By Rollo Wicksteed, Old Bedalian 1949-54
Eighty-five years ago, at the end of their final year at Bedales, two boys had a meeting with their young games master to discuss the future. Jim Atkinson (1930-34) was about to
embark on an engineering degree at Cambridge, and John Fox (1929-34) was preparing to study Civil Engineering. ‘Benn’ Bennett (staff 1930-71) was in his fourth year at the school. However, it was not their futures they talked about, but the much more important question of cricket and in particular, cricket at Bedales. An idea was suggested: at the end of the Summer term, OBs should be invited to return for a week of cricket. Benn agreed to approach ‘The Chief’ (Mr Badley) to see if the proposal met with his approval. It did, so he was promptly chosen to be the Club’s first President, and Stoner Cricket was born.
Fifty years later, as the Club celebrated its half century, John recalled his memories: “Although a performer of little talent, I was quite potty about cricket and when I was due to leave, the idea of abandoning the cricket field was quite awful. I don’t remember being overly impressed by the scenic marvels of the place where I spent 14 happy years successfully resisting being taught anything… but when I found myself leaving it for good, its beauty came upon me suddenly and the notion of arranging some cricket softened the blow”.
Jim, who was not usually lost for words, was less effusive and wrote, “If the cricket has been no more than a vehicle for the making of friends and the interplay of eccentric personalities, then never mind”. Jim was a more than useful village cricketer and was
a Stoner regular for the next 30 years, during which time he proved himself a considerable eccentric and made countless friends.
Benn was, of course the driving spirit and a cricketer good enough to have earned a place on the Lord’s ground staff. As curator of the Bedales wicket he supervised the creation of the ‘Mem’ Pitch after the war, ensuring that it was the best ground in the district. On the death of Mr Badley in 1967, Benn became President of Stoner. Since Stoner’s foundation, hundreds of OBs and their friends have played for the Club including over half a dozen Head Boys. Staff have also played an important part including Ken Keast (staff 1939-49), Harold Gardiner (staff 1952-68), John Batstone (staff 1968-93), Norman Bellis (staff 1956-63) and Anthony Gillingham (staff 1946-70).
For those too young to know him, Anthony was an Old Etonian Marxist who helped sink the Bismarck during the war and had a father who played for Essex!
There have been many other interesting characters who have worn the club colours. Richard Tomlinson (1970-76) has written a highly acclaimed 400 page biography of W.G. Grace. Roger Lloyd Pack (1957-62) became a film and TV star whose brief innings in
the film The Go-Between was featured in its entirety. Matthew Quantrill (1978-83) was a remorseless compiler of runs who tragically died before he could record his 100th Century.
Peter ‘Bunny’ Layton (1940-46) was a stockbroker whose legendary generosity did not always extend to his racing tips or his running between wickets, Alastair Britten (1957-62) invariably slept in a tent during Stoner Week as a tribute to the Club’s pioneers. Finally, Connor Wilkinson (1976-78), was always available to make up the numbers and his unfailing optimism with both bat and ball won him wide admiration. I could go on but enough.
After 84 years, the news that the 2018 Cricket Week had to be cancelled due to lack of players saddened me and only Hitler had managed that. However, amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth, there are cautious grounds for optimism that a renaissance may be round the corner. Cricket at Dunhurst is flourishing, and both the Bursar and the new Heads at Bedales and Dunhurst, love cricket and may even sport MCC ties, which shows the right spirit! We also hear that staff and parents have their own team trading under the name ‘Gentlemen of Bedales’, which includes some enthusiastic pupils.
The idea of a week’s cricket after the end of term has been discussed, and sounds an attractive possibility. Perhaps it’s worth a try – it worked last time!
This article was originally published in the Bedales Association & Old Bedalian Newsletter 2019. Find out more about Stoner Cricket Club, including this year’s fixtures, here.