Bill Willetts Remembers
John, I will write properly and at length but wanted you to know that your biographical notes reached me and really stirred the memories and inevitably a bout of nostalgia for the golden days of our carefree youth, when our only troubles were the failure to secure the latest feminine attraction of our aspirations or our inability to win our last match, the latter pleasantly a very rare event in 1956.
The inception of the Crossbatters was at a meeting in the old prefects room in Abbey Square, when those of us who had left school in 1956, either for National Service (Fleming, Burdekin, Willetts) or to go to university (W M Roberts), and others met to discuss the formation of a team to continue the friendships forged on 2 school cricket tours (1955/1956) and the 1st XI teams of those years and of course the undefeated side of 56. Graeme Guthrie volunteered to create a fixture list and we began play in summer 1959. Such a very long time ago and yet the memories and friendships remain fresh as ever. I always have thought it a tragedy that the school did not meet our request to play a few games on our much loved Lache Lane pitch; it would have created a focal point for KS old boys which has been sadly lacking.
Do you remember when we won Chester Nomads 6-a-side competition with David James guesting as goalkeeper? I remember Graeme Guthrie getting a hatful of goals that day and JPB, by then a hockey player at Uni, charging thru the mud to thwart the opposition. Also a game at Winsford when Mike Burdekin was in goal.
G A Williams played, he was in my school year and later went to Oxford, tho I can’t remember which college (I do recall he managed, with several others, to avoid National Service which those of us who went on to Cambridge Mike B, John Fleming, and I had to do); he was not really a Xbatter, more an auxiliary pressed into service, his main forte was that he could run for ever - useful in the stamina sapping conditions of the Nomads 6 a side.
And the Crossbatters played golf at Hawarden (1960?)? The golf included Guthrie, Burdekin and probably W M Roberts but my memory here is a little vague. (john p thought John R was also involved and we met his mum for the first time. The golf was after the 1956 tour had finished and we all wanted to continue the shindig, well aware that many were about to disappear into the real world of National Service and graft?)
Mike B remembered the golf day at Hawarden - he thinks that John P, Graeme Guthrie and John Reidford were also involved. His particular memory was that when we hired clubs there were no left handed ones and he had to try to play right handed. We nearly got thrown off when he let rip with a drive and hit the greenkeeper who was mowing one of the greens. That was the one and only time he has played golf on a full course.
Do you have any recollection of our exploits on various Bowling greens? Bowls was I think more associated with the KS teams of 55/56 as something we did in between cricket matches and very occasionally in Chester, probably during summer holidays. Coming from Chester we were more familiar with Crown Bowls, where the green is domed like an upturned saucer and perhaps the "cloth cap" version of the game. On the 55 tour we went to the local bowling green which was a flat green on which games are played in strict parallel almost like bowling alleys as against crown greens where you play in any direction across the green. Graeme Guthrie distinguished himself on this occasion (and horrified the local players) by sending his wood down the right side of our designated lane, intending that the bias on the wood should bring it back into the centre of our lane. Unfortunately he had the bias on the wrong side and his wood clattered into the bowls on the adjacent lane scattering them in all directions. I think we left fairly quickly afterwards.
John R also remembers the flat green bowling ... ‘Intent on hiding his lack of experience he impressed the green keeper by insisting his rented ball had beautiful shine, shape and weight and then proceeded to launch his missile on the regulation mat but off the wrong foot ... much to Keith Patterson’s embarrassment’!
In those early Xbatter days, we were all struggling to obtain some form of transport, which included several pretty venerable vehicles. I always admired Tony Bowen's MG sports - beautiful car and so much style! Tony was clearly the outright winner in that arena - I still envy him, altho I loved my old Austin (1937 vintage). The Bowens and their dad were great contributors to cricket and social life at the time. We also played hockey with Tony Bowen.
