1938 : Memories of Mitcham Green

By E.A.C. Thomson, founder and secretary of The Club Cricket Conference, editor of “The Hockey World” and Co-Founder of The National Playing Fields Association.

From the 1938 Mitcham Cricket Club yearbook.

Born at Woodford in Essex, my parents moved to Mitcham when I was five years old. My father, a keen sportsman, played cricket and rugger in his younger days and was a member of the Mitcham C.C. My family had no relationship with the late W. W. Thomson, so long connected with Mitcham during and after my boyhood days.

As a schoolboy at the Mitcham Grammar School (the headmaster of which was Dr. Smith, M.A.), we used to arrange occasional school matches on Mitcham Green. To we schoolboys this was a tremendous honour, because we knew that we were playing on a part of the ancient cricket turf trod by so many famous and historical cricket figures of the past.

I remember the team when they had T. P. Harvey, Joe and Jim Caffrey, Joe Knight, A. Ferrier Clark. T. J. Barber, S. Hooper (who stood about 6ft. 6 inches and was a slow bowler), Rutter, Southerton, Jnr., etc. In my school days it was a common spectacle to see from 2,000 to 3,000 people congregated around the Green watching an important match. On the far side, grooms were in charge of the saddle-horses by the dozen, there were carriages and pairs, dog carts, broughams and other vehicles common to those days.

I remember one prolonged stand made by T. P. Harvey and W. W. Thompson. If memory does not play me false, they put on over 200 for the first wicket, but even in those days there were boundaries arranged. W. W. Thomson was captain of the Mitcham C.C. before T. P. Harvey. The latter was, in my opinion, one of the finest all round amateur cricketers that I have ever met. In later years I had the pleasure of playing against T. P. Harvey and Mitcham on several occasions. I often wonder whether his batting and bowling figures year by year have been preserved. One usually knew when he was in for a long score. After lie had got his eye well in, he would turn the peak of his cap round to the back of his head and settle down. In other words, he would just dig in, and then he took a lot of digging out.

J. Southerton used to bowl against the older cricketing boys at the nets on Mitcham Green and gave them sound coaching instruction. Not only did Southerton do this, but if there were any promising boy cricketers, they were put in the nets and sure of getting efficient coaching and instruction. That is one reason why young Mitcham cricketers in those days were so numerous.

There was real sorrow in the village when Jim Southerton died. He was Mine Host of The Cricketers’ Inn. Mitcham cricketers and visitors for untold years used to dress, meet and join in convivial company during and after the match. It was a walking funeral which took place from ‘The Cricketers’ Inn; that is to say, the coffin was carried from the Inn to Mitcham Churchyard.

The funeral procession must have been at least a quarter of a mile in length. We schoolboy cricketers, who knew and respected Southerton, took up the immediate rear and walked behind the cortege to the churchyard where we saw Southerton laid to his final rest.

While my father and I were watching a match on the Green one Saturday afternoon, he talked to an old villager who was nearer 90 than 80. He said that his own grandfather had told him he remembered seeing an old print of a cricket match with the inscription underneath “Crickette on Olde Meccham Green.” It was dated 1685. He said that this print was hanging on one of the walls inside a room in one of the cottages surrounding the Green. Alas! it has now disappeared.

Another of my happiest boyhood recollections was at the age of nine, not yet breeched, being visited at my home by Ebbutt, the captain of the Mitcham II eleven. He said to me “Youngster, I want you to play for me to-day.” I could hardly believe the great news. I found our opponents were Sutton II.

Of course, I was put in last, but the game, when I went in, was at a most interesting stage. Mitcham II required 2 runs to win with the last wicket to fall. I remember the Sutton captain emphasising very strongly to the captain of Mitcham in something like these words, “Whatever did you need to put such a kid in your side for? We cannot bowl overarm to him and shall just have to lob.”

At all events, my partner hit the ball, and called me for a quick run. I promptly raced to the other end of the wicket. The match was a tie. A Sutton bowler, who had been bowling overarm, then sent me down a lob which I played; a second lob I also played. The third lob, a little over pitched, I hit for one, ran hard and got the winning run.

My father knew F. Gale, known all over the cricket world as “The Old Buffer.” He wrote two or three books on the game, including a most interesting one on Mitcham cricket. I used to have this book in my library, but for several years now it has been missing.

“The Old Buffer’s” tales of Mitcham cricket were most entertaining and interesting. He was a faithful and constant supporter of the Mitcham club. Whenever Mitcham had an important game, whether a Saturday or mid-week. “The Old Buffer” would usually be found sitting on a seat and enjoying every moment of the play.

It was on Mitcham Green that I saw my first hockey match when Mitcham played Teddington. Many of the active Mitcham cricketers in the winter played occasional hockey matches on the Green to keep themselves fit. Among the Mitcham cricketers of those days who played hockey were Tom Harvey, Lionel Upton, A. F. Clark, Skelton, Abrahams, Hooper and others. As a matter of fact, the Mitcham hockey club consisted practically of Mitcham cricketers. It existed from about 1879 or 1880, but alter a few years, it became defunct.

Talking of hockey, it may not be well-known that T. P. Harvey was a good hockey player. He played in the first South trial team v. the North at Queen’s Club, Kensington, in 1890 and was one of the two centre-forwards. Further-more, in the first hockey international between England and Ireland at Richmond, March, 1895, Tom Harvey was one of the two umpires, who took charge of the match, He was a most enthusiastic hockey player, and did a lot for the game in its earliest stages. Tom Harvey, personally, coached me a good deal in my boyhood days of cricket at the nets. It was upon his advice that I eventually played hockey.

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