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Denham is very fortunate in having its own recreation ground just behind Ashmead Lane, the Way and Tillard. It has thriving cricket and bowls clubs. This month we're reviewing some of Denham's sporting history starting with cricket and later this month recalling the history of the Bowls Club. And just how did the Way and Tillard get its name ?

The physical activity that became sport evolved from ritual, warfare and entertainment. In the ancient world it was often a means of testing for physical strength in preparation for battle. Team sports were an aid to the training regime for fighting.

Sport has evolved to become an important part of today’s society providing health, social and community benefits to those taking part as well as those spectating. Denham Village has a history of a variety of sports, not all of which remain today. One of those still thriving is cricket and is our focus for this post.

History of Cricket

The sport of cricket has a known history from the late 16th century. It is believed by most sport historians to have originated in south-east England, created by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearing which stretched across parts of Kent and Sussex. It became England's national sport in the 18th century and spread around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, some speculations referred to its beginnings in France or Flanders and one suggestion mentions the date of Thursday 10th March 1300 when the future King Edward II reputedly played a game known as “creag” in Westminster and Newenden.

In 1597 a court case in England concerning an ownership dispute over a plot of common land in Guildford, Surrey, mentions the game of creckett. A 59-year-old coroner, John Derrick, testified that he and his school friends had played creckett on the site fifty years earlier when they were pupils at the Free School. Derrick's account appears to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the game was being played in Surrey around1550 and is currently the earliest universally accepted reference to the game. At the time it was regarded as a game for children.

The first reference to cricket being played as an adult sport was in 1611, when two men in Sussex were prosecuted for playing cricket on Sunday instead of going to church. In the same year, one dictionary still defined cricket as a ‘boys' game, suggesting that adult participation was a recent development. As a game, cricket has since been linked with that of the older game of bowls with the addition of a batsman to try to prevent the ball from reaching its target.

17th and 18th Centuries

There are a number of references to cricket as an adult game between parish teams right up to the English Civil War. There is no evidence of county strength teams at this time nor much evidence of the gambling that characterised the game throughout the 18th century. It is generally believed, therefore, that village cricket had developed by the middle of the 17th century but that county cricket had not and that investment in the game had not begun.

After the Civil War ended in 1648, the new Puritan government clamped down on "unlawful assemblies", such as football. Their laws also demanded a stricter observance of the Sabbath than there had been previously. As the Sabbath was the only free time available to the lower classes, cricket's popularity may have waned but it was popular in private schools such as Winchester and St Paul's. There is no actual evidence that Oliver Cromwell's regime banned cricket specifically. It is believed that the nobility in general adopted cricket at this time through involvement in village games.

The sport was very popular after the 1660 Restoration following the English Civil Wars, so much so that it began to attract gamblers. By the end of the 17th century, it was a significant gambling sport.

Freedom of the press, granted in 1696, meant that cricket could be reported in newspapers although during the first half of the 18th century, the focus was largely on the betting rather than the play. It was gambling that led to the first patrons of the game. Some patrons decided to form their own teams in order to strengthen their bets. They chose the better players from their local areas and it is generally thought these became the first county teams and the players, the earliest professionals of the sport.

The Game

Cricket was a game supported by the rich as can be seen by the clothing of two of the men in this picture, “Cricket on the Artillery Ground, Finsbury, 1743”. The men wore their everyday clothes to play: silk breeches and buckle-strap shoes, no jackets but tri-cornered hats.

Bowling was underarm, the bats were curved, the wicket had two stumps and the ball was white. Ron Ashworth of Denham Cricket Club wrote in the Club’s Centenary Brochure in 1992, “Batsmen had to touch the bats that both umpires held at each end of the playing pitch to score a run. The boundary was marked with rough wooden staves and the scorers had tally sticks. The middle stump was added about 1775 following an incident in a Kent v Hambledon match when “Lumpy” Stevens bowled three balls straight through John Small’s wicket without disturbing the ball. This development led in turn to the addition of the second bail in 1786.”

The Ball

The very first cricket balls were likely to have been fashioned out of matted sheep’s wool. Now they are now made up of cork which is then layered with tightly wound strings. There is a top covering of leather with a slightly raised, sewn seam which provides the essential grip to hold the ball. The colour has changed from the original white to red. Red balls were used to play all forms of cricket until 1977 when white became the popular choice especially for shorter matches. With the advent of day-night test matches, pink balls are often used, as red balls are more difficult to see in fading light.

