Anyone who has been following our Twitter (@knowsleyarchive) posts over the past few months may have been bowled over by a sudden surge of cricket related tweets and images popping up on our timeline. As you may have spotted, the reason for them is because, thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding, I have been cataloguing and digitising the wonderful records of the Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club. Despite having always been stumped by cricket and my Dad failing to hand over his love of the game to me, this is a collection that’s really hit me for six (okay, okay, I promise that will be the last cricket pun).
Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club was formed at a meeting on 7 May 1860, with their first match taking place just a few weeks later against Bootle Cricket Club and they would go on to become a successful club in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition (as it would become known). Nicknamed ‘the Villagers’, they were moderately successful at different points in their history, with the early 1920s an especially triumphant period. The club was established as a ‘gentlemen’s’ club and during the majority of its history the membership would have been regarded as of a higher social status than some of the other Huyton cricket clubs, such as the Huyton and Roby Working Men’s Cricket and Bowling Club or Huyton Recs.
The records in the collection include committee minutes, some very colourfully decorated scrapbooks (see slideshow below), photographs from across the history of the club, fixture books, and correspondence. The minutes, particularly from the first eighty or so years of the club, are filled with tantalising glimpses of some of the intriguing characters involved in the club, on and off the field. They also offer fascinating insights into how the club reacted to major events, both close to and far away from Huyton, including the First and Second World Wars. It is during the First World War that we have the first mention of a man who would become a central part of the cricket club’s most successful playing period and remain with the club, in various roles, until his retirement: Ben Barrell.
Barrell was signed up as a cricket professional at some point close to the outbreak of the First World War and he is referenced in the committee minutes of June 10th, 1915:
“the secretary mentioned that he had received complaints about the club employing two men of military age. The recruiting sergeant had visited the two men in question and urged them to join. It was decided that Mr. H. Eccles [the Chair] should quietly tell the men it was their duty to join, but that no pressure would be put upon them.”
Barrell was one of those two men and he did indeed soon leave to fight in the war. Both men survived the war and Barrell would return to Huyton Cricket Club. It is easy to see from the club’s committee minutes and crammed scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings that Barrell was a very talented player and an essential part of the club’s greatest successes. He was often the only professional player at the club and was an asset they were proud of. It is rare to find a page in the scrapbooks of the 1920s and 1930s that doesn’t feature a headline or article proclaiming this all-rounder’s name, typically in the matter-of-fact and understated tones of sports journalism in this period: “Barrell Bowls and Bats Well” or “Barrell in Bright Batting Display.”
In photographs, Barrell has remarkable, intense eyes that could suggest he was an intimidating opponent and teammate, but the picture of him created by the records in our collection instead show him to be a popular and well-liked presence both on and off the pitch. According to P.N. Walker’s book The Liverpool Competition, Barrell was made “a life member of the Club, became 1st XI umpire and played bowls there until his death at the age of 80” and was also groundsman and a coach. Alongside these duties and being the club’s professional (and best?) player, Barrell’s other responsibilities included preparing and cleaning the team’s kits and packing their bags before matches.1
Ben Barrell, and other professionals who were signed up by Huyton, may have had relatively humble beginnings, but most of the amateurs who played for the team (at least during its first 100 years or so) were solidly middle or upper-middle class. In many of the photographs we have from the club’s early days and most successful periods, players appear relaxed and confident, with an air of leisurely comfort; a cigarette may be hanging casually between the fingers of one or two, or they lounge at the side of a road on the way to a match, a beautiful motor car in the background. A selection of these photographs are in the slideshow below.
When trying to get an idea of Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club at different points in its history, the many scrapbooks in this collection are excellent resources. Alongside the match reports, articles, fixture books, and photographs, there are a number of delightful newspaper caricatures of Huyton’s cricket players: a frequent feature of sports columns in local papers at the time. As well as being amusing to look at, they also offer an insight into which of the players were catching the eyes of the local sports reporters and, presumably, the spectators. Some of the cartoons make use of curious illustrations that may be references that would have made more sense to the readers of that period, or could be references to cricketing terminology that goes over my head! The donkey and teddy bear in the Bootle v Huyton cartoon in the slideshow below, for example, could be references to the players’ performances or something else entirely! And what of the white mice in the Wallasey v Huyton cartoon?
The Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club collection is a wonderful and evocative set of documents. At some point during the next year or so, one of our Heritage Lottery funded community projects will be focused on Knowsley’s sporting heritage, so I am sure we will be making use of the collection and hopefully giving people the chance to see more of the treasures within it. To not make use of it when such an opportunity presents itself would be…well, it just wouldn’t be cricket, would it?
1Walker, P.N. 1988. The Liverpool Competition: A Study of the Development of Cricket on Merseyside. Birkenhead: Countyvise Limited, p. 77