What is true is that in the KS 1st XIs of 55/56, we had 3 exceptional cricketers; Burdekin, Guthrie and Reidford. Mike B played for the school 1st from age 13; he also played for Flintshire while still at school, as did John Reidford, and Guthrie played for England Public schools (all this from memory so may need confirmation?). Burdekin and Reidford later played in Minor Counties teams and Guthrie in the Irish version of County Cricket. Such a shame that Mike never was awarded a blue at Cambridge; he played for the University frequently but was never quite able to clinch a permanent place on the batsmen friendly track at Fenners (a sharp contrast to the bowler, and especially spin friendly wicket, at Lache Lane of hallowed memory). Until we went on tour in 1955, I don’t think any of our batsmen thought in terms of a possible 100, but the tour changed all that. I don’t remember any centuries at school, but I do know John Reidford made 100 for the xbatters.
(Mike B had one or two factual corrections to Bill's highly complementary accounts of keeping wicket to himself and John Reidford concerning his involvement in cricket in the Cambridge area. Although he had trials for the University XI he never played in the team - he did play for the second XI, known as the Crusaders, for two years against the Oxford equivalents known as the Authentics. He did play three matches at Minor County level for Cambridgeshire until they hired Johnny Wardle as their left arm spinner after he left Yorkshire and the competition was a bit too strong.)
I remember a game at Wrexham (evening 20 overs aside when the xbatters were struggling against a really quick bowler, and after about 15 overs we were something like 80 for 8 when Tom Bateman and I came together. We decided there was always a run off the quick if we left the ball to go thru to the wicket keeper who was about as far back as Dennis Lilleys run up. We took the score to around 120 with much muttering among the Wrexham team who thought our tactics improper! Then Burdekin and others bowled a very tight line; did not take many if any wickets but kept Wrexham to well below our score for a win I’ve never forgotten.
I’ve been thinking about bowlers from the perspective of a half competent wicket keeper. Mike Burdekin was certainly the best slow left armer I ever kept to; he could do everything, chinaman, googly as well as conventional spin and always on a good line and length; I always looked to when he came on to bowl. I remember one day, possibly at Stockport G S, when our usual opening bowler (probably Tom Bateman) didn’t fancy the end chosen by the umpires for our first over; Mike took the ball and bowled really quick, swinging and seaming the ball so that the batsmen didn’t know what was next. After a wicket maiden Mike took himself off ... point proved. When he was about 11 or 12 he was a left arm quick and for his age very quick. Later in the 54/55/56 KS teams he was still as good as any if only for 2 or 3 overs. I really enjoyed keeping to him.
John Reidford was certainly as good as any swing bowler I ever kept to; even at 15/16 his control of line and length would have had Fred Trueman singing his praises. When I first knew him he had not attained top speed but he took hatfuls of wickets for KS and xbatters. I could stand up for him although he was even then a bit quick, simply because his control was metronomic and as a wicket keeper you knew he would never send a wild delivery down the legside.
Do you remember Barney Lathom-Sharp? Another left arm spinner; gave the ball a good tweak but did not have the variety of Mike, but sometimes took wickets in tandem with him because batsmen tried to attack him in desperation being unable to fathom Mike. Martin Wheeler was a more than useful off spinner with a very good arm ball always pitched around middle/off or off stump. He was fun to keep to as well. Brian Stanyer, another off spinner, and like BLS gave the ball a good rip, but did not have enough command of length to be really good. You, John, were more like Freddie Millett, who was captain of Macclesfield when I played there in the early 70s Fred was also captain of Cheshire and took a 100 off the touring West Indies, so he may have been a slightly better bat than you! But like you he bowled nominal off breaks, no break but pitched leg stump and generally going on slightly with the arm. Every so often the batsman would play for the nonexistent turn and Fred took a wicket, either LBW or caught behind off a thick outside edge. A wicket keepers nightmare with the ball aimed at leg stump and therefore concealed by the batter from the wk's view, but you were expected to take the catch when eventually it came! I used to leave it to 1st slip although not always intentionally! Perhaps I do you an injustice? Who else do I recall from those golden days? Well Malcolm Brewis of course, useful bat, good fielder (though now I think of it, not as good as you in your favoured gully position) Interesting that Northwich produced such a batch of exceptional cricketers, and not bad footballers in a short span of time; you, Graeme Guthrie, Malcolm Brewis (and later Chris Chorlton). Martin Evans I knew when we both played for the Nomads in the late 1960s. Did all of these also passed thru Arnold House and presumably came under the influence of John Hudson?
