Cricket may have been played in Corsham before 1848. Records exist of a Trowbridge team playing matches in the 1820’s, and in all probability, Corsham would have been one of its opponents. Earliest records of Corsham Cricket Club indicate that the Club was formed in 1848 by Hon. Frederick Methuen (Frederick Henry Paul were his full christian names, but was known as Frederick. He did not become the second Baron Methuen until 11th September 1849, when his father died). Very little information still exists of these early years, but it is certain that its continued existence owes much to the Methuen family, who have been appointed as Club Presidents ever since, and to the Methuen Estate who own the land at Station Road where the Club has staged its home matches since inception. The ground is reputed to be the sixth oldest ground in the Country.
Frederick Baron Methuen continued a keen interest in the Club until his death, after which his son, Paul Sanford Methuen, was elected the second President of the Club in 1864. As an active soldier (later to become Field-Marshall) he was unable to play regularly, but always turned out when he was home on leave. In 1866 when playing against the Marshfield Club, led by the famous Dr. E.M.Grace, he scored 48 not out of a total of 89. The grandson, Paul Methuen has also contributed his share, for in 1903, he was second in the batting averages with an average of 26.5 and he took 11 wickets at a cost of 10.63 runs apiece.
The first Press reports covering matches involving Corsham was in 1848. The Devizes & Wilts Gazette of 13th July 1848 records a match on 10th July between the Club, who scored 18 and 21, and Greenpark (Bath) who scored 53, so losing by an innings and 14 runs. On 24th August the same newspaper reported a match against Swindon on 18th August when Swindon made 59 and 24 and Corsham 52 and 32 for 6, thus winning the match by 4 wickets.
In an edition of 11th May 1848 the Gazette printed an article which contained the following extract: 'The increased love for this manly game in this part of the county is shown by the number of clubs that have been formed, viz. ... Purton, Bowood, Melksham, Sutton, Marshfield, Marlborough, Corsham Park, Chippenham.'
Press reports in 1855 include a match against opponents from Bitton. Corsham scored 196 and succeeded in dismissing their opponents for 46 and 22. Corsham’s opening batsman, Smallbones, was run out without scoring, but achieved retribution by clean-bowling four of the visitors in each innings.
An interesting fact gleaned from the manuscripts of the minutes of the club between 1864 to 1873 was that a motion was resolved to levy a fine of 6d (2.5p) for non-attendance of elected Committee members at Committee night! The use of fines seemed to be the Committee’s answer to indiscipline in the Club - a resolution was passed in 1866 to fine “any member heard swearing or using any profane language in the field” the sum of 6d.
In the early days, the use of the field was a matter of an annual negotiation, but the Club has always played on the field that is played on today. Nowadays, preparation for the coming season starts as early as March. However, for a long time in the Club’s early history, the Club was unable to use the field until after ‘haying time’!
In 1871, it was felt that ‘the tent’ that had served the Club as a Pavilion was no longer consistent with the ambitions of the Club. Accordingly, plans were drawn up for a new building and placed before the Committee. Subscriptions and gifts in kind were received and soon the pavilion was erected - a neat little wooden structure with a thatched roof. This lasted until 1908, when it was removed to be replaced by a less picturesque but larger corrugated iron construction, which survived until the present Pavilion was erected in 1970.
From 1865 onwards, details of the matches played begin to accumulate with the Club’s fixture list showing regular matches against Box, Chippenham, Bath Association, Bath, Lansdown, Claverton, Christian Malford, Tetbury, Grittleton, and Holt. 1873 saw the addition of Melksham, with Trowbridge appearing in 1875, Swindon G.W.R. in 1881 and Bloomfield Wanderers in 1882.
In 1875, Lansdown were twice defeated. At Combe Park, Corsham piled up 303 (F.Sainsbury 88) with Lansdown replying with just 62. The return match saw scores of 132 and 34 respectively. In 1876, Mr. E.Sainsbury carried his bat in scoring 201 not out of Corsham’s 301. Lansdown managed 31 and 51 in their two innings with Sainsbury taking 10 wickets in the match!
In 1881, two brothers of the famous Spackman family became the first of a long line of Corsham players picked to represent Wiltshire.
W.G. Grace played on the Corsham ground in 1893 for Mr. Audley Miller’s XI against Mr. T.E. Yockney’s XI, which included several of the Corsham team. Dr. E.M. Grace also played against Corsham on two or three occasions, each time bowling round arm.
The years 1883-1907 stands out in the Club’s history. The Sainsburys and Spackmans helped develop the Club spirit leading into the period with the team being as powerful as any in the region: C.F.Spackman, A.C.Kinneir, L.Spackman, J.Smith, H.Hancock, W.A.Yockney, H.Hulbert, F.Hulbert, J.J.Fido, T.Tooth, W.J.Allard, S.P.Kinneir, and C.J.Mayo. Of course, in this period it was deemed a great honour to play for the 1st XI, and honour attained only after graduation in the schools of the 3rd and 2nd XIs. Mr. J.J.Fido recalled that in his earliest days he used to secure a 3rd XI place by virtue that he owned a tricycle and so was able to take other players with him when playing away!
