A Home at Last

The First World War ended on 11th. November 1918. Euphoria prevailed over exhaustion, with St. Osyth embracing the "land fit for heroes" theme then resonating throughout the country. Plans for council housing ( speedily accomplished ) and a village hall ( not realised for another 50 years ! ) quickly came under discussion, and these were soon followed by calls to establish a recreation and sports club.

The lead on this was taken by Lieutenant Walker-Downes of Whyers Hall, soon to become Labour parliamentary candidate for Harwich. He organised a meeting at the village school on 26th. May 1920, which agreed to establish an " ex-servicemen's and villagers club " under the presidency of General the Viscount Byng of Vimy C.V.O., who a year later was to take on the somewhat more exalted role of Governor-General of Canada. The Clacton Graphic records " as many as 50 members enrolled ". It was proposed the club should cater for cricket, football and tennis.

At a meeting of the new club the following month, Mr. Arthur Norman suggested cricket should be the main focus of attention and proposed the formation of a cricket club. His proposal was enthusiastically received, but the sticking point was yet again the availability of a field. A couple of local farmers offered to help out, but thankfully more permanent salvation was now at hand and it came in the person of Mrs. Mabel Cowley.

The Cowleys were actually planning to leave St. Osyth and had already put the Priory estate on the market, but as a parting gesture Mrs. Cowley made the Recreation and Sports Club the considerable offer of a field of six to eight acres adjoining Mill Street which could be used as a sports ground on condition that part of it would be retained as a public memorial ground. The club was delighted to accept and by the time the Cowleys left the village at the end of the year, the ground was taking shape with trustees in place to manage it.

With the advent of Cowley Park, as it soon became known, the reformed Cricket Club could plan ahead with a degree of certainty denied to their predecessors. A practice strip had been cut on The Bury for 1920, but the limitations of this were quickly apparent as the Clacton Graphic recorded at least one passer-by injured by a flying cricket ball !

Work on laying a cricket pitch on the new ground could not commence until 1921 but the club did play a number of away matches that summer. Cowley Park was ready to host its first game on 1st. July 1922, with Little Clacton the visitors. St. Osyth triumphed in a nail biting but decidedly low scoring contest by 28 to 27, with J. Mills captain of the pre-war side and always a prolific wicket taker claiming four wickets. After this there was not surprisingly enough time for St. Osyth to bat again and reach the relative prosperity of 47-8. This result was clearly a confidence booster because two weeks later St. Osyth travelled to Clacton St. Pauls, dismissed them for 29 and passed this total with only two wickets down.

The Pavillion at Cowley Park under construction c. 1924. The cast in the
foreground are assembled for a carnival not a cricket match!

The report of the 1923 AGM presents this first full season as a notable success. The club had not only achieved some good results, it had also made a profit and successfully maintained 2 pitches on Cowley Park without the help of the Sports Club. Thus began the practice that continues to this day whereby the Cricket Club is entirely responsible for the preparation of its own pitches.

The next major requirement was to build a pavilion, a former railway carriage providing the most basic of changing facilities in the meantime. With the ground catering for football and tennis besides cricket, this was a project for the whole sports club. Work commenced in January 1924. The skeleton of the building was already in place by that April, but as with similar projects today extensive fundraising and much voluntary labour was required before the building was finally completed in April 1927.

The official opening on Whit Monday ( 6th. June ) of that year was a major parish occasion. Brigadier-General Kenneth Kincaid-Smith, who had succeeded Mrs. Cowley as owner of the Priory and who was also President of the Cricket Club, performed the opening supported by the local MP Sir. Frederick Rice. The Brigadier declared the new pavilion to be " ... a worthy place for any community in the country." Certainly with its covered verandahs on both sides of the building, fronting on to the tennis court on one side, and the cricket and football pitches on the other, and changing facilities for both ladies and gentlemen it was an ambitious facility for its time. Indeed the opening ceremony reflected with great pride on the development of Cowley Park as a whole. This had taken seven years and cost in excess of £600 to complete, of which a relatively modest £50 had been spent to create the cricket square.

A modern view of cowley park. The ground would have looked very different
when it opened in the 1920's.

Once the formalities were over the village could enjoy a fete complete with brass band, and a cricket match against Chappel and Wakes Colne, which was to become a regular Whit Monday fixture for several years. Sadly the St. Osyth team failed to produce a performance worthy of the occasion and went down to defeat by 17 runs.

Matches around this time appear incredibly low scoring to the modern eye, teams often having time for a second innings. In 1925 St. Osyth dismissed Little Clacton for 12 and Weeley for 9, with the redoubtable Mills taking 8-5 and 6-2 respectively. Later in 1927 the same bowler claimed 7-2 as Thorrington were shot out for 8 !

