Allow yourself to go back, not so far in time but to the 1930’s when Harlow was a sleepy little known market town. Somewhere midway between London and Cambridge. It did have a station therefore an early commuter town perhaps, just. Also surrounded by farm land and few substantial country estates and manor houses. Not an overly prosperous community but quiet and peaceful.
Browsing through the local press for the summer months, it was obvious cricket had an important part to play within the community. Competitive whether at ‘Club level’ or between rival village teams
In this part of north west Essex adjoining the east Hertfordshire borders, Harlow was close and accessible to other neighbouring towns such as Epping, Sawbridgeworth and Bishops Stortford all having competitive cricket history with established rivalries going back well into the previous century. Harlow was also surround by villages and hamlets. Many having their own cricket teams as well
To cap that, a number of substantial ‘county houses’ existed with their own cricket grounds. These included (the sadly long lost) Moor Hall on the Harlow outskirts with a cricket ground dating from the 1850. Nearby Sawbridgeworth boasted Gt Hyde Hall, the seat of the cricketing benefactor, Sir Walter Lawrence. Other country estates such as Terlings and Gilston Park to name just a couple also had an active involvement in the local cricket scene.
This suggests during this period, cricket was actively played in the area at around a couple of dozen cricketing locations. Clubs of varying standards along with country house cricket for the gentry.
In the late 1940’s Harlow had become a New Town. Villages and hamlets gobbled up into the new conurbation of roads, new housing and the massive arrival of industry covering so many pretty rural scenes but delivering a whole new lifestyle for many, many families and a new cricketing dynasty
Lost were various village teams and cricket playing country houses but the newly arrived industries being massive employers created substantial leisure facilities and therefore a new age for cricket.
Although losing village teams they were replaced with a greater number of new factory teams, or clubs if you like. Such was the new found popularity for cricket in our modern town.
In the 1950’s six or more major employers invested in their own ‘sports and social clubs’ having good quality cricket grounds, Key Glass had two, as well as numerous football pitches and club houses. There was even a mid week cricket league between these ‘cricket clubs’ and played to a good standard.
These teams were mostly made up of employees who had escaped war torn London to live in the countryside now known as Harlow New Town and its many opportunities for employment as well as the wonderful opportunity for young families to flourish.
Despite the loss of so many older teams, Harlow Cricket Club continued in its happy way, still enjoying its pretty cricket home at Marigolds, in Old Harlow, or now, ‘The Old Town’ They openly encouraged and welcomed the ‘New comers’ to their club and had the foresight to form a colt’s team with both local and recently arrived youngsters with a flair and keenness to play cricket. The makeup of Harlow CC teams in the 1950’s and early 60’s was a successful blend of locals and newcomers
Fortunately, some village teams survived and are still around today such as Potter Street (now known as Potter Street & Church Langley CC - in celebration of the new estate that has swollen up much of the former ‘Street’). Netteswell and Burnt Mill CC who are still plying their trade most Sundays during the season at Marigolds as the guests of Harlow CC.
Cricket was becoming so strong and popular in the town. The new Sports Centre management built a cricket ground to attract Essex County Cricket Club needs. A big attempt was made to encourage the county club to use the new modern cricket facility. Essex did on a couple of occasions visit with Sunday League matches but that opportunity was lost through ‘politics and the apartheid’ issues in the late 1960’s
Despite this set back, the Sports Centre provided the opportunity for the birth of another ‘senior’ club to be born, Stort CC to rival the local senior dominance of Harlow CC.
Well into the 1970’s and early 1980’s the popularity for cricket was undoubtedly supported and encouraged by enthusiastic cricket playing school teachers in and around the many Harlow schools, some also had their own in-school cricket facilities.
A completely different educational picture evolves, influx of sporting teachers mainly from the strong rugby stronghold of Wales. A soccer explosion (Harlow had one of the biggest youth soccer leagues in the country at that time) and industrial cut backs with the loss of many factory funded cricket grounds going under the bull dozers to build new offices and distribution warehouses.
School cricket virtually dries up and in-school cricket facilities vanish. So club cricket had to pick up the mantle for the noble game to survive.
Moving into the 21st century, cricket managed to stay alive. Harlow CC continued to flouring as did their neighbours The Stort albeit, about to be rebranded to (the confusing) Harlow Town CC name style and revitalised themselves by moving away from the soulless Sports Centre to a new home at Ash Tree Fields were they continue to thrive.
So, we comfortably move along well into the new century with Harlow so dominated with many different sports and leisure pastimes along with many brand new facilities. Gymnasiums a plenty, new athletic opportunities, football and rugby stadiums encouraging grass roots soccer and rugby for almost every age 24/7 fifty two weeks a year so what chance has cricket got to be able to both compete and survive?
Well, it does!
In sleepy Old Harlow, at the picturesque Marigolds cricket ground, the home of Harlow Cricket Club for well over a hundred and twenty odd years, has two grounds a new modern club house, practice facilities, puts out five teams every Saturday during the season. An occasional Sunday team, hosts various Hertfordshire CCC Ladies cricket teams, Netteswell and Burnt Mill CC as well as regular cricket practice for youngsters during the weekdays and winter months. Harlow CC new and impressive cricket pavilion (built in 2017) Thanks to a substantial lottery grant via Sport England
Over on the other side of town in their new scenic setting alongside the local golf club, Harlow Town CC also with two grounds, fields three or four teams on Saturdays, has youth polices to encourage the game and good practice facilities.