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Ian Botham, caught in action

Ian Botham, caught in action

Cricketing ghosts and heroes of Priory Meadow

Local resident and cricket enthusiast, Michael Gould recalls the glories of the unique seaside cricket ground that once stood on the site of the Priory Meadow Shopping Centre – and anticipates a shining future for the young guns of Hastings & St. Leonards Priory Cricket Club, the “Community Club.”

As you trundle around Hastings’ Boots, Waterstones and M&S, spare a thought for some heroes of the past. The cricketing giants of yesterday are personified by the bronze action figure of a cricketer in the square of Priory Meadow shopping centre, as he almost nonchalantly hooks the ball (which may be seen high on the wall above Hinds, the jeweller’s shop) for a six.  The ball, strangely, is green, and the player is Ian Botham.

Priory Meadow shopping centre stands on the site of the old Central Cricket & Recreation Ground (1864-1996), where the historic Hastings and St. Leonards Priory Cricket Club played most of its matches before the move to Horntye Park, high up on Bohemia Road. On Horntye’s walls hang photographs of some of the most famous international touring cricketers of history together with many Hastings Priory team photographs of the last 50 years: Sir Donald Bradman, Richie Benaud, Sir Denis Compton, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith and Sir Garry Sobers, together with a host of others look out from these pictures, alongside Priory heroes like Michael Yardy (Sussex & England), the late Alan Oakman (Sussex & England) and Harry Finch (currently playing for Sussex) who have all competed at either the old Priory Meadow, or at Horntye Park. This unique collection of pictures is an inspiration to all who now represent Hastings and St. Leonards at the Priory Club, and seek to become the heroes of tomorrow.

Before the building of the Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, the old ground acted as a magnet for all who loved our Great Game, and during the Hastings Cricket Festival, thousands visited both from Sussex and all over England to watch their heroes in action.While most of the ladies were perhaps shopping or visiting the hairdresser, the men would visit the ground to watch cricket of the very highest quality. Phil Wren, who joined the Club in the late 50’s as an apprentice and is still to be found on the steering committee of Hastings & St. Leonards Priory, vividly remembers being schooled in the principles of groundsmanship and recalls Mr. Coote and how the old ‘Coote Stand’, which honoured his name, was replaced by shops now standing at the bottom end of Queens Road. During the Hastings Cricket Festival, Phil felt privileged to clean the boots and pads of many of the world-famous players present, and even, indeed, to advise visiting captains whether to choose to bat or bowl first from his intimate experience of this seaside wicket.

But for the cricketing sculpture in the square, you wouldn’t know that such a celebrated and important arena once stood, green and serene, at this central hub of our historic town. Two World Wars with cruel enemies could not destroy the tradition that was represented here; it was British developers’ bulldozers that put an end to it.

The Hastings & St. Leonards Priory Cricket Club has survived to fight another day at Horntye Park’s wonderful ground. But as you sit in the square or around Queens Road, resting your weary feet and contemplating a cappuccino, do take a look at the statue of a young man in the prime of life, and remember the remarkable tradition that is so quietly celebrated here  in the very centre of Hastings.

First Class Cricket Ground

Now, young men take the place of heroes of the past on the green field at Horntye Park, which when established in 1996 was the first First Class Cricket ground created for 100 years. These young men now compete to return to the First Division of the Sussex Premier League, and will in 2019, have a fight on their hands to return to the top ranks where so many of their forebears have met with success.

Their opponents hail mainly from West Sussex, where more cash is generally available to recruit one overseas player of quality, whose contribution to both the cricket and the coaching can be a vital contribution to club success at this high level.  The Club, with its long history of competing in the very top echelons within the county, is determined to reclaim its pre-eminent status within Sussex cricket. Its First Eleven includes both exciting young talents, some of whom have already represented the Sussex County side’s Second Eleven and a more experienced ‘senior pro’ or two – and will be training throughout this winter to be ready for a season of critical importance in 2019.

Fundraising campaign and search for sponsors

Hastings & St. Leonards Priory has received invaluable support from many local companies over the years which has helped them maintain a high and proud profile amongst cricket lovers in Sussex. Grateful thanks are due to all those who have helped.

A new fundraising campaign has been started to find local Sponsors for the Club and players, and local businesses can expect to be contacted during the next few months with a view to possible Sponsorship. All help, including Sponsorship of individual players, equipment, and especially the coaching and development of young players, both boys and girls, will be keenly appreciated. Supporters at the matches themselves, which are played at Horntye on Saturday afternoons, will be warmly welcomed. There is no entrance charge, and catering facilities, upstairs in the pavilion, are excellent.

Advertising benefits for Sponsors will include listings in the Fixture Card, regular acknowledgments on the Club’s lively website and social media, and boundary boards which are seen in frequent pictures in local media, and by the hundreds of guests, footballers, hockey and petanques players – and spectators at Horntye Park.  A programme of corporate events, Golf Tournaments, Casino Nights, and Family Days is planned for 2019, to which all Club supporters will be welcome.

Please offer support to your local cricket club in this endeavour by contacting: Mike Gould (Chair, Fundraising) 07847 018738 or John Morgan (Chair, HSLPCC) 07811 443910. Check out the Hastings and St Leonards Priory Cricket Club website here.

Posted 11:30 Friday, Nov 23, 2018 In: Sport

1 Comment

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  1. Chris Lewcock

    Compare the demise of Hastings’ international cricket ground and reputation and associated visitor numbers with the investments which Eastbourne has made (and continues to make) over the years in its international standard tennis facilities. What have the Horntye trustees been up to?

    Comment by Chris Lewcock — Friday, Nov 30, 2018 @ 11:05

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