Dramatic collapses were not reserved for opponents either. Again in 1927, the Clacton Graphic lamented " a poor show on the famous green" as St. Osyth were dismissed for 10 by Great Bentley. Victories over Bentley when they came appear to have been a source of particular relish, with one the year before this debacle being hailed in the press as " a great triumph".

In defence of the batsmen it has to be said that playing conditions must have been extremely rudimentary. Cowley Park may have been ahead of its time in providing playing areas for three sports with pavilion facilities to match, but the single football pitch overlapped the cricket square, and the field as a whole was never cut on a regular basis. This wasn't to change until the 1950s. To the cricketers of St. Osyth and other local village teams the new Clacton Urban District Council Ground which opened at Vista Road in 1929 with the expressed intention of hosting county matches must have seemed a world away.

There was a significant change for the club at the start of the 1931 season when Mr. Benjamin Willmett retired as secretary having played a prominent part in the running of the club ever since its reformation in 1920. Mr. Willmett, better remembered in the village as a long-serving headmaster of the primary school, was strictly a non-playing secretary a trend continued by his successor Mr. A.K.R. Byrne.

Anxieties over the state of the ground provided an almost customary prelude to the season at this time. In 1932 the club announced late in May that "ground returfing has delayed the start of ( its ) season", with work of course not able to commence until the end of the football season. The season was further curtailed when some games in August had to be cancelled owing to the harvest, still in the thirties a major influence on player availability. More positively this year the Clacton Graphic reported on the formation of a 'St. Osyth Schoolboys CC' ( soon to be renamed colts ) which the paper considered " ...should be an encouragement to the boys to learn Britain's noble game efficiently."

Dr. Roderick Clarke, a much loved village doctor, and
the only person to hold successively the offices of
captain, chairman and president of the cricket club.

At the start of the 1935 season, the vicar Rev. J.H. Mitchell intervened to request the pitch be rolled. This was not quite divine intervention but it clearly helped as St. Osyth proceeded to enjoy their best season yet ending it with a run of 11 wins from their last 12 matches; the other being abandoned as a draw.

The side was surprisingly cosmopolitan for the time. Dr. Roderick Clarke hailed from Jamaica, and uniquely held successively the offices of captain, chairman and president of the club. A bench dedicated to his memory stands on Cowley Park. Even more unusually the regular wicketkeeper K. Gordon was an American, given to playing in a black beret and a good enough batsman to score several half-centuries at a time when these were still a scarce commodity.

Bowlers in fact continued to dominate proceedings and much of St. Osyth's success at this time can be credited to the fast bowling of Jack Bareham. For four consecutive years between 1935 and 1938 he took over 100 wickets in a season, a remarkable achievement, especially in an age when the club played matches only on Saturdays, Bank Holidays and occasionally in midweek. It is one which will surely never be equalled.

Although Sunday cricket was still strictly beyond the pale, the club's fixture list had expanded significantly by the late thirties with opponents now drawn from further afield including, quite ambitiously for the time, home and away bank holiday fixtures against Wouldham Cement Works from Grays. St. Osyth itself was also changing with holiday developments now established at the Beach and Point Clear and ambitious plans afoot to develop Lee-Over-Sands. Again the cricket fixture list reflected this change with several matches played against teams drawn from this new influx of visitors.

The club approached the summer of 1939 with a good deal of optimism, reporting "splendid support from residents" and naming a squad of 12 players plus 3 reserves for the opening fixture !

Sadly as a quarter of a century before such optimism was rendered irrelevant by the deteriorating international situation. As the shadows of war lengthened so the club found itself deprived of many regulars. The season was played to a conclusion but only just. The last match being played just a week before war was declared on 3rd. September.

On 4th. May 1940 the following announcement appeared in the Clacton Graphic:

"The St. Osyth Cricket Club is officially defunct this season, but the members who remain in the village are determined to do all they can to arrange some matches during the summer so that cricket shall not be altogether unknown at St. Osyth during 1940."

Within days of this announcement any prospects of cricket were firmly extinguished as German forces struck at Holland, Belgium and France. In 1942 Cowley Park was requisitioned, the pavilion becoming headquarters for the local Home Guard. It was not to be accessible again to the village until the end of the war, by which time both the ground and pavilion were in a state of some dereliction.

Although there were no prospects of an early resumption of cricket, ambitious plans to re-develop the ground were under discussion in 1946. St. Osyth had accumulated £1,000 in savings from the wartime savings weeks. It was proposed to use this money to build a village hall on Cowley Park, with the existing pavilion absorbed into the new structure. The idea was enthusiastically supported at a special parish meeting, but although it was to re-surface again in the 1960s, it was never progressed.

The first organised cricket played on Cowley Park in the post-war years was actually played by St. Osyth Youth Club, who making light of the rather primitive conditions entered a team in the Clacton Midweek League. St. Osyth Cricket Club finally re-emerged to play a few matches in 1950 paving the way for a full-scale resumption the following year.