A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Reproduction of a sketch map of Preston dated 1884 showing the position of the cricket ground
An Attempt at the History of Preston Cricket Club by D Frost
Foreword (Finished in the old Pavilion – June 1967) To wander down through the corridors of cricket memories is a pleasant task, but to place it on record is a somewhat risky procedure. One is either apt to view youthful days in rainbow coloured hues, or to indulge in the now fashionable habit of ‘debunking’ everything that was pre 1939 War. Herein, I have tried to tread along the thin dividing line. In conversations during the preparation of this booklet, it has been known as ‘The History’ - in the absence of authentic records and facts this title is rather a misnomer, and I would humbly suggest that it be looked upon as a collection of Club memories. I gratefully acknowledge my debt to all those Prestonians whose recollections have helped me so much in building up the pattern of the Club throughout its existence.
Early days
On a red-gold, ever-sunlit day of an Edwardian summer two cricketers strolled out to the wicket to be the first of many to open the innings for Preston Cricket Club. Sadly there are no records in existence from which we can learn the names of this history making pair; we could perhaps guess that one of them might have been a Pryor, a Jenkins, a Pilgrim, a Wray or a Robinson. (These were then, and indeed some of them still are, famous names of Preston). Unfortunately too there is no documentary evidence to guide us as to the year of formation, and even the location of the early matches is controversial. The earliest report we have seen of a Preston Cricket match was a faded Herts Express cutting, circa 1911 (and it may surprise many that Reginald L. Hine, the famous historian was then playing for the Club). Certainly by this time matches were being played in the Park of Temple Dinsley (now Princess Helena College); the marquee and pitch being located over by the St. Albans Highway drive and near to where those magnificent horse- chestnut trees now stand. For the memories of these pre-1914-18 matches we have to rely mainly on our senior citizens, but it is natural that (half a century later) only misty images remain of battles won and lost. It is, for instance, far easier for them to remember Ernie Ball's hurricane hitting, G.I.E. Pryor's fast bowling and Tommy Ashton's delicious rock cakes (I too remember these!!) than for them to recall all but a few of the players. It would seem however that the team would largely consist of either sons or guests or friends from the Estate, with the addition of one or two Estate workers, and one or two independents from the village. There would be little time in those days for farm workers to play (the combine harvester was yet to come) and their hours would be fully occupied throughout the summer months with haymaking, harvesting etc. Sundays were, of course, for them a day of leisure, a day to wear their best, and probably only suit, and a day to seek out and talk to friends and acquaintances. The internal-combustion engined motor-car had not then littered our countryside, and the Club's opponents must have been purely local, travelling no doubt by pony trap, wagonette or bicycle. One can see in retrospect these sportsmen of yesteryear jogging happily homewards through the leafy lanes from Whitwell, or St. Ippolyts, or Kimpton perhaps singing lustily the Top Tunes of the day. In our search for information about these long ago days we have heard no legends of famous batsmen being bowled by a local village yeoman, nor of a world famed bowler being carted by the village blacksmith; we can only assume nothing like this ever happened. In those days this little club no doubt won matches, lost matches, in sunshine and in rain, in much the same way as do the present players. In August 1914 'the lights went out in Europe' and never again would Preston play in the Park, and two of the players, Ernie Ball and Percy Evered, would not return from the Somme.
The ‘in-between years’
Immediately the 'Cease Fire' sounded in November 1918, preparations were made to restart the Club; equipment was got out of storage, cleaned and oiled, work was commenced on the ground and cricket again started in 1919 on the present site. The two Pryors (Geoffrey and Ralston) with Reginald Dawson (the Estate Agent) were the driving forces in the reformation, and they, of course, were playing members when the team was captained by Lord Scott. Other members of this team were Jack Flint (Estate Carpenter), Fred Longley (who looked after the domestic engines of the Estate), Hubert Peters (later to be the Club's scorer for many years) and Bob Wray (who returned from the War with a Military Medal). Motor cars were becoming a little more evident (although when we heard one coming we still peered through the windows to see who it was) but most teams came by wagonette, although some of the ‘gentry’ preferred to come in their own pony and trap, and on occasions dazzled us somewhat with their multi-coloured blazers, sweaters and caps. Fixtures were still only arranged within a purely local area, and the matches against Offley even in those days soon developed into a local Derby. (Later there was to be much skullduggery on the part of umpires in this fixture, and not always on one side either.) A number of matches were played on Wednesdays against such teams as Thos. Brooker Ltd., Hitchin Wednesday, etc., and in the early twenties Sam Wray, Dick Jenkins and/or myself were given time off from School to play in these mid-week games.
