Henfield cricket club, founded in 1771, is not only one of the oldest clubs in the world; it is one of the more important in terms of the development of the game. At various times, the club has been one of the most powerful around, and has also had its very survival in question. This short history is intended to give a brief overview of the club’s history, its place in Sussex cricket, and the most recent developments as we seek to thrive as a modern, 21st century club.
Although the club’s inception is taken as being 1771, it is clear that the real story begins much earlier than that, in the late 17th or early 18th century. Although there are numerous clubs who might claim a more ancient provenance, Henfield considers its inception to be taken upon its foundation as a club playing regular cricket, not according to the first recorded date of the game being played in the village which was in any case at least half a century earlier. There is no doubt that Henfield, mainly due to the most prized asset of its ground, the Common, played a prominent part in the rise and development of cricket in Sussex. The ground’s importance is shown through the likelihood that Henfield Common was, with the possible exception of Broadwater Green, the most important cricket ground in Sussex for nearly 100 years until the 19th century. Lewes, Arundel, the Western Gentlemen and Horsham and District – the other major cricketing centres of the county – as well as most of the villages around, played or provided the opposition during this period. The central Sussex location in those days of relative difficulty in travelling appears to have been at least part of the story, leading teams to use the Common as their ground of choice. However it should not be assumed that it was merely a convenient patch of ground; Henfield Common was a genuine cricketing arena from the very earliest times. As such, the Common is likely to be the second or third oldest ground still in use anywhere in the world – no-one knows for sure.
In those early days, the lack of contemporary media means that is impossible to state with any certainty when cricket at Henfield began. We do have evidence from contemporary papers and diaries that allow us to pinpoint certain early dates however. One of the most important of these is Marchants Diary, which offers the following references:
1719: June 4th – “A cricket match in the Sandfields with Henfield”
1721: May 18th – “Will and Terry went to a cricket match in Henfield”
1721: May 25th – A return match: “At cricket match between Hurst and Henfield in Danny Sandfield. Hurst won”
1722: May 14th – Henfield Boys v Hurstpierpoint at Hurst
1722: June 1st – Return Match at Henfield
Marchants Diary ceases until 1727, but there is no reason to believe that the cricket did not continue, as it again mentions the game when it resumes.
The Sackville Papers of 1745 are the next major instance, when it says: “Martin of Henfield played for Sussex against Surrey at Berry Hill”
By 1764, Henfield Common is referenced in the Sussex Weekly Advertiser as the location for what is generally accepted as being Arundel’s first match, against East Sussex.
By 1771, mentions of Henfield are becoming ever more frequent, with games against 22 of Lewes (which Henfield won!), against Broadwater, and against Colston (Coulsdon) home and away, which is the first recorded instance of Henfield playing outside of Sussex.
At about this time, Sussex was fortunate in having a local newspaper. Up until then, instances of cricket matches had mainly been recorded by diarists, but now village happenings were being described in detail, including cricket matches. When a village played more or less regularly, the games were described as being between clubs, even though there had been no recorded meeting to create a club, nor a formal constitution and set of officers. It is for this reason that we can be confident in dating the foundation of Henfield Cricket Club as being 1771 at least.
By now, Henfield were a side of considerable strength and status. They were playing the very best teams in both Sussex and Surrey, as numerous extracts from the Lewes Journal testify. Indeed, Henfield played a crucial role in the creation of Sussex County Cricket Club itself, and held a seat on the county’s committee up until comparatively recently.
In 1837, Henfield club was re-organised. The loose-knit affair of the early days was replaced by an organisation that was for the purpose of men of the village, rather than being primarily as a convenient place for cricket to be played.
Fortunately, there was an abundance of talent available. Three of the young men destined to form the backbone of the club for many years are still listed amongst the all-time leading players of the club nearly two centuries later. Harry (who played 1837-1859) and Alfred (1837-1869) Smith, and H E Songhurst (1834-1853) were amongst those who enabled Henfield to become one of the strongest sides in the county.
