Honorary Secretary The Alexandra Park Club

Jenny Wilson is Honorary Secretary of The Alexandra Park Club, which incorporates The Alexandra Park Cricket Club, The Alexandra Park Football Club and The Alexandra Park Youth Football Club. In this, the 125th anniversary year of the Cricket Club, we talk to her about its history, its current state of health and the plans for its 125th birthday.

FoAP: Can you tell us a little about the Club’s history?

The Alexandra Park Club (which amalgamated the Alexandra Park Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club with the Alexandra Park Football Club) was established in 1972 but the Alexandra Park Cricket Club (APCC) history within the racecourse area of the Park goes way back. In fact, 2013 is the APCC’s 125th anniversary. And there is much to look back on and much to look forward to.

Its history is deeply rooted in the area. For example, APCC played its earliest cricket on a piece of waste ground at the end of Victoria Road and then on a site now covered by Outram, Clyde and Harcourt Roads. In 1906 the Club was permitted to play on part of the racecourse ground, with the other part used by the Great Northern Railway. Then in 1912 APCC came into possession of the lease for the entire racecourse ground when the Great Northern Club moved to Gordon Hill in Enfield.

In 1906 APCC became the Alexandra Park Cricket & Tennis Club and in 1921 the word “Lawn” was added. For many years there were three grass tennis courts, three shale tennis courts and a separate tennis members’ pavilion. Unfortunately, the tennis pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1960.

It was only when horse racing stopped in September 1970 that the Club had any vehicular access to its ground. Before that a removable pontoon bridge went across the racecourse and everything and everyone had to get to the Club over this none-too-substantive structure. It was at this time the Club was able to be connected to the electricity mains – the end of the generator era and before that, gas lighting!

Ironically, while these gains brought a lot of benefits, in some ways the Club was much easier to maintain during the “racecourse years” because the horse track running rails and periphery fencing gave a clear demarcation of the area leased by it. Today there is little or no understanding that the entire area is maintained by Club members with the assistance of one part-time groundsman and we do experience a lot of problems in terms of wear and tear.

FoAP: Who were the key participants involved in setting it up?

The APCC was founded in 1888 by Ernest A Cawdron and his friend and fellow choir boy, J. Lock. Little is known about how it started beyond the desire to play cricket. In 1929, Errnie Cawdron, by then a veteran, a Middlesex County Councillor and Chairman of the Alexandra Park and Palace Trustees, retired from the captaincy of APCC.

FoAP: Why did they choose Alexandra Park?

We know cricket had been played within the Racecourse as early as 16 June 1873 (see photo below). For example, on 16/17/18 June 1873 a three-day fund-raising match was arranged to raise funds for the rebuilding of Alexandra Palace after it burned down on the 9 June 1873. The game featured WG Grace and his brother GF, as well as J Lilywhite. We can only presume that the opportunity to move to the racecourse ground and occupy a recognisable cricket facility presented itself in 1906 and was welcomed.

The Act of 1900 relating to the acquisition of the Park and Palace lands and buildings places a duty on the Trustees to maintain grounds for cricket and other games so the Club (still run on an entirely voluntary basis) is continuing to provide an excellent service in this respect!

FoAP: What were its founding principles?

The straightforward enjoyment of amateur cricket – preferably as a participant rather than spectator. The Club remains as a members-only Club but all are welcome to join.

FoAP: How long has the Pavilion been here?

The Club’s original Victoria Pavilion was destroyed by fire on 11 November 1975. A devastating blow but members rallied round and a new Pavilion was officially opened on 21 August 1977. One of the consequences of providing essential temporary accommodation at that time was effectively the end of the Tennis Club since a temporary building was placed on the shale courts. The grass courts had already gone to make football possible when at the request of the then AP&P Trustees, the GLC, APFC left its home since 1932 below the boating lake to join APCC at what is still known to many as the “racecourse” ground.

History sadly repeated itself when the “new” Pavilion was destroyed by fire on 9 February 1992. Once again the Club’s members rallied round and the present Clubhouse was officially opened on the 5th of September 1993.

FoAP: How has the Club evolved over time?