Preston C.C. 1923 -Standing (l to r): Robert Wray, J Murphy, J Garner, GIE Pryor, PC.Dear, R Chapman (umpire). Middle row (l to r): Frank Wray, R Dawson, C Darton, F Longley,  Rev. Stainsbury. Seated (l to r): W Peters (scorer), S Chapman.
G.I.E. Pryor took over as Captain when Lord Scott left the district and his enthusiasm for the game and coaching of youngsters soon resulted in more and better players. Shortly after the Pavilion was built in 1921 it was necessary to run two sides. The reserve side which was captained by Laurie Peters and Jack Wray only ran for a couple of seasons, but it enabled many of the up-and-coming juniors to have their first match experience. Most of us who remember these halcyon days recall the strength of the 1925-26 team, and when one takes into account the 'plantain patterned table' (they were to curse us for many years) it must have been a very strong side. Alas we shall never know it stands in comparison with teams of the present day. The regular members of the team in this era would be: R. Dawson (Captain), G.I.E. Pryor, Jack Murphy (a real barn-door of an opener), Jack Flint and Frank Wray (all rounders), Jimmy Garner (Wicket Keeper), Charlie Darton (later to be the king-pin of the Club's batting and first Life Member), with brilliant youngsters in Stan Chapman and Sam Wray. Finally there was the legendary Revd. Stainsbury, whose big hitting is still talked about (and incidentally loses nothing in repetition). Unfortunately, as so often happens, this team only lasted for a short time; Geoffrey Pryor retired, Flint, Stainsbury and Chapman left the district (the latter named to worry us for many years when we played Weston), and as the twenties merged into the thirties the Club underwent for a few years a rather depressing period. Dick Jenkins was scoring a lot of runs for us, but because of his employment it became necessary for him to play for Kings Walden, and Sam Wray and Charlie Darton also left us for a season  to play there; fortunately they soon returned and were welcomed back to the fold. We were now getting fixtures farther afield; Enfield Strollers visit was treated as a gala day (most of their players came from Windsor); and it was usually round about midnight when the last of the Strollers somewhat rather unmelodically left the village. Teams from Luton such as Westbourne, Clarendon and Montrose were also always popular visitors, and we ourselves were transported in the Estate Albion Coal Lorry loaned to us by the Estate. Spirella at Letchworth, and Lilley at Putteridge were favourite trips, and our annual visit to Little Wymondley usually resulted in a return long after the hostelries were closed. Lady Carnarvon and Lt. Col. Denistoun came to Temple Dinsley in the early thirties and several members of their staff joined the Club. Work was carried out more frequently on the ground and gradually the old interest re-emerged. An annual event during this, period was for the villagers to be invited to tea in a large marquee on the ground during the match when the Village played the Estate. Willie (Dillar) Jenkins was beginning to emerge as an outstanding batsman, and Reg Darton too was a very useful all rounder. The Club suffered a loss in the death of Frank Wray in 1935, and as a foil to the slow bowling of his brother Sam he was greatly missed. As the war clouds again loomed we were joined by a number of useful players in Ron Whitby, Cyril Milder, Percy Phillips, but although the team enjoyed much good cricket in these eventful years it never had the power nor skill to compare with the mid-twenties teams. Finally, captained by Willie Chalkley, n September 1939 we journeyed to Weston, beat them, and the Club bats, pads and Umpire's coats were to remain undisturbed until 1947. 'Dillar’ Jenkins, potentially the Club's finest batsman did not return from services with the Armed Forces.
1947 - 1967
John Hadfield 'press-ganged' his friends and fellow cricketers to restart the Club in 1947. Mr. Derrick Seebohm was elected President, a post which he still holds to this day. After seven years there was again much hard work to be done on the ground, there was difficulty in obtaining equipment, and problems (because of rationing) connected with teas. This latter problem was overcome by going to The Red Lion where Mrs. Massey, as always, served us well, but it resulted in very long tea intervals.
