Wells Cathedral School is one of the UK's five specialist music schools. It was founded in 909 AD to educate the Cathedral choristers, a task it continues to this day, and is the fourth oldest school in the country. It caters for about 700 pupils between the ages of 3 to 18.
Looking after the extensive sports facilities and gardens at the school is Craig Keast, Head of Grounds & Gardens. Originally from Penzance in Cornwall, Craig studied at Cannington College between 1983 and 1984 gaining a National Certificate in Amenity Horticulture and a National & Practical Certificate in Groundsmanship.
He moved to Wells Cathedral School during the autumn of 1988 as groundsman and was promoted to Head Groundsman in the spring of 1991 following the retirement of George Petherbridge, a former Bristol Rovers and England A footballer.
The facilities at the school include:
Five rugby pitches - cutting height 75mm autumn term, becoming soccer pitches after Christmas and cut to 50 to 60mm.
Five grass hockey pitches cut to 20-25mm.
One astro hockey for autumn and winter terms which is given over to nine tennis courts for the summer term.
400m athletic track, plus field events.
Five rounders pitches.
Four wicket cricket square.
Three wicket cricket square.
Cedars cricket square - 22 wickets maintained at 25mm in the winter and 15mm in the summer with a final wicket height 3-4mm.
Three artificial cricket nets.
Three tarmac tennis courts.
Three netball courts.
Craig is assisted by Wayne Bradshaw, Deputy Head Grounds & Gardens, Edward Philips, groundsman and gardener, Paul Barnett, leading gardener and James Lewis, gardener.
Craig takes up the story of his time at Wells. "During the summer of 1996, the school lost their 1st XI cricket ground, which also housed grass hockey during the winter months, due to the building of a relief road for the City. This road also went straight through the shale tennis courts, so major construction of new playing fields took place."
"The 1st XI cricket was to be sited on the main school ground, known as Cedars. This ground was on three levels and, at the time, housed three rugby pitches during the winter and was used for junior school cricket in the summer term. It was always fun trying to produce a cricket surface from the centre of a rugby pitch!!!"
"A number of meetings took place with the local council and consultants working on behalf of the school. During the first meeting regarding the construction of the new cricket square, the plan was to use the existing Mendip top soil. This is when I voiced my opinion and said that, if we were to play a high standard of school and county cricket, we must have the right soil and construction to produce a top-playing surface."
"At the time our Headmaster was an MCC member who had also played cricket to a very good standard. He supported me in the decision to use the correct soil, and finance was agreed to purchase the Ongar loam required."
"In the spring of 1995, construction began, with the field being cut and filled. We were unable to produce a level outfield due to trees at the top end of the ground. The decision was either to have a gentle slope towards the square or to cut the field further back leaving the two trees in question on 'pedestals'. The decision was a gentle slope."
"Once the ground was cut and filled the cricket square was identified and dug out to a depth of twelve inches and a stone raft was laid. The Ongar loam required to produce the 10 x 10 foot strips x 22 yards to an 8-inch depth was delivered during August/September."
"The 4 inch base, requiring 98yd3 loose allowing for 20% compaction, was laid in one mass and consolidated. The top 4 inches of Ongar loam were then laid in two 2-inch layers, each layer consolidated and then keyed together. The levelling was done with lasers set up on the outfield to achieve the 1 in 100 slope on the square. Pre-seed fertiliser was applied and then seeded using Mascot No 3 cricket square mixture at 35gms/ square metre. On the outfield, pre-seed fertiliser was applied and seeded with Mascot No 4 cricket/hockey outfield mixture."
"Then we sat back, prayed for some rain and watched with interest."
"During the summer of 1996 cracking on the surface of the square became visible, I took the decision to allow these cracks to open and spent many hours with my deputy on hands and knees filling in the cracks with Ongar loam which built up the bulk of the soil to eliminate the cracking in future years."
"We played our last game of the school season, against the staff, in the first week of July on the new square. We witnessed some reasonable bounce but the pace of the wicket was something very different from what we were use to at Wells!"
"The wickets have certainly improved as the years have progressed. Finding the right seed mixture (MM29/MM50) and experimenting with pitch preparation has been very interesting."
"The school cricket season is very intense, over a twelve-week period, with the square being used almost every day for either square practices, matches or after school cage practices."
"I have extended the square over the last ten years, adding another six strips either side of the ten main strips. These are Mendip soil, but with 10 years of Ongar loam topdressing; these 'outfield' wickets are used for the junior school and practice sessions. Since 1989 we have hosted a number of Somerset County youth games including 2-day matches."
"At the same time as the cricket ground was under construction so too was the astro pitch and five rugby pitches on a new site."
"Hockey is the main sport played on the astro, so the specification of the carpet and shock pad had to take this into account. We do have nine tennis courts on the astro during the summer term but the bounce does get a lot lower as the surface dries out."
"We have not had too many problems with the pitch over the twelve years. It is an open site and we do have hard access to it, so this eliminates debris getting on to the surface. We regularly brush the surface in all directions and keep sand levels topped up, especially where corners are taken from during the hockey season."
"The pitch has been professionally cleaned by contractors for each of the last four years. This has certainly been beneficial as the pitch gets older. The work is usually carried out in the summer term when, hopefully, we have a week of dry weather".
"For the five rugby pitches a new site was purchased by the school. For many years it was agricultural land, approximately 750m long and 80m wide narrowing to 50m."
"The land was stripped of its topsoil, cut and filled, and the topsoil replaced. A drainage system was installed with laterals spaced every six metres running into one main with outlets running into an existing ditch The site was then levelled and prepared ready for seed sowing."
"Once established, we set out all five pitches and dug holes ready for the sockets to be concreted in."
"In addition, we have created cricket wickets between some of the rugby pitches, using Ongar loam to acieve the levels and for top dressing during autumn renovation. These pitches have certainly improved with good autumn work, scarification, use of Ongar loam and a quality seed mixture (MM29-MM50)."
"Once the summer term ends, the first major task is to set and mark out the five pitches. We normally stop cutting the pitches for around two or three weeks and apply an application of fertiliser to kick-start the sward to produce a good carpet of grass ready for the start of rugby season. The grass is topped twice a week at 75mm to help produce this. A Sisis Quadraplay or the chain harrow is used to stripe up the pitches to give a good presentation."
"Regular slitting is carried out through the winter months and pitches are marked prior to every game with spray markers."
"Having equipment that is reliable and up to date is very important. We try and budget each year to replace one major piece of equipment. The smaller items; markers, strimmers, hedge cutters, blowers etc are replaced every two to five years depending on use."
"Having staff that are trained and competent users of machinery is very important. I tend to let each staff member have his own mower and it is their responsibilty to look after it throughout the season, greasing, adjusting and sharpening as they see fit. I find that the mower then becomes their pride and joy".