Berkswell Cricket Club was established in 1896 and resides today on a plot of land widely recognised as being in Balsall Common, although the club pavilion actually sits within the historic parish boundary of Berkswell. The Parish boundary is marked by an imposing line of Oak trees on the edge of the playing arena, which players find themselves passing, into the Parish of Balsall as they venture onto the field of play.
Road access to Berkswell’s current ground is from Meeting House Lane, although the ground, largely obscured by trees, can also be glimpsed from the Kenilworth Road (A452) on land next to the White Horse public house and restaurant.
The History of Berkswell Cricket Club
Although the club was established in 1896 the story of the club probably really begins in 1888, when a wealthy woollen manufacturer from Yorkshire, Mr. Joshua Hirst Wheatley, decided to leave the increasingly industrialised West Riding and settle with his young family on the 2308 acres of the Berkswell Hall Estate. For it was Mr Wheatley, the successful industrialist, whom encouraged his butler Charles Whinfrey to start a cricket team and led to the pair becoming the club’s founding officers, as President and Secretary respectively.
For two seasons the club played in the grounds of Berkswell Hall, then in a field leased from a Mr. F. Rushton, opposite the club’s present location, where the Catholic Church now stands. The rent for this field was £6 per annum and included the use of a “hovel.”
Interestingly the club’s history reveals a gipsy tendency as it shifted over the years from venue to venue. From 1905 to 1909 the club played at Berkswell Hill, just off the Coventry Road near the Bear Inn. Then in 1910 the club moved to another new ground just off Green Lane in Balsall Common, where it remained until the outbreak of the second World War. Records show the club was relatively affluent when it moved to its’ Green Lane ground in 1910 with accounts showing £1. 0s. 0d from the 1909 season plus a profit of £1. 11s. 0d from the annual dance.
The captain of the club from 1912 to the out break of the First World War in 1914 was John Wyatt, the father of R.E.S. Wyatt who went on to play for Warwickshire and to captain England. RES (Bobby) played for the club as a boy in 1913 and revisited the club in 1986 to take tea with the players. Bobby’s mother, also a good cricketer, and his father coached him at their home in Carol Green. RES recalled that his father had told him that he would never be a good batsman if he withdrew from the fast or rising ball on his legs. The state of village pitches in 1913 would have meant Bobby had to play this tricky sort of delivery on a regular basis so hopefully Berkswell CC played a small part in the development of a very good and fearless batsman.
In 1921, W.F.E. Seeley, the headmaster of Balsall Street School joined the club and remained on the committee for many years. In 1933, both W.B. Sage and Bill Sansome scored centuries – the first ever recorded for the club. These two players and R.C. Hitchcock were the mainstays of the club during the 20’s and 30’s and until the outbreak of war in 1939.
When members assembled after the war in 1946, they found that their ground in Green Lane, into which they had put so much effort and which had been improving year by year, had been ploughed up and their pavilion and equipment had been sold. Mrs. Wheatley, wife of Joshua’s son Colonel C.J.H. Wheatley, readily gave permission for cricket once more to be played at Berkswell Hall.
In 1947 the club rented a field next to the White Horse Inn in Balsall Common and played in the middle of what is now Balsall & Berkswell FC’s football pitch. Many players at this time were either returning servicemen or personnel from the RAF station at Honiley.
In 1948, this field and the adjoining one was purchased by the Lant Trust and the Berkswell Cricket Club finally settled on the ground it plays on today. The square was laid at a cost of £13 but water was not laid to the square until 1953. The average Berkswell innings in those years was 80. The equipment shed in the car park served as the pavilion; the present one was not erected until 1961.
In 1954 the club president Mr Sydney Penn wrote to members saying that in view of sixteen unfulfilled fixtures of that season and the resignation of the captain, Bill Sansome, he could see no future for the club. The Club never came nearer to going out of business.
However from this point onwards the members rallied together. Through fund raising and hard work a pavilion was built; sightscreens were obtained; mowers were updated and a motorised roller purchased. A programme of continuous improvements to the playing surface was achieved.
In 1978, the club entered an Under-16 team in the Alpine League (as it was then) and the club began to take junior cricket seriously for the first time. In 1981, Dave Cooke, a teacher at the Heart of England School became the club’s first Youth Secretary, forming in those years an essential link with our local school. Since 1988 under Ian Huckerby and George Burgess the junior section of the club has gone from strength to strength.
League cricket came to Berkswell in 1986 when the club joined the Tapster Pennant League brining with it a more competitive nature of the cricket. A lot of hardwork by the club groundsmen brought with it a rapidly improving surface and higher standard of cricket. This along with the now thriving junior section attracted some good local players to the club.
