Four Elms Cricket Club has a history that includes a cabbage patch, a hop field, Vauxhall cars, Chris Tavare ... and a nurses' cottage! Assistant Groundsman, Clive Croft, details the work he and the team carry out throughout the year to keep the club an active part of village life
The picturesque village ground of Four Elms nestles beneath the North Downs, one and a half miles from two of the most historic visitor attractions in England; Sir Winston Churchill's house, Chartwell and Henry VIII's wife, Anne Boleyn's home, Hever Castle.
The club currently run two sides on a Saturday (playing in the Kent County Village League), one on a Sunday, an occasional midweek XI and a flourishing junior section.
The earliest records available indicate that the club was formed in 1868 and the original ground was on Lord Bramwell's fields in Holmwood, adjoining the cabbage field. It moved, via Four Elms Farm "near the nurses cottage", to its present site in about 1890.
The club has produced a number of outstanding local cricketers, the best remembered being the Cartwright brothers, Doddy and Frank, who graced the ground for over forty years. However, perhaps the greatest talent, although some have said, with respect, that Frank Cartwright was better, was a man who went on to become Kent County Cricket Club's captain and a Test player for England; Chris Tavare. Both his brothers also played for the club.
Four Elms has featured as the backdrop for advertising campaigns, one for Vauxhall cars, and also for a television series on the history of Great Britain. It is in this quintessentially quaint corner of England that Clive Croft and his colleagues go about their groundcare duties.
When asked what his job title was, he replied; "Bar chairman, assistant treasurer, ground advisor, 2nd Team Captain 2014 (now retired) and assistant groundsman - and, as of the end of March, Grounds Chairman." So, nothing out of the ordinary for a village cricket club then?
Clive has been with the club for twenty nine years, "with time off for good behaviour", with the last four years in his current role(s).
He previously worked as a regional sales manager with a medical company but, when he took his leave from there five years ago, started dealing in his love of grass.
"I pretty much learned on the job, although last year, our league, in conjunction with the Kent Cricket Board, decided to sponsor 'volunteers' to go on a number of industry training courses."
"My training from my late father, Peter, gave me a decent grounding in mechanics, part of which was being given a car for my seventeenth birthday - a Vauxhall Chevette - with one proviso; I had to take the engine and gearbox out, break it down to the last component, recondition any parts, and put it back together. If it worked, I'd have a car!"
"Our Head Groundsman (and my mentor) is Fred Naden. He is still preparing the wickets after many years, as well as bowling some very tempting leg spin, much of which takes the scalps of many a decent batsman."
"Fred sat on the committee as Grounds Chairman until recently. Andy Hills is our Chairman; Bob Richards, Youth Coach, Club and Fixtures Secretary; Tim Seegar, Treasurer; Carol Richards, Social Secretary; Kadine Pearce, Child Welfare Officer and Matt Hird looks after our website (www.fourelmscricketclub.co.uk)."
"Between us, we decide expenditure on an 'as needs' basis. Budgeting has never been any sort of formal exercise, more like gut feel and experience."
Clive goes on to explain that the soil profile on the outfield is a very thin layer of low-grade top soil, covering clay. "A lot of this has been compacted over the years by cars driving over the outfield to get to the pavilion. The square is Surrey loam, with two layers of root break at 40mm and 75mm respectively, with very low levels of thatch on top."
"The outfield is cut at 19mm over the summer to prevent the grass becoming too stressed, and is left to grow to 35mm in the winter. The square is cut to 15mm and the strip to 6mm. We play one game on each strip then rest it for five or six weeks, allowing any repairs to be reseeded and recover."
"We have a Ransomes T185D for the outfield. We obtained it secondhand; the previous owner used it to keep his airfield runway serviceable. On the square, we use an Atco 30 and a Ransomes 20 Auto Certes, the ages of which are anyone's guess, but probably date back to the eighties: they've certainly been here longer than me!"
"We had the whole ground mole drained and fitted with a network of perforated pipes, all draining into a ditch at the bottom of the ground. Although this was done some twenty years ago, it still provides some drainage. The ground was was once a hop field."
"The local school uses our outfield for some of their sports in the summer, as well as providing a place for their pupils to walk round the boundary all year round. The local stoolball club uses the outfield one evening a week, plus a local senior cricket club, the Sevenoaks Wednesdays, recently relocated here to use the pitch on Wednesday afternoons. We also hire out the facility, ground and clubhouse, for parties, weddings, wakes; you name it!"
Regular maintenance consists of cutting the perimeter once a month to 30 mm, using a Bolens 33 rotary mower, confirms Clive.
"The outfield is cut once a week, normally on a Friday, at 19mm with a Ransomes T185D, usually in a north/south direction, along the profile 'humps' of the old hop field. The square is also cut once a week, again normally on a Friday, at 15mm with an Atco 30, and again, north/south in the direction of play."
"Preparation of a match strip begins on a Monday, according to a rotation worked out long before the season begins; they are scarified, cut, scarified, cut, cross scarified, cut, soaked with Sumisansui laser perforated hose (Reguflow), then allowed to flash dry, before rolling. They then receive a light scarify on Friday, and another cut and roll, prior to being marked out. The boundary line is also painted in at this point."
"On Saturday morning, the strip is brushed, and given a quick cut and roll, ready for a two o'clock start. The Sunday strip is similarly prepared before the game."
"Wednesday's strip tends to be one of the weekend strips, which is repaired, re-cut, rolled and marked out on Monday, with a brush, cut and roll on the day of the game."
