A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPORT IN NORTHCHURCH

Northchurch has always been sporting and strong, particularly in the areas of cricket and football. Various teams have enjoyed games with local teams and, in some instances, when progress has been made in competitions in football or cricket with teams from further afield.

It is believed that the Cricket Club was formed in 1885. Games were played behind Northchurch Farm and on “the flats” (the area at the left turn of Northchurch at the top of Northchurch New Road). In the 1920’s, the Club moved to Northchurch Recreation Ground where it played until 1935 when it transferred to its current home on the Sports Field.

Northchurch Football Club was formed in 1904. We believe it used the existing Sports Field but without a changing facility. They had to change in the chalet at the rear of the Old Grey Mare, then one of the five or six public houses in Northchurch.

In 1935, when the Cricket Club moved into the current Sports Field, it shared it with the Football Club. This field was hired from a Mr White for a fee of £20 a year, both Clubs paying £10 each per year. For several years, it wasn’t a particularly happy marriage, hence the exact period of time for football was from 1 October – 31 March and for cricket from 1 April to the end of September. In the 1930’s, the Cricket Club erected a small, wooden building in the top corner near the “jubilee” gate. It was due to poor relations between the two Clubs that the Cricket Club refused to let the Football Club use it. After the Second World War, relationships between the two improved and the Football Club arranged for another wooden building to be obtained which was an ex chicken house that had been used as an extension to the convent in Durrants Lane. Members of both clubs combined to erect this building, painting it and building toilets and showers at the rear.

In 1967, the Cricket Club obtained a building, which was, at that time, the Coopers Recreation Club in Kitcheners Field, which they were able to unbolt and transport up to Northchurch on their own tractor – a somewhat precarious arrangement. This building was bolted together and provided accommodation for the Cricket Club and the Football Club and, wonder of wonders, a licensed bar. Both Clubs continued to use this building until it was destroyed by the arson attack in 1993, thus ending the reign of the wooden building. A custom-built brick building was erected in 1994. Renovations were needed to the surface of Northchurch Sports Ground in the late 90’s. Unfortunately, the work left stones dangerously close to the surface and football was then transferred to “the Rec” although the changing facility remained the same. Subsequently, Berkhamsted Tornadoes turned up and also used the Recreation Ground on Sunday mornings.

The Football Club originally played in the West Herts Football League and in the 1930’s they won three West Herts FA trophies as well as, on one occasion, finishing in second place in Division 1. World War 2 intervened and between 1939 until 1945, no football or cricket was played in Northchurch apart from the occasional football match between Italian teams of prisoners of war housed in the Chilterns Hostel (then a cow camp) during the war. The ground was also let to a Mr Bill Witney who grazed his cows, sheep, etc, on the cricket and football pitches. When football resumed, success didn’t arrive until the 1950’s when they won the St Mary’s Cup and in 1958-59 they won the Premier Division of the West Herts League in its inaugural season. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that there was an upturn in fortunes again and in 1984-85 they became Division 1 champions and winners of the Webster Cup. They also won many other West Herts trophies but their peak came in 1987-88 when they not only lifted the Premier League title but also the Chiltern Villages Cup. To complete an outstanding treble they beat Bengeo Trinity 2-1 at Bishops Stortford in the Hertfordshire Junior Cup Final, the only time in their history that this feat was accomplished. Subsequently, players became a little older and greyer and most retired in ones and twos. At the end of the 2005-2006 season, the club disbanded. Fortunately, an enthusiast has rebuilt the club which currently plays in the Aylesbury & District League and looks as if it will gain promotion in its first year.

Dudswell Football club also used the Sports Ground on Sunday mornings, being highly successful for six or seven seasons in the late 1970’s.

Berkhamsted Tornadoes Football Club was originally part of the old Berkhamsted Sunday League when it was restricted to Berkhamsted and played occasional games at Northchurch. They subsequently became a Northchurch based side and their two teams play regularly on Sunday mornings.

Since the 1950’s, Northchurch Cricket Club has improved in leaps and bounds with its first trophy being the Goddard Cup which was a Tring-based cup for young players. These young players turned into a very good local side and, over the subsequent few years, the Club won the Herts Village Championship in 1996, the Aylesbury & District Cup nine times, the Gazette Cup twice and they now play in the Hertfordshire League, gaining promotion back to Division 2 last year. They also run a 2nd XI which plays in Division 5 as well as an Under 9 team and an Under 16 team who play on Sunday mornings.

The Tennis Club first had a hard court in the 1960’s and it cost £200. In 1997 the court was resurfaced and floodlights added at a cost of £13,000. The club is growing and has almost 100 members of whom about a third are Juniors. There is a coach available for anyone wanting to hone their skills. A second court would allow the club to expand more but the current estimate of £35,000 to build it suggests this will have to wait for healthier economic times.

Northchurch used to have a men’s club which was built in the 1920’s with money secured mainly from Mr W Tavill Tuke who was then the Chairman of the Midland Bank and lived at Norcott Court. The club, which had membership restricted to “working men” featured card games, snooker, darts, league table tennis, at which they were very good and won many trophies.

In the 1960’s, the church, on whose land the men’s club was built, decided they wished to contribute land needed to extend the church school and that was the end of the men’s club. The building was taken down at that point and the winding-up funds were distributed to the Cricket Club, the Football Club and the then successful Darby & Joan Club.

The Sports Ground is now entirely owned by Northchurch Sports Association which is a registered charity and consists of trustees from cricket, football and tennis clubs. The lower part of the ground was originally owned by the National Playing Fields Association who have now passed their share to the Sports Association.

Anyone wishing to play in any of these games or for any of these clubs can contact them directly below or visit the community groups list for a more comprehensive list of clubs and local groups/societies

Northchurch Cricket Club ali@berkhamstedtoiletries.co.uk

Northchurch Cricket Club Colts

Under 16’s Ian Fantham fantham2006@btinternet.com
Under 9’s Alastair Fantham ali@berkhamstedtoiletries.co.uk
Northchurch Football Club Mark Hobley marksinclairhobley@googlemail.com
Berkhamsted Tornadoes Football Club Chris Syers syers@supanet.com
Tennis Anthony Barker antonypatb@msn.com
Table tennis Mr G Shipman 01442 875822

As an interesting footnote, it is worth noting that in November 1898 the parish magazine published its usual annual document and included information on the “Van Mission”, work at agricultural shows, homes for inebriate women and a plea for £250 for this charity needed before Christmas with the following note on the cricket season 1898:-

“Our Cricket Club this season has been most successful. Out of ten matches played, seven have been won, one drawn and two lost. The yearly award of a bat falls this year (Mr Baines, as last year’s winner, not being eligible) to our Vice Captain – George Graham – to him also belongs the honour of having taken 54 wickets at the small cost of 151 runs, his average being 2.48. We most heartily congratulate him.

The Treasurer informs us that we have a balance in hand of some 15 shillings. We are glad to hear it. We want all we can get for the improvement of our ground.”

One wonders at the quality of the pitch in 1898 when Mr Graham’s bowling average was 2.48. Similarly, we wonder how far 15 shillings (75 pence) would now go towards the Cricket Club expenses!

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