Book marks history of Sudbury cricket ground

CRICKET TALES:  Author Alan Cocksedge, in Sudbury Cricket Club blazer and cap, with his book.
CRICKET TALES: Author Alan Cocksedge, in Sudbury Cricket Club blazer and cap, with his book.

POSSIBLY the last thing you expect to find in a book marking 225 years of Sudbury’s cricketing history is an action shot of football.

But there is a lot that’s not cricket in Tales from the Dew Drop Inn by ex-journalist Alan Cocksedge.

Although the story of Sudbury Cricket Club is the central theme, he was adamant it should have wider appeal.

Today’s batsmen walk out onto a field that is treated with meticulous care.

Football boots churning up the hallowed turf off-season is unthinkable.

Go back 60 years, though, and the cricket club was sharing its Friars Street ground with Sudbury Town FC – the football players’ £5 a year rent was vital to help pay for the lease and they did not move out until 1953.

Another hazard was the yearly visit of a travelling fair whose vehicles trundled over the surface leaving it dangerously rutted.

The ground also doubled as a school sports field, and Cocksedge remembers winning the 100 yards race at a sports day when he was nine. There is a photo in the book to prove it.

And for years most major events in the town took place there including the famous annual gala, and part of a pageant to mark the coronation of King George V in 1911.

The pageant is also the source of the Dew Drop Inn of his book’s title.

Cocksedge’s research revealed the pavilion was given the name for one night when it became the centrepiece of a play.

From the start, he was determined not to write a book that appealed only to die-hard cricket fans.

“I didn’t want to write about who topped the averages every year for the last 100 years. I wanted it interest a more general audience.

“There is a lot of social history in there. I truly hope I will have added something to people’s knowledge of Sudbury,” he says.

But there is a vast amount of cricket too. All the club’s milestones are comprehensively covered.

The earliest mention of the game being played by Sudburians is in a book called The Dawn of Cricket.

It records that in May 1787 Sudbury Cricket Society began their weekly exercise for the season at Bulmer Tye.

Some enthusiasts, Cocksedge says, claim the town’s telephone code (0)1787 is a tribute to its cricketing heritage.

This is unlikely to be true, he admits, but the club has many more factually-based reasons to be proud.

Cocksedge, who lives in Sudbury, wrote an earlier, 30-page version of his book for the club’s 200th anniversary in 1987. The new one is three times bigger.

“I was amazed that in 200 years nothing at all had been written down about the club. There was not even a list of captains, so at first I was really working in the dark.

“I got help from local historian Michael Hills, and the county records office was a brilliant source for copies of old newspapers.

“The first book just opened the door to find out so many other things and I have been waiting 25 years to be able to use all that new information,” he said.

Cocksedge, who played cricket for Sudbury for half a century, was a journalist in the town from the age of 16 until he retired. He worked first for the Suffolk Free Press, then for 36 years for the East Anglian Daily Times, tapping into his newshound’s instincts he followed up on the characters and anecdotes that litter the club’s colourful past.

One story proved especially hard to track down. Monday, July 1, 1865 became one of the most notorious dates in the history of cricket in Sudbury as a handful of furious freemen disrupted a match on the Great Common.

The freemen, who had rights to graze their cattle there, claimed the match between two teams led by local landed gentry could not take place without their permission.

They made their point by walking backwards and forwards between the wickets forcing the players to finish the game elsewhere.

But Cocksedge’s efforts to find out the details were thwarted because the newspapers that covered Sudbury at the time did not use the story.

Whether this was a cover-up, or the editors were reluctant to give the freemen any publicity, he will never know.

At last with the help of Allan Berry, an expert in Sudbury history, he found the full story in an old edition of the Essex Standard.

One legendary figure in the club’s past was Joseph George – landlord of Sudbury’s Rose and Crown hotel and a former county cricket player.

He was captain for several years in the late 1800s and continued to score centuries despite bouts of serious ill health.

Another key character was local postmaster Joseph Hills, who umpired matches for Sudbury in Victorian times.

He was a keen amateur balloonist and at one town gala lifted off from Friars Street in a balloon filled with coal gas, which later landed at Newton Green.

There is also a classic case of ‘before he was famous’ involving one of the world’s greatest-ever cricketers.

Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, known as Ranji, was a 17-year-old student when he opened the batting for Sudbury as a guest player in a match against Bury and West Suffolk in 1890.

It was his first and only appearance for the club before going on to play for England – the first Indian ever to play test cricket.

The club moved into its Friars Street ground in 1891. They can trace it’s history back to the 13th century when it was part of the town’s priory.

“It is an absolute gem as far as town centre cricket grounds are concerned,” says Cocksedge. “Most of them have supermarkets or shopping centres built on them by now, but in Sudbury you can just walk off the street and be in a rural cricket setting which is why so many people enjoy watching the game here.”

The book, published by the cricket club, is a glossy, high quality production. Its layout was designed by former club member Richard Bryson, and Cavendish artist Neil Jacobs — a golfing pal of Alan’s — contributed original artwork including the cover.

Six hundred copies were printed and half the £4,000 cost was covered by sponsors. “We have sold enough already to cover the rest of the cost, and are now making a profit, said Cocksedge.

It takes readers on a leisurely trip through the years of triumphs and tribulations ending with a look to the future.

The last decade has been one of the most successful in its history with three Two Counties Divison One titles, and the second team promoted twice.

The newly-created ladies team won the inaugural women’s Two Counties League and made the regional finals in 2010.

n Tales from the Dew Drop Inn is on sale at local bookshops, Sudbury Tourist Information Centre, and the cricket club, priced £12.50.