Team sports have always been an excellent way of forging community spirit, since it is not only the players themselves who are involved, but also those who come along to watch and support, or who are involved behind the scenes in some way. Fovant is no exception to this and indeed the Salisbury and Winchester Journal of 31st May 1830 reports that on the day after the Fovant Friendly Society’s annual gathering, ‘the village rural sports commenced, and were kept up with great spirit terminating in some excellent heats between some Jerusalem ponies of the adjoining villages’.
Summer in the English countryside inevitably conjures up images of village cricket and there is talk of cricket being played at Fovant as early as 1826, but unfortunately this date cannot be substantiated. Although it is not certain when the Fovant Cricket Club was established, the first thoughts of forming a village team seem to have come about during the mid-1930s. This is described by Bob Combes when writing about his father John, of East Farm:
‘Our own village postmaster and one or two other keen cricketers proposed that we should form our own Club, and until we could make our own ground, we
should play away games only. We found plenty of opponents only too pleased to entertain us, and surprisingly we managed to win one or two matches, and to hold our own against more established sides, and yearned for the time when we had our own ground, and could entertain our own hosts in return.
We did roll out some level patches in some of our fields where we could do some net practice, until Father, seeing that there was sufficient keenness in the village, made a novel suggestion. Instead of trying to make a cricket square out of ordinary pasture, we should lay down a concrete pitch with coconut matting surface, and he set aside one of our pastures for the use of the Club. We found the matting pitch perfectly true, though a bit hard on the visiting bowlers when their front feet came down hard on the matting. The outfield also left a lot to be desired, especially if the cows had been grazing the pasture at the time.’
After John Combes died in 1940, Bob decided to create a permanent cricket ground for the village and accordingly he arranged for the correct grass seed to be sown for both an outfield and square, on an area immediately adjoining the farmhouse, with his front door opening out towards the pitch. In his book, Bob Combes gives more information about the team’s progress and key players:
‘For the mainstay of the team we had a retired army colonel, who also happened to be a baronet. His fast medium bowling allied to a high-stepping action was most impressive and earned for him the nickname of “The bounding baronet”. There was a neighbouring farmer, who was a sound bat, and who bowled most effective “tweakers”. For the rest, we had some regular enthusiastic villagers, and gradually began to collect some good club cricketers from further afield, who enjoyed village cricket on a well-prepared pitch among congenial company. A retired brigadier, who in his time had opened both batting and bowling for the Sappers in their annual match at Lords against the Gunners, was our umpire and general advisor.’
The earliest official minutes of the cricket club date from 1954, when it was known as the Fovant Cricket and Tennis Club, although the name changed in 1961 following cessation of the tennis activities. The subsequent owner of East Farm, John Williams, upheld the same cricketing tradition, and was Club Captain during his playing years. John Williams’s son Edward now holds the position of Club Captain and Club Patron and the cricket pitch remains in the same stunning and unusual setting, unique surroundings which are enjoyed by all the opposition teams who visit.
A variety of different levels of cricket have been played at East Farm, starting with friendly games, which still continue to be played on a Sunday in the right spirit. New teams are introduced regularly and sons follow fathers into the team, such as those of the Boatwright family. In 1985 the club progressed into the Salisbury League and then into the local evening league in 1992. In 1999 it was agreed to come out of the Salisbury League and enter the Dorset League, both for geographical reasons and the need for a change of opposition.
The evening league team finishes in one of the top two positions at the end of most seasons, as well as consistently reaching the cup final. The 2004 season finished with the Saturday team winning promotion to Division One of the Dorset League. The ground was also used for a fancy dress cricket match, which formed part of the village’s festivities over the weekend of Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee in May 2002.
A wooden pavilion was constructed by Bob Combes at the site in 1959 and a bar licence was obtained in the same year, meaning that Fovant could entertain its visitors with improved hospitality. Bob described this building as ‘small but adequate’, with ample room for changing, a small veranda for spectators and a very small licensed bar where drinks were served by the village schoolmistress, who christened it ‘The Slip Inn’.
During the winter of 2002–3 the pavilion, having stood for forty-three years, was finally replaced with the structure you see today. This building has a history all of its own for it was formerly a holiday home log cabin! Click here to read the saga of the pavilion