Newcastle Cricket Club History
The wonderful archive pictures of the Jesmond ground show that the whole area has changed beyond recognition since cricket was first played in 1888
Late in 2003 came the shock news that cricket could end at the ground. Changes to the funding of cricket meant that the leaseholders were no longer able to cover the costs of the Jesmond Ground. They told the Trust which owns the ground that they were giving notice to hand back the lease.
A campaign group called savingcricket@jesmond was formed and a high profile public campaign was launched in March 2004.
Support came from all over the world. Dennis Lillee penned an eloquent essay about what makes the ground so unique. Sir Bobby Robson was Guest of Honour at a campaign dinner. You can see examples of the campaign newsletters here. The leader of the campaign was Charlie Stafford who with dozens of volunteers was unstinting in seeking ways to save the ground.
The solution was found in a new partnership. The Royal Grammar School took on the lease and moved their cricket matches to the ground. And they rented out the pitch and pavilion to the newly-formed Newcastle Cricket Club to ensure the community facilities continued. There has been considerable refurbishment over the last few years thanks to the new arrangements, to generous donations, to fundraising and to grant support.
Northumberland County Cricket Club, which had given up the lease, continues to use the pavilion as a base and plays several of its matches at the Jesmond Ground every season, continuing a link which goes back more than a century.
The deep roots linking the Jesmond ground and the community were made very clear during the campaign to save the ground. Stories poured in of why the ground was special to individuals and organizations.
One lady in her 90s remembered that the wicket roller used to be pulled by large horses wearing rubber boots over their hooves. Others spoke of their memories of christenings, weddings and wakes – ashes are often scattered at the ground.
Many community organizations meet at the club, for annual meetings or for socials. All parts of the community criss cross from Tumble Tots to young musicians to wine tasters and the Hockey Club. Different cultural occasions are marked with song, dance, poetry and performance.
Ray Eden, who sadly passed in January 2014 remained a member of the committee aged in his 90s, first visited the ground aged 14. In those days it had tennis courts which had to be taken down for the cricket. He saw some of the tall trees first planted. The club brings him together with five generations – the youngest member was brought in less than a week after birth. It is these shared experiences which help create a powerful community spirit. Ray’s lasting legacy is testament to the spirit honed in tandem with the club.
The dozens of memorial benches around the ground are a fascinating link to the people who have dedicated their skills and time over more than a century to support the Jesmond ground and its activities.
125 Years: Pavilion, ground and area
The wonderful archive pictures of the Jesmond ground show that the whole area has changed beyond recognition since cricket was first played in 1888. Funds to acquire the land next to All Saints Cemetery were raised at a Fancy Dress Ball in April 1887 at Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms. But it took another year for the ground to be suitable for cricket, and the first match took place on 14 July 1888. The teams were the 10th Hussars and the Lords of Northumberland, and the ground was full! To get a sense of the times, this was the year when the first ever recording of a musical performance took place: several thousand singers Israel in Eqypt at the Crystal Palace Handel Festival in London, recorded by Col. George Gouraud on Edison’s yellow paraffin cylinder.
Researchers have now traced the original newspaper reports of the First Match and of the fancy dress ball in 1887 at Newcastle’s Assembly Rooms which raised vital funds to create the Ground. Osborne Avenue was originally fields with trees. The impressive art deco flats by the ground were only built in the 1930s, and for years they had a wonderful view – now trees have grown up. Trams once rode along the Avenue which are now full of cars and parking zones.
The Pavilion was memorable: until the 1960s it was known as the “Swiss chalet”. The unusual building had been moved from Exhibition Park. Its replacement has been hailed by English Heritage as an architectural gem.In the ground, the current scoreboard was previously used as a tearoom. The popular Callers games of the 1980s also saw marquees around the ground to serve the sellout crowds and corporate visitors.
The Jesmond Ground has been a beautiful green space in the midst of an ever-changing urban setting for 125 years. It was acquired for cricket in 1887 when it became the Constabulary Ground. The first match was in July 1888, between the 10th Hussars and the Lords of Northumberland. But it was preserved for posterity thanks to a remarkable whip-round by “the great and the good”. Leading figures including Earl Grey pledged large sums to buy the ground with a condition that it be dedicated to the pursuit of cricket. Their handwritten letters went on display for the first time at our 2013 Heritage Open Day before being donated to the Tyne and Wear Archive.
The Ground has been the focal point for community activities and events of special personal significance, from christenings to funerals. Until now, much of the history of the ground has not been conserved or shared. But volunteers are now bringing that wonderful history to life. One cricketer who took part in our first Heritage Weekend wrote of his impressions of what he’s learned: The Turret – reflections of a current cricketer. The aim of the Heritage Project is to share the Ground’s amazing stories with local people – and cricket fans around the world.