1996 – Berkswell Cricket Club’s Centenary
In 1996 the club held its Centenary celebrations which commenced on 1st January with a cricket match in frost bound conditions! In March the Annual Players Dinner was held appropriately at Warwickshire County Cricket Club’s Edgbaston ground. In mid-summer during some glorious uninterrupted sunshine a week of cricket saw matches against Warwickshire CCC (Dermot Reeve Benefit), the MCC, a Tapster League XI, the XL Club and Wivenhoe CC.
In 1999, reorganisation by the ECB of recreational cricket brought about the introduction of a new pyramid league structure for Warwickshire and the West Midlands, with four county leagues (Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Shropshire), acting as feeders for a restructured Birmingham and District Premier League. Following much discussion with the other Tapster League clubs, Berkswell and Lapworth, broke away from the rest of the League, electing to join the new Warwickshire League and the rest of the Tapster League clubs joined the Cotswolds League.
There was great anticipation about the new venture. Placed in Division 3, the club enjoyed the new challenge and achieved promotion in their first season.
Further success was achieved in 2001 with the club finishing as runners-up in Division 2, which meant promotion to Division 1 (later renamed the Premier Division). In Division 1 for the 2002 season the club succeeded in consolidating their position at this level finishing in a creditable 5th position; with the second XI in 4th position.
The club remained in the renamed Premier Division until 2005 where a period of consolidation was gradually replaced by ambition for progression following a series of strong finishes by both 1st and 2nd XI’s. This ambition was underlined when in 2004 the club secured the services of Dominic Ostler – an integral member of Warwickshire’s famous 1994 treble winning side – for more than half a season’s worth of matches whilst he was still contracted to Warwickshire CCC. Ostler, a resident of Balsall Common joined Berkswell in 2005 as Club Captain following his retirement from 1st class cricket, where he led a side including MCC Young Cricketers Freddie Klokker and Dan van Bunge to the Warwickshire Premier League title. The achievement secured promotion to Division 3 of the prestigious Birmingham & District Premier League, the oldest cricket league in the world.
The club quickly adjusted to the challenge of life in the Birmingham League whilst enduring a wretched 2005 season off the pitch, punctuated as it was by periods of persistent and extensive damage to sightscreens, clubhouse, scorebox and pitch. On the positive side at that time Berkswell Cricket Club and Sports Association Chairman David Blundell was leading a project to bring a brand new state-of-the-art clubhouse which was completed in March 2008 and officially opened by Solihull Town Mayor in April 2008.
At the end of the 2008 season Berkswell secured promotion to Division 1 of the Birmingham League, a season which ended with first team regular Thomas Milnes playing for England Under 15′s at Lords. Berkswell suffered their first relegation to Division Two in the 2009 season.
2010 – Division Two Berkswell win Birmingham League T20 Competition
By the start of the 2010 season 17 year old fast bowler Tom Milnes had become an established player for Warwickshire 2nds and England under 18s. Tom was an integral part in 2010, of an extremely resourceful team, led again by Dominic Ostler and supported by South African professional Wes Hartslieff, that won the Birmingham League’s T20 competition, with convincing victories over sides from higher divisions in every round, including excellent wins over Premier Division sides Knowle & Dorridge, Walmley and Himley. This incredible cup run provided the catalyst for a dramatic end of season victory sequence that saw the club climb from a long way behind to clinch one of two available promotion places into Division One, thanks in part to a dramatic set of final day results.
The 2011 season saw a Berkswell claim a second successive promotion into the Birmingham League Premier Division for the first time, then having occupied the top 3 places throughout 2012, slid to a still respectable 4th place with a defeat on the final day’s play. Berkswell are set to play Premier Division cricket again in 2013.
Birmingham League Premier Division cricket is widely regarded as the highest level of cricket outside the county game. The standard of cricket is high and is well worth a look by any cricket enthusiast. The club’s recent success has led to wide media coverage and helped the club join the ranks of clubs capable of attracting generous sponsorship deals in exchange for publicity and hospitality.
The early history of the club was researched and written by Mike Tracey and published in Berkswell Miscellany – volume 2. This original work has been amended slightly during subsequent revisions.
Mike Tracey’s work was first revised and updated in 2002 by George Burgess. Further revisions and updates were carried out by Craig Burgess in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013, as part of efforts to keep the historical records up to date.
The 1996 version of this history document can be found in the Berkswell CC Centenary Booklet.