On May 5th 1837, these and others met to re-organise the Henfield Club into the Henfield Cricket Club, properly constituted and with a set of local rules. A copy of these “Rules, Articles and Regulations” may still be seen in Henfield’s pavilion.
Over the next half century, Henfield enjoyed a position of prominence amongst Sussex cricket clubs, with no less than 29 players appearing for both Henfield and Sussex, including the likes of John Wisden of Almanack fame and one England Test cricketer in the shape of Henry Charlwood. Many of these names also appear in the all time club records, and Richard Fillery (who was to die sadly young at 39) and Henry Charlwood still hold the record 3rd wicket partnership for the club nearly 150 years later! A glance through the list of Henfield players who have played for Sussex shows how strong the club was, particularly around 1850. Indeed, Henfield produced several Sussex captains, Richard Fillery was a Sussex stalwart, whilst Henry Charlwood is, to date, the only Test cricketer that Henfield have produced, playing two games against Australia in 1877.
Such was Henfield’s strength around this time, that the side rarely took the field with fewer than four county players, often had seven or eight and even nine or ten at times. In 1848 they played two matches against Hampshire, home and away, putting out perhaps the finest team in Henfield’s long history. The side was comprised of ten players who played regularly for both Henfield and Sussex; just one, the wicket-keeper Songhurst, had not played for the county (he was perhaps unfortunate. The England wicketkeeper, Tom Box, also kept for Sussex). Henfield even offered as makeweight to Hampshire one of the best bowlers in England at the time, Edmund Hinkly of Kent.
In 1877, perhaps one of the most notable items in terms of the club’s long history appeared in the committee’s report to the Annual General Meeting held at the George Hotel in Henfield High Street on April 26th that year. It read “… your committee have had permission to enclose a piece of ground on the Common for the sole use of Henfield cricket club by paying a nominal rent. ” At a time when many of the old grounds of England began to disappear, Henfield Common had secured its long-term future.
Henfield’s record through this period, which can be seen elsewhere on the website, shows how strong the club had become. However, the long period of success was coming to an end, and with the decline and retirement of the great players the club changed its constitution to reflect a much more local approach, both to selection and to opponents. There are a number of reasons for this; not least that the claims of county cricket had become much more pressing, and thus fewer of the best young players were available to the clubs. There was a tendency therefore for the club sides to be made up of older county players, with a few village players selected to make up the numbers when necessary. Naturally, this importing of outside talent did little to either encourage or develop the village’s own young players, and many drifted away to other sports or other clubs.
Whatever the overriding reason, as a result of this change in approach, the standard inevitably dropped in the immediate term. The big Sussex clubs in Brighton, Horsham and Lewes, against whom the club had been at least equal and often more, disappeared from the fixture list and the club’s fortunes took a turn for the worse.
In around 1911, the popularity of cricket in Henfield, already in decline, plummeted, with not a single recorded match taking place in the four years up to the outbreak of World War I. It was a distinct possibility that this ancient club might disappear entirely. That it didn’t is largely due to a cricket loving vicar, the Rev. R J Lea, who arrived in 1913. Although the First World War was to intervene, his drive and enthusiasm brought the club to its feet. Even during the war years, he worked hard to ensure the circumstances whereby cricket would return once peace came.
The Way Back
Cricket began again after the break for war in 1920. Many of the names still seen in the all-time Leading Players statistics appear around this time – and indeed were instrumental in the resurrection of the club itself. Nelson Thorns made his first appearance for the club in 1920, and the following year JV Musson, and J Vinall also made their debuts.
