In the six-line entry he provided for Who's Who, Sir Paul Getty gave his profession as philanthropist. He was probably Britain's biggest charitable donor, channelling a reputed £100m to causes ranging from striking miners to London's National Gallery. One of his lasting legacies is Wormsley Cricket Ground. Laurence Gale MSc went to meet Grounds Manager, Simon Tremlin
Wormsley Cricket Ground has been described as one of the most beautiful in England. A red telephone box sits next to the thatched pavilion, overlooking the immaculate field of play and the sloping Chiltern Hills beyond. The cricket ground is set amongst 2,500 acres of prime English countryside owned by the Getty Family who bought the land back in 1984.
Sir Paul Getty was a devotee of all things English, especially the most English of games, cricket. His vision and creation of an Arcadian cricket ground at Wormsley was a source of joy to him and his family.
Her Majesty The Queen Mother, Sir John Major, Michael Caine, Denis Compton and Brian Johnston were amongst those who enjoyed play at the inaugural game in 1992. Since then, Wormsley has seen great innings from many players, including centuries by Brian Lara and Graham Gooch.
The names of those who have played on the perfect pitch from the world of cricket and entertainment are legendary and include Andrew Flintoff, Imran Khan, Peter O'Toole, Mike Gatting, Derek Randall, Tim Rice, Michael Atherton, Mark Ramprakash, Mike Brearley and Rory Bremner.
Touring international sides regularly play at Wormsley. In recent years, Wormsley has welcomed the Australians, West Indians, Sri Lankans and South Africans.
This year, the club will once again be hosting a raft of corporate events and the ever present minor county matches, plus some local cricket club games.
The Wormsley Estate sits in part of the Chiltern Hills, near High Wycombe. After entering the Estate via electronic security gates, you find yourself driving along a one and a half mile long access drive to reach the prestigious cricket ground.
The cricket ground has a unique setting, close to the Getty family home, which houses a purpose built private library and opera house. Both of these facilities are open to guests and people attending events at the Wormsley Estate. The opera house is used throughout the summer months, mainly during the months of June and July, for a series of major operatic events, seating more than 600 guests at a time.
The cricket season began with two Minor County games, at the end of April and beginning of May, with Oxfordshire playing host to Herefordshire, and then Buckinghamshire playing host to Oxfordshire! We are currently being used as a training camp venue for Afghanistan before their ODI against Scotland in June. The next game is when a John Paul Getty XI plays against Sir Tim Rice's Heartaches XI. All in all, there are over forty matches played at Wormsley each year; a lot when you consider the square only accommodates eight wickets.
After admiring the well kept drive and grounds, I soon found myself at the famous thatched clubhouse, where I met up with Simon Tremlin and his staff. Simon introduced me to his three full-time members; Simon Morse (20 years), Andrew Wallis (6 years) and James Reynoldson (3 years); all of whom have either played cricket, coached cricket or had working experiences at other cricket venues. James had recently returned from a six month working holiday at the WACA in Perth; he was hoping to get a sponsor to enable him to extend his stay, unfortunately none were forthcoming, so has come back in time for the start of the 2015 season.
Simon soon got talking about his role and how he got the job at Wormsley some twenty three years ago. "I started working as a kid on the cricket ground at Congresbury in North Somerset, where I used to play as a youngster. The club used to let me roll the square and cut the outfield as a young teenager. I then worked at Sidcot School for nine months on the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) scheme, before spending a year at Cannington College in Somerset undertaking an NCH (National Certificate of Horticulture). After college, I worked for Somerset County Council for nine months at The King Alfreds School in Burnham-on-Sea, before doing the big move to London to work for the Bank of England at their prestigious ground at Roehampton."
"It was during my time working at the Bank of England's sports ground that I met and became good friends with Harry Brind MBE and, on occasions, helped him out at the Oval. It was, in fact, Harry who gave me the heads up on the job opportunity being advertised at Wormsley CC."
Simon has remained in touch with Harry and cannot speak highly enough about his support and help over the years to help establish the pitches at Wormsley.
The idea of setting up Wormsley CC was that of BBC Test Match Special commentator Brian Johnston, a close friend of Sir Paul Getty, who suggested it would be good to build a cricket ground to play some old fashioned country house games. The first ever game was held in 1992 and was so successful that Sir Paul Getty arranged several more fixtures. They soon found themselves hosting games against international touring sides, the MCC and other notable sides.
The amount of matches is dictated by the size of the square, which currently provides eight pitches, with each one having to accommodate at least five matches.
Over the years, Simon and his team have developed a number of other facilities on site, including several net areas, a grass tennis court and croquet lawn. Simon's staff also have the responsibility of mowing a lot of amenity grass areas in and around the estate; these include ornamental lawns and pathways around the main house, opera house, walled gardens and the main grass verges on the drive.
Simon's early memories of the job were centred on improving pitches and one of the first jobs was to change the loam being used on the square. Originally Surrey Loam, after some debate, Simon decided to change to Ongar loam which he felt would give him better, more consistent pitches.
