From dingy shacks to grand designs – cricket pavilions celebrated in Pearson’s new book

A picture-led publication tracing the history of British cricket pavilions from the basic to the grandiose is reviewed by Eric Brown…


Anyone who has played cricket at any level will know that pavilions come in all shapes, sizes and degrees of comfort.

From the graffiti-disfigured corrugated iron shack on a council recreation ground to the imposing brick, balcony and towers facades of some majestic county grounds, the pavilion plays a key role in the successful staging of cricket matches.

They offer opportunities to shelter from rain or sun, a place to take refreshment and socialise during intervals and most of them provide showering and bathing facilities for post-match rejuvenation.

I can testify to the variety of pavilions after spending 50 years playing club cricket in many different counties and countries.

My first club game on a council recreation field featured a pavilion constructed of breeze blocks with a corrugated iron roof and no windows for security reasons. There were no showers; everyone changed and consumed tea in one large room; and the single centre-ceiling light-bulb didn’t work.

Every time a player stepped out into the sunshine and closed the door a howl of protest erupted from those left behind in inky blackness. It was easy to end up with your leg in someone else’s trousers.

At the age of 10, I thought all this was marvellous.

Much later, on a Dorset tour, I came across another unforgettable example. This time, the whole village green, corrugated-iron pavilion had two dressing rooms with a door at the rear of the visitors’ facilities marked “Toilet” in a chalk scrawl.

Upon opening the door, one discovered nothing but a stream running past with unavoidable evidence of previous visits.

A rainbow appears above the pavilion at the Kia Oval during the Royal London One Day Cup quarter-final between Surrey and Kent in August 2015 (Mitchell Gunn / Getty Images)

It’s a huge contrast from there to The Oval but the famous ground also presents problems. In the old pavilion, any batsman watching from the players’ balcony had to leave his seat at express pace in order to replace a dismissed colleague promptly.

With flights of stairs, a couple of corridors and several doors to negotiate, a delayed entry to the pitch was inevitable for those making their first appearance. It could be five minutes from balcony to wicket and as you marched briskly towards the pitch, you could only hope the opposition would decline to appeal for time out.

Birmingham-based architectural historian Lynn Pearson, once a formidable wicketkeeper and opening bat, has spent years studying buildings connected with sport.

Now she has published a fascinating survey of the grand, the outrageous, the traditional and the bland in her picture-led book ‘Cricket Pavilions’. It traces the development of facilities from tents in the early 1880s to grand structures gracing our leading grounds today.

I was delighted to discover it includes many of the buildings I have used, including those at Sussex county grounds Eastbourne and Hastings (the latter now sadly obliterated by a supermarket), the Wiltshire county ground at Trowbridge with its splendid balcony, and the Norfolk county ground at Lakenham.

There are few early examples remaining as pavilions constructed from wood or with thatched roofs were susceptible to fire. One sad photograph shows the timber-framed pavilion at Howden in East Yorkshire ablaze in 2015. Pavilions also suffer seriously from vandalism.

One of my favourite photographs from the book shows the Australian tourists taking the field at Crystal Palace in May 1905 to play the Gentlemen of England, who included W.G. Grace. The lavish pavilion constructed six years earlier cost more than £3,000 and could accommodate around 500 spectators.

The author traces the development of pavilions from basic to elaborate at country mansions, wealthy schools, universities and county grounds. This development was led mainly by expansion of company sports teams.

She has even included county pavilions now dedicated to other uses. I always enjoyed playing at Dean Park, Bournemouth, where Hampshire won their only county championship in 1960. The pavilion there now houses a primary school on weekdays.

Anyone who has ever played any grade of cricket in England will enjoy Pearson’s brilliantly researched book.

Cricket Pavilions by Lynn Pearson is published by Amberley Books, price £15.99.

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