"Aeration tends to happen in November, although we are considering getting a Groundsman spiker, which could double as a sarrel roller. Our current sarrel is a 3ft oak and iron affair which dates back to the war, although debates abound as to which one!"
"The weekly scarifying is carried out with a pedestrian Sisis Combirake, although the end of year deep slitting is done with a Graden GS04."
"Weed control happens in May and July with a contractor - 'Pete the Sprayer' - who comes in on his quad with a 4 metre boom. He has all the right qualifications and the gear to boot, and charges a very reasonable £125, so I reckon we'll stick with it. The square is done separately in June, by hand, with Verdone 2 by someone from the village who is suitably qualified. I feel that this gets the dosing very precise for the 'hallowed turf', and cuts down missed or double spraying errors."
"All tasks, unless governed by legislation, are carried out by whoever is available. As I stopped working five years ago, and Fred doesn't work Monday and Friday, we get most of the jobs done."
"Personally, I like to look out over the ground from the pavilion, which is set above the square looking north-east, and see alternate green stripes, with a nice straw colour strip in the middle, all set and ready. Anything else just doesn't cut it, pardon the pun. I hate it when the members turn up on the day of play, having done nothing to help all week, and say 'it looks a bit green' or 'which strip is it?', so I try and get it looking as professional as possible."
"For our end of season renovations, we use an outside contractor, Ray Grayland, to complete the work, but with help from members of the club to keep the costs down. Everything is affected by what budget is available, though we tend to get by with what I would call 'normal stuff' and then, every two or three years, spend a bit more on more substantial work."
"We have found that the trend to drier summers has helped with our work on the square and outfield, as the work tends to be done around our volunteers' other commitments."
"We've just started looking at our profiles and soil makeup this year, with the aim to understand what's going on underneath and how it affects things on top."
"We are currently involved with Jason Carr from JGC SportsTurf Ltd in improving the outfield drainage, having had ditches installed around the whole ground last spring. We were suffering from run-off from the neighbouring fields and ménages, so we needed to take some radical action. This has improved the situation considerably, but now we have identified that compaction has occurred over the years, partly due to foot but also vehicle traffic, which uses the outfield to get their cars as close to the pavilion as possible. I think we are one of the few grounds in the area which has this problem."
"We also intend getting the square deep aerated next autumn, following trials this year at Kent's County Ground and the results Peter Robinson from the KCB has observed."
In such a rural setting, are pests a problem? "Dog walkers." affirms Clive. "Dogs are kept out by making the stiles higher which, to be fair, probably deters the owners more than the pooches. I wouldn't mind so much if they cleaned up after they'd walked their dogs!"
"Rabbits aren't, thankfully, too much of an issue, even though Bough Beech Reservoir, where myxomatosis was first introduced, is only two miles away. Foxes can leave their mark, but nothing a trowel can't sort. Worms are sprayed with carbendazim and, although we get some leatherjackets, they have never created too much of an issue, although the daddy longlegs are a bit of a nuisance at the end of season dinner."
"We get a bit of red thread and some fairy rings. The former is controlled with nitrogen applications; the latter we accept and manage our best fixtures to avoid the worst affected pitches."
And how important do you consider the local flora and fauna? "We have planted various trees around the ground, including the replacements for the 'Four Elms' that were lost to Dutch elm disease in the late seventies, early eighties. We also have various trees around the ground planted in memory of past members of the club."
"The overriding need to replace the one hundred year old pavilion is always in the back of our minds as, each year, it moves and a bit more needs to be planed from the doors and windows so they open and shut! During the war, it survived a near miss by a doodle-bug, which landed 100 yards down the hedge; even so, one end was blown off."
"I'm looking at a possible rainwater harvesting scheme to be put in place when the new pavilion eventually takes shape. My dream would be to have the first fully eco club, utilising the latest straw construction, with solar power providing both hot water, heat and electricity."
Clive feels that the game of cricket is under threat from changes in society as a whole. "There is more competition for everyones' time these days, not only to prepare for a game, but also to take part and support the club," he bemoans. "Without the active participation of the younger generation, I can see the number of clubs locally and nationally decreasing. Society, today, seems to desire everything quickly, and its attention span seems to have declined, which is not great for our game. As for me, one of its charms is the fact that it's like a game of chess; full of tactics and individual flair that can beat the odds."
"Cricket clubs need to work more closely with local schools, who are under pressure to look after their playing fields, and expose their pupils to physical education and the game of cricket itself. Bob Richards has taken over the youth coaching this last year, and both he and the youngsters look energised to take our Club well in to the next generation."
The Four Elms Cricket Club website asks; "would you like to enjoy the sound of leather on willow, the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside, quality teas and a friendly atmosphere, then please get in touch or, better still, pop in the pavilion for a chat and a pint during a game; we'd be pleased to meet you." I might just search out my whites and head for Kent.
What's in the shed?
Ransomes T185D Triplex
Atco B30 cylinder mower
Ransomes Super Certes 20 cylinder mower
Honda HRH Pro rotary mower
Bolens 33 rotary mower
Jacobsen 24 scarifier
Stothert and Pitt Roller
Walk behind sprayer and fertiliser
"We always purchase outright, always direct and always secondhand.
We tend to go with what we can afford and what is recommended for the job.
The T185D has significantly improved the outfield, and the Combirake has helped us get the grass great to play on.
Servicing is carried out by TC Hiller and S&N Machinery, both based in Edenbridge, five miles away. Small jobs are done by ourselves.
What would my wish list include? How long have you got? For the square, an Infinicut 20 mower with groomer and a Groundsman 460 HD. For the outfield, a small tractor with linkage allowing for a possible mower or Sisis Quadraplay to be fitted.