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Who Were They?

(Remembering and Commemorating Club Stalwarts)

One of the tasks of a President is to ensure that a club does not lose sight of the continuum of its history.

For any sports club, the story is all about the people. The refurbishment of one metal bench and the placing of five new ones and a bell at the pavilion presented an excellent opportunity to commemorate a number of former club stalwarts.

The smallest item is a long overdue bell. This new addition is being used to call cricketers to action and bears the inscription ‘Billy’s Bell’.

Billy was in fact one William Russell (1867-1908) who would have a claim to be regarded as the finest player to perform at Cowbridge over a lengthy period. Brought from his native Norfolk by E H Ebsworth Esq. of Llandough Castle to assist the Hearn brothers construct the ground, he then took on the role of professional and groundsman.

Billy Russell went on to score 3,850 runs and take 430 wickets for the Ebsworth XI in the thirteen seasons he graced the ground that he tended. He also played 102 matches for the then minor county of Glamorgan.

However, the relationship between Mr Ebsworth and the county Club got off to a rocky start when Billy was hauled off the London train which was about to take him to the Oval to play Surrey. There was grass to be cut at Cowbridge and Glamorgan could wait.

It is more than a century since the cortege carrying Billy’s coffin - adorned with a wreath shaped like a bat - made its way through the town past crowds of respectful townsfolk lining the route. Ralph Bird’s assertion that "of all the professionals Cowbridge employed, Russell was the greatest" is hard to counter even over this distance in time.

The oldest piece of paraphernalia owned by the Club is the metal bench that has recently been refurbished. On it, a replacement plaque records that it was given by Cllr Mrs F E Hinton JP during her tenure (1951 - 52) as Mayor of Cowbridge.

Flo Hinton was invariably known as "Goldie" on account of her maiden name of Goulden. Her father was James Henry Goulden, the town baker.

Goldie herself ran a newsagents and fancy goods shop where Oscars is today but still found time to sit on the committee of the Athletic Club for long periods. Whist drives, dances, raffles and the like were regularly organised by Goldie and the funds raised were critical.

The Athletic Club was also served for a long period by Goldie’s husband, Bill Hinton, who was made a life member of the rugby section. Although Goldie died in the early 1960s, her contribution to the Club and its well-being cannot be overestimated.

The six new benches that now adorn the patio have had a huge impact on the look and feel of the place while commemorating three very different characters.

The first bench encountered when approaching the clubhouse from the town end is dedicated to the man who possibly contributed more than anyone towards the survival and growth of the cricket and rugby sections, as well as the Athletic Club itself.

Invariably known as ‘CH’, Colin Adams was born in Llanblethian and educated at the Grammar School, becoming secretary of the Cricket Club and the Athletic Club in 1938. Throughout his tenure, 'CH' seemed to run everything from the back of his car and he was at the centre of it all from bowling immaculate off breaks to buying cake for teas.

Throughout his period of influence, 'CH' was assisted by steady and reliable Mervyn Evans and the rather more whimsical personality of Selwyn Davies, yet it was 'CH' who was the lynchpin. Although he was no visionary, 'CH' was the essential administrator without whom the Club would never have functioned.

That a bench is now named after him is a step towards acknowledging Colin Adams’s contribution to our Club. It is only right also that one wonders whether such a tribute, splendid in its own way, adequately reflects that contribution.

The second new bench commemorates the Reverend Owen Jones. Nicknamed 'Bingo' (no-one knows why), he was, by all accounts, quite a character.

Born in West Wales, 'Bingo' was educated at Llandovery College and then at Jesus College, Oxford. He did not have an unblemished undergraduate career having been "rusticated", or suspended, on two occasions. The first was the result of unruly behaviour in a railway carriage; the second for travelling in first class when in possession of only a third class ticket.

Despite these misdemeanours, 'Bingo' came to the Vale as Rector of Llansannor and Penllyn. The ruffians of Llansannor quickly learnt what muscular Christianity meant as 'Bingo' was often called in to sort out disturbances in the City Inn.