The Alexandra Park Club (incorporating The Alexandra Park Cricket Club, The Alexandra Park Football Club and The Alexandra Park Youth Football Club) is now a registered Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC) and continues to work to provide opportunities for cricket and football both at senior and junior levels. Importantly, this means the members have made a commitment to providing sporting opportunities to all members of the community and we are particularly keen to involve more local people at the Club. There is a really friendly atmosphere here and on a nice summer’s day being here is just a joy.

FoAP: What are some of the key facts about the Club?

APCC regularly fields four or five sides on a Saturday and one or two on a Sunday as well as playing mid-week games. In total APCC plays around 120 senior games a year. There is also a growing Colts section for girls and boys between 6 and 15.

These days football is played at the ground in the winter months with eight senior sides, soon to be nine. They play every Saturday that weather allows. That’s getting on for 200 games of football each season, with the Club making use of a number of satellite grounds as well as the racecourse. There is also a strong youth football section running nearly 30 sides, although most of these games have to be played away from the racecourse as the ground cannot handle the additional wear and tear.

Total senior membership of the two senior Clubs is somewhere near 200 although over 300 youth players are also involved in either cricket or football during the year. APCC is particularly keen to develop and expand its Colts section in this 125th anniversary year and encourage future involvement in the Club.

FoAP: What are the requirements to become a member?

Membership is open to all, whether to play sport or as a social member. Obviously a membership subscription is required and playing members also pay a match fee to help cover costs. Meeting the cost of running the Club is always a challenge.

FoAP: What are some of the advantages of playing in the Park?

It is obviously a lovely location and probably the only cricket pitch in the UK in the grounds of a palace! The downside is that there is little or no recognition that Club members service and maintain the ground and have little protection from its misuse. Visitors struggle to locate the ground and we have little privacy. It is hugely challenging and I have to admit sometimes heartbreaking.

FoAP: Have drainage improvements made a difference?

Sadly, this remains work in progress and the ground has been too wet to install the drainage at the present time. We have to hope that things will improve and ultimately that the Club will be able to make better use of the ground throughout the year. We have lost so many games both winter and summer (and therefore income to keep the Club going) and hope that eventually the drainage will enable us to use the ground more effectively.

FoAP: But you are still here after all these years! How is the Club planning to celebrate the 125th anniversary?

APCC has a number of special fixtures planned, including a match against a representative MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) side on 30 May and another against a Club Cricket Conference side on 20 June. The Club will also be meeting all its normal fixtures, arranging other social events and most importantly working to develop greater interest from young players by encouraging their participation in a Club with a long and proud history. In addition, there will be a celebratory dinner at the “Top of the Hill” in September at the end of the League season and an updated history of the APCC will also be published.

FoAP: What are the Club’s future plans?

Simple: keeping the Club going and encouraging participation at all levels of the game, both cricket and football! The importance of developing our cricket Colts and providing an opportunity for youngsters (from the age of six) to enjoy the game of cricket and develop within the Club cannot be over-emphasised. We are also always looking for new members who are keen to get involved in both the playing side but also the organisational aspects of the Club. These responsibilities, as happens with many volunteer clubs, fall on a relatively small group of individuals.

We hope that, after years of planning, improved facilities, and specifically drainage, will make it possible for us to make better use of the racecourse ground than is presently possible and enable us to host more youth sports at the Club, including events such as local borough sports finals.

FoAP: Finally, while we appreciate that you stress that the Club’s fortunes are based on the efforts of a committed team of people who give up their time to make it all work, can you tell us a bit about your background with the Club and what you do here?

I do anything from cleaning, pulling pints (we generally have three beers on hand pump), to making sure we are keeping the Charitable Trust happy! But I want to emphasise that a lot of us give a lot of time. Our chairman Nigel Grimes, for example, is hugely committed. Actually, he and I go back to before we were born since both our parents met here during the times of the tennis club. My husband Chris and I met down here as well when he played cricket and I played tennis. And our younger son , Alistair, is currently chairman of the Cricket Club so it’s continuing in the family in that sense. Basically, this is a labour of love for a lot of individuals.

The photograph is undated, but the style of the long dresses worn by the ladies, however, suggests a date of 1870s or 1880s in the opinion of Valerie Crosby at Bruce Castle. This period would seem to be compatible with the photographers, Herbert & James Rigden, whose Bowes Park Studio was located at 20 Myddleton Road, Bowes Park, London N before a move in 1899 to No 105.

Playing a game in 2012