The Rules

The basic game of cricket was played in many formats for hundreds of years, but in 1788 the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) devised the first set of laws. These laws set out the basic rules for a bat and ball, the size of a wicket, pitch dimensions, the number of overs and different ways that a batter could get out. Our readers may have tried to explain the rules to those who have never played or watched the game with great difficulty. This has prompted several variations of the following:

"The Rules of Cricket

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.

Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out.

When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.

Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.

There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.

When both sides have been in and all the men have got out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!”

The Bat

The cricket bat started out as a hockey stick. Some of the earliest games of cricket were even played using shepherds' crooks. The masterpieces of today are made from either English or Kashmir willow. They are designed to repeatedly absorb a large amount of impact without breaking, whilst also enabling a batsman to hit the ball as far as possible.

Writing for the Australian website Cricket World, Charlie Burrows commented:

“Judging by the shape of some of these bats, cricket would have been a difficult game to play back in the 18th or 19th centuries, although it is worth noting that the faster, more aggressive overarm bowling did not become popular until the 20th century, and by that time the cricket bat much more closely resembled the bats we are used to seeing today.”

Denham Cricket Club

A cricket club playing with the name of Denham can be traced back to the 1890s. From the outset it was a pastime for several of the village's leading residents. The village squire of the time was Benjamin Henry Walpole Way of Denham Place. One of his four sons, Roger Hill Way, is on record as saying he began playing cricket for Denham in 1892. Denham Cricket Club decided to adopt this as the inaugural year for the club although there is some evidence of a match played in 1875, recorded in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser and headed as Colonel Goodlake’s Team v Mr Way’s Team. It was played on the lawns in the grounds of the Fishery, where some years later Colonel, later General, Goodlake built a large house. The article refers to the players adjourning to the Hare and Hounds, Red Hill “where host Freeman had provided a capital spread.” The match was won by the Colonel by 4 runs.

The team continued to play many of their games on the lawns of the Fishery which even boasted a cricket pavilion. In 1921 the grounds of Denham Place were often used for games with the permission of Mr. B Fothergill, the then President of the cricket club. The grounds of Denham Court were also used where its owner, Harold Swithinbank, was often the captain. He was regarded as a generous host, providing “a capital lunch and refreshments”. Visiting teams to Denham usually stayed in the Swan Inn. The Plough Inn, now The King, had a long association with the club providing rooms for club business and evening functions in the early 1900s. The Falcon was another of the Denham pubs where meetings and social functions were held.

World War 1 1914-1918

Cricket was still played in Denham during the first World War usually against teams such as Langley Park, Great Western Railways, Chalfont Colony and teams from the King’s Royal Rifles, stationed at Moorhouse Farm on Lower Road in Higher Denham. In November 1915, discussions were held in the club’s headquarters, the Swan, to decide on whether to continue. Colonel Way thought it would help relieve anxiety and sorrow at this time as well as giving juniors the opportunity to improve their game. Several club members had been wounded including Colonel Way himself, Roger Way and a Private G Saunders.

Earlier in 1915, Roger Hill Way had married Brenda Lathbury. The first settled date for the wedding had to be postponed when Roger had to re-join his regiment, the North Staffordshires. Following an injury to his face from the flame of a bursting shell he was invalided home. The wedding ceremony could then take place although it was fairly low key as the bride’s father, Reverend Lathbury, the author of the magnificent 1904 History of Denham, had recently died.

The war memorial in St Mary’s church grounds lists several men with surnames that are the same as those who played for the club between 1910-1912, although in most cases the initials are not the same. Amongst them is the name of Arthur George Tillard killed at the battle of La Bassée in October 1914.

The Way and Tillard Memorial Cricket Ground – a Christmas gift

At the end of the War various schemes of reconstruction and renewal were considered for the village as well as the construction of the memorial. One of these was to establish a sports ground. At Christmas 1920 four acres of land was offered by Lieutenant Colonel B.I. Way to Denham Parish Council for a recreation ground on a 999 year lease at an annual rent of three shillings. The lease stated that the land was “to be used as a recreation ground for the purpose of games and sports each in its proper season, by adults (ie over the age of 14 years) being inhabitants of the Parish of Denham or by their visitors or guests.”