The club’s growing strength was reflected in the decision to build a pavilion. The old tradition of having tents raised (often through persuading those who supplied the refreshment that it was in their interests to provide them!), was dropped as the number of overall fixtures increased but the number of all-day and two-day games diminished. It was neither cost-effective nor practical to put up tents for every match, nor could they be left for the duration of the season. A more permanent home was needed, and by chance, a local master-builder, a Mr Baigent happened to overhear a conversation in the White Hart amongst players dissatisfied with the current arrangement. A seed was planted, and eventually, Mr Baigent offered to supply the wherewithal, if the members and his men would do the work in their own time. On April 20th 1926, the Parish council recorded this minute: “Moved by Chairman, Dr Lewis, seconded by Rev R. J. Lea, and carried, the report of the Commons committee that it be adopted, viz., the request of the Henfield cricket club to erect a pavilion on Henfield Common at the annual rent of 2s 6d.” This pavilion, further extended over the subsequent years, still stands.
The following year saw the first appearance of Percy Groves. He was to play for the club for fifty years, becoming the leading wicket-taker of all time, as well as one of the highest run-scorers.
Although the Henfield teams of the inter-war years lost more games than they won, the club was now back on a sound footing, and with the outbreak of war in 1939, it was in a position to carry on playing, albeit at a greatly reduced level. Many Commonwealth soldiers stationed nearby played during those years, and even, on one occasion, a Land Girl was pressed into service!
Post war Strength
Sadly, J Vinall never returned from the war, though many of the pre-war side were still available in 1946, and the playing strength was further improved by the arrival of such high quality players as Hugh Rapley and Frank Mayston – one of the most important people ever to play for the club and who would go on to hold just about every office there is at Henfield Cricket Club, including captain, secretary and President. This was the second golden age of Henfield cricket club, as the club once more became one of the strongest in the whole county. The village cricket of the late nineteenth century had transmuted into the much stronger club cricket in a pattern reflected across the country. Players of exceptional quality such as Mayston, Tony Ralls, Hugh Rapley, Trevor Adcock, Percy Groves, J D H Whittome, Geoff Castle, Jerry Hodgson and an outstanding wicket-keeper in the shape of Tony Robertson all played regularly for the club, whilst at the same time many of the younger players such as Conway Thorns, Eric Wells and Keith Waldron were also coming through. Once again, Henfield would take on the very best sides around.
The immediate post-war years also saw another change. Sunday cricket had been virtually unknown in Sussex, but now developed rapidly. Membership grew dramatically, and in 1947 the decision was taken to begin a 2nd XI, to play an initial nine games the following year. 2nd XI matches had taken place before, in the inter war years, but now the development proved to be permanent.
1949 was to be a pivotal year as Tony Ralls became the first player to record 1,000 runs in a season. Also that year, a player many feel to have been the greatest of the modern era joined the club. Trevor Adcock would go on to become a leading light in both batting and bowling over the next twenty years despite only playing on a Sunday (Sunday cricket was stronger than Saturday at the time) – many contemporaries felt that Adcock was desperately unlucky not to play county cricket. Again in 1949, Percy Groves took an astonishing 170 wickets, still a record. It is perhaps indicative of the standard of pitches in those days that Hugh Rapley also took 153 the same season; nevertheless it remains an extraordinary achievement – and incidentally one that puts the batting feats of the likes of Adcock into stark relief. In fact, Groves would take more than 100 wickets in a season for seven consecutive years, something no other player has come near matching. Certainly, in the modern era, no-one has figures anything like them, though 1,000 runs in a season has now been reached many times. Indeed, it is now nearly 20 years since Tim Parsons became the last bowler to take 100 wickets in a season, and of the two main batting and bowling achievements across a season, there is little doubt that claiming 100 victims is now the greater.
This second golden age continued for a good twenty years into the post-war era. Frank Mayston became captain in 1951 and held the position for 14 seasons. Many of the club’s present senior officers made their appearances during this time; the aforementioned Conway Thorns in 1954, Keith Waldron in 1957 and David Silverson, who would go on to become the club’s record run scorer with more than 20,000 runs as well as the small matter of more than 1,200 wickets, in 1960.
