The 19th century was of course the great era for the development of mass participation sports in England. At the start of the century the laws of cricket, the major summer sport, had been codified by the M.C.C. and the game developed over our period from one based on clubs and informal societies, playing “friendly” if competitive games, to one based on counties, with the highly competitive County Championship being finally established in 1890. Locally in 1889 the Birmingham and District Cricket League, the oldest in the world, was formed, consisting of seven teams from Birmingham and the Black Country. The major winter sports were of course all variations of football, and the century saw the codification of the rules of association football, rugby union and rugby league. Again most of the games were “friendlies” but competition came through a number of cup competitions – the FA cup from 1871 and locally the Birmingham Senior cup from 1876, and later through leagues – the Football league itself from 1888 and the local Birmingham and District league from a year later.
Cricket in Pensnett
The information on what sports were played in Pensnett in the latter half of the nineteenth century is limited, but a little can be gleaned from local newspapers. It seems that there was a cricket team from the 1850s onwards, and several football teams from the 1880s. A cricket match between Pensnett Victoria and Kingswinford is recorded from 1859, with a win for the former. The scorecard is given below. Note that this is a one-day game yet featured two innings from each side – the pitches were of course not prepared, and the batsman’s task was more than a little difficult.
Over the course of the following decades, further matches are recorded against a range of local sides- for example Wednesbury, Brierley Hill Amateurs, West Bromwich Peep O’Day, Netherton, Droitwich, Bridgnorth and Oldbury. The press mentions of the club cease after a notice of a General Meeting was published in March 1875 – either because the club ceased to function or because it simply stopped sending match reports to the newspapers. Reports resume about 15 years later with a small number of matches reported between1889 and 1894. Victoria was not the only Pensnett team however. A Pensnett Albion team was reported in 1864, and for a brief period in the early 1880s there also seems to have been a Pensnett Vicarage cricket team, which played three matches in 1881 winning the first but losing the last two by large margins. Also, in 1887 a match between Pensnett Oak Farm and Smethwick Eagle Works is recorded. Most of these were again two innings matches, with scores being typically low at around 30 or 40 per innings.
An interesting variant was the “single wicket match” and a report on such a match (between Pensnett Victoria and Brierly Hill Amateur) is given below. It is not clear what the rules were for this game, but clearly it involved two players a side which batted sequentially. Cricket, Jim, but not as we know it.
Pensnett Football Teams
A Pensnett football team existed from the early 1880s and fielded both first and second teams, playing at a ground near Lenches Bridge. The first recorded match was in 1881 against Brierley Hill. Numerous further matches are recorded between 1882 and 1885 including some with the major teams in the area – for example with Stourbridge Standard first and second teams (the forerunner of the current Stoubridge club), Dudley, and West Bromwich Albion second team, as well as against more local teams such as Brockmoor Harriers and Lower Gornal Excelsior. As far as it is possible to tell most of these matches in the early days were ”friendlies”. The only competitive match that was recorded was in 1883, where Pensnett beat St John’s Swifts of Birmingham 6-1 in a “cup tie”, but the nature of the competition is not clear.
After 1885 the situation becomes somewhat confused with a paucity of press reports, and the ones that do appear refer to different teams – Pensnett Rovers, Pensnett Junior, Pensnett Villa and Commonside Unity. A Pensnett Victoria team appears in 1889, at the same time as the reappearance of the cricket club. A court case of 1892 over payment for a field at Lenches Bridge on which to play both football and cricket, refers to the Pensnett Victoria Football and Cricket Club – possibly a refoundation of the former club (BNA 1892). Again, most of the football matches that were played in the later period were friendlies, but more competitive games also took place. In 1889 the local newspapers give quite full details of the Pensnett Charity cup – a knockout competition for around twenty local teams, including Pensnett Juniors, Brockmoor Harriers, Kingswinford White Star and Kingswinford Rovers.
The situation changed however in1899 with the formation of the Brierley Hill and District Football League, in which Pensnett Victoria played. A late season league table is shown below. This really marked the end of the era of friendlies, and from this point on the structure of the game became league based, and much more familiar to modern eyes.
It was mentioned above that the Pensnett football ground was at Lenches bridge in both the early 1880s and early 1890s, possibly on the Kingswinford side of the bridge, just outside the parish where the land was available and flat enough to accommodate a suitable pitch – see the extract from the 1882 OS map below with possible sites marked. Clearly in the early 1890s, the cricket ground was there as well, and that may well also have been its location in the 1860s and 1870s.
From the match reports in the newspapers, it is possible to identify the names of some of those who played for the cricket and football teams. In principle it is then possible, through the use of census information, to find out a little more about these individuals. I say “in principle” because it is not always easy. Often only surnames or initials are published and these can’t be unambiguously identified with specific individuals. That being said, it has been possible to identify with some certainty seventeen individuals who played for the cricket team between 1859 and 1872, and seven of those who played for the football team between 1882 and 1883. In terms of their profession, both sets of players reflect the make up of the area at the time, with a mix of skilled and unskilled industrial workers, and a few from other trades. For example, the seventeen cricket players included labourers, miners, boiler and chain makers, engineers and shopkeepers and the same mix can be seen in the football players. The three cricketers from the 1859 scorecard who can be identified are the opener batsman, Joseph Bache (27) who was a chemist and druggist on High St, John Caswell (18) who was an engine fitter from Chapel St., and William Caswell (19) who was a chain maker from Tansey Green. The two Pensnett players who took part in the double wicket match in 1867 described above were William Yates (23) an Ironworks labourer from John St in Brierley Hill, and Thomas Baker (37) a coal miner from Chapel St. The other point that emerges from these considerations is that by no means all the players came from the parish of Pensnett itself. Of the seventeen cricketers identified, seven came from neighbouring parishes (Kingswinford, Brierley Hill and Brockmoor) and of the football players, only one came from Pensnett (the captain, Albert Colley (25), a timber merchant from Bradley Street) with the rest again coming from neighbouring parishes.
Finally, two other points are worthy of note before we end. Firstly, whilst the football played by the various teams in Pensnett was at what might be called junior level, the senior level of the game was played just outside the parish. Brierley Hill Alliance was formed in 1887 from a merger of Brockmoor Harriers and Brockmoor Pickwick and, before they moved to their Cottage Street Ground in Brierley Hill in 1888, played on the Labour in Vain ground in Brockmoor, a few hundred yards out of Pensnett parish. They went on to join the Birmingham League in 1890 and remained there, with some success, up to their eventual demise in 1981. Secondly, the name of Pensnett Victoria is not confined to the football and cricket teams. In 1880 a few matches played by a Pensnett Victoria Quoits team are reported. However, most newspaper mentions of the name refer to performances of the Pensnett Victoria Saxhorn band. If the reader, like me, doesn’t know what a Saxhorn is, then Wikipedia has the answer.