Andrew Radd - They may not be a towering presence yet but Earls Barton are on the rise

Andrew Radd
Andrew Radd

When the great JL Carr listed the six things Northamptonshire was best known for he mentioned an architectural gem in one of our glorious villages.

Earls Barton church tower made the Kettering-based novelist’s selection – along with (remember the rest?) boots and shoes, the Battle of Naseby, VWC Jupp, Rushden brass bands and Saints forwards in the loose…unless they’re playing Leicester Tigers, presumably.

Barton’s cricket has also attracted plenty of attention down the years – and not exclusively on account of Ray Waite’s remarkable longevity in both the game and the club.

On a personal note, The Grange is the ground that came closest to seeing your correspondent hit a six in an adult match. First bounce. Honestly.

Oh alright, yes, we WERE playing a long way over on the pavilion side. Spoil my story, why don’t you?

Altogether more significantly, EBCC’s first team achieved promotion back into NCL Division Two last season – they begin their new campaign at Old Wellingburians next month – while the seconds also went up as champions of Division Eight.

Keeping tabs on their fortunes in 2017 shouldn’t be too difficult.

In contrast to the 1870s and 1880s, around the time veteran trundler and drummer Kevin Flanagan bought his first set of wire brushes, when cricket enthusiasts in the village might have found it more of a challenge.

In 1873, for example, Earls Barton’s Temperance Club overcame a team of fellow non-topers from Northampton, ‘refreshed at intervals with diet drink’ (what was in that?) provided by Mr Dunkley from the Stag’s Head.

Soon afterwards the Temperance boys struck another blow for clean living as they tackled and beat Earls Barton Star, which seems to have been the leading local side of the day.

But Earls Barton ‘Victoria’ held an AGM – also at the Stag’s Head – in March 1881 and played Bozeat in the same year, while a Wesleyan side was active too.

Significantly, a newspaper advertisement appeared in the spring of 1884 which stated ‘the Earls Barton CC (late Star) having been reorganised, will commence the season on Saturday May 10 and will be glad to receive proposals from other clubs for matches’.

At the end of that season around 50 members and supporters gathered in the Co-operative Hall for the club’s annual supper – the occasion presided over by the Reverend Robert Russell Cobbold MA (Cantab), vicar of Earls Barton.

I know a little bit about him because he was previously a curate in Oundle, becoming the first (and so far only) Chinese-born captain of the Badgers in 1878.

Anyhow, it must have been an enjoyable bash. Our man from the Stag’s Head supplied the grub, toasts were made, songs sung and Mr Abel ‘entertained the company with a recitation, delivered in excellent style’.

Just as long as it wasn’t the one about the young man from Nantucket, which I suspect the Reverend Cobbold wouldn’t have appreciated overmuch.

The club’s secretary, Mr Williamson, was presented with a ‘very handsome silk cricketing scarf and cricket bag’ in recognition of his efforts – where they are now?

It looks as though Cobbold was rather keener on cricket than at least one of his successors.

When a planned Sunday match (between the club and the ‘Settlers’ or newcomers to the village) to mark the Festival of Britain in 1951 was rained off, the Reverend Louis Ewart told the press that he was ‘thankful’ the weather had intervened because ‘it had caused a division in the parish (and) every denomination was opposed to it’.

By and large, though, the village has backed the cricket club in its occasional hours of need.

In 1907 a special concert was organised to help clear off debts incurred by EBCC in upgrading its ground at the scandalous cost of £25.

‘The arrangements were of the best, and the large audience spent a most enjoyable evening listening to the high-class programme that was presented,’ noted a local scribe.

Frustratingly, the report omits to mention whether Jon Rees – former player and umpire, and ‘Master of the Earls Musick’ for decades if not centuries – was conducting.

Earls Barton enjoyed plenty of success in the old Kettering & District League before joining the County League in 1963, and it’s worth remembering that twice during that decade they won the equivalent of NCL Division One – a single step away from the top-flight.

But automatic promotion and relegation wasn’t in force then, and at both AGMs the other clubs voted for the status quo which meant keeping Irthlingborough up.

Those with longer memories, though, could still bask in the glory of 1924, when the club were crowned champions of the K&DL’s first division after a gripping end to the season.

Beating Raunds by 61 runs on the final Saturday of the ‘regular’ league campaign saw EBCC tie with Rothwell at the top of the table.

‘The match was keenly fought and was witnessed by a large number of cricketers from a wide area,’ reported the Northampton Mercury.

‘Raunds, Rushden, Rothwell, Desborough and Northampton were all represented, and the number of cars parked on the ground was remarkable.’

So – how to decide the title?

It was agreed (in remarkably modern vein) to ‘play off’ for it the following weekend, Earls Barton and Rothwell duly travelling to Raunds on September 20. Winner take all.

Neutral umpires were appointed from the Northampton League, and momentous world events like Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘fast of despair’ over recent riots between Hindus and Muslims and President Calvin Coolidge’s speech condemning socialism as ‘foreign and un-American’ paled into insignificance compared to this epic sporting contest.

Epic? Well, up to a point.

George Blackwell, already an Earls Barton veteran who would still be bagging wickets into the 1940s, claimed 6-8 as Rothwell were skittled for just 26.

Rain then intervened twice as Barton looked to complete the job, and you suspect their players were more concerned about the clouds than the speeches (and there were a few!) at teatime.

Eventually they sealed victory by nine wickets and with it the silverware.

Leaving Messrs Rees and Flanagan to lead the celebratory sing-song…