Perhaps a culmination of the combination of good young players and the established strength came in 1963, when Henfield entered the 1963 Horsham Six-a-side competition. This involved most of the strongest clubs in the county, and it was Henfield who caused something of a sensation by winning the competition.
Nevertheless, by the mid-1960’s the club was no longer quite the force it had been (though still a good club side), as many of the greats declined and some of the newer breed moved away – Henfield never saw the best of the likes of Conway Thorns for example, although he did much later move back to the area and is the current club Chairman. In many of the annual reports of the time (which we hope to place on this website in the future) one can read successive complaints about the fall off in both numbers and quality of the sides, as well as difficulty in raising 2nd XI teams on occasion.
Nevertheless, there remained many outstanding players, and there were new ones arriving too, such as the brilliant Ken Sadler who joined the club in 1969. Sadler would set an incredible record of scoring 1,000 runs every season for ten years, between 1971 and 1980. On the bowling front, a young spinner by the name of Tim Parsons broke through into the first team. Parsons would become the one person to threaten Percy Groves’ all-time wicket-taking record.
Not all of the most important people in the club’s development were necessarily on the playing side. Dr HF Squire, Tom Bing, Len McKinnon and Tony Adfield (who did play) are just a few of those who put in endless hours over these years, and allowed the club to flourish around them. As in any amateur club, these people are priceless to its continuation and development, and this was no less true in this post-war era.
The Modern Era and League Cricket
In common with cricket around the country, the old pattern of a fixture list consisting purely of friendly matches was coming under pressure. By the mid-seventies, league cricket was becoming common and Sussex was no different. Traditional fixtures lists were showing some signs of decline and in order to preserve the integrity of the level of opposition to which the club had become used, the decision was taken to enter the Sussex Invitation League upon its creation in 1979.
Any fears about the fate of friendly cricket initially proved to be unfounded, as league and friendly cricket fed off each other to provide an overall strengthening of the fixture list. The traditional and the new initially gave impetus to each other, but as the club comes up to its 250th anniversary, we find that as with many many clubs that we have to change and evolve the cricket which is played. Saturday league cricket with limited overs formats of the game taking over and Sunday friendly almost becoming a thing of the past. The newer T20 form of the game being played mainly during the week-day evenings to the detriment of the traditional friendly Sunday games.
During the early years of league cricket the club played exclusively in Division 1 of the Invitation League, with their highest position of second in 1996. In 2001 the league was expanded and then split into two divisions, Henfield finished in the lower half of the table in 2000 and thus had to play the following year in Division 2. Worst was to come as in 2002 the first team contrived to get itself relegated and for the first time since the leagues’ inception had to play in the third rung of the Invitation League. In the following season (2003) under Graham Fuller’s captaincy the club won promotion back to Division 2. In 2005, after a season of consolation in Division 2, Kevin Thorns led the club back into back into Division 1 where it remained until the Sussex cricket leagues were reformed again in 2008.
In the new county wide league structure after 2008 the club has played in a number of divisions through promotions and relegations although its central location in the county has also meant that division changes have at times been forced on the club due to its geographical position.
In 2003 the club made another landmark decision. At the time bowlers were proving to be in short supply – especially the kind of bowler who could bowl a side out on Henfield’s increasingly batting-friendly surface. Although controversial, an overseas player was engaged for the first time that year. Chris Garcia, from Melbourne. A left arm swing bowler who had an immediate impact, taking 93 wickets in his first season. It says much for the environment of the club and the village itself that he chose to return for two subsequent years. Building on Chris’s momentum the club engaged various overseas players during the next 14 years, none quite as successful as Chris until Brighton Mugochi, 1794 runs and 146 wickets, a Zimbabwean all-rounder arrived in 2013. Brighton proved to be perhaps our most successful overseas, returning for 4 years and in fact was married on Henfield Common. With the departure of Brighton the club made the decision to concentrate on local and home grown players and although not quite achieving the heights of the Kevin Thorns/Graham Fuller years the club has managed to produce many good players with Jack Parsons the pick of the crop; representing England at under 19 level when he was selected to play in the 2014 test series in Sri Lanka. Jack follows in the footsteps of his father Tim who played for 46 years but in 2019 he went one better and led the team to promotion into Division 3.
