My earliest memories of Rayleigh Cricket Club are from the mid 1930s when as small boys my younger brother and I spent so many Saturday afternoons on Websters Meadow, now King George V Playing Field, mostly watching the 2nd eleven playing. Our father was captain and wicketkeeper whilst our mother and grandmother provided the teas. In those days Websters Meadow was part of a series of fields surrounded by hedges, and apart from the field used for cricket, were used for grazing cattle and sheep (and Noah Webster’s (Jack’s father) horse). The annual visiting Fair also used the Meadow. The Webster family owned two butchers shops in the High Street one under the name of Webster and the other Wood. The Webster shop was included as part of their large house nearly opposite Bellingham Lane. Behind the house standing well back were their stables, cowsheds etc and slaughterhouse. The meadows lay behind that. My family lived two doors away and our garden was bounded on two sides by the meadows. The one way road system now runs through what was our garden. The Webster family had supported the cricket club from its early days and Jack was later to become arguably the finest batsman ever to play for the club.
In the 1930’s the changing rooms consisted of two wooden huts raised well above the ground and with opening wooden shutters, instead of windows, on the side facing the wicket. The “loos” consisted of a corrugated screen around a grassed piece behind each of the two huts – the ladies was particularly well appointed with an “Elsan™”. Provided that it was not raining teas were served on trestle tables outside the huts. The only mod-con was a standpipe near the huts for water. When the club restarted playing on Websters Meadow after the war (which I mention in more detail below) the same facilities were again brought into use.
My memory of those pre-war days is rather hazy as I was not then playing but I can still recall a youngish enthusiastic tearaway fast bowler for the first eleven named John Monk. Jack Webster, who could have played for the county and who was captain of the first eleven – a classic batsman although did not always make too many friends when continuing to bat after tea to complete his hundred!! (I well recall playing in a Sunday match in a village somewhere near the Herts border when we were in trouble on a real “sticky dog” of a wicket – I went in about number 9 and we were well short of a hundred. Jack who had opened and was still there came to greet me and said “just keep playing forward and leave it to me”. I managed a few off the edge whilst he largely farmed the bowling and scored enough for us to win the match. I always maintained afterwards that his bat was three times the width of mine!). Another classic batsman who was getting to the end of his playing days in the late 1930s was Jack Priestley – tall and elegant. Others I recall were Bill Ward, who opened the batting with Jack Webster, and also kept wicket; Arthur Hale who was the Secretary for many years before and after the war; Chris Gale and other members of the Gale family. For the second eleven were “Mac” Mckenzie, a tall dark haired fast bowler, Ken Addy who also opened the bowling, John Addy (who was later killed as a bomber pilot after a complete tour of operations). It was always said that the biggest hit ever seen on Websters Meadow was by Frank Britton in the early 1930s when he hit a ball from the pavilion end and cleared Stile Lane.
During the war a bomb landed on the corner of the square and left a crater but fortunately did no damage to the square. No work was done on the square during the war so it was unplayable in 1946. The club recommenced when members returned from the forces and played on Fairview Recreation Ground. I started playing again in late 1948 after being in the army. It was probably in about 1950 that the club wanted to return to Websters Meadow and the members started to work on the square and outfield to bring it back into use. We prepared the wicket on a Friday evening. During the first year when we started playing again on the ground, Bob Pinkerton, who had led the work, brought a lorry with a large tank on the back full of “cow muck” which we diluted to a slurry and threw all over the wicket and rolled in to give a good surface. It was remarkably successful but if there was a bit of rain about fielding became interesting and the bowlers certainly did not lick their fingers! It so happened that the first match to be played fell to the 2nd eleven, the 1st eleven not having a fixture, so Bob Pinkerton was invited to play because of the huge amount of work that he had put in. Inevitably he got a duck that day but it was a different matter when he bowled.
I particularly remember the match as my father said that if I got more than twenty-five runs he would buy me a bat. I was amazed to finish with some thirty odd runs to win the bat and as it happened to be top scorer that day – it did not happen again for a long time although the bat I won lasted me for the rest of my playing days.
