Somerset Stragglers – Club History

Somerset Stragglers Cricket Club are a long established Nomadic cricket club playing on perfect Somerset & Devon pitches. This year (2022) will see us playing 15 midweek friendly fixtures, including a short tour to North Devon/Cornwall!

In 1900, at the age of 36, Rev. E.P. Spurway, the Rector of the small Parish of Heathfield was asked by ‘several Gentlemen’ to form an amateur cricket club for the County of Somerset. There was already a Somerset County Cricket Club and had been since it was accepted by the grandees at Lords in 1890, but there were a growing number of amateur clubs throughout the country and it was obvious that a county side would be, or maybe in the case of Somerset, should be, too strong for such opposition due to the influx of professional cricketers. Accordingly Reverend Spurway made an appointment and went into Taunton by pony trap, to have a word with the county secretary, the powerful and well respected Mr Murray Anderton of Henlade House. He felt that before he commenced his task, he should receive the blessing of the county authority so that no misunderstanding might arise in the future as to the necessity for the new club and to show that it was not intended to deprive the county of any of its amateurs who, after all comprised the greater majority of the Somerset team, but several of whom had already indicated their interest in joining this new venture.

A meeting was held in what was known as ‘The Ladies Pavilion’ on the County Ground in Taunton on Monday 27th August, 1900. The meeting unanimously carried Rev Spurway’s suggestion that ‘an amateur cricket club for the County of Somerset be founded’. The first proposal that the club’s title should be ‘The Somerset Nomads’ was rejected, and the meeting agreed to the name ‘The Somerset Stragglers’. Mr Anderton agreed that the new club could consider that the County Ground was its headquarters, and that it would share the use of the ground with the Taunton and Taunton Deane clubs, as well as the County team itself. The Committee set the annual subscription for playing and non-playing members at 10/6d.

At this time the Boer War was still active. Messrs Fox of Wellington were asked to produce a suitable coloured cloth with which to make new uniforms that the Boer marksmen would find difficult to pick off. They came up with khaki. Rev Spurway visited the factory and saw great bales of red and blue cloth, together with the new fabric for the Army in South Africa. Rev Spurway’s favoured design using these three colours was selected by the Club Committee. Over the years the khaki band has been replaced by golden yellow.

Arguably, the happiest years of Straggler cricket were those played at Taunton on what is now known as The County Cricket Ground, but at the start of the twentieth century this ground was known as the Rack Field. For many years, the Stragglers used the same facilities when they played at Taunton as provided for the County players.

At the end of the 1923 season the County needed financial support, so Stragglers CC agreed to assist with the cost of a new ‘model’ score board on the ground and to donate £25 to assist in reducing debt incurred by the County Club. The final bill was for £94. This score board dominated the North East corner of the ground until a quite recent date. Col. W.E. Ridley was elected Vice-President of Stragglers in 1924. He seconded a motion at a Committee Meeting that year when the suggestion was made that the Club should arrange to have its own enclosure on the County Ground. The Colonel had paid for a new long stand erected between the Ladies Pavilion and the Main Pavilion after the old building, known as the Hen Coop, had been removed. Hence the Ridley Stand was constructed. In 1924 Capt. Davey, the County Secretary, attended a Stragglers Committee Meeting and suggested that rather than spending money erecting a special pavilion, the Stragglers could rent a part of the Ladies Pavilion and take in the area of grass in front. Thus began the long period when the South West corner of the Rack Field became ‘The Stragglers’. During County match days, the wandering crowds on the ground seats would stroll around in the lunch and tea breaks and gaze at the loungers in the enclosure, and small boys would attempt to get their autograph books signed by any of the amateurs who might be there. The Ridley Stand and the Stragglers Pavilion existed until very recently, when they succumbed to the ambitious ground developments.

In 1904, the fixtures included Clifton College, Blundells, Kings School, Bruton and the Old Boys of St Edward’s School, Oxford. There were two matches against the Devon Dumplings, both over two days. There were two days at both Seaton and Sidmouth, two at Knightshayes Court and two against North Devon, played at Taunton. In all, 21 matches with 24 days of cricket. The following year, Seaton, Sidmouth and the United Services at Plymouth, together with a match against the Dumplings at Taunton, provided eight days of cricket and then two days against Wiltshire Wanderers at Trowbridge, two more. There were also matches against Weston-super-Mare, and Glamorgan Gypsies (played in Cardiff), both fixtures over two days. The 1912 yearbook recorded that G.W. Hodgkinson averaged 54.8 with the bat in 1911, with a top score of 229 not out. Hodgkinson’s double century is all part of Straggler history for it was made in the on 11th July 1911 against the Somerset Clergy, a match which will stand for many years as an example of hard hitting and rapid scoring. In about three hours the parsons ran up a total of 453 runs, Rev. E. Reid hitting a century and his partner Rev. J Turner, 137, with Rev. H.G. Barnes adding 70 in quick time further down the order. Stragglers went for the runs from the start. The second innings total of 458 for 1 took just 2 hours and 20 minutes to bludgeon. Riddell compiled 183 not out, not to be overshadowed by Hodgkinson’s double century. Overall, 911 runs were made in under six hours.

