Tonbridge History

Tonbridge cricketers

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A county match on Tonbridge's Angel Ground in the early years of the twentieth century. The site is now occupied by Sainsbury's, Beale's, the Angel Centre and their associated car parks.

From the earliest days of the game, Kent has been a very strong cricketing county. This strength was due mainly to its seedbed in Tonbridge where the county Nursery, at which young players were nurtured, was located on the town’s Angel Ground from 1897 to 1927. It was managed by Tom Pawley, who was also manager of the Rose & Crown hotel. He was an ex-Kent cricketer and had at one time been appointed to manage the Kent team. Cricket for many Tonbridgians was more than just a Saturday afternoon pastime; it was a way of life – and for some in the town it provided a living. Between the wars, the Cricket Week festivities were the highlight of Tonbridge's summer season.

Three of Tonbridge's finest players are profiled below, but there have been many others almost equally deserving of mention: Doug Wright, ‘Hopper' Levett, Alan Watt, Tich Freeman, Leslie Ames, and Arthur Fagg. The last of these, on leaving Sussex Road School, soon established a place in the Kent side as an opening bat and followed this by playing for England. He remains to this day the only first class player to score a double century in each innings of a match, something he achieved playing for Kent against Essex at Colchester in 1938.

Colin Blythe

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The Kent team who won the County Championship in 1906. Blythe is at back right, Woolley at back left. (THS31C.07)

Colin Blythe was born in 1879 in Deptford, but he learnt his cricket in the Nursery at the County Ground in Tonbridge. He was a slow left arm bowler and there was beauty as well as deadliness in his bowling. The rhythm in his action and his mastery of flight and spin were poetic. ‘Charlie’, as he was known, took 2,506 wickets at 16.81 runs each for Kent and played 19 times for England.

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Members of the Welsh Dragons cricket team pay homage at the grave of Charlie Blythe in 1933. (Photo supplied by Paul Sambrook)

Blythe was on the point of retiring when the First World War broke out: to the dismay of his colleagues and of the general public he was killed in action in 1917. He is buried in the Oxford Road Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium but there is a memorial to him in Tonbridge Parish Church, and a road in North Tonbridge bears his name.

Frank Woolley

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Woolley contributed 172 to Kent's highest-ever score of 804 for 4 (wrong on the scoreboard) in 1934. He is the tallest of the three players shown. (THS31C.44)

Frank Woolley, born and bred in Tonbridge, also learnt his cricket at the Tonbridge Nursery. He brought grace and colour to Kentish cricket throughout his career from 1906 to 1938. He made 145 hundreds and scored 58,961 runs and bowled very effective slow left-arm. He played 64 times for England. But the quality that endeared him to crowds over the years was the grace and majesty of his left-handed batting. Neville Cardus wrote: ‘No other cricketer served the meadow game as happily and faithfully as Woolley’.

Plaque to Frank Woolley

Woolley's childhood home was his father’s cycle and engineering shop at 72 High Street, barely 100 yards from the Angel Ground. The house was later demolished for road widening, and replaced by what is now Starbucks. There is a plaque to him on the wall facing the High Street. He is also commemorated in the Parish Church and by a road in North Tonbridge.

Colin Cowdrey

Colin Cowdrey was a pupil at Tonbridge School between 1945 and 1950. He first appeared at Lords at the age of 13 and went on to become captain of Oxford, Kent and England. He first played for Kent in 1950 and led them to win the Gillette Cup in 1967 and the Championship in 1970. In all he made 23,779 runs for the county and over 100 centuries. He played for England 114 times, 27 of them as captain. In later life Cowdrey made a major contribution to the administration of world cricket, as President of the MCC and Chairman of the International Cricket Council. He was deeply involved in measures to preserve all that is best in cricket from the aggressive trends in the modern game, and brought charm, courtesy and dignity to cricket the world over. He was knighted in 1992 and made a life peer, Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge, five years later. He died in 2000. Two of his sons played for Kent and one of them, Christopher, also played for England.

Tonbridge School cricket pitch

Tonbridge School's hallowed first eleven cricket ground, known as 'The Head', was levelled in about 1840 using surplus soil – and navvies – from the construction of the railway. This well-known print shows it as it was in 1851. It was here that Colin Cowdrey began his spectacular career in the 1940s. (THS12.051)

More detailed biographies are on the 'Cricinfo' website here: Blythe, Woolley, Cowdrey.