Formed in 1885, the club has provided much pleasure for both players and spectators during these years.
Cricket was played in Halstead long before the formation of the present Club. It is thought that as long ago as 1831 the game was played in the town, although at that time the practice was to arrange a match and pick up sides from players available. By 1856, a Halstead team was playing regularly during the summer months.
It was not until 1885 however that a properly constituted club was formed at Halstead, and then owing to difficulties in finding a suitable pitch, the Club played its matches in co-operation with the Earls Colne Club, at Earls Colne from 1885-1894. During that period the combined Clubs played matches against Coggeshall, Witham, Haverhill, Hotspur, Sudbury, Chelmsford Arclight, Colchester and East Essex, 58th Foot Regiment and other garrison teams from Colchester.
At the annual dinner at the Earls Colne Club on August 28 1885, the Halstead club was represented by Mr W.W. Turnell mine host of the George Hotel (now Lloyds Bank) and replying to a toast, the Captain of the Colne Club, the Rev. W.H. Chute, said “When they remembered that a town like Halstead had not got a cricket ground, they at Earls Colne should consider themselves fortunate indeed”.
It was in 1882 that H. G. Cobb played his first game for the Halstead Club at Earls Colne, and thereby commenced a long and honoured association with the game locally. In the same year, too, it can be noted that F. Gunn of Nottingham, forebear of the great cricketing family, opened his first season as a professional to the Colne Club. The Halstead Club’s annual supper that year was attended by among others, Edmund Frost and Stanley Moger.
The year 1894 was an important one in the annals of Halstead Cricket Club, for in that season the club played its first match at Star Stile. The ground was then a hurdled off portion of Morton’s Meadow, not nearly as large as at present.
A large shed served as the Pavilion and here was housed the playing equipment and also the mowers, nets and other items necessary for maintenance and practice during the week. These later had to be removed from the Pavilion on each Match Day. It also served as the changing rooms although most players came to the ground already changed into their playing kit.
Teas were provided as they still are today but under rather different conditions. A shutter attached to the side of the Pavilion was supported by two poles and teas were served from there. These consisted of bread and butter, cakes and cups of tea for which a charge of one penny (1/2p new money) per item was made.
This situation continued for over thirty years until in 1929 the ground was enlarged to its present size followed in 1930 by the erection of the charming thatched Pavilion at a cost of approximately £200 – a lot of money in those days. Three years later came the licence for the sale of intoxicants. 1935 saw the first concrete practice wicket come into being and 1943 when the war effort called for a six-day week, the first Sunday game was played.
Over the long period since 1894, the delightful ground has been maintained by members of the club themselves, who have devoted many hours to rolling, mowing, etc. For some years, the club had a pony named Priory Park, which earned its keep by drawing the roller during the summer months and by keeping the grass short during the spring by the simple means of satisfying its appetite. It finally went to Gages in 1934 to end its days with Mr. W. Wright.
With their own ground at Star Stile, the Club elected H. G. Cobb (then manager of Barclay’s Bank) captain, and he is generally looked at as the “Father of Halstead cricket”. With his slogan of “Play as a team.” He was an inspiration to the players.
July 6 1895 was of some significance for the Halstead Club, for on that date Earls Colne was defeated by 170 runs to 94. This was the first time a Halstead team had beaten their neighbours, although they had been meeting intermittently for 35 years.
Cobb’s successor in 1907 was W. A. Smith who had the captaincy for 21 years to 1928 and whose encouragement and interest to young players contributed in large measure to the honoured position enjoyed by the Club today. W. A.’s son, G. W. C. later played for Halstead and in 1929 for Essex. The standard of play in the Club was raised appreciably during these years and in 1920, the first of a number of enjoyable games was played against Hugh Farrant’s XI, which included professional members of the county team.
It is of interest to realise that the great Jack O’Connor of Essex and England fame, made his first appearance for Essex on the Star Stile ground. Other great Essex players of the past who have appeared on the Halstead ground include Jack Russell, Walter Mean and Bill Reeves.
