The area now occupied by Lymington Sports Ground was once several acres of allotments just to the north-east of St Thomas’ Church in an area called the Barfields. The derivation of the term ‘barfield’ is open to debate, with some believing that it originates from ‘Borough Field’, others claiming that a pre-historic ‘barrow’ was once situated there. The most likely explanation is that a ‘bar’ was the name for a strip of land into which allotments were divided. The 1853 ‘Hand-Book for the Town of Lymington’ tells us that the Barfields were several acres “let out to the poor in allotments of a quarter of an acre, to cultivate vegetables”.
The land in the early 1800s belonged to the Burrard family who owned Walhampton House, and in September 1836 a society was formed for taking a new lease from Sir Harry Burrard Neale in order to secure the future of the allotments, and possibly the allocation of an area of land set aside for a cricket pitch. Cricket in Lymington had been played as far back as 1807, but these early matches were almost certainly played on Pennington Common. For the next 29 years the Common would provide Lymington cricketers with their home ground.
‘The Cricket Field’
In September 1836 it was reported in the Hampshire Independent that: “On Monday the return game played at Lymington between the Brockenhurst and Lymington 11s ended in a tie… The match was played in a field adjoining the town and we are happy to find the same field has been engaged permanently, for the purpose of recreation in that manly and truly old English exercise”. The Hampshire Advertiser also reported on the match, although that publication indicated that Brockenhurst had won the game by four wickets. They also mentioned a line about the ground: “The playing was pretty good on both sides, considering the bad state of the ground, which was very unlively, owing to the long grass that was on it”. The “field” in the report is believed to be the Bar Fields, and before long newspaper reports would refer to the ground as the ‘Cricket Field’.
The Cricket Club appeared to quickly settle into its new surroundings and it seems that by 1838 the ground already possessed its own clubhouse where, following a match against Christchurch, “a sumptuous dinner was provided by the worthy host and old cricketer Green”. Not a lot is known about the original pavilion at the Sports Ground.
Fortunes on and off the field fluctuated greatly from year to year, and the club even disbanded for a short while during the latter part of the 1840s. Happily, the club was revived and there followed a period of some success. In 1853, following a win over South Hants, the Hampshire Independent wrote, “The Lymington Club have thus closed the season with high honour to themselves, and, with continued and liberal support, bid fair to prove themselves one of the strongest teams in the county.’
By the middle of the 19th century the Cricket Field was starting to become a focal point for activities in the town. In 1848 a report in the Hampshire Independent had suggested that the Cricket Field might be utilised for other sports as well as cricket. That same year saw hundreds of schoolboys descend on the ground for a summer treat which included “beer and plum cake”. We can only surmise that the beer was ginger beer, rather than the alcoholic version.
In 1856 the Cricket Field hosted festivities to celebrate the end of the Crimean War. A procession of around a thousand children, led by the Lymington Town Band, left the Cricket Field on its way to the Town Hall (then in the High Street) where the children were “regaled with Tea and Plum Cake”. Then it was back to the Cricket Field for a “variety of Rustic Sports and Pastimes” before the festivities concluded with a display of fireworks followed by God Save the Queen.
It would appear that the town of Lymington suffered somewhat from the unruly behaviour of its youth around this period, and the Cricket Field was not exempt from the rowdyism. It was reported in 1865 that the Cricket Club intended to level and fence off the ground for the following season to prevent crowds of boys “intruding on the ground of private players”. The Hampshire Advertiser reported that the fence was duly erected the following summer and it was hoped it would prove to be a “check to the admission of such mobs of boys and others who last year greatly interfered with the enjoyment of the game”. Some years later, in 1890, a smoking concert raised £5 towards “railing off the pitch”, possibly a reference to fencing off the square, something still done after every match today.
Perhaps due to the differing standards of pitches around this time, cricket scores would often vary greatly. This was well illustrated in 1860 when Lymington amassed a highly impressive 233 against Ringwood on the Cricket Field, but were then shot out for just 9 in the return match. Even towards the end of the 19th century scores of over 200 were still quite rare and matches were usually low-scoring two innings affairs.
The Arrival of Football
By the 1870s football was becoming increasingly popular in Hampshire, not least so in the New Forest with clubs already formed in Ringwood, Breamore and Fordingbridge. In 1876 the Hampshire Advertiser reported that a meeting had been held at Lymington Town Hall with the intention of introducing football to the town. Sir Harry Burrard not only allowed use of his land on or near the Cricket Field rent free, but also became the new club’s first president, captain and benefactor. The very first fixture would appear to have been a practice match between club members. The Advertiser was full of praise for the standard of football: “The game was an exciting one, a good many kicks and tumbles falling to the lots of the players.” The Hampshire Independent reported that “several players on Wednesday wore the uniform of the club, black and blue, and very handsome it looked, one side being distinguished by crimson belts”. Lymington’s first competitive football match may well have been the 1-0 defeat by Fordingbridge in November 1876. Mr C. St. Barbe was the Lymington captain with Mr Murdoch being umpire.
Although it’s probable that Lymington’s first matches were under the rules of association football, it seems that the club did in those early days consider the possibility of becoming a rugby club. Indeed, in December 1878 Lymington were defeated by Southampton Hornets by two goals and five tries. At some point the Lymington club, like many of our current professional football clubs who had at one time considered rugby, opted to follow the association rules, perhaps prompted by reports of terrible injuries received by devotees of rugby union, including an incident in a match in 1880 between Southampton Trojans and Romsey Rangers when a man died following a scrimmage.
The Cricket Field also played host to football clubs other than Lymington, as illustrated when Royal Artillery Hurst Castle were defeated 3-1 by Ringwood Hornets in 1882. During the 1888-89 season a Lymington Hampshire Junior Cup match against Fordingbridge Turks attracted a crowd of 400 spectators to the Sports Ground. Lymington, incidently, went on to reach the final at the County Ground in Southampton where they lost to St Mary’s (who would later become Southampton FC).
The ground has played host to a few illustrious names over the years, none more so than cricketer Henry Jupp who was employed as Lymington’s professional in 1883. Only six years previous, Jupp had been the first Englishman to score a Test half century in England’s first ever Test match against Australia in Melbourne. Jupp is one of six Lymington players to take part in a Test match, the other five being Christopher Hesletine (England), R.M. Poore (South Africa), Andrew Jones (New Zealand), Keith Dabengwa (Zimbabwe) and Simon Cook (Australia). In 1893 another talented Lymington cricketer H.A. Adams became the first batsman to record a century at the Sports Ground. His 110 runs, in a Lymington total of 172 was said to have included a drive for 8 (at the time there was no limit on the amount of runs that could be taken from a single delivery).