The club managed to buy a heavy iron roller which had originally been horse pulled and was found on the edge of a ground that the 1st eleven had been playing at. They managed to persuade the other club to sell it for about £5 and it did sterling work for many years eventually being transferred to the Hawkwell ground when the Club started playing there. In those days all matches were friendly but were played with great spirit. We also played on some very good grounds, I recall particularly Rankins at Stambridge, where Donald Rankin himself, whose house overlooked the ground, would spend many evenings looking after the wicket. Shoebury Garrison also had an excellent ground where W G Grace etc had played. Travelling to matches in those days was interesting with few people owning cars. The 2nd eleven would often travel on a Jeep, driven by Albert Coker, Maurice Graham’s car and possibly one other car. I well recall one match against Marconi at Chelmsford where we all packed into about two vehicles with our gear. John Monk won the toss and decided to bat and suddenly realised that David Morgan who was to open with Maurice Graham was not with us. We found him still in the car park not being able to move with cramp from being sat on during the trip!
In the 1950s days the Counties did not play on Sundays and we played a benefit match for Dickie Dodds on Websters Meadow and for, I think, Roy Ralph during his benefit year. Roy’s team were all from the County team and included Michael Bear, a magnificent fielder, Barry Knight, Les Savill, Geoff Smith etc. Unfortunately they were two players short and at the last moment Roy asked me if I had my kit with me and for anyone else. Rodney Jones also had his so we made up their team. The amusing thing was that we batted 10 and 11 and managed to make the few runs needed to win the match.
The Club in those days had numbers of characters playing and there was a great deal of leg pulling although everyone played hard and there were some excellent cricketers. I have mentioned Jack Webster but we also had one of the best all-rounders in the area in Bob Pinkerton. Terry Spinks, who was in my class at school, opened the bowling for the 1st eleven and was feared by most teams – he had played for some Essex elevens and had been coached at the Ilford Cricket School. John Monk still opened for the 1st eleven after the war following his return from prison camp and had lost little of his pace. Jack Pyle joined the Club sometime in the fifties and was the most superstitious cricketer that I have ever seen – he always carried a black “city” umbrella in his cricket bag as an insurance against rain. The 2nd eleven included Albert Coker who looked after the club kit bags. In those days we could not afford many new balls during the season and Albert had a ball polishing kit with which he did sterling work on old balls which we used time and again. He was also an opening bowler with a somewhat round arm action who could achieve enormous late out -swingers even in indoor nets; he took so many wickets by bowling people round their legs. He also had strong views on some decisions when batting, lbw and run-outs; if he disagreed his bat would precede him into the pavilion by several yards. I well remember in a match at Marconi (I was umpiring as we had no umpire that day) and gave Albert out -run out. At that time we had piled on the runs and had what we regarded as a huge score. As I was batting shortly afterwards I was relieved and on reaching the pavilion was greeted by Albert with “I was never out” so I said “I know but I wanted a knock” – it was the first time that Albert was speechless!
In the 1950s and early 1960s County Cricket was not played on a Sunday and it was always a bit of a shock to our opponents to find that the Essex Captain, Brian Taylor, was playing!! Brian was a staunch supporter of RCC and whenever the Essex side were not playing he would often turn up at the ground to see if any of the teams were “one short” – he always had his kit in his car and would be delighted to make up the team whether it be the first, second or third or Sunday eleven. His enthusiasm for the game was electric and he was a great help to all those with whom he played.
I took on the role of Secretary sometime in the 1950s for a year or two but as we were short of a treasurer and I was a Chartered Accountant I was switched to that office with my friend Maurice Graham taking on the position of Secretary which he did for so many years with distinction. With both of us holding those offices we had an excellent excuse for meeting every Sunday morning at either the Paul Pry or the Half Moon to work out the winners of the fund raising lottery, which we ran, based on the football results!!
During the whole of my playing days we only had one serious accident and that was on the Hawkwell ground. Frank Clark was batting and whilst taking a run looked over his shoulder to see what was happening to the ball which just at that moment arrived over his shoulder on the way towards the wicket and brushed across the face of his eye and which unfortunately cost him the loss of sight in that eye.
I have mentioned only a few of the members of the Club but could have come up with pen portraits of nearly all of those with whom I had the pleasure of playing. I must however mention one person with whom I played for so many years – John Monk. When he was captain of the second eleven I drove him to distraction on many occasions although I leave him to tell the stories, which he does so at every opportunity and particularly previously when egged on by my old friend Maurice Graham! RCC was a hugely friendly club and I always look back with so much pleasure on the fun, friendship and support that I enjoyed for some seventeen years of playing until I moved to Suffolk in 1965.
I am delighted to see the way in which the Club has progressed and the forward looking thinking which has resulted in the obtaining of its own ground. Congratulations to all concerned and may the future generations learn of the work, which has been put in to attain the facilities, which they will enjoy.