A cricket club for the gentry - the first of all the great clubs of Devon

Joseph Bulmer

It has been a long time now since Dave Webber, Joey Oliver, and Ian Gore, made us all think of the Newton Abbot area as being a hot bed of Devon cricket.

But, 200 years ago, no-one would have questioned that claim!

Next time you drive, from Torquay, to Trago Mills, or to Bovey Tracey, take the 'quick way' through Kingsteignton, past the clay pits, and turn left.

If you do, you will soon drive over a hump-backed bridge, and then on to a straight bit of narrow road.

On your left, you will pass a large flat field, seemingly unloved, and overgrown with weeds.

This was once the home of Teignbridge Cricket Club, the first of all the great cricket clubs of Devon.

Formed in 1823, Teignbridge offered a combination of good, friendly, cricket matches and, more importantly, a membership drawn from the 'gentlefolk' of the leading families of the surrounding area.

Matches began at 'a liberal twelve o’clock'. At 1.30pm, a bell rang and the game stopped for bread and cheese and cider. At 3.45pm, another bell rang and lunch was taken in the pavilion.

The thatched pavilion was dark, but the drinks were powerful and unlimited and, traditionally, lunch ended with cold plum pudding covered in Teignbridge sauce.

This sauce was made from Devonshire cream beaten up with brandy, and was credited with 'ending the innings of more batsmen than were ever dismissed by our bowlers'!

Every match day was followed by a soiree, and a dance, and members joined this wonderful club from all corners of the county.

In 1841, the commander-in-chief of the British Army decreed that every army garrison in England should provide a cricket ground, and that was exactly what Teignbridge needed for its next step forward.

In a very short time, its fixture list boasted games against the garrisons of Plymouth and Exeter and against the 13th Light Dragoons.

What could be better for local young ladies than the chance to share a soiree with high-ranking military officers? Who cares about the cricket anyway?

At the same time as the club was celebrating its 30th anniversary, Torquay Cricket Club had just been formed, and the railway network was expanding to encourage more and more cricket clubs to follow suit.

But, none of these 'upstarts' could begin to rival Teignbridge for the 'quality of its membership'!

Its secretary was the Hon. John Yarde-Buller, of Churston Court, Paignton, educated at Eton and Oxford University, and a member of the university team which had played against the M.C.C. at Lord’s... and he was just one of the noble names which decorated the club’s membership list.

Between 1840 and 1860, the club enjoyed its glory days, and in 1851 and 1852, it staged the 'grand matches' between 22 of Devonshire and the All England Eleven.

As the years passed by, the club became more and more exclusive and, eventually, refused to grant a fixture unless the applicant club had been deemed 'worthy of the honour' by at least four current Teignbridge club members!

As time went by, its reputation for being 'exclusive' acted against it and as its older members passed away, youngsters opted for somewhere 'easier' to join.

The military fixtures ceased, and upmarket replacements were getting hard to find.

Soirees with 'ordinary' folk had less appeal, and membership waned.

Eventually, in 1910, the club had to be dissolved because of lack of members, and, two days later, the ground was returned to the owner of the land, and the beautiful thatched pavilion was pulled down.

Soon afterwards the ground was let to a farmer for grazing his cattle, and, to my knowledge, it has never found a better use since.

However, Teignbridge Cricket Club was nationally respected, and did much to establish cricket in Devonshire which was, in those days, an outpost of English sport.

Next time you drive over that humped-back bridge, stop the car, wind down the window, and you may hear the sound of clinking glasses, and the chatter and  laughter of cricketers of long ago.