It was the duty of the Parish Council to ensure the demands of the lease were met. The Council's records reveal: “In addition Mrs Tillard gave a sum of money, £300, for the laying out of the ground and for the creation of a pavilion in memory of her husband who was killed in the Great War. This first pavilion was an all-wood construction which had no running water or electricity to start with. The tea urn had to be heated in the Plough Inn which was also the nearest venue for refreshments after the game. The pavilion was officially opened on May 6th 1922 by Mrs. Tillard.”

At the opening ceremony Major Oppenheim gave thanks on behalf of the cricket club saying the gift would play an important part in the social life of the village. Mr A Nead offered thanks on behalf of the football club saying it would be a real boon to the village and was now up to the people of Denham to combine and make the scheme a success. Colonel Way explained that he wanted to give something in the memory of his family’s long association with the village and the recreation ground was the result. After the speeches there was an opening game against Mr Marshall’s XI which Denham won by 12 runs with a score of 51.

In the early years of playing on the new ground, the wickets ran east to west. Difficulties of bowling into the setting sun initiated a change to north-south. Rows of lime saplings were planted along the north and south sides of the ground in 1924. The O.S. map of 1935 shows the recreation ground complete with tennis courts (right hand corners) and a bowling green (bottom left).

Second World War

During the Second World War, as rationing increased, the pavilion was used to store food for supplying caterers. The loss of this facility didn’t stop play though as the players simply went to the village school to change. Members who were serving in the armed forces were encouraged to play when they could and were not charged for their membership.

In 1939 the president of the club was Sir Robert Vansittart, of Denham Place. Sir Robert was a senior Foreign Office diplomat and a determined opponent of the policy of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. So it is not surprising that on September 1st, the day Hitler's forces invaded Poland, Sir Robert was obliged to write to club members apologising for being unable to attend the AGM later that month due to pressure of work. They were probably surprised that he managed to write at all, but perhaps that was what the club meant to him even at a time of national security. His wife, Lady Vansittart did attend, however, and continued her tradition of presenting a bat to the best batsman.

Many evacuated children were housed in the village. The Parish Council agreed to a request that these children have the recreation ground for organised games. They were not allowed to play football, had to be supervised by a teacher and were warned that any damage to the ground would mean permission would be withdrawn. Football had been played on this field for twenty years prior to January 1st 1941 when was it was no longer allowed so that the ground would have time to recover in time for the cricket season.

In the club’s centenary brochure are several tales from the war years written by Ron Ashworth, Ray Johnstone and Andy Beale. They include the following:

“An unexploded bomb, courtesy of the anti-aircraft battery at the top of Chandler’s Hill, was removed from the south-east corner of the square and the resultant crater was utilised to house a hydrant for watering the square.”

“The east side of the recreation ground became home for a replica Spitfire. Stamps were bought and stuck onto it until the whole surface was covered. The plane was then removed and all the proceeds were given to the War Effort.”

More Tea Vicar?

The archetypal image of England's summer pastime so often seems to include the local vicar enjoying tea by the clubhouse as the villagers listen to the sound of leather against willow. Denham is no exception. We are grateful to Denham's former Rector Adrian Hirst for the loan of the cricket club’s centenary brochure for research. Adrian was vice-president of the club and a playing member at the time of its publication in 1992. Several previous rectors were involved with the club over the years. Reverend Lathbury was a member in the early 1900s, Rev. G C Battiscombe, Rev B A Clegg and Rev C P Way in the 1930s, Reverend Simpson in the 1960s and Reverend P Crick in the 1980s.

Rev Brattiscombe led the gents v. ladies match in 1934 and was out leg before wicket for just one run. That match had caused a bit of a stir with the ladies monopolising the nets for their practice sessions. During the match, men had to play left-handed, fifteen women took part and were allowed the occasional 12 ball-over. The game ran out of time, so no result was recorded. The following year there was still no definitive result with rumours of the lost ball eventually being found in the umpire’s pocket. This was a fun charity event which raised money for the Denham Distress Fund for Scarlet Fever victims.

