When Welbeck CC welcome Nottinghamshire back to their Fretwell hone ground, it will be something of home-coming for the visitors too – given that Welbeck staged the first match played by the county away from Trent Bridge.

That game, against Derbyshire in 1901, was at Welbeck Abbey, home to the Dukes of Portland, the first of several grounds to bring county cricket to the Dukeries of North Nottinghamshire.

At that time, the resident was the 6th Duke of Portland, who served as President of Notts CCC on five separate occasions, including the year 1900 when the Derbyshire game was first mooted.

The Notts CCC Minute Book has an entry from September 1900: “The suggestion of playing the match v Derbyshire at Welbeck (next season) providing funding could be obtained from the Duke of Portland was considered.”

Agreement secured, the match was scheduled for three days, starting on 12 August.  Despite only two hours play being possible on the first day and no play before lunch on day three due to rain, Notts won easily, securing an innings victory thanks to a century from Jimmy Iremonger and thirteen wickets for ‘Topsy’ Wass.

The Nottingham Daily Express was not overly impressed, saying: “It was very kind of his Grace the Duke of Portland to interest himself so much in Notts cricket to become President of the club but, in my opinion, it has been a mistake to take the match to a venue so difficult to access.”

Road and rail services to the Welbeck estate were sparse in Edwardian Nottinghamshire but that didn’t deter the parties from trying again with a second First-Class game played at the Abbey ground in 1904.  Despite its relative inaccessibility and the poor attendance, Notts decided to return to Welbeck to play the same opposition.

Rain again intervened and the match was drawn, with a delayed start and no play possible on the third day. The most notable performance was, though, by a Derbyshire player. Arnold Warren, a right-arm seamer, had his career best figures of 8-69 in Notts first innings. It is possible that this performance contributed to his selection for England the following season. He played his only Test against Australia at Headingley and was England’s most successful bowler, with 5-57 in Australia’s first innings – not sufficient, apparently, to earn him a second cap.

After those two rain-affected and poorly attended fixtures, it was 115 years before First-Class cricket returned to Welbeck, when Notts hosted Hampshire in a County Championship game at the John Fretwell ground in June 2019. Yet again, rain had its say with play only possible on the first day, and that somewhat limited, of a dismal draw.

The Fretwell Sporting Complex is the third (at least) Welbeck ground to host Nottinghamshire. Welbeck Abbey was let to the Ministry of Defence, operating as Welbeck College from September 1953  until September 2005 when it moved to a new site at Woodhouse near Loughborough. After the switch of venues, cricket was no longer played on the Abbey site.

Joe French, a long-standing member at Welbeck filled in some of the history. “Welbeck Cricket Club was formerly Welbeck Colliery Cricket Club. The Colliery was sunk in 1915 and earliest we can date the Club being formed was around 1924 when the Colliery housing, Welfare Club and Sporting facilities were built.  The name was changed after the Colliery closed.

“The Club played their cricket very successfully at the Oakfield Lane Ground in Warsop for more than 70 years. In 2006 the club needed a larger facility and, thanks to the generosity John Fretwell, a successful local businessman and ex Cricket Club member in his earlier years, the Sporting Complex that bears his name was built. 

“The site at Sookholme Road, Nettleworth, was built to help local sports to thrive and to give local youth the facilities to play sport – and Welbeck CC found themselves with a premium venue to play their cricket!”

Since that move in 2007, the ground has played host to a number of Nottinghamshire teams, across the age groups, in a variety of tournaments and leagues for men and women.

The 2022 meeting with Surrey will be the seventh 50-over Cup game at the venue – Notts have a pretty good record, having lost just one – in more than fifty fixtures. There has even been one ‘international’ when in 2017, Nottinghamshire Women played Scotland Women in a NatWest sponsored T20 Cup (Notts won by 31 runs).

