Cricket returns to park - after 55 years

THE sound of leather on willow will once again ring out at an historic parkland this weekend - after a gap of 55 years.

Richard Smith

THE sound of leather on willow will once again ring out at an historic parkland this weekend - after a gap of 55 years.

When Campsea Ashe Park Cricket Club folded in 1953, a classic venue for the summer game - Ashe Park - was lost.

But now the idyllic setting is preparing to host cricket again and some of those who remember sporting action at the park all those years ago will be there to see the long-awaited return on Saturday.

The gala match, hosted by Campsea Ashe Wanderers and featuring “Suffolk” and “Norfolk” teams, came about after Richard Keeling, the present owner of Ashe Park, was approached by Andrew Cadman, of Wickham Market, and James Morford, of Campsea Ashe.

Mr Cadman used to live on the estate as a boy; he remembers carrying water to the two pavilions - one was for tea and the second was for changing - and his father Alfred mowed the pitch.

Most Read

Mr Keeling was bowled over by the idea of bringing back cricket and he said: “It was a deer park here and the gardens were one of the finest in Suffolk.

“Rather than just leave this land for cows and to take the hay out of it, it seemed a good idea to bring back cricket.”

Ashe Park was once renowned as one of the best grounds in Suffolk and Campsea Ashe took on teams from Lowestoft, Thorpeness, St Audry's Hospital, Melton, RAF Martlesham, Orwell Works, Mistley, Bawdsey, Eyke and Rendlesham.

The original High House, a 25-bedroom country mansion, at Campsea Ashe and its estate of 2,350 acres was built in 1585 by John Glover.

In 1845 John George Sheppard, the owner of the Campsea Ashe estate, formed the cricket club and he invited the famous I Zingari, an amateur English cricket club side, to play on his pitch.

Cricket was then played for more than 100 years but in 1953 the High House mansion was demolished and the club moved to Woodbridge School and became known as Deben Valley.

One of those who remembers cricket at Ashe Park is Roger Rackham, a former player who is relishing a trip down memory lane.

“When we played cricket here in 1949,” he said. “My brother and I had come through the war and what had kept us going was the thought of coming back and enjoying a traditional English scene - a game of cricket in a marvellous setting with peace and tranquillity in Campsea Ashe in the heart of Suffolk.”

Both Roger and his brother Richard were born in nearby Hacheston. Roger, now 84 and living in Wickham Market, was a batsman and Richard, now 80, of Woodbridge, was an all-rounder, keeping wicket and notching up high scores at number four in the batting order.

Richard recalled: “We used to cycle here and spectators used to come from Campsea Ashe and the surrounding villages. All you could hear were the birds and, at certain times, the steam train coming through and it is marvellous that cricket is being played here again.”

Children will play cricket from 11.30am on Saturday followed by the adult match at 1.30pm.

There is a fete and money raised will go to Campsea Ashe Village Hall. Access to the pitch is from Ivy Lodge Road but the rest of the park will not be open to the public.