Ecton Hall Cricket Club
The Cricket Club was started approximately 100 years ago by staff at Ecton Hall (hence the Club’s name). The first ground was at Ecton Park (where in recent years the steam rally has been held) and home games had to be played early in the season due to pheasant breeding.
Around 1935 the ground was moved across the road to Beech Drive at the suggestion of the then tenant farmer Mr John Dicks. Beech Drive was so called because of the splendid avenue of trees which formed part of the boundary on one side of the pitch. Unfortunately, many of these magnificent trees have now fallen.
During and after the war years, play was suspended and the field was used by the army for ammunition storage but in 1947 the team was reformed and played on both Saturdays and Sundays. To qualify for the team all players had to have close links with the village. All the games were ‘friendlies’ played mostly against other villages. In those days not many people had cars, so most of the team and the kit bag had to be travel by Public Transport.
During this era, runs were in short supply, as only the actual wicket square was mown, whilst the rest of the field was left for grazing by sheep and cows. This encouraged lusty hitting to clear the boundary for six and discouraged full length dives from the fielders to stop the ball, as you could never be quite certain what lay in the grass. This field was also used by the Football Club until it disbanded in the late 1970s.
Financial restraints meant one ball had to last all season unlike today when the general rule is for a new ball every game.
One of the highlights of each season was the annual all day game against Fern Lodge of London. This was played on an alternate home and away basis. The opposition team was based at Clapham Common, where many enjoyable visits were made. The last of these games was played in 1969.
The team secretary for nearly 50 years was Jim Hall but after the war this position was occupied by John Collip who, in the later of his 30 years service, also doubled up as the after-tea umpire, with Tom Richards carrying out the pre-tea duties.
The team after the war was a very close-knit organisation with long service achieved by Pete, Tom, John and Edgar Dicks, Herbert, Geoff and Lenny Harlott, Tom and Maurice Richards, Colonel and John Wetherall, Alf Campbell, Brian Saunders, Tony Labrum, Fred Wallis and Syd Fitzhugh. The big hitters of the team were Syd Ashby, Tom Dicks and CS Taylor, all of whom would frequently clear the line of beech trees.
During the 1970s the club continued to play at Beech Drive, which by now was under the control of tenant farmer Mr Ken White. The mainstays of the 1970s side (which was now playing on Sundays only) were Brian Saunders, Maurice and Steve Richards, Dave Collip, Nigel Treeby, Richard and Derek Higham and Russell Kearsley.
During the 1980s and 1990s a shortage of players emerging from the village required drastic action to ensure continuation of the club. Initially this meant press-ganging customers from the local hostelries on their way home after the then 2 o’clock Sunday closing, but a more permanent solution was found by recruiting more players from outside the village, particularly from Earls Barton and Moulton. These included Malcolm Kearsley, who with both bat and ball has been arguably the most successful performer of the modern era for Ecton.
Other mainstay players of the last fifteen years have included Mark Patching, Steve Richards, Steve Wheatman, Mark Bullock, Chris Ellis, Merv Draper, Maurice Creed, Arun Shah, Kevin Lester and Brian Saunders, who is playing in his sixth separate decade, having made his debut in 1949!
Due to a general improvement in pitch conditions both home and away, the 1980s and early 90s resulted in a number of Ecton players scoring centuries. These included Mark Patching, who twice hit the clubs highest recorded score of 133 not out, curiously both times against Bugbrooke St. Michaels. Other century makers included Malc Kearsley, with at least two hundreds, and Chris Ellis. On two other occasions former wicket keeper Merv Draper got close with 96 and 90, both times finishing not out. The best bowling analysis is 8-14 by the much travelled Mick Chandler in 1984 and 8-66, including a hat-trick, by Malc Kearsley against Stoke Goldington in 1993. The first recorded 100 partnership was between Colonel and John Wetherall around the 1950s, and the highest partnership to date is 167 between Jason Wright (93) and Steve Richards (58) for the first wicket against Great Houghton in 1991.
During the early 1990s the condition of the Beech Drive ground began to deteriorate badly as a result of falling trees and animal grazing, to a level where it was impossible to continue. A memorable illustration of this was in 1993 when the start of the game against Guilsborough had to be delayed for fifteen minutes whilst a dead sheep was removed from the outfield. The last game played at the old ground was against Great Houghton on 18 September 1994 and appropriately ended with a win.
After much patient negotiation by the vice-chairman Brian Beck with the Ecton Estate, (managed by Fisher Hoggarth at Market Harborough), a new 20 year lease was signed in 1993 giving the Cricket Club land to create a new pitch. A huge effort was made by the club to raise funds both from within the village and through various grants and on 14 May 1995 the first game was played on the new pitch.
The new ground is located in the village behind the Youth Club and after some initial trepidation from the neighbours, it is now proving successful both as a playing area and as a Sunday afternoon meeting venue, for villagers either with an interest in the cricket or in the Tea Ladies’ excellent cakes, which for many years Joan Richards, along with a small army of assistants. has patiently been cooking
The switch of venue has proved successful in once again attracting the youth of the village to an interest in the cricket team and a large number of promising young cricketers from the village are now playing, which gives great optimism that the future of Ecton Hall Cricket Club will continue well into its second century.
Steve Wheatman (Club Captain 1996)