Express & Star

Club formed during King's coronation is now 200 not out

Two hundred years ago this week, the nation was celebrating the coronation of a new King. It was to be the most extravagant party ever seen in this country. A total of £111,810 was spent on jewellery alone, about £12.5 million at today's prices. The total budget was £238,000, or £27 million when adjusted for inflation.

Enville cricket ground with Enville Hall as a back drop in South Staffordshire. Picture: Graham Gough

Back at Enville Hall, a country house just outside Stourbridge, owner Lord Stamford also felt the occasion should not go unmarked. But unlike the new King, he did not have a huge fund of punitive war reparations to fall back on. So he did what any English country gentleman would have done at that time – and staged a cricket match.

This week Enville Cricket Club celebrates its bicentenary with a festival of events, culminating in a match against an MCC XI on Sunday. A number of famous faces are expected to take part, although exactly who will not be revealed until the day.

In 1857 the London Illustrated News carried an article comparing Enville to Lord’s cricket ground. After a careful analysis of between the two venues, the publication came down in favour of Enville, which it described as the "finest cricket ground in the world".

"The Lords cricket ground is seven acres in extent, the Enville ground upwards of 11 acres," wrote the publication, adding that the playing surface was "literally as smooth as a billiard table and is of course only kept so by the most constant care."

While the club did not sustain such lofty status, it continued to play a prominent role in the game over the decades that followed.

In 1870 the legendary Dr W G Grace played at Enville for the South of England XI against an I Zingari 18, although he didn't seem to have made much of an impression. Batting first, Zingari scored 233; the South of England struggled to find gaps in the field of 18 and were all out for 133 and 65, the Doctor recording scores of 14 and 10.

The driving force behind Enville's rise as a cricketing venue was the Rt Hon George Harry Grey, who succeeded his grandfather as Earl of Stamford in 1845. An MCC member. the Earl played in eight first-class matches from 1851 and 1858, making 81 first-class runs at an average of 7.36, with a highest score of 17, and holding two catches.

He oversaw the excavation of the six-and-a-half-acre site to improve drainage, followed by the application of binding soils to give excellent growing conditions.

He built up a formidable squad of 22, including some of the best professional players of the day, including E Willsher, J Bickley, C Brampton and R C Tinley. They were each offered the not inconsiderable sum of £100 to play from May to October.

In 1851 the Earl became President of the MCC, and from 1854-1857 both the England XI and the breakaway United England XI took on Enville in three-day games at the estate, attracting large crowds. In 1856 the club held a three-day cricket festival, which attracted approximately 80,000 people, closing with a spectacular firework show.

Today Enville has three senior teams in the Worcestershire County League, as well as a junior section.

But reaching 200 not out in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has not come without a lot of hard work during these difficult times. Last year, when the club's income was decimated by Covid restrictions, the club raised £10,000 with a challenging sponsored walk that visited 50 local cricket grounds.

Chairman Trevor Spears says: “Not many clubs have the longevity of our historical club and our ‘family’ worked hard last year to fundraise.

“Planning for the festival week began five years ago and a lot of time and a lot of hard work has been put in with all sections having a day to shine.

“It is an exciting yet daunting time where we will showcase not only the club but also our home village of Enville which provides such an attractive setting.”

To mark the occasion, club secretary of more than 50 years David Thomas has written a book detailing the history of the club.

One of Enville's most loyal followers is 'Phil the Fan' Cochrane from Kinver, who has become a familiar site in his trademark hat and chair bearing his name, and has been known to take part in a bit of good-natured sledging towards visiting players.

"He gives a bit of what you might call 'polite abuse' to our opponents," says Trevor.

"He also sometimes hands Wagon Wheels round at teatime."