In the very same year the Football Club had been formed the future of the Cricket Field was seemingly assured with the venue’s owner Sir Harry Burrard agreeing “to allow the Cricket Field, the most convenient in the neighbourhood for the purpose, to remain in the possession of the club”. So it was perhaps something of a surprise just four years later in 1880 when the Bar Fields came up for sale at an auction held at the Nags Head Hotel (later to become the Londesbrough). What forced Sir Harry to put the land up for auction is unknown, but thankfully for Lymington’s sportsmen, the Cricket Club’s president John Lane Shrubb fought off spirited rival bidding to purchase the freehold estate for £10,000. Some 18 years later the subject of the tenancy of the Cricket Field was again raised when the Cricket Club was served notice to quit the ground (although it was indicated at the time that a future application for tenancy would be viewed favourably). The land at that time was let by Mrs Shrubb to club secretary Alderman Murdoch, who in turn sub-let to Lymington Cricket Club. With Mr Murdoch’s tenancy due to expire in 1899, the ground was offered to the club on a 21 year lease at a rent of £25 per annum for the first three years and £40 per annum thereafter. Steps were also taken by Mrs Shrubb to enlarge the Cricket Field by taking in an adjoining field, believed to be the current land occupied by the northernmost part of the football pitch and the bowling green, and also to enclose the ground with corrugated iron fencing. This would presumably have been the fencing which would become known as ‘The Tins’. Even when, many years later, the rusty iron fencing was replaced by its modern concrete successor, the footpath behind the wall would retain its nickname. Behind The Tins were large private gardens which stretched back from St Thomas Street, and one or two of the residents had erected platforms on which they would sit and watch the cricket.
With the future of the ground secure for a good few years the Cricket Club took the step in 1900 of relaying the square and,at the same time, turned it 90 degrees so that wickets would now be pitched in a north/south direction rather than east/west as previous. As a result, batsmen and wicketkeepers would no longer suffer from the obvious handicap of having to gaze into the early evening setting sun. It would appear that the relaying work had no adverse effects on the standard of the cricket square which was reported to be one of the best in the county.
1902 saw the Cricket Field host the annual Easter Monday six-a-side football tournament. A “record gate” saw twenty teams compete for the trophy which was eventually won by Pokesdown who defeated Oxford (Southampton). In that same year a dozen young limes trees, presented by Mr E.P. King, were planted at the ground. A year later there was a report of a ladies’ cricket match at the Sports Ground watched by “a very good attendance of the elite of the neighbourhood”. There was no mention of Lymington’s opponents, although the home side were apparently victorious with one lady scoring 40 in each innings. Lymington Cricket Club would revive the ladies section for a short time almost a century later.
A programme of athletic events and an illuminated fete were held in 1907 to raise Cricket Club funds and the ground was also host to a concert by the Town Band. The band had become an integral part in the Sports Ground’s history and were a familiar sight at at many events, often entertaining football spectators during the half time interval. Another rather more unusual form of half-time entertainment had been provided in 1900 by Henry St Barbe who recited ‘The Absent Minded Beggar’, collecting £5-5s-2d for the War Fund in the process.
More than a century before the subject of cricket balls leaving the confines of the cricket field came to the fore, there was a report of Lymington’s F. Bright twice hitting a ball all the way to the fence at the Avenue Road end of the ground. The fence may have been somewhat closer back in those days before the ground was enlarged, but it would still have been a major achievement given the light nature of the bats used around that time. A few years later one of the largest sixes ever seen at the ground was struck by Dr Kay when, legend has it, he struck a ball clean out of the Sports Ground into St Thomas’ Street – if correct, a truly enormous shot.
In 1902 Lymington Football Club took out a rental for use of the Cricket Field and purchased a club flag to be raised on matchdays. Attendances at the club’s Easter six-a-side tournaments were on the rise, with as many as 800 attending in 1908. Almost double that figure witnessed the 1912 tournament in a season when Lymington celebrated winning both the Hants Junior Cup and New Forest League. In the same year Lymington hosted a Past versus Present match in aid of the Mayor of Southampton’s Titanic Fund following the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ liner in April. The Town Band played solemn music and £4 was raised from the event.
A handsome new pavilion
The next major development at the Cricket Field was the erection of a new pavilion in May 1913 to replace the old structure which was deemed no longer suitable. Situated on the western entrance to the ground, under the shadow of the town’s water tower, the project was undertaken thanks largely to the generosity of the ground’s owner Alderman J.P.C. Shrubb. On perhaps the biggest day in the Cricket Club’s history to date, the new pavilion was officially opened by the Viscountess St. Cyres of Walhampton who unlocked the door to the pavilion with a specially cast silver key (which is now on display in the town’s St. Barbe Museum). Speeches were made by, among others, the Viscountess herself, club President Mr Gerald Duplessis, Mr William Ingham Whitaker of Pylewell Park and club captain Rev E.E.S. Utterton. Much praise was heaped on the club’s Hon. Secretary Mr G. Cecil Vicary who had worked tirelessly throughout the previous winter and spring to prepare the ground for this day.
After the opening ceremony members of the Corporation were invited to take lunch with the Mayor in a marquee erected in the north eastern part of the field. More than one hundred members and supporters of the club also enjoyed the food and alcoholic beverages supplied by Mr Russell of the Angel Hotel. A commemorative match between twelve from East Lymington (including members of Pylewell Park and Boldre clubs) and twelve from West Lymington (including players from Brockenhurst, Milford, Milton and Sway clubs) was won by the former who made 160 runs before restricting the latter to 137-7. As might be expected, the Town Band was present at the ceremony and played selections throughout the afternoon and evening.
Designed by architect Mr H. Bernton Benjamin and built by Mr W.H. Hackwell of Everton from brick, wood and tile, the handsome new pavilion proved to be a fine acquisition for the ground. Built four or five feet above pitch level, it offered a splendid view of the cricket. Steps led down to the pitch from a covered platform in front of the pavilion where players and spectators could watch proceedings from deckchairs. Inside the spacious main hall, meetings could be held or luncheon and tea taken around a long and heavy wooden table. Two changing rooms with lavatories were situated in the rear section of the building either side of a small kitchen with gas stove and “all necessary culinary accessories” as the newspaper reporter put it. (The kitchen doubled as a referee’s changing room in later years). Wooden seats and railings were later added in front of the building, as were plunge baths in the changing rooms. Photos taken some years later showed a small wooden scorebox just to the side of the pavilion. The building was approached by a “well-made” gravel drive with a nicely laid out flower garden at the rear, and the Chronicle reported that the Cricket Field was “one of the best and most spacious cricket grounds of the county”.
It seems that the old cricket pavilion remained in place for a while longer at least, since it was reported that the Football Club failed to agree terms with the Cricket Club over their use of it and so decided to move to Miller’s Field. What ultimately happened to the old pavilion remains a mystery, although given the events of 1968 and 2011, perhaps there would be a certain symmetry if it was discovered that it had burnt down!
The Cricket Field at war
A little over a year after the new pavilion had been opened war broke out, and while cricket and football understandably took a backseat during the four long years of the conflict, the Cricket Field would play host to many other events and activities related to the war effort.
