Cricket in Pembrokeshire
Cricket grew out of a number of rustic ball games played in southern England in the later Middle Ages. Gradually these morphed into one more or less universal game, with similar rules being observed by cricket players across the south of England. The Laws of Cricket were first set down in 1744, by which time it had evolved into a thriving sport that chiefly involved the social elite – the landed gentry. And it was the gentry who introduced the sport of cricket to Wales and indeed to Pembrokeshire.
According to ‘Cricket, a History of its Growth and Development’ (Eyre and Spottiswood, 1970) by Major Rowland Bowen, the first mention of cricket in Wales was at Pembroke in 1763. The earliest recorded match in Wales took place at Court Henry Down, between Carmarthen and Llandeilo, on August 4th, 1783. A challenge match, played for 50 guineas a side between: ‘The gentlemen of the east side of the Cothi River and those of the west’ it was arranged by 22-year-old John George Philipps of Cwm Gwili who had learned the game while studying at Westminster School and Oxford.
There is no mention of cricket in Pembrokeshire for the next 50 years, apart from a newspaper reference to the game being played by visitors to Tenby in 1815. However it seems certain that there must have been games in the county during that period, not least because J G Philipps of Cwmgwili was closely related to the Philippses of Picton Castle. Another member of the Philipps family who made a big contribution to the sport both locally and nationally was John Henry Philipps of Robeston Hall who was educated at Harrow and Oxford. A talented batsman, he made his first class debut for the MCC in 1830 before returning to Pembrokeshire where he carried on playing cricket, becoming a founder of Haverfordwest Cricket Club. He was High Sheriff and MP for Pembrokeshire and was President of the MCC in 1870. By this time he had changed his surname to Scourfield in order to inherit estates at Moat and Williamston House, near Burton, and this led to Williamston becoming one of the bastions of cricket in the county.
By the 1830s, with better local newspaper coverage, we start getting reports of cricket matches in Pembrokeshire. The Carmarthen Journal for July 1830 refers to a series of three matches between teams of gentlemen from Tenby and Pembroke while at Tenby in August 1835 a two-innings match played between the gentlemen of Tenby and a combined team made up of the gentlemen of Haverfordwest and Pembroke. In the summer of 1835 the Cambrian newspaper noted that ‘Milford Cricket Club hold their meetings on Wednesdays’. This is arguably the first mention of an actual cricket club in Pembrokeshire.
A match was played at Haverfordwest in September 1837 ‘in the ring of the racecourse on Portfield Common’ between ‘eleven picked men of Pembrokeshire and as many tradesmen of this sporting little town’. It seems that Haverfordwest Cricket Club was formed the following year, prompted partly by this social inclusion and partly by the Portfield Enclosure Act; there is a note in the Town Council minutes in 1839 to the effect that an area of the Racecourse be kept aside for ‘the purpose of playing cricket’. Finding a pitch was often a problem, there being no village greens in Pembrokeshire. In May 1845 the Pembrokeshire Herald noted that the members of Pembroke Cricket Club were ‘struggling to find a ground for that delightful game’. Another of our early clubs was Tenby, mentioned in 1844, while cricket was played in Lamphey in 1844 on a field near Lamphey Court, with the village having formed its own club by 1849.
This was a period when several things happened that had a great influence on the growth and development of cricket. The first came in 1841 when the military authorities decreed that all barracks should be provided with a cricket ground for the entertainment of officers. The Defensible Barracks in Pembroke Dock was built soon afterwards, with a beautiful cricket pitch on the Barrack Hill.
Over the years the military presence in the county was to give great impetus to the game. The garrison in Pembroke Dock provided regular opposition for town and county teams and they revolutionised local cricket in practical ways. For example the soldiers introduced the new-fangled round-arm bowling action to Pembrokeshire when we were still using the old-fashioned underarm bowling.
The early closing movement of the late 1860s onwards was something else which gave a great impetus to sport amongst the working classes. This encouraged shops to close at 1pm on a certain day every week. In towns where it was adopted, sporting shopworkers suddenly found they had the time to play cricket and football on their half day off. New midweek clubs were formed such as Haverfordwest Early Closing Association and Fishguard Fridays in order to provide ‘healthful amusement’ for young men on their free half days. The church also played an important part in spreading the gospel of cricket at grass roots level. This was a time when the notion of Muscular Christianity was taking hold and sport and team games were regarded as promoting Christian virtues and values. Local schools, notably Haverfordwest Grammar, Milford College and Pembroke Dock Grammar, all taught the game and would have been nurseries for our local clubs.
Most towns and villages in the south of the county had a team by the 1890s, plus a few north of the Landsker. Pembroke Dock was a hothouse of the game with a bewildering number of clubs – not only the local garrison and dockyard teams but also teams centred on local chapels, the Labour club and the Liberal Club. By now ‘gentry cricket’ was more or less a thing of the past, but many local squires continued to be great patrons of the sport in the county at village club level. In 1903 a Pembrokeshire County Cricket Club was formed, followed by the formation of the first ever Pembrokeshire Cricket League in 1905. The eight teams who entered the league in 1905 were Milford Haven, Pembroke, Pembroke Dock, Pembroke Dock Garrison, Pembroke Dock Wesley, Williamston, Neyland and Tenby – a fairly tight geographical spread due to transport difficulties. Not surprisingly it took a long time for cricket in Pembrokeshire to get back on its feet after the devastation of the First World War. “People are trying to keep the game alive under great difficulties’ reported the local Guardian newspaper in 1920. There was no formal organisation any more – the league had not resumed – so clubs once again organised their own programme of friendly matches against local rivals.
By one estimate there were thirty cricket clubs in the county by 1930. Funds and equipment were limited, pitches were often rudimentary and changing facilities at village grounds were often non-existent – that’s if the players had kit to change into in the first place. A few town teams could boast a permanent pitch, perhaps with a tin hut that doubled as equipment store and changing room. but for other teams, forced to move from farmers’ field to farmers’ field, building any kind of structure wasn’t practicable, so the only changing room was the hedge.
Getting to away matches was also a problem for many village teams. Players cycled or travelled by pony and trap, while clubs close to the Haven often went by boat, the players taking it in turns to row. By 1936, however, many teams had access to a motor car or charabanc, making evening matches a possibility. This led to the launch of a new evening cricket competition, a knock-out competition of 22 overs a side, for a silver bowl donated by Mr Bowen-Summers of Milton House. The tournament ran for just three years, with the Second World War more or less putting an end to club cricket in Pembrokeshire for the duration of hostilities. Once again the game took time to find its feet after the war – although, on the plus side, there were now a number of new military establishments in the county with excellent facilities that they were happy to share, and this helped kick-start the game back into life. And cricket in the county was given its present solid structure with the formation in November 1947 of the Pembroke County Cricket Club which has continued to administer the game for the benefit of all cricketers and cricket clubs in the county.