Cricket was a popular sport in the villages of Essex from the end of the eighteenth century. Wickford Cricket Club, played, and narrowly won, its first match, against East Hanningfield, on 30th May 1887. It was one of the first to be formally organised clubs in Essex. Richard Weston (Dick) Patmore was a leading light of the Club. He was also the youngest licensee in Essex when he became landlord of The Swan in 1896 at the age of 26. One cricket ground was in the area which later became the site of the railway reservoir, behind the Castle Hotel. Another was off the Nevendon Road and a third between Station Avenue and Jersey Gardens. Over the years Mr Patmore captained the First XI from 1897 to 1925 and held offices of General Secretary and Treasurer at various time. He was President from 1935 to1940 and then from 1946 to his death in 1949. It was said that the only way to get in to the First Eleven was to drink in the Secretary’s pub. Mr Patmore owned the cricket ground, which was originally known as Dove House Mead and had been part of Stileman’s Farm, and he eventually gave it to the club. Patmore’s daughter Madeline and nephew George were also actively involved in the Club. The cricket ground provided a focus for the club and contributed to its success.
When first set up, the club only had about 6 matches a year because most of the team’s priority was their farm work. By 1902 they were playing 33 matches a year and by 1906 the club was running two teams, winning far more games than they lost. Two noteworthy players were G. Winmill and M. Nichols, father of Morris Stanley Nichols.
Morris Stanley Nichols spent “many happy hours …at Wickford in the second eleven…” before the First World War and went on to play for Essex and England. Born in Stondon Massey in 1900 the family moved to Downham. He was tall, strong and had feet so large that one writer claimed he could get his foot into Nichols’ cricket boot with his own shoe on. He was a great all rounder who batted left handed and bowled with his right. Nichols had a splay footed, rolling gait and worked hard, never knowing when to give up. He achieved 1000 runs and 100 wickets for Essex in each season between 1935 and 1939, among other achievements. He would often arrange for Essex teams to come to play at Wickford in appreciation of the support and encouragement he had had from Dick Patmore. Nichols represented his country 14 times, against Australia, New Zealand, India, the West Indies and South Africa. He was apparently invariably cheerful and “a thoroughly nice man”. After serving in the Second World War he moved into coaching.
By 1912 the Club had 61 members, most of whom could be available to play. Dr John Marshall, who was the local doctor for over 50 years, was the President. Members paid subscriptions, varying on how well off they were, but there were also money raising whist drives and an annual Cricket Club fete. With the advent of the First World War the club effectively closed down from April 1915 until 1919. The only games that took place were with locally billeted soldiers. 46 members of the Club fought in the war, 12 of them were killed and many injured.
In the interwar years the club developed from being a village team to being one of the best club teams in the county with one of the best kept and most attractive grounds, surrounded as it was by elm trees. However, despite regular outdoor dances, whist drives, and sausage suppers to raise money, the finances were precarious. Noteworthy players in the interwar years included brothers Jack and Ken Mayes, Stan Mapleson, Bill Cawthorne, Gus Kershaw, Teddy Bottom, Harold Tricker, and Charlie Salmon.
With the advent of the Second World War the team initially carried on but in 1941 the Committee put Club activities into abeyance. No games were played and the grounds were neglected until the end of the war. After a slow start and much needed restoration of the grounds and pavilion, regular games were resumed by 1948. Though the post-war period had some good individual performances, the Club did not initially reach the heights it had in the past. The rebuilding of the pavilion, mainly by club member Jim Bartlett, improved facilities and provided a bar in 1962, resulted in the expansion of social activities and a substantial improvement to the finances. The building was further extended in 1979.
More information about the Cricket Club can be found in Lester Crook’s book The First Hundred Years: Wickford Cricket Club 1887-1987 (London, 1987).