A photograph taken somewhen between 1916 and 1918 shows the Lymington Company of the Hampshire Volunteers in front of the Cricket Field pavilion. The Volunteers were commanded by Herbert Cullin Heppenstall who was captain of the Cricket Club around this time and went on to be president of both the football and cricket clubs. An important figure around the town, he was joint founder of Lymington Hospital and became Mayor of the Borough in 1922. The photo included several other faces well known to local sport, including Fred and Frank Totterdell and a young Leonard Hoare. If any one individual had to be chosen as the person most synonymous with Lymington Sports Ground over the past 175 years then that honour would arguably go to Leonard Hoare. Leonard was secretary of the Cricket Club for 36 years after accepting the job on a temporary basis in 1922, in his own words…“until someone else can be found”. He also held the post of secretary of Lymington Football Club and was a member of the Lymington FC Supporters Club committee. A useful Second XI opening batsman for Lymington, Leonard also played football and on one memorable occasion cut off a pair of his trousers at the knees so he could take part in a match when Lymington were a player short. Leonard was a teacher at Lymington Church of England School and many local footballers and cricketers took up sport thanks to his support and encouragement. Ray Flood recalls being asked (some might say “ordered’!) by Leonard to become a scoreboard operator at the Sports Ground. Leonard later wrote to Hampshire requesting a trial for Ray who went on to play 24 times for the county, scoring a career-best 138 against Sussex at Hove in 1958.
The Lymington Volunteers weren’t the only military force to utilise the Cricket Field. In 1915 the Water Committee of Lymington Town Council laid water pipes in connection with a proposed camp by the 2nd Cadet Battalion of the Essex Regiment.
There was some sporting activity on the field though, with a number of baseball matches taking place in 1918 to provide entertainment for American servicemen. For one such match the ground and pavilion were described as being “gay with flags” and H.R.H. Princess Christian (daughter of Queen Victoria) presented a silver challenge cup and prizes to the winning Naval team who had won the fixture by 4 to 3. The American Hospitality Committee later arranged a football match for British soldiers at the ground, and in November the British Soldiers Hospitality Committee provided entertainment in the form of a football match for a number of RAF men stationed at the nearby East Boldre aerodrome. The match was followed by tea at the Literary Institute and an evening concert at The Lyric.
On another occasion a fete was held on the Cricket Field in connection with the War Hospital. The Town Band played and there was dancing later in the evening. But despite the odd moments of merriment, thoughts were never far from those who had been fighting for King and Country, and in August the town held a Day of Remembrance “for those who had made the supreme sacrifice”. A procession to the parish church in the morning was followed by a large gathering on the Cricket Field in the afternoon.
Tennis and bowls arrive as ‘Cricket Field’ becomes ‘Sports Ground’
The year 1920 proved to be a busy one for the Cricket Field. By the end of the year, the ground would have new owners, a new name and would be staging tennis and bowls on a regular basis for the first time.
Not too much is known about the origins of the tennis club. Back in 1892 there were reports of a lawn tennis tournament at the Cricket Field with refreshments served in the cricket pavilion. Ten years later it was mentioned that a portion of the Cricket Field was to be let for lawn tennis and croquet. It would appear that a tennis club in its current form probably dates, like the Bowling Club, from around 1920, and the early court surfaces would have been grass.
Fortunately a little more has been recorded about the origins of Lymington Bowling Club. The idea of a bowling club in Lymington had been mooted back in 1913 when a committee was appointed to discuss the possibility of establishing a green within the confines of the Cricket Field. However, it wasn’t until 1920 that ‘Lymington & District Bowling Club’ was officially founded with the town mayor – Alderman E.A.G. Stone – becoming the club’s first president (he would remain an active and devoted member of the club until his death in 1939). Besides the president, the first officers of the club included vice-presidents Mr W.I. Whitaker, Mr W.E. Firth, Mr H.C. Heppenstall, Mr F. Hayward, Mr A.B. Hewitt, Mr G. Pardey and Mr R.H. Russell (Vice-Presidents), Mr F.G. Cox (Hon. Secretary) and Mr J.H. Plumbly (Hon. Treasurer). It is noticeable that a number of those names were also associated with the cricket and football clubs at the time.
The formation of the new bowling and tennis clubs came not long after the Cricket Field had been purchased by a syndicate formed by Dr F.H. Maturin and Messrs E. Stone, H.C. Heppenstall and W.I. Whitaker. The whole future of the Cricket Field had been thrown into some doubt with real fears that the Shrubb family might sell off the land for building, but these four men had the generosity and foresight to buy the land for the use of future generations of local sportsmen and women. Management of the field was entrusted to a Sports Executive Committee consisting of representatives from the cricket, football, bowling and tennis clubs, with Dr Maturin acting as secretary. Reflecting the inclusion of the new sports, the Cricket Field was at this time re-named the ‘Sports Ground’. And although one or two local sports journalists in recent years have occasionally been known to refer to the football ground as ‘Southampton Road’, the ‘Lymington Sports Ground’ name has remained ever since.
It would appear that the Bowling Club had no dedicated green back in the very early days, so members initially played on the edge of the cricket square on two evenings a week. Writing in his weekly column for the Lymington & South Hampshire Chronicle on 2nd September 1920, ‘Playseeker’ reported that “much interest continues in the newly-established Bowling Club, and some excellent games have been played on the cricket field. Tennis too, continues to have its numerous devotees, and altogether the cricket field is amply justifying its existence”.
The laying of a proper bowling green was completed, according to the Chronicle, by Mr W. Stephens in December 1920 (a short history of the club compiled by Bob Coles and John Forward credits the laying of the first green to Mr F. Dearlove who was a local nurseryman and one of the club’s founding members). The green was situated in the south east corner of the ground where the cricket nets currently stand. A privet hedge was planted on two sides of the green, and whist drives in conjunction with the tennis club were held to raise funds for the building of a clubhouse for the use of both organisations. A modest new clubhouse was duly opened in April 1921. According to an aerial photograph taken just four years later, the green was a rectangular shape with a square ‘chunk’ taken out of the north western corner, presumably so as not to shorten the cricket boundary too much. The green was overlooked by a sizeable and impressive ship’s mast from which flags would be flown.
Then, as now, the subject of ground rent was an emotive issue. In 1921, as explained by the Sports Executive’s Hon. Secretary Mr F.S. Trevor-Garrick at the Bowling Club’s Annual General Meeting, at least £250 was required to run the ground, and this didn’t include the expenses that the four clubs had to incur for their “necessary requisites”. Mr Trevor-Garrick added that the Sports Executive had to pay £80 a year rent, plus £20 in rates, and as much as £50 in insurance and repairs. An agreement had been signed to employ a groundsman, and possibly a boy (a groundsman’s assistant), which would cost an additional £3 18s a week. The £250 had to be raised by the four clubs with the Executive taking any balance at the end of the year and bearing any deficit. If any of the clubs were to disband it was clear that the remaining clubs would have to pay a larger proportion. Therefore, all the clubs were bound together, and no single club could run the ground alone.