Top Row (l to r): Dawson, Woodbridge, Joe Bond, Arthur Hemmings, Harold Tomlin. Middle row (l to r): Ron Whitby, Sam Wray, John Hadfield, Charlie Darton, Jockey Peters. Front row (l ro r):Ray Mardell, Keith Groves (scorer)
The membership was high and it became necessary to run a roster so that all players had a game. By this time, of course, Sunday cricket was played quite regularly. A number of pre-war players were still available, and these were joined by Billy Dewar, Arthur  Hemmings, Peter Woodbridge, Bunny Dear, Harold Tomlin, and it was possible to turn out a very strong side. They were also a very gay side and much good cricket was played and enjoyed. Tony (Spindle) Smith scored a large number of runs and also had the honour of scoring the first post-war century. It was at this time that the annual Whit Monday fixture with 'The Danes' was instituted; and to this day the game is looked upon as the highlight of the season. Phillip Smith was Treasurer, Dick Middleditch was groundsman, umpire and general factotum, and Willie (Jockey) Peters still the Club Secretary, known and respected by all the Clubs we played. This happy state was to last only a few years and then a crisis developed which might well have resulted in the Club closing down. Most of the older players were retiring, others were moving away, Dick Middleditch and Jockey Peters resigned after magnificient years of service (in company with Charlie Darton they are now Life Members of the Club) and all that remained was a bunch of very young teenagers, who fortunately not only loved cricket but were determined that it should continue at Preston. Martin Raffell and Tony (A.J) Smith, aided and abetted by Chris Newell, Michael Whitmore, Reg Camm and some of their ex-school friends took over the remnants. This young side would gaily (and sometimes recklessly) attack any number of runs which were scored against them and although they suffered many reverses against stronger sides it also resulted in some magnificent cricket and the creation of many friendships with other Clubs which still persist to this day. Neither the administration nor the work on the ground daunted them and as they reached maturity the Club was saved and back on a sound footing. It was during this period that Hunting Aircraft (old opponents of ours) came to Preston and on winning the toss put the home side in. At tea when the declaration was made the score was 198 for one wicket (Alan Maylin with a not out century and Barry Smith, 83). In the return fixture at Luton on Martin's 21st birthday (he was the oldest member of the team) Chris and Martin scored fifties, and Tony Smith was in an inspired mood with the ball so that victory was achieved by over a hundred runs. There have been many thrilling matches against The Danes but probably the most famous was on a very wet day when rain constantly interrupted play and a fresh wicket had to be cut. It became necessary for the Preston batsmen to throw their bats at every ball, and they did this to such good purpose that victory was achieved in the last over. Other Clubs were closing down for lack of players and consequently we lost some of our old established fixtures, although we still see our old friends each year from Hexton, Ashwell, Holwell and Graveley. In 1964 Preston Cricket Club was elected to the Cricket Club Conference, as a result of which we are now able to obtain fixtures with rather better clubs. Transport too is much less of a problem, and consequently we are able to travel farther afield. An innovation in 1966 was a weekend in Norfolk and two fixtures had been made against Sandringham and Wells-next-the-Sea. In the event the Wells match was washed out; nevertheless it was a history making trip, and certainly the farthest distance the Club had ever travelled. Preston Cricket Club has now enjoyed a number of years without any untoward occurrences, and with enthusiasm as high as it has ever been. So far as can at present be seen 'flannelled fools' will continue to play here for a very long time to come.
Preston cricket ground
The Recreation Ground, as we now know it ,was part of the farmland of Brown's Farm, the ruins of which for many years remained where the Corporation yard is now situated. On the death of the farmer in 1912/13 the property and attached lands passed into the ownership of the Estate. A sparse hedge ran from roughly where the old pavilion now stands in a direct line to the Hitchin Road and a number of elm and oak trees stood at various points of these two meadows. I came to Preston from my native London in 1916 and at that time the meadows were occupied by the Army; camouflaged tents denoted a Signals Platoon and there was much coming and going of motor dispatch riders. Some derelict farm buildings stood on the land now occupied by the houses of Mr. Freeman and Mr. Woodhams, and these rude sheds were to be the first ‘pavilion’ when cricket started in 1919. Douglas Vickers, who had recently come to live at Temple Dinsley, gave permission for the meadows to be used as a cricket ground, and by far the major part of the work was done by G.I.E. Pryor. For days and hours on end he worked on the ground, and when the necessity for water arose he carried it from the rail pond. The outfield of course was only cut for haymaking; for many years this was so on