Chapter XI.

Sports and Pastimes

The Sports and Pastimes of the people of Sutton were those common to the period, the village Green being the site for most of them. Dancing was held there round the Maypole not only on May Day, but on other holidays and Feast days. Bull and Bear baiting, Wrestling, Cock fighting, Quarter Staff, and Archery which had been made compulsary in very early ages and had to be practiced on Sundays and holidays for which purpose Yew trees were ordered to be grown in Church yards in 1483 to provide Bows. In many ancient Churches the marks made by Archers in pointing their arrows may still be seen, while the names Bowman or Bowmar who made Bows, and Fletcher who made Arrows are still common today.

The Bull Ring at Sutton is now euphemistically called Devonshire Square, the old village Green, sadly degraded by a public building is now known as Portland Square, while the Lammas recreation ground is almost derelict, although long used as the training ground of Sutton's many cricketers.

Public dinners, Assemblies, Vestry meetings, Balls, etc. were held at the Swan Inn and the late Mr. James Hill of Fulwood was able to enlarge upon the beauty of Dr. J. W. Valentine's daughters who in the 1830's attended in white muslin with sprigs decorating it, sashes of ribbon round the waist, and heads running over with curls.

Of entertainments the earliest record comes from the Autobiography of an Artisan Christopher Thomson of Edwinstowe who in 1827 organised a travelling Theatre Company. He writes : "Our next town was Sutton-in-Ashfield. We fitted up our machinery at the Swan Inn. The trade of the town—stocking making—was at a low ebb, and at that time the taste of the inhabitants not very poetical . . . . A trifling circumstance occurred during this visit to Sutton which was the precursor of my career as an Artist. . . . A gentleman named Oscroft was a resident in the town, he possessed considerable ability as a painter and a musician, he was likewise a lover of romance and poetry . . . . etc. Mr. Oscroft had some patterns for stencilling walls but which he considered were not adaptable to his trade. The patterns were offered to me." By this means Thomson earned a living when his Theatrical venture failed. He wrote again, "I entered into correspondence with several actors and engaged to open a Theatre at Sutton-in-Ashfield . . . . Thus prepared I began my theatrical experiment at Sutton-in-Ashfield in March, 1832. Things did go tolerably well at that place. I had an attractive company and enjoyed a good season." Mr. Clarence Brooks writes : " At one time we had a copy, a gift from the author to my grandfather. Mr. Thomson was in very low water when he came to Sutton, and Mr. Geo. Oscroft, a Painter, who lived at the late Mr. Butcher's house in the Market Place, who found money for printing his Bills getting him the use of the Club room at the Swan Inn. The Sutton Glee singers helped him . . . . " The Manor House barn (pulled down 1928) which stood in Manor Street (leading from the Swan Inn to Priestsic Lane) was first used as a Theatre in 1806, fitted up at the expense of a few subscribers and for the next forty years was taken, on and off, by strolling players then known as Barnstormers. The most popular manager of the Barn Theatre was Bryan the tragedian, as he called himself. He later on had a portable Theatre, the first to visit Sutton being on the Top Green. One night when playing Sheridan's tragedy of ' Pisarro, or the death of Rollo ' the tent was blown over, and for many years a rhyming couplet was current, " The wind, the wind, the wind did blow, And blew down poor old Bryan's show."

The late Mr. Ellis Spencer who died at a great age—told the writer in 1889 that he well remembered the last Bull baiting on the Top Green in 1832, the bull being provided by Mr. Isaiah Abbott, a butcher in King Street, and its being pinned by the dog of Tom. Salmon. The dog weighed 60 lbs., a collection being made for expenses, as well as 1/- being charged each dog entering. On Shrove Tuesday 1836 a Bear was baited.

Cock fighting so fashionable in England from the time of Edward II, 1307-27, but made illegal in 1848, was universal, and the reputation of Crossland and Levi Beastall as experts in training the birds remains to this day (1932). A Main was fought in Sutton as late as 1886. It became a cruel sport when steel spurs were fitted on the naturally pugnacious birds, making the death of one almost certain.

Cricket was always much in favour as it provided a welcome change from the Stocking Frame in which the workman sat, pulling the machine forwards, downwards and then up again, all day. And to go on the Lammas bowling was a great physical relief. Mr. Thomas Barnes, whose sons Tom and William became famous—told the writer of a match played in 1846 between Sutton and Ilkeston, and of his having played eleven men by himself, he being allowed a fielder, and of his having beaten them. He also claimed to have been the first cricketer to introduce round arm bowling although Lillywhite is generally allowed that claim. In 1861 twenty-two of Sutton and District played travelling teams of County cricketers known, some as the All England, the United All England Eleven, and the United South of England Eleven. The first match was played on a field known as Clarkes Croft, attached to the Dog and Duck Inn between an All England Eleven and twenty-two of Sutton and District, amongst the twenty-two being Dove Gregory, Frank Farrands, John Wright, J. C. Shaw, Sam. Morley, Tom Bean, Geo. Clarke and E. S. Shaw.

In 1863 a similar match was played in a field named Hatchett Holmes, now covered by Douglas Road and Pelham Street. In 1866 the United All England Eleven played Sutton and District when the same players from Sutton appeared again with the addition of Tom Morley, James Lindley, E. D. Oscroft, W. Boler and Chas. Taylor. In 1869 the United South of England Eleven came to the Hatchett Holmes ground and Geo. Shaw, Rev. and Hon. John Marsham, Sam. Dannah, Geo. Hibbard, T. Sellars and John Briggs played among the twenty-two.

In 1867 a match for the benefit of Thomas Heath who had made a name in cricket as early as 1828 was arranged between an Eleven of All England and twenty-two of Sutton.

