Notts anniversary heralded by the Championship, 1988

150 years at Trent Bridge


William Clarke would have been a satisfied man had he been at Trent Bridge last season to see Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee spearhead Nottinghamshire to the most glorious season in their marvellous history. Indeed, it could be said that he was there, at least in spirit. For Rice and Hadlee, like the other great names of Nottinghamshire cricket who went before them, would never have given so much pleasure and success to the county's cricketing public had it not been for the bricklayer-publican who founded that most welcoming of Test-match grounds.

Now Clarke's contribution to the game is to be highlighted in 1988 with the 150th anniversary of Trent Bridge. It is understandable that the occasion should not pass without celebration, and Nottinghamshire are rightly taking a leaf out of their founder's book by using the anniversary to fund-raising effect. Trent Bridge 150 was fittingly launched in the middle of a week last September when Nottinghamshire not only captured the NatWest Bank Trophy - their first limited-overs success - but went on to win the County Championship for the second time in seven years. For good measure, they were also runners-up in the Refuge Assurance League.

The club, proud of their tradition as Test match hosts, are intent on raising sufficient money from the project to fund schemes that would be dear to Clarke's heart. Aiming for an initial target of £150,000, they hope to improve the Trent Bridge ground by redeveloping the Bridgford Road end and, it is hoped, creating a William Clarke Stand in the process. There are also plans to support financially the vital area of youth cricket to ensure that young, emerging talent in the county will be given every opportunity to perform on such a historic stage. Clarke would no doubt have approved of the bid to gain commercially from the anniversary. He saw such opportunities in cricket many years ago when sponsorship and advertising boards were much farther than a century away. It leads one to wonder what the commercial world has in store for the game 150 years hence.

William Clarke's ability to spot an opening and turn it to his advantage brought him rewards, and it also provided Nottinghamshire cricket with Trent Bridge. The landlord of the Bell Inn, a regular meeting-place for cricketers, in Nottingham's Market Place, he married Mary Chapman, the widowed landlady of the Trent Bridge Inn, in December 1837. He had played in a match near the Trent Bridge Inn that September, and there is some suggestion that the marriage was seen more as a business arrangement. Clarke had sensed the value of a piece of land adjacent to the Inn as a potential cricket ground and he did not let the grass grow under his feet.

Clarke, a useful batsman and successful exponent of the art of underarm bowling, had represented the North against the South at Lord's in 1836; and although he took no wickets, he did take a great deal of interest in the fact that the public paid an admission charge. On acquiring Trent Bridge, he was not unaware of the capacity for earning a penny or two from the game.

However, his plans did not produce the anticipated dividends. Until then, most of the cricket in the city had been played on the Forest, where spectators could gather to watch the game in pleasant surroundings at no cost. And while it was not difficult for Clarke to persuade the players to join him at Trent Bridge, because the gate money enabled him to pay them, Nottinghamshire suffered then - as it does today - from a fickle sporting public loathe to part with its hard-earned money. Clarke's decision to fence in the ground and charge a sixpence admission fee met with a poor response, with the result that the early matches at Trent Bridge did not attract the sizeable crowds for which he had hoped.

It was May 28, 1838, when the first ball was bowled at Trent Bridge, with Clarke's team, South of Nottingham, taking on the Forest Club. He later recruited leading players such as George Parr and John Wisden, but his ideas were bigger than he was able to put into operation in Nottingham. In 1846 he left for Lord's to join the staff as a professional bowler and gain the experience and contacts needed to form his All-England XI, whose tour around the counties proved to be both popular and profitable. The crowds flocked to see the leading players of the day, and Clarke, continuing with his underarm style, was a prominent figure in the side. He played almost until he died in 1856 at the age of 57.

For all his vision, Clarke was not the most popular man in the game. He had a reputation for playing practical - and at times not especially pleasant - jokes on his opponents, and his tendency to allow only his hands to untie the purse strings led to other problems. None the less, Nottinghamshire cricket owed him a considerable debt, for from those beginnings Trent Bridge was to blossom over many years, while always retaining its character and tradition.

