Prees Cricket and Recreation Club
The Private Playing Fields of Prees 1932 – now
Over 80 years of sporting and social engagement
Before 1931 there is little documentation available of sporting activity in the village. The names of the members and the rules of the cricket club in 1862 are framed and mounted in the clubhouse. A cricket cash book remains showing the transactions from 1922 to 1933.
Prior to 1931 the game of cricket was being played at Sandy Lane Farm, Prees with Prees Amateur Football Club playing at Crabtree Farm, Steele Heath. Tennis was popular in the village from 1922, playing at Limmerslea, Grass End. Records of committee meetings still survive. Billiards and snooker were being played at the Reading Room, Church Street which is now the Village Club.
Meetings in the village, including The Cricket Club were held in the Reading Room, a building donated to the village by Captain R. A. Black in 1914.
In the beginning there must have been much village wishful thinking to "purchase a field for cricket". At the height of the great financial depression, this audacious whim became reality with the purchase of 3.965 acres of light sandy land in Brades Road. This was decided at an extraordinary general meeting of Prees Cricket Club on the 19th of June 1931, for the purchase price of £170. This was a bold and unique decision for a sporting club to have ownership of its ground. The main source of revenue for the purchase came from donations. The list of donors is on file together with the entire original correspondence of the land purchase.
On the 1st of June 1932 there was an opening ceremony of the new Cricket and Recreational Grounds by the Hon. Viscount Bridgman. The opening was preceded by a local cricket match and concluded with a match between Nantwich 1st XI and the Presidents XI. An invitation to the opening still remains and is headed "Prees Cricket and Recreation Club" following the changing of the club's name at the AGM on April 11th 1932.
The more "educated" men of the village were elected into office: the landowner Captain R.A. Black, the rector Reverend S.J. Hughes, Doctor J.R. Mitchell and the head teacher Mr. H.L. Unwin. Doctor J.R. Mitchell donated a cup for the best batting average.
Grant money was sought to develop the ground and encompass tennis courts and a bowling green. To make grant funds secure from the Carnegie Trust and the National Playing Fields Association, the grantees requested the property to be conveyed to trustees under a trust deed and registered with the charity commissions. The management and control of the club is invested in an elected committee who have total authority to manage the club within the terms of the trust deed and according to the drafted rules
The bowling green was laid and seeded to which a 5 yard extension was added in 1949 on the eastern side. Two tennis courts were constructed with a pavilion together with a wooden pavilion for cricket.
A statement of capital expenditure to the end of 1933 is documented showing the outgoings of £1073 2s 6d, this includes: fields purchase, pavilions, construction of the tennis courts and bowling green, children's playground, machinery, fencing and gates etc.
1935 - 1937
The village silver jubilee celebrations took place on the ground for the 25 year reign of King George V on 13th of May 1935. The coronation of King George VI on 13th May 1935 was also celebrated here. On both occasions commemorative oaks trees were planted but it seems have failed to reach maturity.
Mr John Morris, grocer, committee man and bowler, donated a trophy for bowling - The Morris Cup. The Morris shop is now the village store.
A timber bowls pavilion was erected and remained in situ until 1976 when it was relocated as a store until 2006.
During the war years cricket and football was suspended but tennis and bowls continued and the bowling club joined the Whitchurch league in 1941 but to date have yet to win the 1st division of the Whitchurch league. The committee offered the ground to the War Agricultural Committee for ploughing and the pavilions were insured under the War Damage Act. The attention of the committee was drawn by vandalism by the children to the property and damage to the ground by rabbits and moles.
A cup was donated to the bowling club from the Salopian Engineers known now as the Salopian Cup.
The area named the Salopian Cattle Bowl was taken over by the Rubery Owen Company until it closed in 1981 and is now Prees Industrial Estate.
The adjoining land was developed by the Wem Council into 32 dwellings known as Harvern Gardens. The eight original houses were built in 1935. The gardens were named after councillor Harold Vernon Powell, the elected delegate on Wem Rural District Council for Prees.
The club introduced a covenant scheme to boost the income from subscriptions by claiming the tax value from the Inland Revenue on the subscription fee. Capital expenditure was used to enable mains electricity connection, improved mains water supply, toilet conveniences connected to the garden sewerage system, two grass tennis courts were constructed to compliment the hard court and sightscreens were provided for the cricket.
On 2nd of June 1953 the village celebrated the coronation of queen Elizabeth II and commemorative trees were planted.
Mr Charlie Smout donated a trophy for tennis "The Smout Challenge Cup". A cup was also purchased for the best annual cricket bowling average.
The committee pledged the sum of £100 to help purchase from the Oddfellows Organisation the hall for the sum of £1,800 to become the community village hall. A fete and gymkhana were arranged by the committee and the members elected from the wider committee. This mammoth integrated village event on the 27th of August 1955 raised £354 14s 6d with the aid of a St Leger sweepstake draw. This giant fundraising event was repeated for eight years, raising £2,555 and helped initially to purchase the Oddfellows Hall and later to build the 1960 pavilion. The minute book of this committee is archived along with the newspaper reports and pictures at the time.
