The cricket ground at Torquay is situated in a hollow conveniently placed adjoining the sea front on the one side and the railway station on the other. The sea can only be seen from the upper floor of the pavilion but it is very attractive place to play even if it lacks the grand seaside situation of Sidmouth or the rural charm of Seaton.
The Torquay Cricket Club was founded in 1851 and on 16th September 1857 the Rev. G. T. Warner of Highstead, Torquay wrote:- “It is a noble exercise, conducing to swiftness, readiness and strength. As an intellectual exercise it demands observation, comparison, calculation, vigilance and presence of mind. But its chief value is as a moral discipline. As it cannot be learned without labour, attention and practice, so no game can bring out more largely the qualities of courage, decision, patience, self restraint and brotherly kindness.”
As Torquay became more and more a popular venue for touring cricketers it became necessary to employ a professional, preferably a bowler, if need be, to bowl long spells. After a chequered career the Torquay club was revived in 1904 and for the revived club the earliest recorded professional was a local slow bowler J. Delbridge who served from 1908-10 but died whilst still a young man. Another local, Stanley Reed until the outbreak of war succeeded him. He died through an accident at an army camp in 1916 aged only 22. Selected for Devon he topped the batting averages in 1913 with a top score of 121 vs. Dorset at Sherborne.
No regular pro was engaged between the end of the war and 1927 but during this period, E. J. “Tiger” Smith (1886-1979) Warwickshire and England, who lived for a time at Torquay, helped with coaching. He scored nearly seventeen thousand fc runs and was employed by Warwickshire in some capacity until aged 84!
Neighbouring Dartmouth College was also a useful source and the coach would sometimes help the club. These included Crowther Charlesworth (1875-1953), who like “Tiger” Smith had also played for Warwickshire, and Henry Edmund Roberts (1888-1963) of Sussex. Being younger than Charlesworth he also played for Devon.
Regular pros began for the 1928 season and L. Vaughan from Sussex; a slow left arm bowler with no first-class experience functioned for three seasons. J. W. Price a Torquay United footballer succeeded him for the 1931 season only. He took all ten wickets for 52 against Good Companions. Price later coached at Charterhouse.
For 1932/33 the pro was that most attractive stroke player, George Emmett, later to play for Gloucestershire. He made one solitary appearance for England at Old Trafford in 1948 replacing Len Hutton, the only time the great man was dropped by England. Born in India of a military father he was only 19 when appointed and also played for Devon from 1932-35 before joining the Lord’s Staff and later to qualify by two years residence for Gloucestershire. He would sometimes return to Devon as when in 1936 when he made 201* for Torquay against Chiswick Park. In the Chiswick Park side that day was David Haines then aged just 20, who took the only two Torquay wickets to fall at a cost of 46.
For the first half of season 1934 Don Welsh the Torquay United, Charlton Athletic and England footballer was pro. He found employment at Torquay C. C. whilst he was a victim of the obscure rule that if you buy yourself out of the Navy you cannot play professional football for 6 months. (He went onto score in the last international before the war against Romania.) On Welsh’s departure, Tom Jennings (1896-1972) late of Surrey and the Blundells School professional stood in. He finished his working life at Blundells and was for many seasons a Minor Counties umpire.
A member of a well-known family of cricketers, groundsmen and coaches his father, David, was pro at Marlborough College and was succeeded by his son George who had played for Warwickshire. Such was the connection of the Jennings family with Marlborough that there is still a house in the college precincts called Jennings. Tom’s brother “young David” played for Kent but died as a result of wounds in WW1 and Leonard (1903-77) played first-class cricket for the RAF. In all there were 10 brothers connected with the game, if not professionally, as good amateurs.
For the seasons 1935-38 the pro was a most interesting character, Thomas William Sadler and he was aged 43 on appointment. A Cambridgeshire man he played for his native county before and after the Great War. On being appointed Newport professional in June 1927 he also played for Monmouthshire and wrote himself into the Minor Counties records books with 10-31 against Dorset at Panteg in 1930, his last season with Newport. He came to Torquay after two seasons as Lancaster pro. A former secretary of Torquay Cricket Club described him as a good pro “he did what he was told, if you said to him ‘Tom we are a bit short on bowling you will have to bowl all day’ he would.” He returned to his native Cambridgeshire during the off-season and died just over the border at Brandon (Suffolk) in 1973. He took 596 wickets for Torquay, average 9.34. His only first class match was in 1930 for Wales.
During the late 1960s a couple on holiday in Torbay called at the ground and the husband said that he was Tom’s nephew. They were pleased that he was still remembered with affection.
Fred Gamble (1905-1965) formerly of Surrey was pro for just the seasons of 1939 but would have doubtless have continued if war had not come. The job suited him as it dovetailed with his winter job in the box office of a West End theatre. He also played soccer for West Ham United, Aldershot and Reading.