Jack White, from Escott Farm, Stogumber, in the shadow of the curving Brendon Hills, became a member of the Stragglers in July 1908, a year before he started his Somerset career, a career that spanned 28 years. For England he played a total of 15 matches, all after he was 37 years old, in 1921, 1928, 1929 – in Australia 1928-29 – and in 1930 he captained the team. For the County he hit six centuries and scored over 11,000 runs, and he took over 2,000 wickets at around 18 runs apiece. White relinquished his four-year captaincy of Somerset at the end of the 1931 season, and thus was able to play Straggler cricket. He hit two Stragglers centuries in 1932, 1936. In 1938 he took nine wickets for nine runs against Queens College, Taunton, and the same year, against the Stragglers of Asia he took 14 wickets in the two-day game and nine for 43 against Bridgwater. He achieved a hat-trick against Kings College, Taunton in 1936. A very potent cricketer, but a quiet man, enigmatic, perhaps rather cold in his attitude to his colleagues. However he was a good friend, a man of the soil and true son of Somerset.

The 1913 membership list contained 233 names. Sadly there is no list of members who died during or as a consequence of the Great War. As to the Rack Field during the War, the Army took over the ground and its facilities and it seems that training took place on its hallowed green turf. Tents were erected, drills and general training undertaken, but the ground was not dug up nor the buildings altered.

A major contribution to the Stragglers for many years came from E.R. Nesfield, who was a land agent, managing a large estate near Dulverton. His keenness and great support of the Club throughout the years until his death, marked him out as one of the most reliable and consistent of players. He was a very useful man to have in any side, both for his batting – he hit four centuries in the 1930s – and his bowling, taking a hat-trick against Devon Dumplings in 1930. He managed many games, participated in the tours and, when his cricketing days were practically over, helped with the management of the Junior Stragglers in the 1960s. The first Junior Stragglers match was played at Bridgetown in 1936. The Junior Stragglers, were ‘conceived’ in 1935, when their rules were agreed and the County, for the Juniors’ purposes, was divided into three areas, North, East and West with a District Manager for each area. With the outbreak of the Second World War official cricket ended. After the War, liability for service in the Forces arrived, the number of boys available dropped and junior cricket in general ceased. It was not until 1956 that the Juniors once again commenced operations due to the efforts of John Palmer, then school-mastering in Sussex, but who had a holiday cottage near Taunton. In the 1970s Peter Roebuck and Victor Marks became members of the Junior Club whilst at school, and then made considerable names for themselves, Peter for Somerset and Victor for Somerset and England. Thus, in a small way, the Junior Stragglers fulfilled one of their appointed tasks, to further the course of Somerset cricket. Other future Somerset County players to turn out for the Stragglers in this era were Jeremy Lloyds and Kevin Parsons. Latterly, prior to becoming the County’s bright new star, Jack Leach has made appearances for Stragglers.

West Buckland School in North Devon was a fixture for Somerset Stragglers from the early 1920s. In 1930 a boy named Harold Gimblett took three wickets for 48 for the School in the match. Gimblett appeared for Stragglers in 1932, striking 142 runs in 75 minutes. This feat by a boy of 16 was soon common knowledge in the neighbourhood, and can be considered as the first step on his way to a place in the English Test team many months later. The next year, after Gimblett had left West Buckland, he hit 168 in a total of 272 versus W.G. Penny’s Somerset XI. In 1935 Gimblett cemented his place in Somerset folklore. Upon selection Gimblett completed a tortuous journey to the match, borrowed Arthur Wellard’s heavy bat to bat at number seven, and created a sensation to hit the fastest recorded century.

In more recent years, the County Cricket Club continually expanded, with schemes for new buildings and extra seating around the ground County Ground, while more and more cricket was being played there. Thus, rent of the ground increased until it had reached a level which Stragglers could not afford and in 1980, the last regular game on the County Ground was played against the Strollers. Thereafter, apart from matches sponsored from outside the Club, all games would be played on pitches rented from cricket clubs around the County. The Club’s appearances on the County Ground after this were limited to contests with Somerset Representative XIs and County sponsors teams. Stragglers secured the County Ground for the centenary match on 18th July 2000 against M.C.C. This match ended in an honourable draw, with Stragglers’ innings concluding just short of the target set by M.C.C., thanks to an unbeaten century from Andrew Clark, then of Bishops Lydeard.

From Assyrians and Asterisks, to Woodpeckers and Wye Rustics, Stragglers have faced over 230 different opposing teams in their history. There were 17 matches on the Somerset Stragglers fixture card in 2011, including the century old fixtures versus Devon Dumplings, North Devon and Sidmouth.

With the establishment of the Stragglers Coffee House in the new Somerset Pavilion long-standing Stragglers President Hugh Duder and Vice-President Michael Giles arranged for a print of the Sturgeon painting of the Ground to be hung in that venue to mark the Club’s continued association with the County Club.

A sypnosis based on ‘The History of the Somerset Stragglers Cricket Club’ compiled by P.C. Lennard-Payne and provided by Mr. Keith Templeman.