During the early years the 2nd XI always followed the first team playing in the 2nd
XI League Division 1 against the first team opponents on a home and away basis. During the eighties and nineties the Invitation League Division 2 remained fairly static but as other clubs joined playing strengths increased, and in 2002 we were regulated into Division 2. When the leagues were reformed after 2002 we were promoted, under Ian Hutchings as champions, the following season. After the various league reforms we now play in Division 7 West of the Sussex Cricket League. The 2nd XI continues to be an excellent development eleven for our home grown talent under the guidance of some more seasoned player. One such stalwart was Mark Smith who took a total of 510 wickets in his 318 games. Sadly Mark died of a heart attack in the cricket pavilion at the end of Henfield’s game against Arundel in 2011 after bowling 15 overs, taking 2 for 19 then batting at number 11 for over half an hour scoring 25 runs and nearly saving the game for Henfield!
In 2007 it was becoming more and more obvious that with more young up and coming cricketers now wanting to play, that a 3rd XI was needed, so in 2008 the first 3rd XI was formed playing 6 games over the season, this proved a success and the next year we joined and played in the H.J. Stoner Mid-Sussex Conference League, where we stayed until 2011. The team then went into the Invitation League Division 11 and following the Sussex wide league restructure of Sussex Cricket League we now play in Division 10 west. Finding a ‘home’ pitch presented a problem as the Common could not facilitate two games on a Saturday, after playing our ‘home games’ at Hurst Collage and Sayers Common for a number of year, we finally managed to obtain a shared stake in Partridge Green’s ground which has proved to be a great decision.
As we approach our anniversary we find, in keeping with many clubs, that the traditional friendly fixtures can no longer be fulfilled. A number of historically significant fixtures have ceased to exist and the regular Sunday fixture list is a thing of the past, with games arranged very much on an ad hoc basis. Keen to ensure that we don’t lose those key historical connections, the all-day August fixture with The Kenya Kongonis was reinstated in 2003 and we will look to preserve as many of the historical fixtures as is viable in the current playing climate.
Despite the advent of such innovations as league and T20 cricket, the tradition that was Henfield Cricket Club remains. Famous old names continue to play for the club down the generations. Among the present day playing members Kevin Thorns, is the son of Conway and grandson of Nelson, it does not stop there either as Kevin’s son Seb is now playing in the colts, and this makes him the seventh generation of the same family to play for Henfield. John Thorns having begun playing for the club in 1838!
Other notable family names are Vinall, Mayston and Parsons. The continuity that has been so important down the years continues to play a key part in the clubs development.
Nevertheless the club has always attracted new names that would make a sizeable impact. Nick Blake would score more than 10,000 runs to go with his impressive wicket-keeping and later become head groundsman, whilst Martin Payne was also very impressive with both bat and ball. Robbie Slaughter the best all-rounder after Trevor Adcock that the club has ever produced, Chris Crampton opening bat scored
nearly 13,500 runs with 293 wicket-keeping victims; more than anybody else in the clubs history. Colin Griffiths and Howard Chick who have both played over 700 games for the club and many others who deserve to be mentioned in the history of our great club. Modern day players who the club are looking to carry on the great tradition are the likes of Jack Parsons, Tom Paine, George and Harry Stewart and Ollie Barrott.