The demands on the cricket pitches are relentless, especially when catering for international matches. Last year, Simon produced several wickets for the England women's team for both their five day Test matches and one day internationals. The site is also used in August for the now annual Sports Fest, a two day sports festival featuring ex-England international rugby, football, hockey, tennis, netball and cricket players who help host the two day coaching extravaganza. This event enables children from all over the country and of all ages to experience playing different sports.
Simon's team also have to prepare the grounds for the Opera events, which are now into their fourth year. These events are becoming extremely popular, with a season of thirty operatic performances seen over several weeks, enabling 600 people at a time to enjoy picnicking on the lawns and around the cricket ground. Simon says; "it's quite bizarre working with an audience of people suited and booted, eating picnics and drinking champagne, watching our every move before the opera starts!"
Over the years, Simon has built up a significant machinery portfolio to enable him to get the work done efficiently and undertake renovation works. His favourite pieces of equipment are the Lloyds Paladins, Kubota Compact tractors and the tractor mounted Graden scarifier.
He has also set up a contracting service to help local sports clubs with their end of season renovations. They currently undertake the renovation of several local cricket clubs and this has progressed to a number of football and rugby clubs as well. Simon has also run his own bespoke training courses for some local cricket clubs, offering a one day, hands on course.
As with any sports ground, its potential is largely governed by a number of factors; underlying soil type, topography, construction, resources and budget. In Simon's case, his biggest problem is the ability of the soil to drain. The square and outfield were constructed over a 150mm layer of heavy, flint type clay soil over a very slow draining rock/chalk subsoil, coupled with a very high soil pH varying between 8.1 -8.4 and a large two metre fall from the boundary to the square.
The square was laid to a very low specification, with between 75mm and 125mm of loam on top of a shingle base with a 40mm cross fall per pitch, with a soil pH at around pH of 7.7.
To improve the porosity of the outfield, Simon installed a primary drainage twenty years ago, centred on a herringbone system. Every five years, he applies 100 tonnes of sand and carries out a lot of surface aeration throughout the winter months and during any wet spells during the playing season.
The gradient of the outfield, and the fact that water is slow to drain through the soil profile, results in a lot of surface water running over the top of the ground and quickly flooding the lowest part of the outfield. This also means they often have to cover higher up the slope with flat sheets and use their two Super Sopper machines to mop up the water.
The first Super Sopper was acquired from the Oval in 1992, which was the first to be imported into the UK back in 1976 by Harry Brind when he was Head Groundsman at the Oval. It still works well and Simon uses it to mop up excess water from the outfield, whereas the newer model, purchased in 1999, is used to remove water from the flat sheets.
With such a high soil pH, Simon has to combat the problem of nutrients being locked up in the soil by a regime of regular feeding, using liquid feeds for a quick response. He feeds the outfield every month with a 28:0:0 NPK, along with the square which is fed with a 12:4:6 NPK formulation.
The outfield is cut in two directions using an Allett 36" cylinder mower for match preparations, usually two or three times a week during the growing season, but up to five times a week when he has bigger matches, He also has use of a Roberine triple ride on mower to speed up cutting times when weather doesn't allow him to use the Alletts.
As for aeration work, Simon will use a variety of aerators that include a Verti-Drain, Toro Pedestrian ProCore and a Sisis outfield spiker. The chalk underlying the soil dictates his maximum depth of spiking (150mm), so more emphasis and time is devoted to spiking the top 100mm on a regular basis to help improve surface porosity. However, last winter, Simon resorted to using a mole plough to help further improve the drainage capabilities of his outfield.
With the ground set in the Chiltern Hills, it tends to have its own microclimate, resulting in cooler temperatures caused by wind chills, later frosts and windier conditions. The strong winds play havoc with the raised covers and handling of the flat sheets. Simon has devised deep pegging systems to secure site screens, raised covers and the use of iron bars to weigh down the flat sheets. Like most groundsmen, he constantly keeps an eye on the weather radar to see what is predicted to be coming his way. However, there are many times when rain has been forecast but, due to the windy conditions, it has passed them by.
Last year's end of season renovations for the square was centred on a heavy scarification programme using his faithful tractor mounted Graden. Simon scarified in four directions, going deeper with each pass, starting at 3mm, 6mm, 9mm and finally with the last pass set at 12mm. All the surface debris was cleaned up using an Amazone Flail collector, and then oversown with two bags of Barenbrug Extreme grass seed. Over four tonnes of Ongar loam, a heavy dressing (20 bags per pitch) was then applied and brushed/looted in. Finally, a bag of 6:9:6 NPK granular fertiliser was applied and then covered with germination sheets.
Both the tennis and croquet lawns are treated in the same way, however the croquet lawns are topdressed with sand and the tennis courts with tennis loam from Binders instead of the heavier cricket loam. Once the seed has germinated, the sward is cut using pedestrian rotaries.
Spring preparations are governed by the colder weather conditions. Simon likes to get an early application of worm suppressant, followed with a dose of fertiliser, with the aim to get some decent growth before commencing his preseason rolling programme.
After reading about the Cranfield rolling project, Simon has, like many groundsmen, reduced the time spent rolling his square. He usually starts with a couple of passes with the Allett mower, followed by four passes with a one tonne roller and then finishing off with four passes with a two tonne roller, all spread over a four week period and all done in the traditional Union Jack pattern.
