A History of Cricket at Wolverton

I discovered this book in Mrs, B’s Emporium on Church Street. It is a comprehensive account of the history of the game in Wolverton, written by Colin Kightley, who started playing for the club in 1975.
There were probably games in the 1840s, but the recorded history of our local cricket began in 1859, when Edward Henry Crpydon founded his newspaper, Croydon’s Weekly Standard, better known to us in the 20th century as the Bucks Standard. These early games were played in pasture fields or meadows and not all of the locations are known. Two that were almost certainly used in the 19th century, were the field on the south side of the canal, between the Galleon bridge and the footbridge to the east, and the field south of Green Lane at the Moon Street end. Mr Kightley suggest that the club may have played on the ground where the Drill Hall was later built for at least one season.
The development of Green Lane and Victoria Street in the 1890s pushed the cricket field further south to, I suppose, the land later occupied by the school. However, plans were afoot to secure a permanent ground for the Cricket Club and they played their last season at the so-called “Big Field” in 1899. After one season playing all their games away, the club first occupied their new ground in May 1901.
Colin Kightley’s research into the cricket club’s history is detailed and impeccable. He has been able to rely on some club records, but for earlier results he has patiently trawled through newspaper records to compile statistics. Two thirds of the book is a descriptive history of the club and he has compiled a substantial appendix detailing the batting and bowling figures for every player from 1894 to 2011. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to find the batting and bowling stats for one H.S. Dunleavy, who between 1899 and 1913, amassed some quite respectable figures. It is known in the family that he was an active sportsman in his youth, but nobody bothered to keep any record. I am therefore grateful for a little bit of extra colour to my family past.
The book will be valuable for Wolverton cricket enthusiasts, but it should also be of interest to those who wish to flesh out some details of their family history.
There are many aspects to Wolverton’s rich history, and I am pleased to note that Colin Kightley has made this important contribution. Recommended.

Wolverton Britannia Cricket Team

In the 1880s the Wolverton cricket team took the name of “Wolverton Britannia”. I have no idea where that came from.

At any rate they were distinct from the railway as one of their matches was against a London and North western second XI. The score sheet does not flatter Wolverton. The side scored 55 in the first innings and 21 in the second. The L & NW team needed one innings only, where they scored 103.
This was reported in the Northampton Mercury on Saturday 30th July 1887.

On the day that this was reported the side were playing a local match against Newport Pagnell. Once again the results were unflattering to Wolverton. Newport Pagnell scored 189 runs against Wolverton bowling and Wolverton could only manage 37 runs in reply.

I think that the cricket ground in this period was on the field now covered by Green lane and Victoria Street, which, when you think about it, slopes quite steeply in parts. When the Green Lane and Moon Street development started in the 1890s the cricket ground was removed to its present location.

The Pineapple

I’ve often remarked that Wolverton was an architect-free zone, and that is largely true. Only a few public buildings, the churches, the schools and the Science & Art Institute were designed by architects and for the most part Wolverton was built by experienced builders who built practical designs that worked. Their monument is the buildings that are still in use after 150 years. Obviously built to last and functional.

In recent times there have been two notable intrusions by architects into Wolverton – the Agora and the Cricket Pavilion nicknamed the Pineapple. I have discussed the Agora here. Now thats the cricket season is underway I want to turn my attention to the Pineapple. It is a building which I have never seen, because it came and went during a period when I didn’t visit Wolverton. If I should ever wish to see it I will have to make a trip to a chicken farm in Somerset!

Some background. Cricket has as a long a history as Wolverton itself. Several cricket teams played the game, but in 1893 the teams were organized into a single cricket club.  Early games were played in a field near the Gables. I am not sure of the precise location but it could have been in the area now occupied by Moon Street and Victoria Street. When this was required for building a new field was acquired on its present site at the top of Osborn Road. The pavilion was typically Victorian in design with a raised stand to view the game and changing rooms inside for home and away teams. Thousands of these were erected across the country and many of the rituals of the game became associated with buildings like these. It certainly fitted in with peoples notion of what cricket was all about. Later a club room was created from an old railway carriage which sunk comfortably in the ground under the weight of the very comfortable upholstery. A newer structure was added to this at a later date.

The Old Cricket Pavilion and Bowls Club House

By 1972 the old wooden Cricket Pavilion was rotting away at the foundations and the Cricket Club turned to Milton Keynes for assistance. At the time the Corporation was overloaded with young architects wishing to make their mark on the world and one of them, Pierre Botschi, was offered to the unsuspecting committee. He came up with an avant garde design using stuts and fibre galss and probably much influenced by the geodesic designs of Buckminster Fuller – much in vogue in those days. Buildings of this genre were inexpensive to build and were lightweight while being structurally strong. Thousands of “Good Life” enthusiasts across the United States built their own geodesic domes or variants only to later find that they were difficult to inhabit. Noise was one problem, heating costs another and added to that the inhabitants had difficulty in adapting furniture to the space. They also leaked after a few years. Very few survive today.

Well I am not blindly resistant to new design ( and I think that is true of most of us) but the designs have to be functional and useful. The Newton Notepad computer (if anyone remembers that) was useless, but the iPad is billiant – a design whose time has come.

The new building was characterised as a Nissan hut with warts by those who could remember WW II but it became more popularly infamous as the Pineapple.

Photo from Living Archive

There were obvious and immediate useabilty problems. The cricketers could only get on to the pitch by a side door, wiping out one of the rituals of cricket where the batsmen walk down from the pavilion to the crease. There was no raised pavilion seating for the members – again a treasured convention of the game. The glass panels under the canopy were apparently invisible as they showed no reflection and there were several incidents where dogs unssuccessfully treid to make their way through this apparently emplty space. On one occasion, I am told, one little girl tried to run through. Fortunately she was not badly hurt.
To compound their problems the club committee discovered that buildings of this design were ruinously expensive to heat in winter – a fact that was probably never considered by the architect.

The building’s history was ignominious and short. The cricketers and the public were listened to and the structure was sold to a Somerset farmer for chicken housing. In its place a proper cricket pavilion was erected.

Architecture is and should be about introducing aestthetic into the built environment, but is also about being true to its function. Churches are usually designed with high ceilings so that the congregation can aspire to communicate with God. Snooker rooms may be designed with low ceilings so that the tables can be fully lit. What happened here was that the architect was oblivious to the needs of the cricketing community and the gerneral aesthetic of Wolverton. Wolverton may have been a rather drab, monochrome town without much to enthuse the avearge architect but it was what it was. This new structure was an intrusion without antecedents or any reference to Wolverton’s heritage as it then was. Worse still, little attention seems to have been paid to the requirements of the community the building purported to serve – the cricket, tennis and bowls clubs. The old building had viewing stands on both sides, for cricket and tennis. The Pineapple provided amenities for the players and public but divorced itself from any practical association with the games it purported to serve. They got the building because the architect wanted an opportunity to experiment with a new building form and presumably it allowed the corporation to keep down building costs. The clients (who should have been the cricket, tennis and bowls clubs) were ignored in the design process. The consequences were predictable.

The architect no doubt enjoyed the plaudits of the architectural community and it is possible that lessons were learned and the error not repeated. Wolverton was used as a laboratory for an experimental building; fortunately it was able to recover.