The Mackintosh and Jack Brain turn out for Bonvilston, May 1904.

The Bonvilston cricket pavilion. Photo Credit – the estate of EC Deere.

The Bonvilston cricket pavilion (seen above) was formally opened on Saturday 7 May 1904. To mark the occasion a Bonvilston XI entertained a side, although admittedly a 3rd XI, from the prestigious Cardiff Cricket Club. Unfortunately there was only time for “a goodly number of spectators”  to witness the home side making 99 runs for the loss of 9 wickets before rain drew an early close to the proceedings. Nevertheless, alongside the local heroes, the crowd had seen three prominent figures take the field for Bonvilston that day.

The Mackintosh of Mackintosh made a rare appearance for the home side and, according to reports, played “a very fine game“. Since his arrival at Cottrell Park in 1881 he had championed local cricket and the Bonvilston team in particular. However, given that he was fifty two years of age, his place on the field had been taken in recent years by his son, Angus. Eighteen years old, Angus was a talented all round cricketer and captain of the Bonvilston team in the 1904 season.  Batting at number three and usually amongst the wickets, the young Mackintosh was a popular figure and was presented by the club with a silver “smoking set” of a cigarette case, lighter and matchbox engraved with the Mackintosh coat of arms on his 21st birthday. His tenure as captain was, however, relatively short, for in 1906 he joined the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues) and served in Ireland and later in France during the First World War

The Mackintosh was a staunch supporter of the club. He had funded the construction of the new pavilion and he continued to provide much of the equipment required to maintain the ground. He also served for many years as the Club’s President. While club records show that funds for the club were raised through a regular round of social events, often held at the Red Lion Inn adjacent to the ground, the ongoing support of The Mackintosh was a significant factor in the club’s success.

Alongside the Mackintosh family many in the crowd were there to see the batting of JH Brain, better known as Jack Brain, the Oxford Blue who had played for Gloucestershire and the MCC, and had moved to South Wales during the late 1880s, ostensibly to run the family’s brewery but also to take over the reins of Glamorgan County Cricket Club. Forty-one years of age in 1904, Jack Brain’s talents as a cricketer, were still in demand as captain of Glamorgan and the Cardiff Club alongside turning out for an array of invitation XIs. He had moved from Caerau to Bonvilston House in the summer of 1902 and, initially, had played locally for the Cowbridge team drawn together by Mr Ebsworth of Llandough Castle, scoring 141 runs on one occasion. By 1904, however, possibly as result of the support being provided by the Mackintosh family, he had agreed to play for the Bonvilston side.

As coach and later team captain, Jack made a remarkable number of appearances for Bonvilston given his wider commitments. In his first season the team struggled on many occasions. The following month, despite a brilliant spell of bowling by Tom Crabb, taking 6 wickets for 24 runs, with Jack Brain “… in fine form behind the sticks” Bonvilston were skittled out for a total of 13 runs by a University College Old Boys side. Nevertheless, under Jack’s guidance, the Bonvilston team steadily increased its profile in the following years.  To its existing diet of fixtures against Dinas Powis, Cadaxton Barry, Wenvoe and Barry Seconds a range of games were added against Cardiff teams including Cardiff Alpha, Cardiff Bohemians, Whitchurch, Canton, The Heath and St Mary’s Cardiff.

Bonvilston CC. (Circa 1906) Standing (Left to Right): WM Cope (Great House), Bob Bassett, Rev Richards (Llancarfan), JH Brain (Capt, Bonvilston House), J Stockwood (Cowbridge), B Vaughn (Trehedyn). Seated: W Watts (Sheepcourt), T Melhuish (Sheepcourt Cottages), I Holley (Organist), T (Nipper) Jenkins (Cowbridge). Front: Tom Crabb (Cottrell), Harry Moore (School Master). Photo Credit – the estate of EC Deere.

As a sign of the times, by 1907, Bonvilston entertained a Cardiff 2nd XI. There is no doubt that Jack Brain attracted a number of talented local players to Bonvilston including several who had turned out for Mr Ebsworth’s team in Cowbridge. It also is likely that he was instrumental in adding the occasional county player. The club records make reference to the Glamorgan county player Percy Hill who lived at Trehedyn and it is possible that he played for Bonvilston around 1910.

The photograph above was displayed in the local public house, the Red Lion. Looking at the composition of the team it was probably taken in the 1906 season two years after the opening of the pavilion. While Jack, by then club captain, was the central figure, the backbone of the team lay very much with the local contingent. Records confirm that, time and again, Bonvilston relied on the batting of Watts and Bassett. While, when it was their turn to take the field, Crabb and Holley frequently shared the bowling honours.

The Bonvilston cricket pitch was situated behind the Red Lion and Charles Deere, the son of the licensees, recorded his memories of practice sessions:

“Most fine summer evenings practice took place in nets which were put up and often there would be 25 to 30 attending. Young boys attended and were coached by Mr J H Brain, an Oxford Blue who played for Gloucester and for Glamorgan.  I became very interested and eventually, at 15 years of age, I would be given a game if someone had not turned up. I was a fairly good all-rounder.

The ground was rented from Mr Griffiths Village Farm for £7 per season. The club was presented with a horse mower by Mr Angus Mackintosh and The Mackintosh allowed the loan of mule to pull it. An excellent patch was made for the wickets and this was well rolled by members after practice in the nets.”

Extract from “The Recollections of Charles Deere of Bonvilston”        

While we have yet to find a record of Charlie’s performance on the pitch for Bonvilston, as a young boy there was often a member of the Deere family in the team. With the ground situated just behind his home, he would have witnessed the high and lows of the Bonvilston team. Although a formidable bowling side, batting was often a problem and, in particular, when Jack Brain was away on other duties. It certainly looked that way when, in September 1909, against The Heath, Bonvilston, batting first, were dismissed for 71 with the lion’s share of the runs coming from an innings of 56 by Bob Bassett. Things looked grim as The Heath, in reply, started solidly until the local heroes Crabb and Holley took control. With five wickets falling for one run and Crabb and Holley sharing all ten wickets, The Heath were removed for a total of thirty five runs and an unlikely victory secured. No doubt just one of many memorable afternoons for Charlie and his pals and those who celebrated at the Red Lion that night.

All teams have a player “who got away”. For Bonvilston, in this period, it was probably the legendary Glamorgan and England cricketer Johnnie Clay. Born in Bonvilston, the same year as Charlie Deere, the two may have patrolled the boundary at home games as young boys. Unfortunately for Bonvilston the Clay family soon moved to St Arvans, near Chepstow, and Johnnie left for Winchester College in 1911.

With the outbreak of war, in August 1914, cricket in most communities was side-lined. For Bonvilston, however, it was double blow with the death of Jack Brain in June of the same year. Although he had passed the captaincy to Tom Crabb in 1910, Jack was still an influential figure despite his failing health. With his death the side had lost its mentor. It would be some time before cricket resurfaced in Bonvilston and other communities across Wales.

Tony Peters, Volunteer, Museum of Welsh Cricket.

The  photograph of the Bonvilston team in 1906 and the text from “The Recollections of Charles Deere of Bonvilston” have been used with kind permissions of the estate of E C Deere.         

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