A year later in 1935, the Reverend Clegg, curate of St. Mary's, proposed that Denham's various sports clubs should combine to form a sports and social club. Until then the sports clubs had operated separately. Rev. Clegg suggested amalgamating the rugby, football, tennis, cricket and table tennis clubs. For a single subscription, members could play any of the games and attend any of the social functions. Following a public meeting in the Parish Hall, the scheme was adopted and was run by a single committee comprising of three representatives from each of the original clubs. For the first time, games were allowed on the recreation ground on Sundays but only after morning service, between 1.30 and 6.30pm from May 1st until September 30th. The Denham Sports Club lasted until 1968 when the various parties went their own way.

The Pavilion

The gift of the pavilion in 1922 proved to be of enormous value to the cricket club, not only for the comfort of the players but for the social functions that were now possible. However, by 1961 the building was in substantial need of repair and a fund-raising campaign began to build a new one. The campaign was supported by Mrs May Coles, the then president. Fund-raising events were held in the village, a grant was secured from the Ministry of Education and villagers contributed by donating money, materials and through fund-raising activities. In the opening ceremony on May 28th 1962, May Coles paid tribute to the many villagers who had not only raised a substantial amount of money but had saved a lot by doing the building work themselves under the leadership of John Sims. New maroon and gold velvet curtains were installed and the club colours were changed from bottle green to maroon and gold. The minutes of the meeting stating this change do not make it clear whether it was the curtains that prompted the change.

Another significant purchase was a piano for the clubhouse. One Saturday evening it was borrowed for an evening sing-along at the Plough. The following afternoon during a match, two men appeared from the corner footpath of the field pushing a wheelbarrow containing the said piano. The men were struggling and still under the influence from the night before. They headed slowly and diagonally across the field towards the wicket. There was a half-hearted attempt to stop them by one of the Denham players but collapsing with laughter, the fielders watched helplessly as the piano was tipped out into the centre of the square. Willing volunteers saved the day and returned it safely to the pavilion.

Seven years later the old pavilion was burned down and a bungalow for the groundsman built in its place. Sadly, the same fate was to befall the new pavilion in 1991. Vandals set fire to the north wall in the New Year, fortunately causing little damage thanks to neighbours alerting the fire brigade in time. However, later that year, in November, there was another arson attack which left just a shell of a building and caused part of the internal roof to collapse. It took fire-fighters from Gerrards Cross and Ruislip two hours to put out the blaze.

With the club’s centenary year in 1992, members worked tirelessly to have a new pavilion built in time, managing to do so in just six months.

Denham "Allstars"

Denham Cricket Club has made its mark in local cricket and has nurtured a few star performers. In 1961 four member of the Club were chosen for the Buckinghamshire Young Amateurs team. In 1974 the club became one of the founder members of the Chiltern Cricket League and in 1977 and again in 1979 took the League trophy. In 1983 the club also played host to a TV celebrity team captained by actor William Franklyn in a charity match for Great Ormond Street and St. Batholomew's Hospitals. The Club's history records that few of the spectators actually recognised the other celebrities, But whoever they were, they won.

But Denham's greatest contribution to cricketing royalty must surely be England cricketer Alex Hales. Alex's father Gary was a Denham team member before he moved to Gerrard's Cross. In 2003 after opening the batting for Denham with his father in a match against a Fulmer team, Alex scored a magnificent 151 not out. He was just 13 at the time.

The club today

Denham Cricket Club has come a long way since in the 1930s, the team gathered outside the undertakers in Uxbridge to wait for transport to its away games. No longer do cows have to be chased off the pitch to allow the grass to be cut as once happened when the team played at Wooburn Green. The undertaker, who also served as umpire, incidentally was rather deaf. Curious it was that when Denham batsmen were at the wicket, it seemed that he was not wearing his hearing aid and so was unable to hear the "howzat" appeals from their opponents.

The club now fields three teams, often playing two games on Saturdays and one on Sundays throughout the summer months. They're always looking for new members and even more so for supporters. When we visited one Saturday in May, we asked the lone spectator about the Denham Cricket Supporters Club. He told us he is the Supporters Club. Why not go along and join him ?

Special thanks are due to long time Club stalwart Phil Ashworth for his help in preparing this post. Look forward now to our second article later this month about sports on the Way and Tillard - the Denham Bowls Club.


“Cricket on the Artillery Ground, Finsbury, 1743” Wikimedia Commons Images -

Vicar - Charles Grave, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, adapted from original -



100 Years of Village Cricket by Denham Cricket Club 1892-1992 (Ron Ashworth)

Bucks Advertiser and Gazette

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