Reverend J.S. Hughes, who was elected chairman in 1932, retired after 24 years. A supporter of cricket as umpire etc. and the social life for its village interaction. The rector of St Chads for 25 years, he was one of many religious ministers involved with the club.
A rule was rescinded to allow Sunday games, but only after 2 p.m.
Mr Tom Forrester retired from the committee. He had been bowler, secretary and the manager of Prees Amateur Football Club for over 30 years.
At the request of the tennis club, the committee decided to erect a pavilion of brick structure to serve the needs of the tennis and cricket club so applied for grant aid from the Ministry of Education. Captain R. A. Black of Prees Hall completed 22 years as the club president. At that time the hall was well maintained and the gardens immaculate.
The pavilion was built by the local builder, Mr Ben Minshall, and opened on the 3rd of September 1960 (fete day) by Mr A.G.B. Owen OBE of the Rubery Owen Company, the major local employer.
With a donation from the Morris family a 24" clock was installed in the pavilion to the memory of Herbert S. Morris, a club benefactor and supporter.
Mr Herbert W. Batkin completed 35 years as a treasurer from 1927. He was also a prime mover in the playing field acquisition. A businessman, County Councillor with a passion for the club shown by a 100% record of attendance of all meeting - AGM, committee, fete and gymkhana since 1931.
Mr George E. Wilbraham retired as the secretary after 22 years of service. The village shopkeeper, newsagent and hairdresser started the business in 1909 at the present site. It has been "open all hours" for nearly 100 years and remains the family business.
The end of an era - the entertainment committee ceased. The first dinner dance presentation evening was held at the Hawkstone Park Hotel, a licensed bar was installed with an elected bar committee and the club rules were amended to accommodate the licensing laws.
The Wilbraham Rose Bowl was donated by the family to the bowling club.
A parcel of adjoining land was leased from Mr James Bridge, levelled and seeded to become a football pitch. In 1990 it was generously bequeathed to the club.
The 1862 cricket club documents were presented to the club by Mr Harry L. Unwin. A tenancy was secured on the church commissioners land of nearly two acres on a 25 year lease.
Floodlighting was installed around the bowling green and an autumn floodlit competition was arranged attracting a large entry. This was a popular open bowling event and attracted major sponsorship money and continued for 30 years. The bowls "A" team were winners of the Market Drayton League and their doubles competition.
The Cartwright Cup was donated to the bowling club to commemorate the bowling and service to the club of Mr. Bill Cartwright who was a bowler, committee member and ground engineer for 14 years. Negotiations were instigated with the village club to form an amalgamation but failed to gain adequate support.
A major ground improvement was undertaken to include the church land and defunct tennis courts turning them into a relocated cricket pitch by levelling and reseeding.
Mr. H. Neil Batkin completed 12 years as the treasurer and before this 18 years as the bowling club secretary and a committee member since 1933.
Land was purchased on the northern boundary and a second larger bowling green was laid with floodlighting being added in 1978. A ladies hockey club was formed and continued until the advent of Astroturf pitches. The football club became a more integrated section of the club. Extensions and alterations to the pavilion were undertaken to provide a bowls pavilion and balcony.
A ladies bowls team "Prees D" joined the Whitchurch League.
The covenant membership scheme was discontinued.
August bank holiday fun day was arranged to celebrate the club's 50th anniversary and thereafter continued for a period of 6 years as a fundraising vehicle.
A bowls-marking pavilion was opened to commemorate the long association with the club of Mr Leslie Ford and Mr Neil Batkin.
Mr Tom Groom retired as the secretary after 22 years service overseeing many ground improvements including the principal second green. Mr Len Wilbraham retired as treasurer after 11 years of dedication to the office and being involved with the club for over 40 years.
Mr Harry L. Unwin completed 21 years as president. He was an original trustee and committee man with a total of 55 years support for the club. He was also a churchman and a head teacher of the highest integrity who served the village faithfully.
Mr Albert Groom retired from the committee having served a period of 56 years. For most of these years he was a management pillar of the cricket club. In 1999 £4,000 was bequeathed to the club for a motor mower. This was a decade and a half of major changes culminating with the building of a new club house.
The club purchased the neighbouring property known as Camsley with 4 acres of land at auction for £73,500.
The church commissioner's leased land with an area of 2 acres was purchased for £5,606.56.
The amateur football club folded having played on the ground since 1932 except during the war years. The most notable achievement was winning the Commander Ethelston Cup on the 4th of May 1957 at Yockings Park, Whitchurch against Wem Town FC with a 7 - 1 victory. Mr Bert Thomas, secretary and manager, retired after 30 years of loyal service to the football management of Prees amateurs.
A major playing field project was undertaken to incorporate the Camsley land into the sports area by substantial soil movement and seeding. The cricket square was laid to the MCC prescribed specification and a £10,000 grant was received from NSDC towards the contractor's costs.
Two acres of land were included in the village plan for house development in 1995 by NSDC. One half of this development was sold to build seven dwellings with an agreement reached on infrastructure, a joint entrance and the club's car park. The Camsley site was sold at auction with planning permission for a bungalow.
