fixtures again in 1938 after a lapse of several years. A tour of the Southport area was arranged for 1939 and it is clear that by the outbreak of the Second World War, the club’s activities were flourishing.
The Modern Era
During the Second World War the ground was requisitioned by the Ministry of Health although fortunately the ground was not put to any other use. The club’s activities inevitably contracted during the war years, although 1st XI fixtures did continue in a restricted form. In 1945 the club began to expand again and many fund-raising events were organised to put it back on its feet. A small surplus of £7. 5s. 6d. in 1946 was transformed to one of over £100 in 1951 due to the efforts of the treasurer Mr R.H. Read and the club committee. This strong financial position continued into the 1960’s and enabled the club to commence the expensive construction of the present clubhouse to replace the “old pavilion” which was by now in a poor state. This clubhouse has been extended over the years and still provides facilities of a high standard for present day members.
In 1972 with the formation of the Central Cricket League Ashby Hastings lost a great deal of the very strong Saturday fixtures it had built up over the previous 50 years, however, the club did manage to retain the majority of the fixtures by moving them to Sundays. With league cricket now being played in most counties Ashby Hastings became founder members of the Leicestershire Club Cricket League in 1974. Other Leicestershire leagues formed in later years but the Club League remained the premier league in the county. Over the years the Club league expanded as members of other Leicestershire leagues applied to join, and the league is now known as The Leicestershire County Cricket League.
In 1973 the club lost the final of the County Cup at Grace Road to Lutterworth, despite having made 177-0 off their allotted 30 overs.
The Ashby Hastings XI which played in the 1973 County Cup Final.
In 1974 the club started a junior section, this team flourished, winning the North Leicestershire Cricket League in 1979 following several "near-misses". The team subsequently went on to win both League and Cup titles in the 80’s. Over the years the junior section has expanded from one team to the present day five teams at age groups ranging from Under 10's to Under 15's.
1984 saw the formation of the Midlands Sunday Steak House league which yet again saw Ashby Hastings strong fixture list suffer, taking away many of the Central League clubs fixtures that the club had managed to retain 12 years earlier. However the club managed to fill the gaps in the fixture list by looking North to Nottinghamshire and South to the Birmingham area, starting Sunday fixtures with Wollaton Park, Old Nottinghamians and Radcliffe on Trent from the Notts League and Sutton Coldfield, Tamworth, Griff and Coton and Nuneaton from the Warwickshire and Birmingham Leagues. Ashby Hastings have continued in this vein over the years and still play friendly fixtures on Sundays to this day.
During the 1980’s the club went from strength to strength both on and off the field, winning both the 1st XI and 2nd XI Leicestershire League titles on more than one occasion. More recently, the club dropped into the 2nd division of the Leicestershire League, in part due to the disbanding of the Central League and the subsequent introduction of the six Leicestershire clubs that left to help form it, and part due to the decline of cricket in Ashby and the close surrounding area. In the 1980’s there were over twenty Saturday cricket sides turning out within four miles of Ashby, as of 2007 only four remain. However in 2004 Hastings gained promotion into Leicestershire Division 1 and in 2006 a further promotion took them into the Leicestershire Premier League, the highest level of cricket available in Leicestershire.
Due to the increased playing membership and the results of Hastings investment in Junior coaching, 2006 saw the introduction of a Saturday 3rd XI. Initially playing friendly cricket due to the lack of a second ground, the 3rd XI flourished and in 2007 the club managed to gain the use of a ground in Measham and entered the Burton and District League. 2008 saw the 3rd XI move grounds to Range Road in Ashby sharing with Packington CC, an arrangement that that continued into 2009 as the 3rd XI begin a one year stint in the South Nottinghamshire League. In 2010 the 3rd XI will move again as they begin to share Western Park with Ashby Town Cricket Club and begin life in Division 8 of the newly expanded Everards Leicestershire League.
Individuals and Events
Throughout the history of the club one surname crops up continually and that is the name Joyce. A representative of this family appears in Ashby Hastings teams almost continuously from the late 19th century and indeed this continues into the 21st century. The contribution, which this family has made to the cricket exploits of the club, has been second to none.
The most well known Joyce to play for Ashby appears to have been F.M.Joyce. He was known as “Baby” but possessed the large frame, which appears to be a family trait. He was a formidable batsman and represented Leicestershire CCC on many occasions at the beginning of the 20th century, boasting a top score of 73 against Sussex in 1911. In his first game for the County he claimed four wickets in the first innings against Yorkshire and a further two in the second innings to finish his debut with match figures of 6 for 118.
J.H. Joyce, R.Joyce, H.W.Joyce and G.Joyce all played for the club around the turn of the 19th century and all but F.M.Joyce can be seen in the picture below. Indeed the scorebook for 1900 records several occasions when three or more members of the family played in the same Ashby XI. Ralph Joyce, who took the prize wicket of WG Grace in a game in 1901 was probably the outstanding player amongst these five, but his career was sadly a short one.