After the War
No pro was engaged for 1940-45 but we know that Bill Edrich and S. W. Hunt of Derbyshire played for the club. The latter also played soccer for Torquay United. Gamble, who had been a much-liked pro, was invited back for 1946 but declined. Instead a 46-year-old Yorkshireman A. E. Whitehead was appointed. He was a surprising appointment, perhaps, in view of there being other applicants with first class experience that Whitehead did not have. He stayed for 4 season made a late Devon debut at the age of 46. For Torquay he took 477 wickets average 11.02, including all 10 wickets for twenty against Devon Club and Ground in 1947 and four wickets in four balls v. Plymouth Bohemians in 1949. He remained connected with the club for many years after.
Frederick George Pierpoint was pro for seasons 1950-52. The name had rather sinister connotations at the time at it was the name of the hangman. He had left Surrey at the end of the 1946 season after making only 8 first team appearances in a decade (including the war years) and played for Norfolk 1947-49. He took 152 wickets in 1950 and after leaving Torquay, coached at Wrekin School. E. Wormsley was pro 1953/54. He had a trial with Somerset but was not given a contract.
Stan Montgomery (b. West Ham 1920) was pro for 1955. He played 29 matches for Glamorgan between 1949 and 1953 as an amateur. A History of Briton Ferry Steel Cricket Club gives a vivid description of Stan… “A batsman through and through in his approach to batting. His contribution to the steel works team was vast in terms of runs but he realised, himself, it was a struggle to subjugate himself to the need of the team rather than his own performance. When Stan first played in the BFS team colours he would compile a century that occupied most of the time allowed by the captain’s estimation of a satisfactory total, and to that end satisfactory in itself. However, this was the means of forcing his partner to take all manner of risks in order to double his score in half the time and caused some suffering. Later when he was acclimatised to the game on Saturday afternoons he became an absolute joy to watch. Topping six feet, he was able to play forward in the classic manner whether it be to smother or drive. He was versed and expert in all manner of textbook strokes, yet could produce a pleasurable shock with a pull reminiscent of tossing hay into a high-sided cart. He was a capable bowler, thoughtful as to flight after his early attempts to produce bumpers on home pitches.”
Stan was a fitness fanatic. A lusty, speedy and tough centre-half in his winter occupation in first class football, he used the same speed over the acres he covered in the summer game. He was resentful of all dismissals other than a clean catch or the laying low of his ‘castle’. His return to the pavilion after being adjudged LBW or stumped or run out, was a signal to leave the dressing room empty! But he would emerge some half-hour later and give us a milder explanation than he had offered to the stamped-upon floor ‘You saw it – Me bleedin foot was nearer the gate than the obbers (wickets).’ Stan Montgomery played the game according to his lights.
His soccer was for Hull City, Southend United, Cardiff City, Worcester City and Llanelly. He married the daughter of Jimmy Nelson who played in three Wembley cup finals with Cardiff City and Newcastle United, being on the winning side twice.
Montgomery was succeeded by Reg Dare who had made 109 appearances for Hampshire and was a native of Dorset. Also a soccer player he played for Southampton and Exeter City. Ronald Willson, formerly of Sussex, was appointed pro for 1958. Oddly his last innings for Sussex was a century but he was still not retained. A steady all-rounder he also served in 1959 and was re-engaged for 1960. Surprisingly in view of the troubles that were just about to begin there he took an appointment in Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) soon after the 1960 season started. Being left somewhat in the lurch a local quick bowler, David Post, who had interested Somerset, stepped into the breach. Although highly successful he had no wish to play the game professionally permanently and reverted to amateur status at the end of the season. Ultimately, his career was cut short by an ultimatum from his wife, “cricket or me!” For 1961/62 Jack Kelly (not to be confused with the Lancashire player) was engaged. He was a Yorkshireman who had played for Nottinghamshire. He joined Torquay after 3 seasons with nearby Paignton. He was a highly successful pro and also appeared for Devon for whom he took 10 wickets in
an innings for 50 against Berkshire on his home ground in 1961. He later returned to Nottinghamshire to play in the Bassettlaw League.
For 1963-65 the pro was the much travelled Derek Semmence. He had two spells with Sussex, a non-championship game for Essex and also played for Devon, Cambridgeshire and Northumberland, was Brechin pro for 4 seasons and today is still pro at Hurstpierpoint College.
No pro was engaged for 1966, but Chris Greetham, formerly of Somerset was engaged for 1967/68. He also played for Devon and liked to make good scores against Somerset II. A much liked pro he was the last, when “Force of circumstances” compelled him to resign in early 1969. Changing attitudes and economic conditions led to the sides being all amateur from then on. In a way the pros brought it on themselves as whereas earlier pros were quite content to go into seaside lodgings, later pros were much more demanding.
Despite there being no pros, Torquay continued to be strong opposition. In the early 1970s the 6’ 10” Harrovian, Paul Dunkels could be a devastating bowler, as when he put a strong touring side out for 14. He had run outs with both Sussex and Warwickshire. Whether amateur or professional it is to be hoped that cricket at Torquay, in the words of the cleric of a century and a half ago, will still bring out “patience, self restraint and brotherly kindness.”