An artificial cricket wicket was constructed with the aid of a Lords Taverners grant of £1,300.
On the 5th of April 1997, Miss Sybil Ruscoe, a national media presenter, opened the multi-purpose sports pitch measuring 53m x 53m with a fence surround and floodlighting. This facility was made possible by a generous sponsorship agreement with Grocontinental and grant money from the sportsmatch scheme.
Prees cricket club withdrew from the league due to an insufficient number of players. It is known that a cricket team was playing in 1862 and the 1920's and on the present ground in 1932. The glory days may have been the post war years during which the club was successful and victorious in league and 20/20 knockout cricket and reached a peak of player participation between 1960 and 1990, with a full Saturday and Sunday fixture list.
On the 9th of June the millennium year was celebrated by the community with a weekend of organised fun activity on the playing field which was planned by the village millennium committee and was a huge success. The Shropshire Star evening newspaper donated an oak tree which was planted on the 25th of March by the chairman of the parish council, Councillor Pauline Collins to commemorate the year. A donation of £905 was received from Mr Derek Smout for his sponsored 100 mile walk to add to his other notable fund raising donations.
After 24 years the ladies hockey team folded with the advent of Astroturf pitches.
2003 - 2004
The replacement bowling green was constructed of local sandy soil, laid and seeded. The automatic water irrigation system was connected, floodlighting installed and maintenance free gutters and pathways built around both greens. The New Inn public house closed its doors in September 2004.
An extraordinary general meeting approved changes to the club rules to comply with the Licensing Act 2003.
An initiative to unite the village social and sporting amenities with an amalgamation of the village hall, village club and the sports club failed to gain sufficient support.
A youth shelter was erected on the western perimeter of the playing field on 25 year lease and with a legal agreement with the parish council.
The multi sports pitch was updated with the covering of Astroturf to encourage use and become more user friendly. Extra floodlighting was provided and the improvements were grant aided.
The new clubhouse was open for Christmas 2005. This major capital project of nearly £600,000 was funded by the sale of phase two of the housing development land. It was built by local builders and members WT Hopwood & Son and Stan Richards & Sons Ltd. This grand clubhouse provides an ambience for social gatherings and celebrations with spacious facilities to gratify the aspirations of the membership.
2006 - present
This new era has attracted an escalation in the membership, many social events, a rewarding financial turnover and an all round surge in indoor and outdoor sports.
2nd of June 2007 was the 75th anniversary of the ground opening. The management of the club is in the control of an enthusiastic committee under the chairmanship of Ray Grocott who was elected in 1976 and who has guided the club progressively forwards with bold leadership, dedication and determination.
The Club celebrated its 10th year in the new clubhouse.
Through the 75 years of recorded minutes the most repetitive item on the agenda is the fundraising. In the first 30 years there was an elected entertainment committee whose duties involved arranging an annual dance, concert and whist drive. In the later years it has been bingo, horse race evenings, discos, fun days etc. with additional monies from the clubhouse bar. Occurring annually to raise money was the debate on the membership fee.
The raising of funds is the most important item on the agenda as the money enables the club to maintain the property and make improvements to the facilities. Through the years the club has whatever grant money has been available.
The club has engaged many local people to maintain the facilities - groundsmen, clubhouse cleaners, bar staff etc. on a minimal rate of pay but has been fortunate to employ dedicated staff who have strived to enhance the well being of the club.
The office holders have worked diligently to ensure the club's legal obligation are in order, the insurance policy covers the value of the property as well as the welfare of the members and staff. The officials have always executed these duties on a voluntary basis without honorarium.
For over three quarters of a century much pleasure has been derived from sport. The popularity and standard of play have ebbed and flowed. Bowls has enjoyed consistent support with the most member participants. Cricket and the Prees Amateur Football Club have had past successes and the village teams have been a consistent force in North Shropshire. Tennis enjoyed popularity in the club's earlier years but, despite the valiant efforts of the members, could not be sustained. Ladies hockey 1976 - 1999 brought a welcome female dimension to the sporting and social activity. Other sports mentioned in the records include netball and rounders with table tennis having a following in the 1960s with a league commitment.
This chronology was compiled by Mr Michael Batkin with factual information extracted from the minute books 1931 - 2007. These minute books are complete and in archive but are available to anyone who may have a point of interest to investigate.
It is with regret that only a few of the names have been mentioned as the survival of the club has depended on the voluntary ethos of so many members, which are too numerous to mention. The supererogation has been surpassed by many - the act of commitment beyond the call of duty. No persons could have imagined in 1931 that the wishful thinking of the few to purchase a field for cricket could have brought so much pleasure to so many of the good, the gracious and the grateful
Mike's arrival in the 1950s started a lifetime commitment to our club. He was the best batsmen the club ever had, between 1959 and 1980 he won the Batting Cup 18 times, 13 times consecutively.
He was Club Secretary for 22 years before becoming our President. He maintained the playing fields for 40 years. Mike was so modest and unassuming and a wonderful club member and leader. Sadly Mike passed away in 2014.