For a club with such extensive records of the senior cricket played there is surprisingly little information about Colts (Junior) cricket. There is however evidence some form of Colts cricket, probably in conjunction with the local school, was organised as far back as 1896 when Henfield juniors lost to Cowfold Grammar school by 6 runs. Further reports show that in 1904 Henfield lost 3 times to West Grinstead but beat Lower Beeding by 7 runs and in 1929 they lost and won against Shoreham.
Despite the limited written records of Colts cricket prior to World War 2 an extract from the 1904 Parish Magazine states ‘the vicar presented a bat to A Reeves and a ball to E Knight for best averages’
The earliest photo of a colts’ team is c1930
In keeping with many clubs after the war, Henfield ran a form of a colts section, with an account of 5 games at ‘under 16 ‘ being played in 1949 but there was very little organised forms of practice, although you could always turn up on a senior’s training night and hope for a bat or bowl. In the winter of 1954 the club started organising nets at the County Ground with a professional coach, it was hoped that these boys would then spend evenings and a large part of their summer playing cricket among themselves and would then be available for any games organised, usually 4 or 5 per year. For a number of years the president Judge Block would present a bat to the ‘best colt’ at the end of the year, so colts’ cricket was very much on the club’s mind.
In 1953 a re-arranged colts’ game was scheduled for the Thursday with Lindfield Colts on the common. When the teams arrived a pitch already had markings, so the game commenced, after about three quarters of an hour, Frank Mayston, as already stated the Mr Henfield Cricket, 1st XI captain and groundsman ran onto the ground waving his arms frantically, stopped the game and moved us to another pitch, apparently we were playing on the strip that Frank had reserved for weeks for the game against the Sussex Club and Ground the following week. Frank was not happy!
In 1978 it was decided to put the colts section on a more formal basis with Keith Waldron volunteering to take on the job of Colts Manager. Over the next 30 odd years leagues were joined and age groups organised and the fruits of his endeavour under the various managerships of Ian Honeyman, Nigel and Eddy Colgate, Monica Harrison, David Silverson and Conway Thorns proved to be very beneficial to the club in providing players for the senior teams. In 2008 Ken Scott expanded the section to comply with the requirements of the day and took on the role of Colts Development Officer then in 2017 Ben Helps took over the role, with the club now running 6 teams, with a membership of over 80 children playing at various age group levels, including a girls team under the guidance of Tim Furber.
Many that have played colts cricket over the years never progressed to the senior level but many did, and today perhaps 70% of our teams are made up of those that have come through the colts set up, which would indicate that we must be doing something right.
After more than two centuries without a women’s team the first steps were taken in 2006. Ken and Carolyn Scott started the ball rolling, with Ken coaching a group of 6 or 7 women, some with cricket experience, with a view to eventually recruiting enough players for a team. The first match was played in June 2007 against a Henfield colt’s team, ending in a tie!
With three more seasons of friendlies, a shirt sponsor in place and Kathy Sealy as captain/coach 2011 was the first season of competitive cricket. The team won the Willostix Women’s T20 League Division 2 with a deciding match at Littlehampton.
Following three years in the T20 league, and appearances in the Sussex Cup, 2014 saw the step up into the Women’s Southern league and 11 aside cricket on a regular basis. The team played in the Southern League for four seasons but a lot of travel across the south east before the formation of an 11 aside 35 over league in Sussex in 2018. Henfield entered a combined team with Chippingdale CC, with both club struggling for players, and won the league, winning every game. In the same season, the team hosted the first Women’s 6 aside tournament in Sussex, which Henfield won in a close final against Hurstpierpoint. The successful event was repeated in 2019 and is now planned as a regular competition,
In terms of statistics, George Hodson’s is top wicket taker, whilst Kathy Sealy heads the batting, including in 2015, the first century for the women’s team. In the coming seasons both will be under pressure from Emily Spooner in coming seasons, who plays in the Sussex U17s team, and who hit an incredible 185 in a 2018 league game.
In 2019 the team again competed in the SCF 35 league and are now looking to build up the player base again to field a full team of Henfield players in future season.