Ashby Hastings Cricket Club 1892 - A Team of Joyce's.
Following the Second World War, George Joyce, who had played for the Ashby Western Park Club, joined Ashby Hastings. More recently Sherard Joyce captained the 1st XI in the 1950’s and early 1960’s and although one of his sons, Nick, has left the area his other son Matthew still plays for the club.
“German” is another family name, which is closely associated with Ashby Hastings. No fewer than six different members of this family played for the club from the 1890’s to the 1920’s. In one match in 1900 against Leicester C.C. three German’s and three Joyce’s played in the same XI. It is an indication of their considerable combined talents that in this match Ashby scored a total of 337 for 4 declared and dismissed the opposition for less than half this total.
Mr Rumley, R Tetley, Unknown, A W Cook (Umpire), Unknown, Unknown, G Ridgeway, Mr Brend (Scorer).
C E Cook (Captain), Unknown, Unknown, C W Cook (Chairman), Unknown, L Sampson, P M Webster.
A team photograph taken during the late 1920's in front of the old pavilion.
Mr C.W. Cook was chairman and the owner of the ground.
Perhaps the most outstanding individual player to have represented Ashby Hastings was Paul Mead Webster who joined the club in 1921 and remained until 1953. During these years he frequently recorded outstanding performances and in 1932 took all 10 wickets for 26 runs against Egerton Park. He was held in such high regard that following his death a commemorative clock was erected in 1957 on the Bath Grounds to mark his efforts as a player and later as club president.
Mr Paul Mead Webster
During the 1920’s and 1930’s when P.M.Webster dominated the cricket at Ashby Hastings many of its activities of the club differed significantly from those of today. It provides an interesting period for closer study.
County Cricket continued at the Bath Grounds throughout these years and the atmosphere of the age is captured in the photographs below.
Photographs of the Bath Grounds taken during Leicestershire matches in the 1920's.
Club cricket was conducted at a leisurely pace and was inevitably confined to those with the time and the money to be able to play during a time of severe economic recession. These club members played home matches on a lovely ground, which was maintained to County Cricket standards and took their tea and after match refreshment in the elegant Royal Hotel.
In addition, they often spent several of their summer days on cricket tour. This was a regular event even though personal mobility was much more limited than today. The photograph below depicts club members gathering prior to one of these tours in 1939.
Players and officials gather by The Royal Hotel before setting off on a cricket tour in 1939.
Southport Tour 1929.
Mr C.W. Cook, A.L. Cook, J.F.L. Wood, J. Stone, R. Tetley, T. Wilton, A.W. Cook, H, Sansom.
G. Ridgway, P.M. Webster, C E Cook (Captain), F. German, R, Dickinson.
T. Bass L.Sansom.
Such tours have been organised by the club since the late 19th century and in many cases may have involved all day matches as large scores were frequently achieved. Details of part of the tour to Kent and the South East in 1900 illustrate this:
1900 v Tonbridge C.C.
Tonbridge 351 for 7 declared
Ashby Hastings 135
1900 v Chartham C.C.
Ashby Hastings 261 for 6 declared
1900 v Hythe C.C.
Ashby Hastings 244 for 5 declared
Tours of the Southport area took place in later years. Unfortunately these tours lapsed in 1940 and have not been recommenced.
Another facet of the club’s life, which is no longer continued, is that of the smoking concert. These were held at local public houses from the early 1890’s and later at The Royal Hotel. They were ‘male only’ functions to begin with but later on were combined with the Annual Dinner and opened to mixed company. A menu and programme for this event in 1924 is shown below.
The menu and format of the Annual Dinner and Smoking Concert of 1924.
A close study of this reveals the rather quaint format of these occasions and is indicative of social changes, which have taken place since then. The present day club dinner is a very much less formal affair.
No history of a cricket club can be contemplated without making reference to those club officials who have made the cricket matches and social events possible. Many people have contributed to these off-the-field efforts over the years. Mr Ralph H. Read was club treasurer or secretary between 1935 and 1969. Mr George Poyser served in various capacities for the club for over 30 years, and each has carried out invaluable and essential work to enable cricket to continue to be played on the Bath Grounds. Without such people there would be no story to tell.
Mr E.E.Snow - Historian - Leicestershire County Cricket Club
Mr G.E. Poyser, Mr E.A. Crane, Dr. I. Webster & Mr S. Joyce - Ashby Hastings Cricket Club
Mr K. Hillier, Mr R. Jones - Ashby de la Zouch Museum
County Cricket Played on the Bath Grounds in Ashby
Matches and Scorecards can be viewed by following the link below;