The Gnoll in Neath hosted 43 of Glamorgan’s County Championship matches between 1934 and 1995, plus a dozen List A games from 1963 until 1994, as well as the Welsh county’s games with the Australians in 1985, 1989 and 1993.
The ground is the home to both Neath Rugby and Cricket Club, with its name being a derivation from the word ‘knoll’, meaning a small round hill, as the first building in the area was situated on the circular mound on the hill to the north of the town. By the 17th century, a small castle and country house had been built on the hillside, and from 1710 onwards it became the home of the Mackworth family, who were wealthy industrialists and owned the town’s copper works.
In 1811 the Gnoll Estate was purchased by Henry Grant – the first mayor of Neath – and he allowed ball games to be played on the meadows below Gnoll House, with records of cricket being played from 1845 onwards. A number of prestigious fixtures were held over the next few years at The Gnoll as Alex Cuthbertson, a local solicitor, arranged three-day fixtures in 1855 and 1856 between an Eleven of All-England and a XXII of Neath and District. In 1868 JTD Llewelyn, the squire of Penllergaer also organised a match at the ground between a local XXII and the United South of England. Dr WG Grace was in the English side and for once in his career, he bagged a pair.
1871 saw Neath RFC being formed and the south-western part of the field was devoted to the oval ball game, with cricket being played in the north-eastern half. A rugby grandstand was also built and seating was also provided alongside a pavilion which had been created for the gentlemen cricketers. To raise funds for the town’s cricket club, exhibition matches were also staged during the mid 1900s at The Gnoll between The Gentlemen of Glamorgan and their amateur counterparts from Essex, with the success of these games resulting in the Neath ground staging its first Minor County fixture in 1908 with Glamorgan defeating Carmarthenshire by an innings and one run.
Neath continued to stage an annual Minor County fixture until 1920. By this time, the Gnoll Estate was owned by the Neath Corporation, and in 1923 they resisted the temptation to sell the land for house building and decided instead that the ruins of the Gnoll House should be the town’s War Memorial, and that the rugby and cricket ground should be preserved for sporting activities.
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