Welbeck cricket and Nottinghamshire cricket are united by more – much more – than the use of the different grounds.  Locally born players have made their mark on county cricket in so many ways.  Perhaps the most notable is Ted Alletson, born in Welbeck Woodhouse on the Duke’s estate.  In 1911 he re-wrote not just Notts’ records but First-Class records…scoring 189 against Sussex in just 90 minutes at Hove. Alletson came to the wicket in Notts’ second innings with the score at 185 for 7, just nine runs ahead …he steadily compiled his first 47 runs, but by lunch Notts were only 84 ahead with one wicket remaining.

However, after lunch Alletson assaulted the Sussex bowling attack, scoring 142 runs off just 70 balls in a 152-run tenth wicket partnership.  His aggressive innings included 23 fours and eight sixes; John Arlott called it ‘the most sustained hitting in First-Class cricket’ – and Ted was primarily a bowler! 

His feat was unequalled until Darren Stevens did something similar for Kent in 2021.

If Ted Alletson has a place in the history books, many of his near neighbours have a place in the Notts score books.  Two former county captains, George Heane and Norman Hill, came from the area as did regular first XI players David Millns, Cyril Poole, father and son John and Michael Hall and the brothers Kevin and Mark Saxelby.

And then there’s the French family…Joe French is a proud member of a lineage that has provided players for Notts and England – wicket-keeper Bruce French and his nephew, fast bowler Jake Ball – and has been a mainstay of Welbeck cricket for many years. 

Joe is the eldest of five brothers – sons of Maurice French who has served Welbeck CC and the local league cricket in so many capacities – each of whom ‘has played representative cricket at some level for Notts.’  He, Charles, Neil, David and, of course, Bruce are Nottinghamshire’s answer to the great cricketing families like the Edrichs of Norfolk or the Lancashire Tyldesleys.

Bruce French, born in Warsop in 1959 set two ‘youngest’ records – at 11, he was (still is) the youngest player to represent Welbeck CC and in 1976, made his debut for the Notts first XI against Cambridge University at 16 yrs. 257 days – again a record yet to be broken.

His England debut came a decade later v India; he played 21 Tests and eight ODIs for his country.

The next Welbeck player to gain recognition from both county and country was Jake Ball, who graduated from club cricket at Welbeck to the Trent Bridge squad and made his First XI debut in September 2009 in a NatWest Pro40 match against Sussex at Hove. 

Joining the full-time playing staff at Trent Bridge for the 2011 season, he made his First-Class debut in Abu Dhabi, where Notts faced the MCC in the Champion County match. 

He went a step further during the summer of 2016 when he made his Test debut at Lord’s against Pakistan.  Bruce, then England’s wicketkeeping coach as well as being Jake’s uncle, Bruce French, made the presentation of his England cap.  In another Nottinghamshire link, Ball opened the bowling in his first Test alongside Trent Bridge teammate Stuart Broad. 

Ball has to date played four Tests, 18 One Day Internationals and two T20Is for his country.  In all, he has taken 26 wickets at international level.  In October 2016, he became the first England player to claim five wickets on his One Day International debut when he recorded figures of 5-51 against Bangladesh in Mirpur. 

Back with Nottinghamshire, Ball was a member of the Nottinghamshire side which won the T20 Blast in 2017.  He played a major part in the campaign, taking 22 wickets in 14 games.  In the Final at Edgbaston, he claimed 2-26 from his four overs, a spell which included eight dot balls and some fine death bowling.

The traffic between Welbeck and Trent Bridge has by no means been one-way only. There have been several Nottinghamshire cricketers who have played for Welbeck over the years, apart from Bruce and Jake.

Players to have represented Welbeck include: Nirmal Nanan, Paul Todd, Kevin Cooper, Kevin Evans, Mark Saxelby, Paul Johnson, Charlie Shreck, Wayne Dessaur and Noel Gie.

They were each welcomed to Welbeck with enthusiasm and style – as will the current Notts squad when they pitch up for the Royal London Cup game against Surrey this week.

August 2022