Despite this, there were concerns from some quarters within the Cricket Club that the cricketers might find it difficult to pay the rent. However, at a specially convened meeting to discuss the re-starting of Lymington Cricket Club following the war years, Hon. Secretary Mr W. Taylor pointed out that the Sports Executive had incurred a great deal of expense putting the pavilion and ground in order, and urged members to accept the terms, stating that, “Lymington without a cricket club was a blot on the town”. The terms were duly accepted and the re-formed Lymington played their first match against Milford, losing by 19 runs, in front of what the Chronicle described as a “goodly number of spectators” at the newly titled Sports Ground.
Rollerskates and revolution
The location of the original bowling green was on the site of a rollerskating rink which had been erected in the years before the Great War. Speaking many years later, Mr Robert Hole – founder of the Lymington Community Centre – described how a marquee was set up and wooden flooring laid down for the rollerskaters. The activity was later transferred to a malt house in Canon Street – now the Community Centre’s Malt Hall. Mr Hole also remembered the occasions when circuses took place on the Cricket Field, preceeded by processions through the town with elephants, clowns, ladies in tights and decorated cars drawn by white horses.
The post Great War years brought much hardship to the nation and this was reflected in the rise in popularity of trades unions and socialism in general. May Day 1920 saw the Sports Ground host a large demonstration organised by a committee of local trade unionists and members of the Labour Party including Messrs L. Kitcher, E.H. Clogg, Downer, Bright, Rothwell, Mrs Rothwell, and others. Despite the threat of rain, an estimated six hundred people gathered near the railway station from where the Town Band led the procession up the High Street to the Sports Ground. Speeches were made from the steps of the pavilion and the band accompanied the singing of the Red Flag. Much of the demonstration centred around the spiralling price of food. Councillor Kitcher proposed that the meeting demanded the Labour Party and Trades Unionists should take drastic action to lower prices of foodstuffs and stop profiteering, to which a voice in the crowd shouted: “That’s the stuff to give ‘em!” Mrs Rothwell received many “hear, hears” when she declared that the capitalistic system was exploiting the people, and that the people “had been fools too long”. She added: “What was going to help the world today was women” (women over the age of 30 had been given the vote the first time only two years previously). Adding to the controversial nature of the demonstration, Mr Clogg then called upon the government to withdraw the economic and military opposition to the people of Russia and allow them to determine their own form of government. He also demanded the withdrawal of all troops from Ireland. It seems slightly surreal now to discover that such a serious demonstration was followed by tea, amusements, dancing and, according to the Chronicle, an “admirable” selection of music from the Town Band.
By 1920 the Football Club were back at the Sports Ground after their sojourn to Miller’s Field. The footballers had suffered financial hardship during the War and had even been forced to sell off their grandstand. Indeed, financial troubles were never too far away for all the clubs at the Sports Ground. At the Bowling Club’s 1926 AGM President E.A.G. Stone commented upon the “beautiful condition of the green”, adding that this was due to the efforts of the hard workers who had stuck with the club through thick and thin. This was a reference to the perilous financial state the club found itself in – the club in 1926 still owed £100 to the owners of the ground. Fortunately this was offset to some extent by a £40 gift from the Flushards Estates Trustees. Maintaining the excellent standard of facilities didn’t come cheap – the financial accounts of the Cricket Club for 1923 had included “Horse hire for rolling, etc” at £7 19s 4d. Before motor rollers came along, horses were used to tow rollers, their hooves being covered with leather pads to protect the turf.
Despite the financial strife there was still time to raise money for others. This was illustrated in 1926 when a football match at the Sports Ground between Lymington ‘Erbs’ and the ‘Last Ditchers’ was organised by Brotherhood Sports Committee in aid of the Poor Kiddies Fund.
Cricket weeks were introduced at the Sports Ground in the early 1920s and for many years were the highlight of the Lymington cricket calendar. Speaking in 2007, Ron Jennings remembered the club erecting two marquees on the football pitch each year – one for the players to have lunch, and one for the general public. The fixtures were two-day matches against the likes of I. Zingari, Leamington Wanderers and the Hampshire Club & Ground side which always contained some household names such as Johnny Arnold, Jim Bailey, Charles Knott, Lofty Hermann, and R.H. Moore. At that time spectators had to pay an admission fee to enter the Sports Ground to watch Lymington matches. Those paying spectators certainly got their money’s worth in 1928 when they witnessed almost certainly Lymington’s highest ever 7th wicket partnership when Ben Maturin (175) and Ticker Firth (122 not out) added 293 runs against the Hampshire Hoggetts. By 1929, gate receipts had fallen to £7 11s 1d and so the Cricket Club decided scrap entrance fees in 1930 and rely on collections instead. This appeared to be a shrewd move as the collections amounted to £11 10s 5d.
During the 1920s the Sports Ground was extended at the Avenue Road end so that the football pitch could be re-aligned, just as the cricket square had been in 1899, so that the touchlines now ran parallel with Southampton Road. It is interesting to ponder what might have occurred in future years had the pitch remained aligned with Avenue Road, as presumably the football and cricket pitches would barely have overlapped and many years of debate over groundsharing issues may just have been avoided.
Athletics, the Stone Cup & a new grandstand
Whit Monday 1924 saw an estimated 4,000 spectators venture to the Sports Ground for a day of sporting competition organised by the Lymington Athletic Association. The huge crowd witnessed a wide variety of events including running races at distances of 100, 220, 440 and 880 yards, as well as a wide range of cycle races which were, the Chronicle recorded, “some of the best that have been seen in the south, despite the fact that they were run on turf”. Among the cycling events was a half-mile race for ‘Errand Boys’, won by V.H. House. There were also skipping races and even a sack race, won by H.W. Shepard. In the tug o’ war a Lymington team consisting of Bonner, Courtnage, Smith, Church, Martin and Springer defeated Woodside in the final. The Town Band and its conductor Mr A.H. Muddiman was on hand to entertain the crowd throughout. At the end of the day prizes to the value of £125 were presented to the winners by Mrs Ashley, wife of Col. The Hon. Wilfrid Ashley, MP. The event, which the Chronicle described as “a huge success”, had been organised by a large committee of local gentlemen, many of whom were already familiar names in local sporting circles. These included, among others, Mr A. Scutt (Hon. Sec), Mr J.H. Plumbly (Hon. Treasurer), Alderman A.E.G. Stone (chairman), Dr Maturin and Dr Kay (cycling judges and medical officers), Messrs. J. Walsh and L. Hoare (recorders) and Messrs H. Firth and A.A. Muller (timekeepers). J. Howlett was the designated ‘megaphonist’.