One research project underway is to capture the stories of the people commemorated by the Memorial Benches. If you know any background, or even better, know any relatives, please do get in touch. The stories are being recorded by pupils at West Jesmond School, with the assistance of Jesmond Local reporters. The long tradition of sporting involvement, volunteering and community events is inspirational – once known, it helps encourage new generations to get involved with one another in maintaining and enjoying activities at the Jesmond ground.
Sachin Plays Newcastle Cricket
One legendary visitor was Sachin Tendulkar – he made his mark here as an 18 year old and the “little master” is still one of the world’s greatest ever players. A committee member recalls becoming an impromptu bouncer to keep over-enthusiastic female fans from the dressing room. The Club still has the scoresheet for the match. It shows Tendulkar scored no fewer than seven sixes.
And we can reveal evidence that one of those was a truly historic knock. It actually went OVER the houses in Osborne Avenue. It is thought this had only ever happened once before, in 1949. The ball itself has been kept as a treasured heritage memento!
Tendulkar’s inspirational performance here and career will be permanently recorded in our heritage project – and we hope he will be in the North East one day to mark the events here more than two decades ago.
The Jesmond ground has seen an astonishing range of the world’s greatest players – who remember their visits here with great fondness. Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillee supported the campaign to save the ground with a beautifully-written essay which said: “Jesmond is a postage stamp sized ground with the Geordie atmosphere of a MCG crowd. Many cricket grounds are forgettable. However in my opinion Jesmond should live forever. It should be a monument to what cricket is and should never lose.”
International teams have played at the ground from the 1911. They include India, Pakistan, the West Indies, Australia and South Africa. The most recent international visit was in 1997 when the Australians played a friendly match – it was a marvellous sunny day and a great opportunity to meet world-class players.
A recent addition to the Heritage Archive is the programme from the 1957 visit by the West Indies, donated by Bruce Rannie. The front of the souvenir programme shows captain John Goddard and vice captain Clyde Walcott. They played Northumberland CCC on 14 September – the squad included a 19 year old Wes Hall and, pictured, Sonny Ramadhin, Frank Worrell, Everton de Courcy Weekes and Alfred Valentine.
A “who’s who” of players took part in the Callers festivals and then the Heritage matches between an England XI and the Rest of the World XI. So far our researchers have added up to more than 200 internationals – there are doubtless many more!
Players included Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd, Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar, Ian Botham, and Fred Trueman. Commentators such as Henry Blofeld and John Arlott were in attendance.
The full list of international touring sides who have visited the Jesmond Ground is:
- 1911 – India vs Northumberland
- 1923 – West Indies vs Northumberland
- 1927 – New Zealand vs Northumberland
- 1928 – West Indies vs Northumberland
- 1932 – India vs Northumberland
- 1933 – West Indies vs Northumberland
- 1935 – South Africa vs Northumberland
- 1947 – South Africa vs Northumberland
- 1950 – West Indies vs Northumberland
- 1954 – Canada vs Northumberland (no play due to rain)
- 1956 – Australia vs Minor Counties
- 1957 – West Indies vs Minor Counties
- 1958 – New Zealand vs Minor Counties
- 1961 – Australia vs Minor Counties
- 1965 – South Africa vs Minor Counties
- 1974 – Pakistan vs Minor Counties
- 1980 – West Indies vs Minor Counties
In addition, Australia played a match at the Ground in 1997.
And the Festivals – featuring a “Who’s Who” of players:
Callers Pegasus – 1881 to 1990
1981/82/83 Northumberland and Durham XI v An International XI
1984–1990 An England XI v International XI
(the 1990 match featured the appearance of the ‘England Greats’
Heritage Homes – 1991-1992
An England XI v International XI
Longhirst Management 1993-1994
An England XI v International XI
Bringing memories to life: Memorial Benches
The deep affection and rich memories of families for the Jesmond Ground has led to many forms of memorials: ashes are scattered on the wicket, graves are requested in the adjoining cemetery as close to the ground as possible, and there are also dozens of Memorial Benches, many of which have been providing a comfortable view of the Ground for decades.
The pupils of West Jesmond Primary school are recording the stories, with the assistance of Jesmond Local reporters. You can listen to them in audio – either from your computer or on an audio player as you sit on the benches around the Ground.
Some of the oldest benches are dedicated to F.G.H. Clayton. There are six around the ground, their inscriptions so old that at first they can be hard to spot. These mark the contribution of the first captain when the County team became based at what was then a very new Ground. He went on to serve the club for more than fifty years.