It is famous in Sutton annals that S. B. Morley took Richard Daft's wicket in both innings without a score. Heath became famous for his Single Wicket Match with S. Redgate who "for many years was the most dreaded bowler in England." The match took place on the Forest Ground, Nottingham in 1831. " Heath making 4, Redgate 0 and 1, who in his second innings was in fifty-five minutes without getting the ball away but in attempting a second run Heath threw him out at a distance of eighty-seven yards, hitting the middle stump, the ball never bounding till it hit the wicket."

No other match took place till 1871 when an All England Eleven played Eighteen of Sutton and District, again on Clarkes Croft, the Eleven winning easily as none of the Eighteen could stand up against the bowling of J. C. Shaw their townsman. It was in this match that Fred. Morley who so distinguished himself in after years as a bowler for County Notts, took five wickets of the A.E. team.

The last match to be played in Sutton Feast week, July 1880, was between Carey's Peripatetics and sixteen of Sutton. This affair of clowning brought a feeling of shame to the true cricketers and no more spirit was left in promoters of the game.

It may be noted of J. C. Shaw that in a match at Eastwood on 15 September, 1870, he took all ten wickets, and it is equally interesting to remember that J. W. Turner the famous Vocalist, who in his youth inclined towards professional cricket, in a match at Clay Cross in the 1860's performed a similar feat.

The game has never ceased to be played in Sutton and has been fostered by many Cricket Clubs, the town for many years being famed for the number of professional cricketers, J. C. Shaw, Fred Morley, William Barnes, Wilfred Flowers and Tom Wass all playing for their County, while others became famous as coaches at Public Schools, E. S. Shaw at Sandhurst and Edwin Woodward at Stonyhurst, F. Farrands at Lords, while Geo. Bean joined the Sussex County eleven, and John Briggs and John Crossland, the Lancashire county team.

The ancient game played out of doors, universally, was named 'Shoes,' an amplification of Quoits, every Inn up to recent years having a Shoe yard attached. This game requires much more skill than Quoits, and calls for much more exertion. It is played with iron rings weighing about 61bs. with an opening left in the circle to allow the finger to be inserted and enabling the player to give a spin to the Shoe. It is pitched from an iron hob driven into the ground, some inches deep, to another six yards away, the shoe nearest the hob winning, of course. The game was won with a score of fifteen, but of twenty-one with four or more players. The utmost skill was attained, and it was usual to see the first ' shoe ' in front and touching the hob after being pitched, knocked out by the second player and his 'shoe' occupying the same position. Jack Godber was so famed for his ability in knocking out that a local proverb was current for many years to express a great effort as "gieing 'em Godber." It is much to be regretted that this really fine old game is almost extinct, and an Inn Shoe Yard a rarity. Dominoes at one time had many exponents, and survives in most Inns. At one time it produced champion players, Mr. Alfred Ward being famed, great matches were played with champions in other towns and much wagering took place on the result.

Cards were the principal indoor amusement, and in 1817 at a Vestry meeting held on April 6th, it was agreed " that the Constable shall give notice by the public Cryer to discharge all Publicans from having Card playing, Dancing or any illegal associations of whatsoever nature contrary to law." The members making up the Vestry being William Adin, and John Hall, Churchwardens, Sam. Smedley, Overseer, Wm. Stanhope, Constable, and Messrs. Sam. Owtram, Richard Tudsbury, Wm. Oates, Timothy Hall, Wm. Ward and Jos. Butterworth.

A game played at Sutton time out of mind was known as Sutton Brag to distinguish it from a much simpler game known as Nottingham Brag. Indeed it has so long been played that in all probability it is the parent of the American game of ' Poker.' Any number of persons may play, but the best game is five or seven players, the method is as follows. The stakes having been agreed upon, the smaller the value the greater the enjoyment, the dealer places three counters in a row, and one at the side, and then three cards to each player. The first player, after inspection thinking he has the best cards, Aces beating Kings, pairs of the same value beating Aces, and prials, or three cards of equal value, beating pairs, places a counter (or coin) in the top end counter, generally agreed to be that one nearest the fire place. If he thinks he has more pips on his three cards (Aces counting eleven, and Court cards ten) he places a counter on the middle. If he thinks he has least pips on his cards, Aces counting one, he places a counter on the bottom. If he thinks he has most pips on his cards of the same suit, he places a counter on the side. Every player in turn does the same, throwing in his cards if of no value. The last player in any lot has the power to raise the value of the stake by placing an additional counter in the lot he enters and to see his cards all other players in the same lot must pay another counter or lose the stake. It does not follow that the player raising the stake has the better cards. He may be bragging with inferior cards, and it is here that the genuine fun comes in, and equally of course the player coming in first may be having a ' brag.' In the case of cards being equal in any case the first player to enter takes ' Top ' and ' Middle,' the last player taking ' Bottom ' and ' Spots.' These are the rules and for variety and amusement the game has no equal. But sad to say, like ' Shoes,' it is almost extinct. Note.—The two red nines and Knave of Clubs are ' Jokers ' and pair with any other cards.

Draughts and Dominoes were much played in the Inns, indeed the latter is still to be met with, but Authorities believing games an attraction and likely to lead to drinking have prohibited all games of chance and most of skill.

Bowls are quite a modern introduction, mostly since the Great War and many Greens are provided by the Public Authority and the Clubs. Pigeon shooting was popular at one time, but is now almost unknown, and Pigeon racing, though still practiced, is not much heard of. About 1930 racing with small dogs called Whippets commenced while in 1932 a ground was made at the Forest Side in which Greyhounds chase an artificial Hare and people who fancy racing and ' backing ' their fancied dog are crowding to the ' meets.'