Unfortunately, 1924 also saw the Sports Ground threatened with closure, for football matches at least, by the Hampshire Football Association following an incident during a Hampshire League match between Lymington and 2nd Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders. An enquiry commission at Ward’s Restaurant, Southampton heard that a visiting player entered the Lymington changing room at the end of the match and a scuffle ensued. After studying referee W.S. Osman’s report of the incident, and hearing evidence from Lymington, the commission decided to come down heavily on Lymington Football Club, stating that “the ground be closed forthwith” and “entry to the Hampshire League for 1924-25 be dependent upon guarantees being forthcoming of better control of the club and better behaviour on the part of players and spectators”. The commission’s conclusions left Lymington’s footballers aghast. The Chronicle wrote: “no stone is to be left unturned by the (Lymington) committee in their endeavour to expunge what is felt to be an unwarranted slur on the reputation of Lymington sportsmen generally”. Happily it seems as though the matter was resolved without the need to close the ground.
Another major element of Sports Ground folklore was the Stone Cup. Just as the Football Club’s annual six-a-side tournament would draw huge crowds to the ground and prove to be a vital financial lifeline, the Stone Cup proved to do likewise for the Cricket Club. Instigated in 1933 when Alderman E.A.G. Stone donated a handsome trophy, the Stone Cup was essentially an evening knock out competition (what might be termed a ‘20-20’ today) with all matches played at the Sports Ground in 1933. Clubs from all across the Forest would take part and Lymington Football Club even entered a team on occasions. However, it was the town’s cricketers who were dominant in the early years of the Stone Cup, initially entering two teams. Indeed in the inaugural season Lymington’s A team met the B side in the final, Firth’s 5 for 20 tipping the balance for the former. In an earlier round Perce Goff had scored an amazing 158 against Brockenhurst B. The Lymington B team had to wait just two years to avenge their earlier cup final defeat, beating their club counterparts in the 1935 final by 6 runs in front of a large crowd. Perce Goff proved to be the match winner, taking five wickets, including that of the dangerous Dick Jenvey. Jenvey had, in the previous season, recorded the highest individual total by a Lymington player when he scored 202 not out against Aldenham at the Sports Ground. He batted for five hours and the innings included 17 fours and 5 sixes (Jenvey’s record stood for 67 years until Australian Brian Clemow scored 213 not out in a Southern Premier League match against Cove at the Sports Ground in 2001). As well as being a talented batsman, Dick Jenvey was also a highly adept groundsman who kept the Sports Ground square in top condition for a number of years.
A dramatic rise in attendances and the need for greater spectator comfort meant that new grandstands were springing up at football grounds all round the country in the late 1920s (Southampton’s new West Stand was opened in 1928). Not to be left out, Lymington’s footballers made plans for a modest stand of their own. Erected by Mr F.J. Pearce (a Vice President of the club), the new grandstand was situated on the Southampton Road side of the ground. The all-wooden structure seated maybe 200 spectators on benches. The view from behind the four pillars wasn’t necessarily the best, but the low pitched roof and glass screen-ends did at least offer shelter from the elements on wintry afternoons. At the back of the stand was a table specially built for the Football Club’s press man Leonard Hoare. At half-time Len would dash across to Jennings bakery from where he would telephone his report of the first half action to the Echo offices in Southampton. Many local children recall the fun they had playing in and under the grandstand. Unfortunately, the building of the stand co-incided with another spell of financial uncertainty for the Football Club and it was thankful for the generosity of Mr Pearce who allowed the club to defer final payment until some years later.
With Lymington Football Club still struggling financially in the 1931-32 season, Southampton sent a strong reserve side to the Sports Ground for a match against a Lymington & District XI. The Saints were beaten 2-1 and a profit of £6 was made.
In 1935 Lymington Borough acquired the Sports Ground from the Sports Executive Committee, thereby ensuring the long-term future of sport on the site. The Borough then rented the cricket pitch back to the Cricket Club on advantageous terms (£50)… “at the same time guaranteeing that the standard of playing pitches for which the ground has a high reputation will be maintained”.
The purchase of the ground by the Borough led to a number of major changes taking place in the following years.
In 1937, Lymington Bowling Club (having by now dropped the ‘& District’) moved a hundred yards or so northwards to the site of their present green. This may have been prompted by a report from a meeting in 1936 in which it had been agreed not to make an application to join the Hampshire Bowling Association due to the fact that the old green, for unknown reasons, did not comply with that association’s rules.
There were to be no such problems with the magnificent new green and pavilion which was formally opened on 28th April 1937 by the Mayor, Councillor Capt. B.H. Goodhart, MC in the presence of the Mayoress, the club President Ald. Stone, club officials and a large number of members and guests. The fine brick-built pavilion, erected at a cost of £1,100, consisted of two floors. The kitchen and dining facilities were upstairs, and as many as 80 diners would sometimes squeeze into the room. Purpose-built for dual use by the bowls and tennis clubs, the building appropriately boasted balconies that overlooked the bowling green on one side and the tennis courts on the other. The rent of the new building was £10 for two years.
The relocating of the bowling green allowed an enlargement of the cricket boundary and new grass nets were erected in this part of the field previously occupied by the bowlers. The Cricket Club also purchased a ‘bowling screen’ which, according to Ron Jennings, were made of solid wood (unlike their modern slatted counterparts) and therefore prone to toppling over in high winds.
The Sports Ground at war again
The war years proved be difficult times for all the clubs at the Sports Ground. Fortunately the Borough Council voted 12-9 against allowing cattle to graze on the ground (Pennington Sports Ground wasn’t so lucky). The Bowling Club saw membership dwindle as petrol rationing and transport difficulties made it difficult to organise fixtures, although various matches were still arranged to raise vital funds for the troops, Red Cross, merchant navy and the like. A tournament held in July 1945 attracted 32 couples from Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire. Prizes were handed out by the Mayor Alderman E. Knight who congratulated Lymington Bowling Club for “putting the Borough of Lymington on the map of the bowling world”.
Lymington Football Club suspended activities during World War II, although the ground was used for football by Home Guard units. Lymington Rovers remained active however, and it was during one of their wartime matches that Ken Savill scored an amazing ten goals. Speaking in 2007 Ken recalled, “I was stationed in Portsmouth and I came home to play in the match against an Army XI. We won 12-nil and Mushy Drodge got the first two goals and I scored the rest. We had four or five very good footballers in that team and they just laid the goals on for me to score. After the match I was coming off the field and I remember a lad coming up to me and saying: “Well played Joe!” It was actually a young Norman Gannaway and he was referring to a footballer called Joe Payne who had scored ten goals for Luton Town in a match against Bristol Rovers a few years earlier.” (Savill would, in 1953, complete an amazing sporting double when he took all ten wickets for Lymington Cricket Club at Pylewell, thereby becoming probably the only sportsman to score ten goals and take ten wickets for his local town clubs).
Rovers (the Lymington variety) also played host to a Czech Army XI at the Sports Ground, while towards the end of the War there are stories of large crowds attending matches at the Sports Ground between local teams and prisoners of war from the camp at Setley. A football match as part of Thanksgiving Week was held at the Sports Ground in October 1945 with admission prices set at 7d and 4d.
