The Rectory Field
Published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians, West Bridgford, Nottingham and printed by Peartree printers of Derby
Although within the same postal district, the Rectory Field is a little distant from those parts of southeast London more familiarly recognised as Blackheath, the extensive open grass area south of Greenwich Park, and the Village beyond that. Indeed the once adjacent rectory which gave the ground its name was actually the Charlton Rectory. However, the sporting connection is very much with Blackheath as the two prime occupants of the ground, rugby and cricket, both owe their origins to that large open space.
Blackheath, possible from Bleak Heath, was once a 260 acre area of open, windswept heath land. There is evidence of Roman and Saxon settlements there and the Danes encamped on it. Like other similar common land, it saw the congregation of rebellious masses, such as those following Wat Tyle and Jack Cade. On Blackheath Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves. It was the site of the first golf club in England (1608) and even as late as the eighteenth century it was infested by highwaymen. During the next century it was built up to by Lewisham, Charlton and Blackheath Village.
The story of the Rectory Field very much begins with rugby. Blackheath Football Club (as it is known) is now generally accepted to have been founded by old boys of the local Proprietary School in 1858. (Originally it was thought to have been 1862, the golden jubilee was actually celebrated in 1912) a strong presence of Rugby School old boys ensured that the school’s football rules were adopted. The Club played on the Heath and in 1871 was a major force in the formation of the Rugby Football Union. The popularity of the game made the control of spectators on the Heath increasingly difficult culminating in January 1877 when so many gathered to see the game against Richmond that the situation got out of hand, and the resultant pitch invasion and abandonment of the match led to the need for an alternate venue. To the rescue came Maurice Henry Richardson, a club member, whose father, Guildford Barker Richardson, owned a field situated at the angle of Charlton and Old Dover Road. Richardson’s Field, as it became known, if not before, was thus rented for a nominal £10 a year. It was the site of the Varsity rugby matches of 1880, 1881 and 1882 and most notably for the first England-Wales international on 19 February 1881. However in the winter of 1882/1883 a building society bought the field and this prompted another move. (Houses and shops were built but a further development came in the 1970s with the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach Road which now runs through it).
At this point it appears that Lenard Stokes, the Club captain, a famous international three-quarter, and no mean cricketer for Blackheath and Kent, alone knew of the availability of a five acre field attached to the Charlton Rectory, just east along the Charlton Road from Richardson’s field. He also knew the incumbent, Richard Swainson, who he persuaded to let the field against for £10 a year. Before the ground was ready a hawthorn tree in the middle was removed and an old oak, over by the Rectory, later also came down. On 17 January 1883 Guy’s Hospital provided the first opposition for Blackheath on their new ground. The prominence of Blackheath in rugby’s affairs before the appearance of Twickenham on the international scene in 1910, meant a number of England international matches were played here, including in 1909 their first home match against Australia and in 1889 a game between England and the Maoris, the first team to tour the British Isles.
Blackheath Cricket Club, the other thread in the ground’s history, also began life on the Heath. The first reference to cricket there comes from 1730 and there are numerous eighteenth century references to games there (see Appendix A). From 1825 several Blackheath clubs were established in turn, each vying for dominance. Names such as Blackheath Dartmouth, Blackheath Montpelier, Paragon had periods of prominence. In 1862, Blackheath Morden was formed and they dominated cricket for the next twenty years. By 1885 they found it impossible to prepare a wicket on the Heath (So poplar was the game there that up to thirty games could be being played there at once) In that year the Morden Club approached the rugby club with a view to using the Rectory Field during the summer. Leading the negotiations on the cricket side was its secretary Montague Druitt [Cricinfo, Crime Library.com] now condemned to history probably unfairly as a prime Jack the Ripper suspect. As a result of a public meeting the Blackheath Cricket Football and Lawn Tennis Company Limited was formed with a capital of £5,000 sufficient to take out a 21 year lease and build a pavilion, which still stands. On 7 October 1885 Blackheath Morden changed its name to the Blackheath Cricket Club.
The first cricket match on the ground was on 26 April 1886 between Blackheath and G.G. Hearne’s XI - click for Scorecard. Hearne had been responsible for laying the wicket, while the two umpires in the match were Ernest Weaver and George Albert Street. Weaver had been appointed the first groundsman in 1883, while Street, originally taken on as the net bowler responsible for the net practice wickets, actually became the main groundsman in 1890. This initiated a remarkable family connection with the ground which continues through to his son Charles Street, who succeeded him as groundsman in 1924 and his grandson, Albert (“Bert”) who followed his father in 1957. Although the latter remained only until 1959, he had been on the ground staff from 1936. Indeed Charles continued off and on to advise on the preparation of wickets until 1963, in which year Bert’s 16 year old son was effectively the groundsman for two months. Only then did the Street connection end.
County cricket came to Blackheath in 1887 when it was reported “that as far as could be seen the wicket played as well as could be wished”. The Blackheath fixture against Surrey, a regular feature of the county calendar was first played in 1889, although it was not an almost annual match until after 1906.
Tennis was established on the ground from the start. Twelve grass courts were laid out on the Charlton Road side. (Allotments initially abutted from that road, the present buildings dating from the 1d920s). Indeed like Beckenham for many years a notable pre-Wimbledon tournament was held on the ground with courts laid out on the outfield. This ended un 1931 as a result of an administrative mix-up over fixtures. The grass courts were re-laid with hard courts in the 1930s.