nearly all other village grounds. (Kings Walden and Sexton wore exceptions). n 1921 the Pavilion was built, the bricks and tiles for it (and also for the Bungalows and Institute) being made in a shed on Brown's Farm, and the woodwork prepared by Jack Flint at Kiln Wood. An enclosure was erected in front of the Pavilion for the exclusive use of members and their ladies, and one would immediately be ordered out if the half-crown subscription was overdue. Permission was sought from Douglas Vickers to use the Ground for football but he was very reluctant to permit this. Some compromise was eventually arrived at whereby the game could be played there, but after a season or so the Football Club were allowed the use of the meadow behind the Pavilion and it was here that the footballers had their most successful days. Cups, Shields and League honours were won, and on one historic occasion they held mighty Letchworth Town to a draw in a cup tie at Letchworth. Jimmy Garner played in goal for the County and Willie Chalkley and Harry Jenkins were also strongly fancied for County honours. Matches (especially cup-ties) against teams such as Kimpton, Union Jacks, Woolmer Green and Walsworth were always very lively affairs, and sparks used to fly not only amongst the players but also very often from the supporters. After a number of very successful seasons the Club closed down, and the pattern right up until 1939 was for football to flourish for two or three years, and then to fold up and the players to move to other local clubs. Since the war years, however, the Club has been much more efficiently run with the result that there has been more continuity. In the last few years, under the chairmanship of Mr. Harry Boxall, the team has ridden on the crest of a wave and now bears comparison with the Charlie Cumper, Harry Maltby, George Jeeves team of yesteryear. Tennis was again started after the War, but the lack of young players taking up the game resulted in the Club closing down, and now children happily swing and cars park where once many a sterling battle woe fought. Both an Evangelical Tented Mission and a Fair were permitted to use the ground, although not at the same time, and during the war years the ground was again used by the Army. There too are pleasant memories of Jubilee and Coronation celebrations, and the Annual Fete and Flower Show which, in spite of a changing world, still continues to bring pleasure to many of our friends. On July the first 1967, Mr. Richard Whitmore officially opened the Tenth Annual Post-War Flower Show, and at the same time threw open the doors of the new Sports Pavilion. It is doubtful if Farmer Brown would now recognize his two buttercup festooned meadows
Preston Cricket Club vs The Moon
This is to be pure fun, and it is doubtful if anyone will agree with all the selected players. Certain it is that my contemporaries will say that Joe Bloggs (1927) was a far better player than Jim Nobbs (1964) forgetting that statistics would prove a very different story, and of course our young gazelles of the present day will query why Harry Jinks (1965) isn't included in preference to George Tite (1925) forgetting that the latter named gentleman batted on plantains with an outfield so high that courting couples were able to hide in it (and frequently did). Each player has been selected at his peak; some there were who were consistently good, whereas others had brilliant seasons followed by less successful ones.
Charlie Darton Reginald Dawson Dick Jenkins Willie Jenkins Chris Newell Geoffrey Pryor John Read Barry Smith Tony (Spindle) Smith Frank Wray Sam Wray Reserves: Stan Chapman Tony AJ Smith
R/H Bat R/H Bat and Slow Bowler L/H Bat and R/H Medium Bowler R/H Bat R/H Bat and Fast Bowler R/H Bat and Slow Bowler R/H Bat and Fast Bowler R/H Bat and Fast Bowler R/H Bat and Wicket-Keeper R/H Bat and Fast Medium Bowler L/H Bat and R/H Slow Bowler R/H Bat and Medium Bowler R/H Bat and L/H Slow Bowler
It will be noticed that the team is put in alphabetical order, hence there has been no attempt by my humble self to attempt any batting order. Finally, there is one interesting feature (which was not noticed until the team had been selected); the two Wrays and the two Jenkins all had the same maternal grandparents, although it is not thought that Grandfather Currell ever played cricket.
They say, ‘It’s a dull game’
Since the time that Cricket was called Bat and Ball and there was no middle stump, many amusing stories (possibly some of them apocryphal) have grown around the game. Preston Cricket Club has had their fair share of these enlivening interludes and a few are hereunder related: At one time the Club had a player who had an intense dislike of Umpires, and hated being given 'Out' by then even more so. I was batting with this gent one day when he played at a ball and immediately there was a united appeal for a catch at the wicket. The umpire raised his hand whereupon the batsman said ‘It came off my pad’. ‘Alright’ said the official, ‘you're out LBW’, but again the batsman disagreed. ‘How can it be, it was a rising ball which hit the top of my pads?’ The Umpire retorted somewhat sententiously ‘You're out for obstruction, and if you don't go at once I shall report you to the MCC’. The red-faced player retired to the Pavilion, no doubt fearful that the vengeance of Messrs. Altham, Fry and Warner would descend upon him. Meantime our white coated friend turned to me and queried ‘Did you think he was out?’ to which I (in an endeavour to pour oil on troubled waters) gave a somewhat non-committal reply. Preston was playing Hitchin West Indians a few years ago and when Tony (A.J) Smith came in at No. 11 about 130 runs were needed to win. Our cricketing Horatio decided to storm the bridge and the faster the bowling the harder Tony hit back. This defiant hitting gave our Caribbean opponents as much pleasure as it did us, and every time the ball was hit out of the ground it was sheer ecstasy to them. Tony's partner carelessly allowed himself to be bowled when we were only 20 runs short of the target, and a sweat-drenched A.J. with 80 odd runs to his credit, was almost carried to the Pavilion by our delirious victors. At Chesfield Park over the long on boundary was an evil looking green slimey duck-pond, partially shrouded by trees. Charlie Darton hit a ball into this pond, and whilst we whiter than white players were endeavouring to retrieve it, our famous opening bat repeated the shot. Like Queen Victoria 'we were not amused', neither I suspect were our wives when they saw our spotted-dick wearing apparel. At Kimpton in a match when we were batting, it appeared to us in the Pavilion that all the Kimpton side, our batsmen, and the Umpires, had gone berserk until it was realized that a swarm of bees was passing over the ground. When this stingray armada had departed, without any apparent casualties, Tony (Spindle) Smith hit the next five balls to the boundary. The bowler was then rested, no doubt blaming the bee bees for his inaccurate trundling. The late Bob Wray was once fielding on the long on boundary at Preston when he let out a shriek and collapsed to the ground in a cloud of smoke. It transpired that a box of wax vestas in his hip pocket had become ignited by the sun. If memory serves me correctly he had his tea standing up on that particular Saturday. An away fixture had hardly started when a wife arrived in high dudgeon and proceeded to verbally lambast her beloved spouse who was fielding. This gentleman had apparently been asked to fill a last minute vacancy when in his local, and had proceeded at closing time straight to the cricket ground, forgetful of the fact that not only was his dinner awaiting him, but that also he had promised to take his wife out shopping. The lady eventually left after making rather rude remarks about cricket and husbands in general. In a match at Little Wymondley our bowling was being thrashed, and it was noticeable that when the ball was hit into an adjoining cornfield no effort was made to retrieve it, but a replacement ball was thrown out from the Pavilion. I asked Harold Tomlin to try an over of his slow leg breaks, at the end of which another three balls had been lost, and the score advanced by some thirty runs. I suggested to Harold that perhaps it wasn't his wicket, whereupon, with a twinkle in his eye he replied ‘Keep me on for another over and they'll run out of balls and we'll get away with a draw’. I didn't and consequently we didn't. In our dressing room at the conclusion of one of our bitter battles at Offley we were discussing our opponents and Umpires, and referring to them in a far from kindly manner. We were unaware that the partition dividing the two dressing rooms had a gap at the top and that every word we uttered was being listened to by our deadly rivals. Suddenly the door opened and in burst the offended Offleyites, and by their expressions it was apparent that they hadn't come merely to offer us their good wishes. As usual of course we all finished up at the local pub, and left the village as friends (at least until the next match). It was also at Offley that we all had a sit down strike when a batsman refused to retire after being caught from what he maintained was a bump ball. The two captains and two umpires eventually allowed him to remain much to our disgust.
Luton News  2 July 1936 Offley 90 Peters 6 for 15Preston 54 Team: C Darton, D Frost, J Garner, A Fossett, R Darton, W Chalkley, W Darton, F Blanchard, W Peters, W Walker, E Sunderland Luton News  30 July 1936 Preston vs Offley Preston 83 Team: C Darton, D Jenkins, A Fossett, J Garner, W Darton, W Chalkley, M Blanchard, H Hammond, W Peters, W Walker, W Hammond Offley 73 Jenkins 6 for 21 Luton News 11 May 1950 Electolux vs Preston Electrolux 91 Stanley 6 for 29 Preston 46 Team: C Darton, W Stanley, R Whitby, W Dewar, C Hilder, D Frost, J Hadfield, C Tomlin, W Peters, W Reid, R Mardle. Luton News 11 July 1953 Hexton vs Preston Preston 136 for 7 dec. Team: Stevens, Hilder, R Darton, Jenkins, Tomlin, Dear, Frost, Currell, Harper. Hexton 75  Darton 3 for 11; Currell 2 for 4 Luton News 30 July 1953 Hexton vs Preston Hexton 129 Hilder 4 for 23, Phillips 2 for 13, Dear 2 for 18 Preston 106 for nine wkts. Team: R Darton, C Tomlin, J Sharp, B Dear, R Whitby, C Hilder, T Whiting, P Phillips, J Wood, R Marshall, B Baker. Luton News 29 July 1954 Hexton vs Preston Hexton  77 Williamson 5 for 25; Hilder 5 for 41. Preston 36 Team: J Stevens, B Smith, N Cumming, R Whitby, W Frost, Franklin, D Williamson, M Steward, H Tomlin, C Cumming, C Hilder
Assorted Preston CC teams and performances reported in newspapers