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Hethersett Cricket Club - A History


By  A.J.R. Harris

Precisely when cricket was first played in Norfolk is a matter for speculation. Certainly it was played in the county in the 18th century and possibly earlier in some rudimentary form. In the early nineteenth century, the Norfolk County Cricket Club was already flourishing with a ground at East Dereham, then described as "one of the finest cricket grounds in the provinces." On that ground Norfolk played regular home matches against the MCC. 

But of course, Norfolk also played the MCC at Lords. And, indeed, it was in one such match played in 1820, that the first recorded score of two centuries was made when William Ward for the MCC made a total of 278 runs. It was also Ward who afterwards extolled the promise of a 17-year-old cricketer who had played for Norfolk in that match.

That promising young cricketer was Fuller Pilch, who hailed from Horningtoft, Norfolk. Thus somewhere in his native county, young Pilch had found scope to practice and develop a rare talent for cricket. And it all began on some Norfolk meadow or village green. Well, what better place to start from?

Like many other lovers of the game who has revelled in watching it played at county and test match level, I readily confess that some of my happiest moments have been experienced as a spectator of village cricket. For whilst skill and dedication are abundantly evident in it, there is about village cricket a stimulating measure of uninhibited gusto.

My acquaintance with Hethersett Cricket Club began in 1951. As one result, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know the late Mr A. Dodman or Fred as he was widely known. Although smallest of stature, Fred was large of character, whilst his alertness of mind belied the fact that he was already advanced into his seventies. Moreover, there wasn't much he didn't know about Hethersett Cricket Club, for which he played as a young man. Thus when watching one match, it was always an added pleasure to have Fred sitting beside me as between making his own cryptic comments on the state of the game in progress, he would regale me with memories of games he had played in and all the "old timers" he had either known personally or heard talked about. What he told me, I made notes of.

For it was Fred Dodman's lively memories, plus his repeated assurance that "Hethersett played cricket for over a hundred years" which led me to contemplate making some record of the club's long history. Meanwhile with his death in 1959, aged 82, the club lost one of its stalwart supporters and, in his day, most colourful players and characters.

One who greatly assisted my research was the late Mr H.W. Back of Hethersett Hall who, besides being President of the cricket club, was also a grandson of the man who had "founded it over one hundred years ago." Whilst lamenting that the club's records, once "so carefully kept", had now been lost, Mr Back warmly recounted all he knew about its history. Furthermore through his agency i came into contact with Dr G.E Deacon.

Although aged and frail and being in his 90s, Dr Deacon was willing, even eager to impart information about Hethersett CC for which he himself and other members of his family, had played long ago. His personal memories of the club stretched back far enough to encompass the early 1870s and he himself affirmed that the "Club has a long history." and that "it was formed several years before I was even born." Dr Deacon's year of birth was 1861, he having attained the age of 97 when he died at Brundall in 1958.

Several other people likewise contributed to the material upon which this history is based. Among those were Mr R. Childs and the late Mr Walter Dann, both bearing names which feature prominently in the story to follow. Nor must I forget to mention Mr Tony Curson, to whom my thanks are due for the time he spent searching through old newspaper files for reports; often brief ones and not readily come upon; of matches played by Hethersett CC in the distant past.

It is of course sad that so many scorebooks and other records have been "lost" over a period of nearly 130 years. Some compensation is afforded, however, by the now recorded stories culled, as it were, from the memories of old-time Hethersett cricketers who have long since closed their innings. I make no apologies for recording these stories here. It is people who make history, and those stories are part of the folk-lore of Hethersett cricket and in a sense of cricket everywhere. They were told of and by men who carried a bat for their village, and as such, should be preserved. My sole regret is that they are but a few of the many now forever lost to us.

Some of these stories hark back over a century to a time when men like "Old George" Moore (the First) and "Amble" Appleton were in their prime. Yet both those men, each living into their 80s, were once familiar figures to many people whose own lives extended into this - the 20th century. As for "Old George" Moore and his cricketing progeny, I feel a word or two of clarification is called for, thus avoiding for the reader confusion which I first experienced until research elicited what appears to be the facts as follows.

The first "Old George" Moore, the man who laid out Hethersett's distinguished cricket ground, was born in the year of Waterloo, lived to be 84 and died at Hethersett in 1899. Remembered as a "very hale old man," besides being official groundsman, he also served as umpire when too old to play cricket himself. The first George Moore to appear in known records, however, was "Old George's" son who likewise served as an umpire after ceasing to play cricket. In due time and following his father's death, young George himself became Old George which is just as well as he also had a son George, who also played for Hethersett as did his brothers Herbert and Samuel. There has been a George Moore the Fourth in more recent times!

Finally as some explanation of the intense and "special rivalry" that has long existed between Wymodham and Hethersett cricket clubs, I offer the following:

Until the enclosures, a vast track of unenclosed land extended from Wymondham town to the boundary of Hethersett. Known as Wymondham Great Common, it was there the body of a dead man was found one day in the latter part of the 18th century. Because Wymondham allegedly spurned the obligation to bury the corpse, the parish of Hethersett, albeit resentfully, undertook the task and expense of so doing. But later, with the advent of the Enclosures of 1790, Hethersett claimed a large slice of the Great Common on the grounds of having buried the aforementioned corpse. The claim it appears was granted and, as it was said "Wymondham never quite forgave Hethersett for pulling a trick like that!"

When I offered this story to Fred Dodman (who already knew the outline of it) as a reason for the Hethersett -Wymondham rivalry he said "Ah that's a rum thing, when you think about it, a bit like having the ghost of a dead man win a cricket match for you."

Well Fred himself has gone. But it remains true that if this little book wins approval from its readers, then it is mostly due to Fred Dodman and those of his kind. If it fails to do so, then the fault is mine.