When Clarke died, George Parr took over the captaincy and a committee was formed to supervise the club's affairs. The first Trent Bridge pavilion was built at the side of the old public house and stands were erected to accommodate spectators. On the field of play, Nottinghamshire became one of the most powerful sides of the day, winning the Championship ten times and sharing it on another five occasions in the 25 seasons between 1865 and 1889. And hand in hand with success in the middle came further development of the ground. During the 1880s the Ladies' Pavilion was built and the main pavilion was rebuilt at a cost of £5,000. More expenditure was made on improvements leading up to the first Test match at Trent Bridge in 1899.

Australia were the visitors, and with around 40,000 people watching the three days' play - the ground capacity in those days was between 20,000 and 25,000 - Test cricket was off to a satisfactory start. The match itself was drawn, with Ranjitsinhji saving England with a fine unbeaten innings of 93, and it saw the farewell Test appearance, at 50 years and 320 days, of W. G. Grace, who in 1871 had scored the first Championship hundred at Trent Bridge. Making his Test début in this same match was Wilfred Rhodes, who was to become the oldest Test cricketer.

Since the 1880s, Trent Bridge had also staged football. Nottingham Forest and Notts County, both of whose grounds are within immediate sight to this day, used the venue, but towards the end of the first decade of the new century, soccer was phased out. And Trent Bridge was put to another use during the First World War, when the pavilion was converted into a hospital where some 3,500 patients were treated.

Soon after the war, Nottinghamshire succeeded in securing the freehold of the ground without cost, and then capitalised by selling the Trent Bridge Inn to brewers - a piece of astute business which would have won the approval of William Clarke. In the post-war years the club was in the hands of Captain H. A. Brown, who stepped in as a temporary secretary in 1920 and, appointed to the post the following year, remained at Trent Bridge until 1958. Walter Marshall, whose many duties included that of groundsman, was another who made a notable contribution, not only to the ground but to its folklore. He kept chickens there, and behind the pavilion he cultivated a plot of land which would have done justice to a market gardener. Instrumental in improving facilities, he introduced mechanical power to replace Polly, the horse which had previously pulled along the rolling and cutting machinery.

The generosity of Sir Julien Cahn enabled the Radcliffe Road stand and Indoor Cricket School to be built, and these were in use by the time Nottinghamshire captured the County Championship title once more in 1929. That was to be their last major success until 1981, but in the intermediate period great players and great characters performed on the ground, beginning with the legendary fast-bowling partnership of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. Both were at the centre of the bodyline controversy in Australia in 1932-33, and as if by way of settling a score, an Australian marked the centenary of the ground in spectacular style in 1938. Stan McCabe hammered the England bowling to the tune of 232 in just under four hours of the most punishing strokeplay ever seen.

During the Second World War, Trent Bridge had a fortunate escape when a 500lb bomb landed on nearby Swain Hall. When Championship cricket resumed afterwards, Nottinghamshire's displays suggested that a direct hit could not have done more damage as far as playing performances were concerned. In 1953, desperate to end the years of failure, Nottinghamshire registered the Australian leg-spinner, Bruce Dooland, who took 770 wickets and scored 4,782 runs in a five-year spell still fondly recalled by the county's supporters. Then, in 1968, Nottinghamshire surprised the cricketing world by attracting Garry Sobers, the greatest cricketer of his time, to Trent Bridge. He led Nottinghamshire to fourth place - their highest in post-war years - in his first full season, but he lacked support to make the transition from failure to success a permanent one. It was not until the Rice - Hadlee era that Nottinghamshire had a team to match the quality of their ground.

Under the management of Ken Taylor, whose contribution and influence should never be overlooked, Nottinghamshire were inspired by Rice and Hadlee to their first Championship title in 52 years. That, however, was just an appetiser for what was achieved last summer, when a double was won and a treble became a distinct possibility. It was a season that goes down in the 150-year history as the most memorable of all. William Clarke would indeed have been proud of those involved.

© John Wisden & Co