Unlike during the previous conflict when virtually no cricket matches were played, Lymington Cricket Club did undertake a limited programme of fixtures during World War II, albeit with just one XI. Many of Lymington’s wartime matches were against service XIs. One such match against HMS Safeguard was abandoned due to the smoke caused by an Air Raid Precaution smokescreen drill. Cricketers from RAF Beaulieu played matches on the ground, and among the airmen’s ranks was Essex all-rounder Frank Vigar. Worcestershire’s Reg Perks, who was stationed locally, never actually played on the ground during the war, but was so delighted to receive a hospital visit from Len Hoare after breaking a leg in an accident that he promised to bring his county team to Lymington after the war. And true to his word, Reg brought a strong Worcestershire XI to the Sports Ground in 1948. Sunday matches were also introduced the Sports Ground during the war years, although only on the strict instructions from the local vicar that the games commence after the end of the morning church service and conclude before the start of evensong.
The post-war years saw crowds flocking to the Sports Ground for the annual Easter six-a-sides. Some 1,500 spectators saw the intriguingly-titled ‘Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft’ (one of fifty teams to enter) win the 1946 tournament, while 2,000 were estimated to have attended the event two years later. In 1952 almost as many came to watch Lymington’s one-all draw with Barnstaple in an FA Cup tie. The 3-1 defeat in the replay in north Devon was at least compensated a little by the £75 gate receipts from the match at the Sports Ground. Perhaps it was this welcome windfall that enabled Lymington (by now known as ‘Lymington Town’) to erect a small, covered standing enclosure along the Southampton Road side of the ground, just along from the grandstand. A photo supplied by Derek Webb shows Mrs F.J. Pearce officially opening the stand which would, in time, become affectionately known as the ‘Cow Shed’. Not a lot is known about the demise of the Cow Shed – it was probably demolished sometime in the late 1960s.
The Bowling Club’s fortunes improved considerably after the end of hostilities with membership rising to 39 men and 12 ladies and the club entering the Bournemouth & District Bowls Association League B in 1946, winning the division at the first time of asking and gaining promotion to League A Section 2.
Lymington Town’s finances reached a critical level in 1957 and so the club decided to link up with Southampton FC. In return for financial assistance, Lymington’s Hampshire Division Three side would provide an appropriate base for Saints’ 17 and 18 year old prospects. Saints ‘A’ team would play their home matches at the Sports Ground and this gave Lymingtonians the opportunity to see some future first team stars.
The arrangement lasted just three seasons, and by 1961 Lymington Town was again in a poor state, both on and off the field. Both the first and second teams finished bottom of their respective divisions and to rub salt into the wounds the council increased the annual rent from £85-10 to £100. The club also regrettably decided to end it’s popular annual six-a-sides due to a lack of organisers, although the tournament was revived briefly in 1971.
By the 1960s the Tennis Club boasted hard and grass courts. When two new courts were added in 1960 the Cricket Club declared their concern about the intrusion onto their outfield. Chris Hunt, a Tennis Club member in 1967, remembers the courts consisting of a gritty surface with plastic tape nailed into the ground to act as lines. There was also a concrete wall in between the courts where players could practice on their own. According to Mike Halliwell, during the 1970s the council laid out courts on the cricket outfield and allowed tennis to be played on them for one month either side of Wimbledon fortnight.
Cricket pavilion goes up in smoke!
A familiar item on the Sports Ground landscape for many years was the large water tower which loomed over the ground. The tower, on top of which a fire-bell was situated, was located in the council yard just behind the pavilion, along with the town mortuary. The fire station, up until the late 1960s was sited in Queen’s Street between the old Hearts of Oak and Jennings bakery, and in the late 1800s it is believed that the Cricket Field was used by the firemen for their drills. When a new fire station was built alongside the town hall off Avenue Road, the Sports Ground acquired a new item on the landscape in the form of the tall practice tower which now overlooks the bowling green. It is not known if the fire brigade were called out on the day that Patsy Little’s mother inadvertently threw a cigarette stub into the bowling green flower bed while watching finals day, prompting shouts of “fire!” from the viewers on the balcony as the flowers began to blaze.
Sadly, a much more serious fire in May 1968 brought about the demise of the 55 year old cricket pavilion. The much-loved building was so badly damaged by the blaze that it was decided to demolish the remains and erect a new building. The cause of the fire is still the subject of some debate, but one theory suggests that it may well have been caused by pest controllers who had been attempting to smoke out rats from beneath the building. Others claim it was started deliberately by an arsonist. Whatever the cause, for a time players and officials were forced to change in beach huts provided by the council while a replacement clubhouse was erected a cost of £6,500 on the site of the former pavilion.
The new building was a functional, if rather bland, single-story affair, but did at least have a bar which would provide a vital source of revenue to both the football and cricket clubs over the years. And, from the Cricket Club’s perspective at least, there were no shortage of volunteers to help run the bar back then as a sizable bar committee consisting of Eddie Goff, Dudley Barrett, Nick Gannaway, John Davis, Robin Goff and Brian Hobby testifies. It certainly proved to be a good way of raising revenue for the club. In 1976 the bar made a profit of £281, almost covering the cost of ground rent on its own. The bar also enabled the club to run popular bingo sessions which, in just four years, made a handsome £1,800 profit.
A large crowd, estimated to be in region of 3,000, gathered at the Sports Ground in 1971 to witness a Showbiz XI versus New Forest Firemen football match. The Mayor, Colonel T.H. Reddy – a Southampton FC director – kicked off the game. According to Derek Webb, who was roped in to play at the last minute and still posseses the match programme, among the celebrities were Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, Jess Conrad and several small time actors.
In 1973 Lymington decided to join the newly established Hampshire Cricket League, and on Saturday May 12th, 1973 they took on Worthies at the Sports Ground in their first ever league match, scoring 307 for 3 before dismissing the visitors for just 30. Ironically, Lymington’s 277 run victory was not only their first, but would also prove to be largest winning margin ever recorded by the club in a league fixture. Two years later a scoreboard was erected close to the cricket pavilion thanks to a legacy from the late John Howlett, while new seats were later erected around the cricket pitch in memory of several former club members including Charlie Down, Len Hoare and Eddie Goff.
Sadly, having organised and hosted the Stone Cup since 1933, Lymington decided to hand over the running of the competition to the New Forest Club Cricket Association in 1978. Interest had certainly waned in recent years and the once profit-making competition had started to incur financial losses. The club also pointed to over-use of the Sports Ground square as another reason.
In 1980 there were hopes that the cricket pavilion could be extended. Although this never materialised, the Football Club were at least able to host evening matches for the first time with the installation of floodlights at the Sports Ground in 1982. Costing £15,000 the lights were paid for by an anonymous donor, and were officially switched-on by Hannah Crouch – daughter of Councillor Leon Crouch – before a match between Lymington Town and Swindon Town, the Division Three side running out winners by 6 goals to nil. Former Lymington striker player Paul Rideout was in the Swindon line-up.
The floodlights had their teething problems as Derek Webb remembers: “Me and Martin Saunders climbed up the pylons but found that they wobbled in the wind. So we chopped off about six foot at the bottom to make them more stable”. The original floodlights lasted only a few years before they were succeeded by the current taller and more powerful versions.