Today, when nearly everyone turns up by car, nothing is thought of travelling over twenty miles to play away. But in those days, transport difficulties loomed large. The 1st XI generally managed to obtain the lordly style of Mr. Fuller’s Coach and Four. However, the 2nd and 3rd XIs had to travel as best they could often walking to matches carrying their cricket bag! How times have changed.
1889 was “the most successful season for many years. Among the most promising bats is Mr. S.P.Kinneir who has come well to the front this year”. In 1890 “the success of the CCC this season has exceeded even the most sanguine anticipation of the members.” The season saw three Corsham players turning out for Wiltshire against Marlborough College: C.F.Spackman, S.P.Kinneir, and Sir J.Dickson-Poynder. After that match, Spackman and Kinneir played regularly for the County, as did H.Awdry. Spackman distinguished himself the following season by taking seven wickets for eight runs for Wiltshire v Oxfordshire at Swindon.
At the end of the 1892 season, one cricket reporter remarked: “Corsham CC continue to justify their claim of having the best eleven in the County. Indeed, we fully believe they would administer a good thrashing to the so-called County Eleven”. In total 23 games were won during the season, the greatest number in the history of the Club. The season also saw the then record bowling performance by a Corsham player: In Calne’s second innings, Reckless took 9 for 13 (all bowled).
Over the 1893 season, C.F.Spackman took 109 wickets but finished second in the averages to Reckless, who took 112 at 7.7 runs apiece. S.P.Kinneir again topped the batting averages with 48 in the 1895 season. This season saw the formation of a Wiltshire League. Victories over Melksham, Trowbridge, and Swindon (twice) were enough for Corsham to win the title. The brothers Hulbert now began making regular appearances for the Club.
1896 was to be S.P.Kinneir’s last for Corsham, although he still played for Wiltshire after joining the 1st Class County of Warwickshire. Indeed, in 1898 he finished top of the County bowling averages, and fifth in the batting with an aggregate of 400 runs in the Minor Counties Championship. 1897 saw the return of C.F.Spackman as Captain and a more successful season than the previous two.
The 1900 season was described at the time as the most successful season on record. 23 matches were played, of which 18 were won, four drawn and only one lost. C.F.Spackman passed 100 once and fifty six times on his way to the top of the batting averages with 48.77. A.C.Kinneir returned to form and scored 152 not out in the very last match of the season.
From 1908, enthusiasm and energy in the Club were found to have cooled, and little of note was recorded. Annual fixtures continued right up to 1914 when the members of the Club were called to a sterner game. The field was not left idle however, for a hospital for wounded had been established in the town and matches were arranged for the convalescent.
The fortunes of the Club following the Great War were bound to suffer from the interruption to tradition. Despite attempts to run two teams, the Club was forced by the small number of members to concentrate on its 1st XI. The Club’s Jubilee stands out as by far the best since the War, though nothing like the seasons at the turn of the century. 1928 saw W.Smith (nephew of J.Smith) at the head of both the batting and bowling averages with 400 runs at 26.6 and 73 wickets at 7.35. J.J.Fido’s sons A. and C. were developing into useful members of the side. Together with W.Gale, A.Fido put on 160 for the third wicket. Only one century was scored, by Jim Smith, who was engaged by the Lord’s ground staff. He eventually followed Kinneir into 1st Class cricket with Middlesex and England.
There is little record of the Club’s history after 1928, the only visible record being that of a picture which hangs in the pavilion of the 1936 1st XI. The picture shows E.W. (Bill) Gale, captain of the team, with Harold (HGG) Gale sat before him. Two to Bill Gale’s left is sat Fred Gingell, who played well into his 60’s, and Dr. John Eagles, resplendent in his striped blazer (left, back row). Despite a modest playing career either side of the War, Dr. Eagles is well remembered for his eccentric behaviour, and his peculiar ‘lob’ bowling style, which accounted for more than one bemused opponent.
Two special matches celebrated the Centenary season of 1947: Corsham Present took on a team attired in the style and fashion of the 1840’s, representing Corsham Past. Corsham Past arrived in a horse-drawn wagon complete with Country Squire (played by Bill Gale) resplendent in frockcoat, ‘stovepipe’ top hat, and mounted on a hunter; the renowned
Somerset and England player, Harold Gimblett, brought a team to play W.Smith’s XI, in which members of the Club took part. The 1947 team was captained by Alan Fido, rated by many as ‘good enough to play for the County’.
The 1950’s saw the debut of the longest serving current playing member. John Rowe made his debut for the Club in the early 50’s, and still ‘turns his arm over’ for the Third XI today. His fearsome off-cutter accounted for many leading batsmen of the next 30 years despite being subjected to strong objections to his action.
1955 saw the formation of what has become the nursery for a host of the Club’s leading players over the following years. Harold Gale and Gerald Hemmings were responsible for the ‘Boys Group’, now more fashionably called the ‘Youth Section’. Among the early beneficiaries of the weekly coaching sessions was Martin Scott, undoubtedly the Club’s leading player of the sixties and seventies.
Martin made his debut for Corsham in 1956, making his 1st XI debut at the age of 15. He was first-choice wicket keeper for the County XI during a seven-year career, quickly graduating to opening batsman. In 1967, Martin scored 100 and 50 in the same match against Somerset II’s which led to his being offered a position at Somerset CCC. Unfortunately, Martin’s personal circumstances and the nature of the offer meant that he was unable to progress further.
The 1960’s will be remembered also for the efforts of Dick Hudson (responsible for the design of the new sight-screens installed during 1958), Don Crotty, and Tim Grainger. 1963 saw the first appearance of Brian Foley, later to become one of the most feared batsmen in the County. In his prime, Brian could turn a match with a devastating display of belligerent hitting. Also making his mark, and at 18 becoming the youngest Club Captain, was Graeme Freegard. His left-arm spin would surely have been recognised by County honours had he played at a different time, as Jim Merryweather was the first choice slow bowler for the County XI. Probably the best all rounder of the mid-late sixties was Roger (Edgar) Bates. His powerful early order batting, augmented by lively medium pace bowling, and superb coverpoint fielding was sadly missed when he left Corsham to join the RAF, where he later went on to Captain the full RAF XI. Left arm opening bowler, Phil Laycock made his Club debut in 1962, and quickly established himself.
The late 1960’s saw a change in Club Cricket with the re-introduction of League Cricket into the County. League fixtures were based on Club’s existing fixture lists that lead to many anomalies: Corsham enjoyed fixtures against all the leading Clubs in Wiltshire, while Swindon, Swindon BR and South Wilts played just half the number. However, League Cricket brought a new, competitive spirit to the game. This was epitomised by the appearance of John Applegate, first as 2nd XI Captain, then as 1st XI Captain in 1970. His motivational skills coupled with the sheer ability of the team brought the Wiltshire League title to Corsham in 1970, and a runners-up spot in 1971.
The 1st XI of the 1970’s was a match for anyone in the West of England. John Gale joined Martin Scott at the top of the order and the pair featured in many substantial first wicket partnerships. With the arrival of the elegant, tall left hander, Bob Hayter in the mid-seventies, and Brian Foley at the peak of his career, the bowling spearheaded by Phil Laycock, John Applegate, and later, Don Newbury, and Eamon Scully, the team of the seventies was probably the best in the Club’s history.
Martin Scott took over the Captaincy in the mid-seventies, then stood down to allow Don Newbury to take over. Newbury was primarily an accurate opening seam bowler, but his exploits with the bat will also be remembered, thanks to his exceptional eye for the ball to hit.
Lack of foresight in the late 70’s by the Committee of the time failed to accept a place offered to become founder members of the newly formed Western League. This decision saw the standard of cricket at Corsham diminish in the late seventies and early eighties. Patience with the negative tactics of Wiltshire League teams who settled for a draw from the outset, eventually wore out, and the Club sought a place in the Bristol and District League. Despite an offer and initial acceptance to join Division One of the B&D, a late invitation to join the ‘Three Counties League’ based largely in South East Wales, was accepted for the 1982 season. Brian Foley returned to the 1st XI Captaincy in the Club’s first match in the new league against Hereford. The four seasons in the ‘Three Counties’ each saw different Captains with John Gale, Phil Laycock, and John Applegate following Brian.
Some memorable games were played at some pleasant, if distant, grounds, against opponents of reasonable standard. Phil Laycock and Eamon Scully were the mainstays of the bowling, with some hostile spells from Dave Reynolds, later forced to give up the game for medical reasons. Martin Scott, John Gale, and Brian Foley led the batsmen, with useful contributions coming from Dave Smith, and Phil Chisnall. Rob Shillaker became the first Corsham batsman to reach three figures in a Three Counties League game.
The demands on players to travel long distances to such exotic places as Abergavenny, Colwall, and Usk proved unpopular with some members, and an invitation to join the newly formed County Alliance League for its second season (1986) was readily accepted.
Corsham’s performance in the higher standard Alliance League improved steadily from the 1986 season, culminating in 1993 with nine wins to finish in sixth place. The 1992 season will be remembered for the contribution of Richard Foley, eldest son of Brian. He topped League batting averages scoring 968 runs at an average of 60.50. He also took 36 wickets in the season with his newly acquired off-spin. The 1994 and 95 seasons saw mid table performances, with the Club managing to miss the cut in the extended League in 1995 season. However, lack of genuine class and strength in depth in the Club told eventually with the 1996 season finishing with Corsham at the foot of Division One and relegation to Division Two.
Despite moderate team performances over recent seasons, Corsham has still retained the ability to produce players for Representative honours - Neil Shardlow and Matt Holland both being selected to play for the County XI. Neil’s wicket keeping continued the line of recognition of Corsham players in that position, while Matt’s left arm spin and ideal temperament has made him a Wiltshire regular.
It is hoped that the Club’s 150th Anniversary will be celebrated with a return to the top flight.