From 1929 to 1938 T. G. N. Franklin was the Club’s skipper, bringing with him a fresh enthusiasm. The ground was fenced and cut to its present dimensions and the pavilion was opened. He introduced attractive midweek games with Lloyds Bank, National Liberal Club, Walthamstow Wanderers, Travellers and Gidea Park.
During T. G. N.’s captaincy, there blossomed into full maturity two players whose names will always be associated with Star Stile and local cricket – Cyril Evans and Harry Clark.
Vice-captain of the Club from 1928-39 C. J. Evans was a natural cricketer, whose play was always a joy to watch. An accomplished bat he played every stroke with effortless ease, and was a most consistent run getter. Then and now he has been a friend and wise counsellor to any young player seeking his advice.
Fast bowler Harry Clark’s reign extended from 1929-52, during which time he was the terror of the opposing batsmen and the delight of the spectators.
Season after season he topped the bowling average and claimed over 1,000 victims while playing for the Club. Practically every season was marked with a hat trick and in one season accomplished that feat in three successive matches – Haverhill (twice) and Colchester and East Essex. His batting too was guaranteed to enliven any situation. Batting late in the innings, he used the long handle and it is doubtful if any for Halstead has more sixes to his credit.
It was players such as these and their contemporaries who enabled skipper Franklin to say at the annual meeting of 1933, “Our club is the envy of many clubs around us, largely due to the happy spirit and keenness all the members show on the field of play and also in the work of getting the wicket ready”.
Frank Reed took over the captaincy in 1939 and to him fell the onerous job of keeping the Club intact during the war years, for it was realised that if the ground and facilities were allowed to slide, there might not be a cricket club for the lads to come home to.
It called for a big effort, but Frank’s shoulders were broad and with the untiring help of two valuable colleagues, the club survived. Games were arranged with service sides in the district, which at various times included D. B. Carr (Nottingham and England) and Brian Sellers (captain of Yorkshire).
John Witte took over the secretaryship for many years and he too made his mark within the club, until making way, leaving the district, for John Reynolds and under his management, the club went from strength to strength.
For his work over the next 20 years as secretary, groundsman and general factotum, the club owe him a debt they can never repay. With the help of Andrew Smith and other members, he kept the ground in immaculate condition and produced the kind of wickets that have come to be known as being among the best in the county. Improvements during that time include water being laid on to the pavilion, permanent seating all round the ground, and a concrete and composition practice pitch, an extension to the dressing rooms.
In 1963, Harold Stribling organised the first Tour to Eastbourne and the South Coast. This turned out to be a great success with the result that further tours were made in 1965 and 1968.
A great event in 1964 was the installation of Calor Gas to provide lighting for the pavilion and this improvement was to be a great boon to the Club.
There is always something demanding attention and in 1969 a fine new set of sightscreens were built by the late Pat Jennings, whose death at an early age was a very sad loss. He will be remembered by those privileged to work and play with him for his unfailing cheerfulness and his many services to the Club.
When John Reynolds, because of other commitments, was no longer able to devote as much of his time as hitherto the Club, Andrew Smith stepped into his shoes and again the Club was and still is fortunate in having such a tireless and dedicated worker. He has maintained the high standard of wickets and even in 1976, when he had to prepare wickets under great difficulties caused by the drought and water restrictions he somehow managed to achieve the same high standard.
1968 saw the resignation of John Reynolds as secretary. He had been in this office on and off for twenty-five years and now thought it time to call it a day. The club was again fortunate in having a successor readymade for the job in the person of Brian Firman who not only could look after the administration of the Club but also take an interest in the maintenance of the ground and act as Umpire as well.
As everyone must realise the upkeep of the ground and pavilion is a great strain on the club’s finances. It is therefore important that fundraising is one of the topics uppermost in the minds of the Committee. Over the years, there have been various fundraising schemes whereby the Club has been enabled to repair the thatch on the pavilion roof, keep the screens in good order, renew the fencing around the ground and add amenities such as showers in the changing rooms and a new kitchen.
This kitchen has greatly facilitated the work of the gallant band of ladies who, under a rota system supply teas and occasional lunches which greatly add to the enjoyment of players and spectators alike.