(Mike B was interested to hear that Bill played at Macclesfield in the early 1970s. Mike joined Macc in 1977 and played for the first team for a couple of years before eventually retiring when his younger son was competing for a place in the team!! Freddie Millett was still playing then in the twilight of his career. Mike was President of Macc from 1996 to 2010 but although he remained a supporter he was not involved in the admin any more. He was pleased to see that Macc thrashed Boughton Hall in one of their games this in 2015 ... OK the other game went the other way!!).
Thank you for copying me in on your network re Xbatters. I have had so much pleasure from your communications and refreshing recollections of those great days past.
Just in case it is not in the old scorebooks. Don't overlook John Reidford who was the first member of the team to make 100. I think in a game south of Chester in 1960/1; location inexact but I remember driving back to Chester along the Wrexham Road (I had borrowed my fathers old Ford as we were short of transport that Sunday). It was also the only occasion that Andrew Place, another auxiliary, played for Xbatters as we were a man short and he actually held a slip catch!
There was no sign of any scorebooks from 1959 or 1960 but our guess is that Reidford’s ton was at Park Hall Garrison, Oswestry where xbatters scored 231 runs and that year John R only had 6 knocks, scored runs 257 and averaged 64!
And I should not omit mention that a certain JPB in 1956 scored the highest score in my memory at The Kings School and almost certainly the highest score ever to that date - 88 not out against Wroxeter!
We have 6 scorebooks from 1961 to 68. These had been carefully preserved by Phil Campey until a couple of years before he died. Phil couldn’t bring himself to put them in the skip and they ended up in john p's garage instead ... still awaiting the grim reaper ... buried in dust. It was Chris Chorlton who remembered a fifty he scored at Octel and asked if the scorebooks confirmed this memory (because no one believed him in Canada)!
The ‘fifties’ and the ‘fivefors’ recorded in the incomplete scorebooks books were -
1959 & 1960 no records yet found ...
v. Associated Ethyl Northwich -- Birchall 109 -- Reidford 7-26
v. Winnington Park -- Brewis 58
v. Cheshire County Officers -- Brewis 78 -- Burdekin 6-37
v. Wrexham -- Bowen 5-32
v. Barrow -- Castle 6-37
v. Oswestry -- Brewis 51 -- Batemen 6-27
v. Northwich -- Guthrie 57
v. Barrow -- Birchall 5-30
v. Cheshire County Officers -- Bateman 5-20
v. St Asaph -- Guthrie 59 -- Reidford 5-18
v. Octel Bromborough -- Birchall 65
v. Davenham -- Taylor 6-41
v. Wrexham -- Birchall 55 -- Reidford 5-22
v. Cholmondeley -- Evans 75 -- Reidford 7-7
v. Hawarden Park -- Jones 6-7
v. Hightown -- Evans 67
v. King’s School -- Birchall 50 -- Bowen 6-18
v. Wrexham -- Evans 61
v. Octel Bromborough -- Evans 68 -- Hume 6-13
v. Octel Bromborough -- Chorlton 50
v. Whitchurch -- Bowen 5-35
v. Christleton -- Barlow 72 -- Bateman 5-38
v. Cholmondeley -- Evans 59 -- Bateman 5-23
v. Cholmondeley -- Taylor 65
v. Parkfield -- Birchall 65
v. Bootle -- Birchall 70
v. Waverton -- Hulme 59
v. Brookhirst -- Hulme 52
v. Hightown -- Birchall 57 -- Reidford 5-25
v. Sale -- Birchall 60
v. Hartford -- Birchall 75
v. Oulton Park -- Speechley -- 5-18
v. Huyton -- Burdekin -- 6-28
v. Birkenhead Park -- Taylor 85
v. Birkenhead Park -- Guthrie 75
v. Whitchurch -- Combes 78
v. Davenham -- Evans 61
v. Cholmondeley -- Evans 57
v. Marchwiel -- Evans 54 -- Burdekin 5-32
v. Octel Bromborough -- Hulme 7-31
v. Egremont -- Hume 71 -- Hulme 9-35
v. Hoole -- Hulme 5-9
v. St Asaph -- Hulme 63 -- Hulme 6-36
v. NW Farmers -- Taylor 52 -- Hulme 6-65
v. Hightown -- Taylor 60 -- Jones 5-23
v. Barrow -- Hulme 61
v. Sale -- Barlow 54 -- Smith 5-53
There must be dozens of memories of beer and mirth buried in these naked statistics ... ?
