Britain's Lost Cricket Grounds, by Chris Arnot
Sunday 08 January 2012
"For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast," wrote Francis Thompson in his poem At Lord's.
Cricket's headquarters still flourishes but the description is apt for several of the abandoned grounds Chris Arnot visited in researching this handsomely produced and illustrated paean to the past. The Central Ground in Hastings, flanked by elegant Regency houses, now lies under "an identikit example of every bog-standard shopping centre", one of its pavilions replaced by the Cheeky Monkeys Crèche.
The old County Ground in Southampton, home to Hampshire for 115 years, has been tarmacked over to construct an executive housing estate, complete with signs reading: "No Ball Games."
Yet Arnot is no blinkered nostalgic. He acknowledges in some cases, as with Skelmerdale's sale of their old School Lane Ground to developers, change can be for the better, as the club used the money to provide a vastly superior pitch and pavilion. Yet sepia-tinged sadness for the past is the dominant theme.
Here are Prince Ranjitsinhji and WG Grace in 1908 with their invitation teams posing on the steps of the country house, Shillinglee, that Ranji had rented for the summer (he never did pay the landlord, the Earl of Winterton).
Country house cricket has also long gone from south Yorkshire's Wentworth Woodhouse, leaving only pictures of sides grouped in front of its imposing 606ft façade. Arnot is no snob, giving recognition to the works grounds that enlightened employees such as Bass, Imperial Tobacco and Guinness provided for their staff. But the more storied venues somehow seem the greatest loss.
As Thompson might have put it: "Oh my Hastings and my Tonbridge long ago!"
Published in large-format hardback by Aurum, £25
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