Retro Sport: Finding gold in Tavistock 

Victorian Golden Sovereign

Victorian Golden Sovereign - Credit: Roger Mann

Someone asked me whether I had ever been paid for playing cricket. I told him that I was never good enough for that, but had twice ended a match richer than when I had begun it! 

Last week I remembered how frightened I was when, at the age of thirteen, I picked up a half-crown, during a school cricket match, only to find that I had pocketed the headmaster’s bowling mark. 

Three years later, my friend Bob Westcott and I were playing a tense match of Subbuteo Table Football, during the school summer holidays, when the phone rang. 

My mother answered it, and came rushing in saying “It’s Torquay Cricket Club on the phone, and a Mr. Ted Dickinson is asking if you would both like to play in a match tomorrow”.  

I looked at Bob, and he nodded, so I replied “Tell him YES, please Mum, and ask where we have to meet.” 

In 1958, Bob and I both played for Narracott’s Cricket Club so, maybe, knowing we were on holiday, Ted felt that we were ideal last-minute midweek replacements. 

Neither of us had ever played for Torquay before, so we made sure we arrived in plenty of time to meet the coach at 11.30, to take us to Tavistock. 

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In the 1950s, sixteen-year-old lads respected their elders, so, when the bus arrived, we muttered good morning to the elderly men who would be our team mates, and rushed down the coach to grab a back seat where we could hide away. 

Bob knew a few of Torquay’s midweek eleven from photos in the paper, and whispered “That older chap is Johnny White, and the young chap behind him is Bill Traylor”.   

Our mothers had packed us sandwiches, so the journey passed quickly by. 

Tavistock’s ground is on the moor, high above the town, and the coach had to wait whilst someone came to open a gate to access it. 

As we left the coach, it was clear that the two teams knew each other well, and whilst the hand shaking and back slapping was going on, Bob and I disappeared into the changing room to find two pegs in the farthest corner. 

Torquay won the toss, and chose to bat. It was destined to be a long afternoon. 

Bob and I were due to bat at numbers ten and eleven, so sat on the grass together as Torquay’s professional, Ron Willson scored a hundred towards a huge final score. 

During tea, Mr. Thompson, the club treasurer, came up to us and asked for our tea money. It was only one shilling for youngsters, but neither of us had brought any money with us! 

We were so embarrassed, and promised to post it to him as soon as we got home! 

After tea, Tavistock batted and never made much effort to get the runs needed. 

Ken Gale, the captain, asked me to field at mid-off and fine-leg, and, although I started keenly, I soon got bored as one maiden over followed another. 

Perhaps because I had nothing else to do, I marked out my position at mid-off with the studs of my boot, so that I could come back to the same place each over. 

When I got down to fine-leg, I did exactly the same, except that, this time, my boot made a chinking sound!  I looked down, and saw that I had dug up a coin with my boot. I picked it up and saw that it was a Victorian Golden Sovereign! 

After the next over, I rushed back to fine-leg to start digging with my boot again!!  

By the time the match ended, I had dug up four identical coins!  

In the bar afterwards, I told Bob the story, and gave him one as a memento of our first game for Torquay! 

Then, we found Mr. Thompson, and said proudly “Here you are, sir, this should cover our tea money…………and put the change into club funds!” 

He looked completely non-plussed, but went away muttering his thanks. 

I gave one to the secretary of the Tavistock club, and I still have the other one to preserve the memory of a match during which I didn’t bat nor bowl, but earned more than the professional who had scored a century!      

Torquay C.C. 2nd X1 in 1958 features a number of players who took part in the match at Tavistock

Torquay C.C. 2nd X1 in 1958 features a number of players who took part in the match at Tavistock - Credit: Roger Mann

Bob Westcott (right) and Roger Mann - who both made Torquay debuts that day

Bob Westcott (right) and Roger Mann - who both made Torquay debuts that day - Credit: Roger Mann

Ron Willson - The Torquay professional who scored a hundred in the match

Ron Willson - The Torquay professional who scored a hundred in the match - Credit: Roger Mann