Lymington Cricket Club won their first Southern League title in 1983 and again two years later. At the end of that season the Sports Ground cricket square was completely dug up and relayed at a cost of £4,100. For a number of years the ‘ends’ had built up, creating a shallow bowl effect in the middle of the square. Unfortunately the new pitches took a while to bed in, causing a few problems with uneven bounce in the following seasons.
On Spring Bank Holiday Monday 1986 Lymington hosted three special matches to celebrate 150 years of cricket at the Sports Ground. A match between a Lymington side captained by Robin Goff and a New Forest XI was won by the home side by 5 wickets, while down at Woodside a New Forest Under 19 side recorded a last ball victory over Lymington Under 19s. There were also many familiar old faces on show as the New Forest Veterans comfortably defeated a Lymington side featuring the likes of Jack Barrett, Bill Craft, Lew Gregory, David Heppenstall and three Flood brothers including former Hampshire batsman Raymond.
Another veteran, and almost certainly the oldest cricketer ever to take to the field at the Sports Ground was 88 year old Will Rickman who, in 1991, opened the batting for the Young Elite against their Old Elite counterparts. Unfortunately, Will’s innings was cut short when he was forced to retire hurt for six after being struck on the hand by a delivery from son Brian!
A new football club & a new grandstand
Lymington Town’s entry into the newly established Wessex League in 1986 had brought a raft of stipulations regarding ground standards which would have far reaching consequences for the relationship between the cricket and football clubs. In time, the Wessex League insisted on all member clubs having hard standing on all four sides of the pitch – fine for clubs with their own ground, but not so good for teams sharing their pitch with cricket. Eventually a solution was found in the form of temporary rubber matting (manufactured by a company called Mattas) which was laid over the cricket outfield during the football season. Although this provided a solution, it also provided a major headache at the start of every cricket season for the council groundstaff who had to repair the indentations left by the mats over the winter. The south-easternmost floodlight pylon would also have to be erected and dismantled at the start and end of every football season.
As well as hard-standing, the Wessex League also required railings around the pitch and improved spectator accommodation. By 1989 Lymington Town had merged with the now disbanded Wellworthy Athletic to form AFC Lymington, and the new club soon unveiled a new grandstand to replace the old wooden structure. The official opening of the new stand was marked by a visit from Southampton who ran out 10-0 winners including a hat-trick from a young Matt Le Tissier and two from Glenn Cockerill. Paul Rideout, now playing for the Saints, also got his name on the scoresheet. Although unable to get himself a game this time, Derek Webb does recall the match well: “Lymington were expecting Saints to bring a reserve team down, but following a particularly poor performance on the previous Saturday the manager Chris Nicholl sent a full squad. Colin Clarke had not scored for weeks, and after several lacklustre attempts on goal he finally broke his duck to ironic cheers from both the crowd and, I suspect, the rest of the Saints team. Paul Furnell was playing for Lymington that night and he remembers a tussle with Francis Benali. Paul was a tough little bugger but he said the bodycheck Frannie made on him was like hitting a brick wall”.
The smart new cantilevered stand contained around 180 bench seats and 20 or so plastic tip-up seats (although vandals reduced this number on a regular basis) and provided storage space and a small hospitality room at the rear. Within two years plans were drawn up by the council for the changing facilities in the main clubhouse to be moved into a block behind the new stand. These plans were unanimously turned down by the cricketers who preferred to keep their dressing rooms, bar and catering areas under one roof in the main pavilion.
Later plans by AFC Lymington to extend the clubhouse to create a larger lounge area, fell foul of a tree preservation order, but eventually a conservatory-style extension was added to the front of the pavilion. Built by Kingfisher, the extension not only provided an enlarged bar area but also made the clubhouse lighter and airier and much more welcoming, as well as providing an excellent viewing area for cricket spectators during the summer. A new paved area and railings in front of the clubhouse were designed, built and partly funded (along with a kind donation from the town council) by Brian Hobby. Meanwhile, inside the clubhouse new cricket honours boards listing the club’s honorary life members and presidents since 1878 were unveiled by former player Terence Walsh.
The Bowling Club were also enjoying a welcome addition to their clubhouse. When, in 1991, the rather cramped first floor dining area was condemned as structurally unsafe by the council safety officer who deemed that it should be used by a maximum of 30 diners (Patsy Little recalls the times when over one hundred bowlers gathered in the room for superb teas – “health and safety would now have a fit!”), a new extension was built onto the side of the existing building. Costing over £50,000, the building work was financed by loans and donations from members and grants from the Sports Council and a loan from Lymington Town Council. Arthur Baker recalled how planning permission was obtained after lengthy negotiations thanks to the efforts of Stewart Whatmore and his architect friends, and also Dunfords. Some members also gave their labour free of charge and the new extension was finally opened in 1994. It allowed members to enjoy improved kitchen and bar facilities and a larger lounge/dining area. The Bowling Club also took over use of the whole building, except for the groundsman’s office which is situated on the ground floor on the tennis side.
By the mid-1990s the ambitious and successful AFC Lymington were keen to progress onto the next level of the footballing pyramid. But to do this they needed to be able to develop the Sports Ground to the standards required, and this essentially required sole use of the ground. With the Cricket Club not keen to move, relations between the clubs became a little strained, to say the least. Newspaper reports at the time even suggested that the Football Club had asked the town council to revoke the Cricket Club’s lease at the Sports Ground and send them to Woodside which, co-incidentally, at the time was subject of a possible redevelopment plan which included new cricket pitches and a floodlit all-weather hockey pitch. There followed an unsavoury period of protestations and letters to the local press from the cricketers who claimed to be the senior sporting organisation in the town and steadfastly wished to remain at the Sports Ground, the Football Club who felt they were being let down by the council, and from the vociferous Woodside residents who were determined to prevent any development of their local area. After lengthy debate and negotiations, the council decided to retain the status quo. With no chance of progressing up through the league pyramid at the Sports Ground, and with no other suitable site available in the town, the Football Club made the decision in 1998 to merge with neighbours New Milton Town who played at the purpose-built Fawcetts Field ground. The Woodside plans were eventually dropped and a floodlit all-weather pitch installed at Lymington Sports Centre.
Not everyone in Lymington was happy with the merger though. With potentially no football in the town for the first time in more than a century, a few members of the old club, including Derek Webb and George Shaw, gathered and together they re-formed Lymington Town FC. The new club was entered into Hampshire League Division Three, which at least meant they were free from the ground grading regulations.
New Millennium, new challenges
On a chilly February evening in 2000 the Sports Ground hosted the first ever floodlit cricket match in Hampshire as Lymington took on a Hampshire XI as part of Adrian Aymes’ benefit year. As well as Adi Aymes, the Hampshire team also included Robin Smith and Shaun Udal, Southampton footballing legend Matt Le Tissier and TV sports presenter Andy Steggall. On a coconut matting wicket specially laid in the centre of the football pitch, the county side scored 102 for 4 before restricting Lymington to 91. Following the cricket, the Hampshire players donned their football boots for a match against a side containing many of Aymes’ former teammates from his time with Wellworthy Athletic and AFC Lymington. Once again Hampshire came out on top, winning the match 5-2.
