Mr Battams’ Big Field

There was not a great deal of sporting activity in early Victorian times. The working week was long and there was simply not the time. The working week at Wolverton Works was 58 /12 hours in total – five 10 hour days and 8 1/2 hours on Saturday. Sunday at least was free, but this was considered time for family and church.

This changed in the 1870s when the working week was reduced to 54 hours. This freed up Saturday afternoons, winter and summer, and young men began to organise themselves into teams to [lay footblall and cricket. Conditions were rough and ready and the games were organised in a field which was otherwise used for pasture.

In Wolverton they played on the “Locomotive Ground”, the field to the east of the Galleon, now largely covered by the Galleon Housing estate, and the field nw occupied by Victoria Street, Moon Street and Bushfields School. It was known as Mr Battams’ Big Field” after the farmer at Stacey Hill who made it available. The other field I have report of is the meadow at New Bradwell, where at least one cricket match was played. In Stony Stratford, they played in the meadow atbthe north end of town, more-or-less in the location of the present Ancell Fields.

A tug o war in 1913 in part of “Mr Battams’ Big Field”

Battams Field, for those who know the lie of the land, was on a slope, so it cannot have been entirely satisfactory, but perhaps the Victorians did not unduly bother themselves with the idea of a level playing field. The field where the Hambledon Cricket Club played in the 18th century in Hampshire is on a hill with a slope – not at all dissimilar to Battams’ field as it was in the 19th century.

To begin with, the field was used occasionally at Whitsuntide and in the summer, but with the development of winter sports it soon drew weekly use. Mr Battams seemed not to mind. He had farmed at Stacey farm since 1846 and had been amenable to occasional use for many years but in 1888, after his widow gave up the farm, the new tenant had other ideas.

The new tenant, John Richards, wanted £7 annual payment for the use of the field over the season, which the clubs felt was too much. Richards had a point. Whereas Battams had been happy to allow use of the field on occasions, the organised status of club football meant that they would need access at least two times a month, and possibly weekly, during the playing season, which would limit his own use for pasture. The rugby footballers withdrew to the Locomotive Ground, but the association footballers turn to the Park, which had opened only three years earlier.
The Park may have seemed the obvious location for association football but it was not the immediate choice. Apparently the guardians of the new Park wanted to restrict the number of games per season to four and this was impractical for any team, which was by that time organising a season of weekly games.
The Park did relent in favour of the Association Football club, known at the time as Wolverton L & NW Association. On October 19th 1889 they played Luton to a 2-2 draw.
The old football stand at the Park
“Mr Battams’ Big Field” was developed in the 1890s into Moon Street, Green Lane, and Victoria Street, and in the first years of the 20th century into grounds for the County School. Thus its place in the development of sport in Wolverton was forgotten.

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