It was interesting to learn Simon's pitch preparation regime which, unlike the usual 10-13 day preps usually carried out by groundsmen, is somewhat different. In Simon's case, he leaves his grass length at 12mm, until three days before the game, using pedestrian rotary mowers.
These do a great job and help clear up any surface debris. Pitch prep starts twelve days out, beginning with a decent soaking of the pitch, if required. He then rolls the next day, usually 3 x 30 minutes sessions with the two tonne roller. This is repeated the following day and thereafter, every other day with reduced rolling times (between 15-30 minutes).
Essentially, he likes to roll the grass into the surface. "If you roll grass into the surface, and get the soil and grass very dry, I find the ball skids through quicker, thereby helping to improve pace, which batsmen and bowlers want."
"I tend not to do any scarifying or cutting until three days before the match. I'll then reduce the height of cut using my faithful Lloyds Paladin, scarify using a pedestrian Sisis Combirake and keep the grass dry. I rely on a good surface density of grass, rather than be dictated by length or colour of the grass."
Simon has used this method of preparation to prepare for the England women's one day international pitches, using just a rotary mower and a verticut scarifier, and by concentrating on thinning the density and getting the grass and soil really dry, and rolling the grass into the surface.
"The results have been amazing," confirms Simon, "with wickets offering good pace and bounce. The other bonus is the fact that, because I have not rolled it to death and cut it too short, recovery after matches is much quicker; after a dose of water, overseeding using a Blec seeder and a light dressing of loam, the grass is back up and running after five days."
With so many high end corporate events being held at Wormsley, Simon is mindful that the whole estate should always look its best, so presentation skills come high on his agenda.
Simon lives on site, so is always on hand to oversee any emergencies or last minute hitches. His partner, Charlotte Rose, also works on the Estate, in charge of all the gardens and production of flowers and vegetables, which are in constant demand throughout the year.
The two acre walled garden is divided into four 'Garden Rooms', each as unique and exquisite as the other, offering guests the opportunity to explore at their leisure. Highlights include the newly planted rose garden, a historic well, the croquet lawn, a gorgeous rose covered pergola and a 'Green Theatre'.
Charlotte has a staff of three full timers who help maintain the superb gardens. They are kept busy ensuring that all the gardens are kept tidy and deliver a spectacular floral display throughout the summer. Situated within the gardens are several greenhouses, which are used for propagating both flower and vegetable crops for use in the gardens and homes on the Estate.
As for pests and diseases, with Wormsley being a very large estate, Simon and Charlotte suffer a wide range of minor problems, with badgers, moles, rabbits, foxes and deer collectively causing the most damage. Voles also cause Simon some grief, especially when they start chewing holes in the covers. There has been some chafer damage to the outfield and lawns in the past. Red thread can be prevalent, but regular feeding usually reduces any outbreak of this disease.
Simon, Charlotte and all the staff work in a unique environment, for a family who care passionately about their home and estate. Over the years, the Gettys have invested heavily into the estate and built up a loyal and dedicated workforce who deliver a high class service for all the paying customers lucky enough to visit the Wormsley Estate.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Simon and Charlotte for their time and for making me welcome at this unique cricket ground.
Whilst at the University of Nottingham, studying Environmental Biology, I became a member at Nottinghamshire CCC and fell in love with county cricket. I was looking at trying to combine the use of my degree with my love of the game, but was unsure how to.
Right at the end of my degree, Trent Bridge jointly hosted the World Twenty20 in 2009 and I volunteered there for the tournament. After having had a fantastic time, I was speaking to an ECB volunteers coordinator who suggested I might enjoy being a groundsman and offered to help set up some work experience to help me decide.
This led to doing two weeks at Wormsley, after which I knew this was absolutely the career for me. I continued volunteering and learning from both Simon Tremlin and Simon Morse, whilst looking for a job within the industry. Eventually, this led to a being employed part-time and then full-time once Garsington Opera moved to the estate and we were taking on more work throughout the estate.
My first Job was working for JMS Sport UK in Keighley, West Yorkshire, building and delivering cricket and other sports equipment (mobile covers, sight screens) all over the UK and Ireland.
I was working at Aston Rowant Cricket Club in early 2012 and my boss decided to go and meet his friend Simon Tremlin at Wormsley. I fell in love with the ground as soon as I saw it and, luckily, Simon was looking for someone to work for him for just a month or so, so I jumped at the chance - although we were both about six pints deep! I left home three days later and they haven't been able to get rid of me since.
I met Cameron Sutherland (ex head curator at the WACA) whilst he was visiting sports facilities in the UK. I basically asked him for a job at the WACA everyday until he agreed (again about six pints deep). If you don't ask you don't get.
I worked out in Australia at the WACA during the summer of 2013/14 and loved every minute of it. I Iearnt so much about working at a Test venue and realised that's what I want to do in the future (hopefully overseas). I didn't really want to leave!
Hopefully, I'm going to be working at Newlands in Cape Town, South Africa for some of the winter this year.