Rugby was however the significant sport. A single-decked grandstand was erected on the south of the ground early on. This burnt down, during a cricket match, in 1922. A news stand was built straightaway. It was rather an extravagant structure which stretched the resources of the club and needed considerable financial help from the Rugby Football Union, and as late as 1930 the Club as still appealing to the County Cricket Club for assistance. One man was killed in its construction and although it held 1,750 spectators that was really too low a capacity for its size. In the 1960s it was pulled down and the present grandstand build on the concrete steps in front of its predecessor. The main rugby pitch is situated between the grandstand and the cricket square, stretching as far as the batting crease. For a time a second rugby pitch existed behind the corner of Marlborough Land and Shooters Hill Road. Cows grazed on this field and their pats often had to be removed to allow play. Since the last war this had been sold off and the second pitch is now to be found on the Charlton Road side of the square. Another field behind the grandstand, referred to in the 1920s at least as Mr Clarke’s field, was used as a car park, but it has now been sold to the Blackheath Bluecoat Church of England Secondary School.
In 1921 the Rectory Field was in danger of being sold as building land. To save it £9,000 was realised by the issue of debentures and this allowed the Company running the Ground’s affairs to purchase the Field as a permanent home. The Kent Club invested £300. This remains the present state. (The actual Rectory was pulled down in the 1930s for residential development.)
Rugby was not played in World War I or II, although cricket was on a limited scale, indeed during the latter conflict the ground was often in the state of a hayfield which had to be cut before play. With London’s docklands not far away, eight bombs fell on the ground during World War II, on landed on the hard courts, another near the pavilion. There was numerous incendiaries. After the war Blackheath and Richmond played as one rugby team for a season, while London Irish were temporary residents for ten years. Greenwich Borough Football Club also played for a while on the ground as did Corinthian Casuals Reserves on the reserve rugby pitch, having been ejected from the Oval.
The pavilion, still the original has been altered over the years. Early complaints about the sanitary arrangements are common, the Kent Club actually formally complained in 1909. Showers were added in the 1920s and a plunge bath in the 1930s. Its frontage was extended outwards in the 1960s while in 1991 a significant enlargement was undertaken, the foundations have always prevented any upwards expansion. Over the years other building have been added including a tennis pavilion, and changing and dining rooms. In 1945 the Squash Club was formed and together with the existing three sports pay a rent to the parent company and appoint directors to the Board.
After 1972, the ground lost its county cricket status when it was considered the facilities for players and spectators and their cars was not up to modern requirements. A Kent Second XI game was played here in 1987 in the hope of reviving the ground’s county status. It proved unsuccessful. The Rectory Field had been Kent’s most successful metropolitan venue. Crowds of 13,000 were not infrequent at its peak, rivalling Canterbury strongly. Its demise left a gap in the county’s most populous catchment area which has yet to be filled.
First Class Records
Kent Matches 1887-1971. 84 Played. 27 Won by Kent. 23 Lost by Kent. 34 Drawn.
|Highest Innings Total||For:||560-6||v Essex||1959|
|Lowest Innings Total||For:||63||v Surrey||1953|
|Highest Individual Score||For:||250||M. C. Cowdrey||v Essex||1959|
|Against:||210*||T. F. Shepherd||for Surrey||1921|
|Best Bowling Analysis (Innings)||For:||8-23||R. R. Dovey||v Surrey||1950|
|Against:||10-54||G. A. R. Lock||for Surrey||1956|
|Best Bowling Analysis (Match)||For:||13-61||W. Hearne||v. Gloucestershire||1894|
|Against:||16-83||G. A. R. Lock||for Surrey||1956|
|Most Matches||31||F. E. Woolley|
|Most Runs||2049||F. E. Woolley|
|Most Wickets||107||A. P. Freeman|
Highest Wicket Partnerships - For Kent
|1st||238||H.T.W. Hardinge & W.H. Ashdown||v Leicestershire||1925|
|2nd||219||A.E. Fagg & F.E. Woolley||v Surrey||1934|
|3rd||304||A.H. Phebey & R.C. Wilson||v Glamorgan||1960|
|4th||242||M.C. Cowdrey & J.F. Pretlove||v Essex||1959|
|5th||202||H.T.W. Hardinge & L.P. Hedges||v Surrey||1921|
|6th||144||A.P.F. Chapman & G.B. Legge||v Surrey||1927|
|7th||132||W.L. Knowles & R.N.R. Blaker||v Somerset||1900|
|8th||143||E.G. Witherden & W. Murray-Wood||v Surrey||1953|
|9th||61||A.J. Thornton & J. Pentecost||v Gloucestershire||1887|
|10th||48||R.T. Bryan & A.P. Freeman||v Somerset||1924|
|48||W.H. Ashdown & G.P. Beslee||v Surrey||1930|
Highest Wicket Partnerships - Against Kent
|1st||234||T.W. Hayward & J.B. Hobbs||for Surrey||1914|
|2nd||232||J.H. Edrich & K.F. Barrington||for Surrey||1961|
|3rd||343||P.A. Gibb & R. F. Horsfall||for Essex||1951|
|4th||150||H.S. Squires & J.F. Parker||for Surrey||1939|
|5th||158||T.H. Barling & A.J.W. McIntyre||for Surrey||1947|
|6th||161||A. Sandham & P.G.H. Fender||for Surrey||1928|
|7th||200||T.F. Shepherd & J.W. Hitch||for Surrey||1921|
|8th||156||W.F. Greensmith & F.H. Rist||for Essex||1953|
|9th||88*||P.E. Russell & F.W. Swarbrook||for Derbyshire||1971|
|10th||104||F.R. Brown & J.F. Parker||for Surrey||1932|
Sources of interest :
Rhind, Neil ‘The Heath’ Bookshop Blackheath 1987
Shananan AC '100 Years story of Blackheath Football Club 1858-1958', The Club, 1958
First class matches played at Blackheath:
List A Limited Overs matches at Blackheath: