125 YEARS OF PENRITH CRICKET
By John Hurst
Like many very old cricket clubs, Penrith C.C. had several birthdays. The first cricket in the Cumbrian market town, on the northern fringe of the Lake District, was played in the late 1820’s but the game’s popularity ebbed and flowed. There was no permanence about the early clubs, some of which were wound up after a season or two.
One of the most unusual organisations was a Penrith tradesmen’s cricket club in the 1840’s. Members worked such long hours that practice sessions were held at four o’clock in the morning.
The present Penrith C.C. dates back to 1866, making it 125 years old. A solicitor’s clerk, George Dennison, was the founder-secretary.
The original title of Penrith United Beacon Cricket Club (the beacon is a prominent local landmark) was dropped after about ten years but there are clear lines of continuity, through the club has moved its ‘home’ at least three times.
The original ground of 1866 was the Gasworks Field, close to the White Horse, a one-time hostelry where the foundation meeting was held and early members supped much ale and drank a traditional toast to ‘the bonny lasses round Penrith Beacon’.
Those early seasons generally ended with sports meeting and presentations of bats, balls and other awards. The member with the least runs over the season was given ‘an ounce of prime bird’s eye tobacco’.
After a few years the club moved nearer to the edge of town to Pategill (now a large housing estate). A nearby pub was re-named the Cricketers’ Arms and the landlord, Lot Tremble, served delicious ‘cold collations’ as well as preparing the pitches.
Cricketers next moved to the Foundry Field, otherwise known as the Soldier (or ‘Sodger’) Field, as this was where the men of the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry showed off their skills and smartness. This new ground was indifferent in quality, with visiting circuses sometimes ruining the turf with their horses, while slogging became essential to penetrate or clear the long grass in the outfield. This may account for a long-forgotten record – Penrith all out for five in a home match with Keswick in 1896.
It was also in the 1890’s that a second teamer, J. McMenemy, took all ten wicketsin an innings – the only Penrith bowler known to have achieved the feat in 125 years.
Members of distinction around this time included Penrith’s MP, J. W. (“Speaker”) Lowther, later Viscount Ullswater. He was immersed in the history and traditions of cricket and once told a Penrith dinner:
“Cumberland is not what you might call a cricketing county. The configuration of the soil does not lend itself very favourably to very level cricketing grounds and the state of the atmosphere does not conduce to rapid pitches, on which quick scoring can be achieved. To give you an idea of the difficulties under which cricket in the county is pursued, I would mention that on one occasion in a match I remember a covey of partridge rose from between the wickets.”
Penrith cricketers became more fastidious after the turn off the century and in 1907 they moved to the present ground at Tynefield Park, then belonging to George Arthur Rimington, a squire-type figure, batsman and enthusiast who resisted approaches from the local council when they tried to build houses on the field.
Tynefield was a field among fields, with glorious views over the old town to the Beacon, from which the club took its original name. Though post-war development has robbed the ground of some of its lustre, it is still a pleasant spot to play or watch.
Progress between the two world wars was slow and unspectacular. There were three teams – first, second and a Thursday XI – all playing inter-club friendlies.
If the season ended with £20 in the bank the club had done well. The cash in hand was generally closer to a fiver.
With annual expenditure totalling around £200, the biggest item was about £80 to the groundsman/ professional. The income depended heavily on vice-presidents’ subs and the annual medal competition – a popular knock-out, with evening matches of 20-overs-a-side and much big hitting.
A distinguished player of the inter-war era was David Stevenson, a stylish batsman who had been ‘capped’ by Scotland.
Penrith cricket’s future was ensured when Tynefield Park was bought in 1947, which removed the lingering threat of the field being taken over by local authorities for development.
First team skipper Norman Mallinson was delegated to attend the auction sale. Finances placed a limit on the amount which could be offered by the club, and this was exceeded in the bidding. Thankfully, Norman Mallinson stepped into the breach and bought the ground himself, later handing it over to the club at the purchase price of £750 which was raised by means of a special appeal.
The 1950s were years of impressive progress at Penrith C.C. starting with the replacement of the old wooden hut which had served as changing quarters and kitchen for the tea ladies, with toilets which were both minimal and primitive.
The replacement clubhouse, brick-built and well-appointed, with dressing rooms, bar, kitchen and functions room, was a self-help venture. Cricketers and supporters became bricklayers, labourers and painters, with experts needed only for the electrical wiring and plumbing. As a result of all the voluntary work, it cost only £2,500 to build the new clubhouse which has since been doubled in size by extensions.
League cricket arrived at Tynefield Park in 1951 when Penrith were admitted to the Cumberland Senior League. For eight seasons they dominated the competition – champions five times, runners-up twice and third once.
Harold Millican, a keen-eyed left-hander, was at the height of his powers around this time and figured in many partnerships with the more stylish Mike Burrow (as nephew of R.H. Spooner).
Peter Sarjeant opened the bowling for the title-winning team, supported by all-rounder Millican, left-armer Charlie Varty and L.W. ‘Bunny’ Thompson, a model of accuracy at medium pace.
Moving up a grade to the North Lancashire League, Penrith shared the title twice during the 1960s, while David Ash (ex-Yorkshire) was the professional, and in 1988 they were outright champions, due partly to the influence of Pakistani all-rounder Raj Hans.
Other professionals of the North Lancashire League era include Ronald Stewart (Cumberland), Ramnath Kenny and Budhi Kunderan (both India), Alan Burridge (Durham), Geoffrey Hall (Somerset) and Graham Monkhouse (later with Surrey but now back with Penrith as an amateur).
The club fields three Saturday teams, all in League cricket, and has a strong junior section.
Cumberland have played many matches at Tynefield and it is a cause of some pride that no fewer than four county captains have played for Penrith – Harold Millican, Adrian Gray, Malcolm Beaty and John Moyes.
The club is also fortunate in having officials with impressive records of service. Of the present office-holders, Michael Johnston’s 25-year stint, mostly as treasurer, and the non-stop versatility of Colin Melvin, currently secretary, are in the best traditions of Penrith C.C.