Alec’s Field: a legacy of cricket and kindness in Hazelbury Bryan

Date:

The village’s playing field and allotment is a testament to community, sport – and generosity spanning generations. Rachael Rowe reports

Alec Adams

The sound of leather on willow at Alec’s Field in Hazelbury Bryan is all part of a traditional English afternoon in late summer.
But who was Alec and why did his descendants recently travel to Hazelbury Bryan with a single cricket ball?

Hazelbury beginnings
Alexander Richard Adams (Alec)was born in 1886. He lived at Hope Cottage in Hazelbury Bryan. His father, Arthur, was chief steward to Queen Mary and King George and lived mostly in London, only visiting occasionally to see his three sons. Arthur was keen to ensure his sons had a good education and learned the ways of the countryside. Queen Mary was a godmother to Alec Adams.
Even as a young boy, Alec was passionate about playing cricket. He excelled in the sport and was known for his fast-bowling. Naturally, he played in the village team, which at that time was made up of the local squire, his nine sons … and Alec! He was so mad about cricket that in 1903 he cycled from Hazelbury Bryan to Bournemouth to see his hero, the legendary WG Grace, play!
The family moved to Birmingham in the early part of the 20th century and Alec was selected to play cricket for Warwickshire. War was declared in 1914 and all competitive sports were stopped. So, unfortunately, Alec was unable to take up his place, but he continued to play cricket for Aston Cricket Club and was presented with a cricket ball in 1926, when he was 40, for taking ten wickets against Kings Heath.
Same roots
Steve Upshall was born in 1896 and also grew up in Hazelbury Bryan – the illegitimate only child to a single mother at a time when such a thing was deeply frowned upon, and by all accounts they lived in poverty. Steve’s mother was unable to read and write – when he was older Steve used to send her postal orders and she kept them in a drawer as she didn’t know what they were. She died in 1931, aged 60.

Alec Adam’s daughters, Hazel Chidley and Suzette Adams, wearing Hazelbury Cricket Club caps

Steve moved away and made his fortune, but he always kept an ambition to help his home village. In 1951 he purchased a parcel of land to be used by villagers. Covenants on the land ensured that the field was accessible for everyone to enjoy in perpetuity, for both recreation and, with the allotments, for the provision of food so that no villager would ever go hungry.
It was reported in the Western Gazette at the time that he also presented ‘a pair of ornamental gates, costing over £100 and made by the same firm responsible for the magnificent entrance gates to Buckingham Palace.’ They were wide enough to allow travelling fairs to enter the field.
For the official opening, Alec Adams and his two brothers were specifically requested to attend. Members of the management committee were entertained to lunch at the field, and Alec brought along his wife Lily and their daughters Hazel and Suzette.
Afterwards, Alec Adams opened the ground, known forever after as Alec’s Field. Several hundred people were in attendance at the festivities, and the day’s programme of entertainment was ‘numerous and varied’ as reported by the Western Gazette. ‘In addition to the 60-class flower and produce show, there was a baby show, fancy dress parade and a programme of sports.’
There was also a wild plan for an ‘aerial bran tub drop’ in which prize vouchers were to be dropped from an aircraft – first prize being an air trip to Scotland – but this had to be cancelled due to unfavourable weather conditions!

Suzette Reynolds (left) and Hazel Chidley, Alec Adams’ daughters, on their first visit to the pavilion

The Humber Snipe
On the day, the winner of the ‘Best Model made by a boy under 11’ was one Christopher Eyres, a lifelong Hazelbury Bryan resident who remembers both Steve Upshall and Alec Adams: ‘Steve was a bright active boy, but very lonely. He made friends with the other boy in the village who also had an absent father – though Alec was older by almost ten years.
‘Arthur had provided Alec with a substantial hen house to provide for egg production, and Alec taught Steve how to grow fruit and vegetables and also how to care for the chickens. He also helped Steve with his education, ensuring he could read and write.
‘Eventually, the Adams moved to Birmingham and Steve moved initially to Briantspuddle as a dairy farm assistant, which he didn’t enjoy, before finding work with a prosperous local builder Johnny Silverthorn. During the 1920s the work dried up, and the ambitious Steve heard that the port of Ipswich was expanding and in need of construction workers.
‘He started as a labourer before launching his own construction company. Steve never forgot his Hazelbury connection, visiting Wonston regularly to stay with his cousin Billy and his wife.
‘His arrival was always noted locally – he always drove a luxurious Humber Snipe! He would often visit my Grandparent Eyres to hear all the news.
‘He struck upon the idea of buying the field he had grown up looking out at, and gifting it as a permanent playing field to the community. A deal was done with Mr George Ross of Wonston, and the field was signed over to the Parish Council in July 1951.
‘Steve remained in contact with Alec up until Alec’s death in 1962, and he never forgot the kindness shown to him by Alec when they were younger.’

Suzette Reynolds (Alec Adams’ daughter), Jim Bettle and Sally, Alec’s granddaughter

A new generation
When the new cricket pavilion opened in 2021, Alec’s family were once again invited to attend. Alec’s granddaughter Kay Chidley says: ‘Unfortunately the pandemic put a stop to us coming. However, we decided to visit Hazelbury Bryan as soon as we could, just to see the field and pavilion. While there we bumped into Jim Bettle. He is an extraordinary person, the life and soul of the cricket club, he coaches youngsters and gives his time to the place. Mum (Alec’s daughter Hazel) said she wanted to do something for the club. She’s nearly 90 now.
‘So we got the cricket ball which was presented to my grandfather for taking ten wickets and had it mounted in a trophy. Hazel and Suzette also donated £1,000 to the cricket club.
‘It was such a lovely day. Everyone we spoke to said that this place is the soul of the village and it works for everyone. When we made the presentation, all the cricket club members were there. You could see all the 10 and 11 years olds hanging on to every word that Jim said.
‘The four grandchildren want to continue to keep those connections with the village and Alec’s Field. And when you feel the world is full of people who just want to make a quick buck and then you meet someone like Jim, it’s wonderful.’
Alec Adams’ kindness all those years ago has been returned in many ways in Hazelbury Bryan and its benefits will continue for years to come.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:

More like this
Related

Clayesmore head likens Labour’s policy to 1980s pit closures in open letter

In a powerful open letter, Jo Thomson, the head...

Winging it (on little legs)

In spite of her terminal illness, 73-year-old Marilyn McDonald...

Feeding the 500

Behind the scenes with Victoria O’Brien: from food science...

Rare chance to explore private gardens, open in aid of Julia’s House

Garden lovers will have the opportunity to explore two...