His favourite hostelry, though, was the Duke of Wellington and it was not unknown for the cricketing cleric to enjoy a quiet hour in the pub when Cowbridge were batting. The Duke was run at the time by his friend Arthur Spencer, another who made a big contribution to the town's cricket.

‘Bingo’ was a very good cricketer, playing for the South Wales team – a precursor of Glamorgan - as a fast bowler, once taking five for 34 at Lords against the MCC. On reflection, he must have been dismayed on his arrival at Llansannor to find that there was no ground in the district other than the school field.

At that time, the Cowbridge XI had no permanent home but help was at hand with the arrival in the area of E H Ebsworth Esq. whose wealth was vital in the creation of our current ground. The enthusiasm of 'Bingo' allied with Ebsworth’s money made a powerful force and it was fitting that the first game at the new ground in May 1896 was between two elevens raised by the main protagonists.

In 1906, 'Bingo' formed the Cowbridge Wanderers Cricket Club to complement the private XI of Mr Ebsworth. The Wanderers eventually took a lease on the Ebsworth ground, metamorphosing into the current Athletic Club which purchased the ground from the Scotland-bound squire.

'Bingo' was at the centre of all these developments and his wisdom shines through the Club's minute books.

That great character, Selwyn Davies, recalled 'Bingo' shouting at him for dropping a catch on his debut: "Buy yourself a bloody breadbasket, boy". Hearing a clergyman swear was something of a shock for all within earshot!

My grandfather, Ralph Bird, a contemporary of Selwyn, wrote that 'Bingo' was "great fun, wore unusual apparel and used unorthodox strokes."

The third bench commemorates the more contemporary figure of Ian Cran whose obituary is on this link.

The fourth bench was donated by Mrs Judy Davies in memory of her late husband John. John Anthony Davies had come to Cowbridge in the early 1950s and was the Club’s leading cricketer and indeed one of the very best playing club cricket during his career. ‘JA’ made a single appearance for Glamorgan against Worcestershire before deciding to follow a career in the Midland Bank rather than play cricket for a living. ‘JA’ captained the Club during fourteen seasons and also served as Treasurer before succeeding Colin Adams as President.

The fifth new bench was given by Michael and Bill Clay and their families in memory of J C Clay. A man whose cricket career was as luminous as it was lengthy ‘JC’ played for Glamorgan between 1921 and 1949, took 1317 first class wickets and played one test for England. In the period between admission to the status of being a First Class County to winning the County Championship in 1949 the County finances were parlous but JC alongside Maurice Turnbull and Wilf Wooller somehow kept it solvent. ‘JC’ played regularly for Cowbridge, becoming President in 1962 and he retained a strong interest in the Club until his death in 1973.

The sixth bench has been given by Lawrie and Charles Williams in memory of their father, L E W ‘Tip’ Williams.

Born in Bonvilston in 1900, 'Tip' was educated at the Oratory School and Oxford University. He bowled right arm fast medium and was a hard-hitting batsman. 'Tip' made four first-class appearances for Glamorgan but social cricket clearly held more appeal and he acted for long periods as Chairman of The South Wales Hunts Cricket Club and Chairman of Selectors at Cowbridge.

Indeed, for many years he was the dominant figure of Cowbridge Cricket Club. He is pictured in the 1st XI in 1926 and and was still playing in the early 1960s. In the interim, 'Tip' was Captain of the 1st XI for at least eleven seasons.

The contribution of 'Tip' Williams to Cowbridge Cricket Club was immense and he was remembered particularly for his garnering of support for First-Class cricket to come to the Athletic Ground. He was rightly made President on the passing of his old friend J C Clay but, sadly, 'Tip' passed away within the first year of his taking office in 1973.

His sons, Charles and Steve, both played for the Club and Lawrie acted as a Trustee of the Cowbridge and District Athletic Club. It is indeed fitting that one of our Club’s most distinguished cricketers should be remembered at our ground.

Funding for Billy's Bell and the six benches described in this article has been provided by sources outside the general running costs of the Club with friends, families and cricket lovers combining to make a start in improving the Club's general environment while providing lasting memorials to those who played significant roles in its history.

Anyone who would like to commemorate a former family member or friend in similar manner at the ground is invited to contact Jeffrey Bird on 01446 773386.