In 2001 Lymington Cricket Club won the prestigious SEC Cup at the Rose Bowl for the first time. Ironically, just five days before that famous Rose Bowl victory, Lymington had endured their largest ever defeat when Ventnor visited the Sports Ground for a Cross Solent League fixture. The islanders piled up a massive 374 for no wicket from 40 overs before skittling Lymington out for just 48.
The Cricket Club continued to improve its facilities. Additional sightscreens had been purchased in 1997 while the square, which had generally declined in quality during the middle parts of the 1990s, benefitted greatly from the introduction of Kaloam top soil which, in time, made the pitches harder and bouncier. A second-hand motor roller was acquired from Hampshire’s Northlands Road headquarters, and a set of covers purchased at a cost of £8,000 to protect the improved pitches. Recognition of the Cricket Club’s efforts came in 2004 when the ground received gold accreditation status from the Southern League, paving the way for the club to play in the top division of the Southern Premier League, which they achieved in 2009. The club also spent large sums of money improving its practice facilities – in 2001 new nets had been installed in the south east corner of the ground at a cost of around £9,000.
By now the new Lymington Town had progressed swiftly up the Hampshire and Wessex Leagues and in 2005 won the Wessex League Division One title, thereby gaining promotion to the Premier League in the process. However, the club’s success once again meant that the old groundsharing issues re-surfaced with more temporary matting having to be laid down, although the Wessex League eventually permitted Lymington to remove the matting as long as it closed-off the areas behind the goal. The League also appeared to have relaxed its attitude to all-year use of the ground, although everyone within the Football Club acknowledges the inconvenience caused by having no home pitch available at the start and conclusion of the season.
In 2006, the town council again mooted the possibility of moving Lymington Cricket Club to Woodside, but as in 1997 the plans received a lukewarm response from the cricketers who overwhelmingly voted to remain at their traditional Sports Ground home and the scheme was eventually dropped.
Around this time there was also the highly unusual spectacle of water buffalo roaming the Sports Ground in the middle of the night. Half a dozen of the animals had escaped from their farm in Pennington and strolled through the town, taking in visits to Waitrose car park, the Sports Ground and churchyard before finally ending up in Lower Buckland. Fortunately the ‘intruders’ caused little damage during their unannounced visit and were eventually rounded up by six policemen and escorted back to their field. It did, however, give the Football Club’s Derek Webb the unenviable task of clearing up after the buffalo, although on the plus side his roses were particularly healthy the following spring.
In 2007 a number of matches and events were organised to celebrate Lymington Cricket Club’s bicentenary. A special Georgian-style cricket match in full period costume was staged on the club’s original Pennington Common home, while back at its current venue Lymington played host to the MCC, winning a high scoring match by 4 wickets thanks to a brilliant 147 from Sam Raphael. The match also marked the opening of Lymington’s new electronic scoreboard with town Mayor Councilor Pauline Elsworth undertaking the official unveiling during the tea break. Installed by club members Brian Hobby and Jim Lowe, the scoreboard was paid for by generous donations from many sources, including the Town Council.
Happily, for one keen spectator at least, the new scoreboard didn’t spell the end for the old manually-operated version which had been constructed in 1975 thanks to a legacy from the late John Howlett. John Haines had been enthusiastically putting up the scores for many years and, despite the acquisition of the new state-of-the-art scoreboard, it was decided by the club that the old one should be kept in place for Johnny to continue this practice. Hence, Lymington became possibly the only cricket club in Southern League history to operate two scoreboards on a matchday.
The Sports Ground and its buildings have changed little in the last few years. The magnificent wrought iron entrance gates at the entrance to the bowling green were erected in 2004 as a result of a legacy of Joan Sumner, a member of the club who had passed away four years earlier, while the old 1935 green was re-laid in 2003 and is currently tended by groundsman Ronnie Hawker (pictured below right). On the other side of the ground a portakabin housing referees/umpires changing rooms and cricket scorers’ room was built alongside the clubhouse in 1999, while a small extension, for the use of the Football Club, was added at the other end of the pavilion by the main entrance where the gateman’s hut used to be located. The old football dugouts in front of the grandstand were dug up and replaced with modern versions which were now sited on the bowling green side of the pitch. The old dugouts were not particularly fondly remembered (except perhaps by a few amorous couples or a local tramp or two). A garage to house the Cricket Club’s roller and other equipment was erected very near the site of the original bowls pavilion over by the churchyard.
The Tennis Club can now carry on their matches after dark thanks to floodlighting on their two main courts, and are hoping to add more floodlights in 2012 to serve the remaining two courts. They are also hopeful of seeing their plans for a much-needed new clubhouse reach fruition as the old portakabin had become something of an embarrassment to club members who now numbered upwards of 300.
A new clubhouse for the footballers and cricketers was nearly needed too in the Spring of 2011 when three local lads broke into the building, apparently with the intention of trying to steal some alcohol. Whether the miscreants were also attempting to stage an historical re-enactment of the events of May 1968 is unclear, but while they were inside the clubhouse they reportedly piled up chairs and paper in the main bar area and set fire to the lot. Fortunately, the fire brigade turned up in time to save the building, although the bar and kitchen area was extensively damaged. This forced the footballers to change in makeshift dressing rooms for the last few matches of the season, and also meant the Football Club lost out on vital bar revenue. Lymington Town chairman George Shaw did an admirable job in putting right the damage which was estimated in excess of £20,000.
In July 2011 the Cricket Club were surprised to discover that the Town Council were, for a third time, looking into the possibility of moving the club to Woodside. Having spent a small fortune in recent years attaining the high standard of facilities they currently enjoy at the Sports Ground, the move was met with a muted response from club members. Unfortunately, at around the same time, the issue of stray cricket balls landing in the tennis courts arose. Letters of concern were written to the council by the Tennis Club, some of whose members had narrowly avoided being hit by cricket balls, and the matter was raised by the council. Before long the letters page of the Lymington Times was awash with correspondence from those with a view on the subject. Historically, tennis and cricket had lived side-by-side harmoniously at the Sports Ground. The only issue of any note came way back in 1930 when the Tennis Club sought compensation from the Cricket Club after a ball smashed a window in the tennis pavilion. Back to the present day, it couldn’t be denied that advances in cricket bats and in playing styles meant that batsmen could hit the ball harder and further than in years gone by. A solution was found by erecting a high net between the cricket field and tennis courts to protect the tennis players, the cost being paid largely by the Town Council with contributiuons from the cricket and tennis clubs.
Of course, groundsharing issues are nothing new to the Sports Ground. But all of these problems have eventually been overcome in the past, so let’s hope common sense prevails again this time. One thing’s for sure, the future of Lymington Sports Ground looks certain to be as intriguing as its long and illustrious past.