Various guesses finally established a consensus that the original photo of beer drinking which aroused curiosity was from 1957. We think John Fleming was with us as he didn’t leave school until 1957, not 1956 with Bill & Mike. Two years national service and then on to Uni in 1959 ... last time we saw him was at the 1961 Quaintways dance.
In 2015 we found some sad news from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge -
>>John Lacon Fleming (1959). John Fleming was born on 22 June 1938 in Trinidad, West Indies, and was educated at the King’s School, Chester. He came to Fitzwilliam in 1959 to read Natural Sciences, changing to Chemical Engineering after Part I and graduating in 1963. In 1966 he left for the USA as a freelance engineer and held positions with several different companies. He later returned to Britain and died in Lancaster on 7 February 2012.<<
Delving into history inevitably uncovers uncomfortable moments, John L Fleming was a great goalkeeper and a great mate.
Yes correct on all 3 counts; John Fleming was a good friend and good goalkeeper (and occasional centre forward) and it is sad to hear that he is no longer with us. However, it does afford his friends to reflect on John and the qualities which made him what he was, and, if only privately to regret his departure.
There are several anecdotes in my personal memory bank re John; he was one of the 2 people I first spoke to on arriving at the KS, he and Mike both went to the choir school and sat together at the front of the hall next to me as we all awaited the dreaded interview with the Headmaster. They both remained firm friends throughout our school days and coincidentally at Cambridge where I was initially shocked to learn that John had become a Rugby devotee! (the only point I recall from the aforementioned interview was the question how much pocket money do you have?) John was of course the goalkeeper in the famed under 15 team which for the only time won the Chester Schools Laybourne Cup and enjoyed an unbeaten season. If of interest, Tom Bateman can fill you in and supply a photo or if he can’t I can. It was a considerable triumph, probably more appreciated by the team members who attended primary school in Chester and knew players from the teams we beat. The team included several future Xbatters - Fleming, W M Roberts, Bateman, Brewis, Willetts and when his social life did not intervene Wheeler!
I also remember a rather more disreputable involvement with
John. On our 2nd tour, we met up with a couple of girls, I guess in the
hotel. We chatted them up rather too successfully, intending only to
demonstrate to our teammates what lady killers we were. A week or so after
our return to Chester, we were gobsmacked to receive phone calls that the 2
girls were on their to Chester to meet us again! Not what we expected or
intended! The visit was not a success and I confess still to some shame that
all we wanted to do was to politely end any hopes of permanence!
All this simply goes to prove that John will never be forgotten by his friends.
Re Laybourne Cup; Tom Elwood was the headmaster of what was then St Bedes Catholic secondary modern, a great friend of my father and also to me. He was the prime organiser of the Chester Schoolboys Football team (under 15) for which Les Slawson, Brewis and I played in 1953. Slawson and I also played for The Rest of Merseyside against Liverpool Schoolboys in a game to celebrate Liverpool winning the England schools cup. In the Liverpool Schools team was Jimmy Melia, later of Liverpool, Southampton and England, and later still Manager of Southampton. This has something to do with the fact that the Rest of Merseyside lost!
Tom Ellwood was also a key member of Chester Nomads club and kept an eye on me during some of the early Easter Tours when I was 16/17 and was their regular referee.
I do know Clems has closed but perhaps we could arrange a reopening? Perhaps not, but it was, for all the 1950s, the epicentre of social life in Chester, together with the Wall City Jazz Club, both ultimately spoilt by the influx of army cadets from Eaton Hall. I first saw and heard the legendary Humphrey Lyttelton at the Wall City and who will ever forget at Clems 'The Saints Go Marching In' or 'Lullaby of Birdland' or 'Cherry Pink'. Great days indeed. I remember when the 'inter schools' dance was THE place to be at Xmas; it was of course delightfully non PC being only 'inter schools' for those schools which took GCEs and had a 6th form; no place for the secondary moderns! In those far off days a mark of the era was that after Clems on Xmas eve, we all used to troop across the road to the Cathedral for midnight mass; it was all part of the xmas season then but I doubt it could ever happen today ...
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