A tree and six stumps


Today I am handing over the first part of the column to my husband Alan.

ONE of my many walks with our yellow Labrador Teddy takes me along the Ribble to Chatburn, the next-but-one village, and across its cricket field.

Being a trained observer, it took only a few months for me to notice that about 15 yards inside the boundary is a large mature lime tree. So what happens, I wondered, if the ball hits it?

Luckily I ran into a club stalwart, Paul Whittaker, who broke off from tending the immaculate playing surface to explain.

If the ball, having been dispatched by the batsman, hits any part of the tree, even a single leaf, four runs are awarded. This applies even if the ball is about to soar over the boundary and catches the very top of the tree. Any arboreal contact means the ball is dead. Similarly, if the ball lands in the tree, eventually drops out and is caught by a fielder, it is four runs. And if a fielder’s throw back to the stumps touches the tree, it is four plus however many runs the batsman has already completed.

The rules, Paul explained, were supplied by the England and Wales Cricket Board when Chatburn moved to its current ground some time after the club was founded in 1923 and decided the pitch would be too small if the established tree were outside the boundary.

The precedent was established at the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury, which was built around a 90ft lime and opened in 1847, making it the only first-class venue to have a tree inside the boundary rope.

The rules are thought to date from the early 20th century when a visiting Hampshire batsman was caught by a Kent fielder off the tree. It was decided that if the ball hit the tree it was scored as a four even if it would have gone on to be six otherwise, and no one could be caught off a rebound. Many batsman took it as a personal challenge to hit the ball completely over the St Lawrence Lime but only four achieved it, including the great West Indies all-rounder Learie Constantine, whom I wrote about here. 

In 1999 the tree was found to be a victim of heartwood fungus and given ten years to live. It was pollarded to encourage growth but in 2005, weakened by the fungus, high winds broke it in two and only a 7ft stump was left. This was removed. 

In anticipation of the tree’s demise a lime sapling had been planted at the ground by the great cricket writer E W Swanton and Kent County Cricket Club planned to move it to the site of the old tree but it was deemed to be too small for the purpose and left outside the boundary.

This apparently leaves only two first-class cricket venues in the world to have a tree on the pitch – the City Oval in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and the VRA Ground in Amstelveen, Holland. The four-for-the tree rule applies at the City Oval but I have been unable to discover what happens at the VRA. 

There are at least two village grounds in Kent with on-pitch foliage, at Sennocke and Southborough. Brian Levison, author of Remarkable Cricket Grounds, notes of the latter that ‘cricket has been played here since at least 1794. The setting includes a fine common ringed by magnificent mature oaks and a classic 19th century English church whose clock is the club’s official timepiece, even though it runs five minutes slow. The pavilion side of the ground is bordered by a very busy road, forcing the club to hang netting along the boundary. Two trees grow on the pitch, the more distant one earning a six if hit on the full, the nearer one worth four.’

Going back to Chatburn, who play in the North West Cricket League, it seems that not all sports are equal, as the following sign suggests.


Sheep of the Week

BACK to me. Last week I wrote about the Dorper sheep, developed in South Africa for arid regions by crossing English Dorset Horn rams with Somalian Blackhead Persian ewes, hence the name from ‘Dorset’ and ‘Persian’. There are now quite a number in this country. This is a ram.

Photo: AttiewestraadCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Commenter ‘Onedtent’ wrote: ‘Note to Margaret: perhaps an article on Dormer sheep would be of interest to readers. Closely allied to Dorpers but bred for a slightly different purpose.’

I had not come across the breed because so far I have written only about sheep found in Britain, and the Dormer isn’t, but it has an English ancestor, the Dorset Horn (like the Dorper). So I made an executive decision to feature it this week.

The Dormer too was developed in South Africa, but for the opposite kind of climate: the country’s cold, wet, winter rainfall areas. The aim was to produce a mutton breed with fast-growing lambs. From 1927 the Elsenburg Research Station of the Department of Agriculture tried out various rams including Border Leicester, Ryeland, Romney Marsh, South Down, Suffolk Down, Texel, Corriedale (a New Zealand breed which is now found in Britain, so that’s another for my to-do list) and the Blackhead Persian with German Merino (slightly different from standard Merino) ewes. By 1936 the Dorset Horn seemed to be the best match in terms of weight gain and carcass quality. The combination was also the only one that produced a satisfactory lambing percentage in autumn, a trait crucial in the Western Cape, where lambs are grown on winter pasture.

In 1937 and 1938, more than 6,000 lamb carcasses of various crosses were shipped to London’s Smithfield market, and it was confirmed that Dorset Horns sired the best lambs. The name ‘Dormer’ comes from Dorset and Merino. (Obviously there’s a lot of imagination in South Africa.)

The Dormer is found throughout South Africa today. The Dormer Sheep Breeders’ Society, formed in 1940, has 119 members with 22,500 registered animals. You can read more at the society’s website. 

Here is a rather good video in Afrikaans (I presume), though I do think the flames are a bit tactless. Maybe the director has aspirations to blockbuster films. There’s a great section from 2’ 13” with the sheep lined up like Tiller Girls (showing my age here).


I SAW this on the bank of the Ribble yesterday, and managed to get a picture in reasonable focus. I thought it was a wild orchid but when I looked it up I found it to be a marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris). This flower has a long history of use in herbalism, and as its common name implies the leaves were used for dressing cuts, and it is reputed to soothe aching joints when made into an ointment. Must try it.

It looks as if we are in for a bumper harvest of blackberries this year.


Wheels of the week

TODAY I am starting an occasional series featuring cars photographed by TCW contributor Brian Meredith when he chanced upon the Mille Miglia Rally in Florence.

The ‘Mille Miglia’ (‘a thousand miles’) was a race which took place on public roads in Italy 24 times from 1927 to 1957 (thirteen before World War II, eleven from 1947). There were various routes of roughly 1,000 miles.

In 1955 the race was won by Britain’s Stirling Moss in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR which was based on the Formula One Mercedes-Benz W196. He and his navigator, motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson,  drove the course six times in advance, enabling Jenkinson to make ‘pace notes’ on a scroll of paper 18ft long, from which he gave directions to Moss during the race by a coded system of 15 hand signals. The winning time for the 992-mile race was ten hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds, an average speed of 99mph.

Here are the victorious Jenkinson and Moss, then aged 26.

I got both to sign my autograph book a few years later.

The other names on Stirling Moss’s page are his then wife Katie Molson, his father Alfred (who had been an amateur racing driver), his sister Pat, a successful rally driver, and Harry Schell, an American who partnered Stirling Moss in the 1957 Sebring 12-hour race, taking second place. Schell was killed in a 100mph crash at Silverstone in 1960 at the age of 38. Moss died in 2020, aged 90.

The Mille Miglia was shockingly dangerous. Over the 24 races in 30 years, 56 people died – 24 drivers/co-drivers and 32 spectators. It all ended in 1957 when Spaniard Alphonso de Portago crashed his 4-litre Ferrari 335 S, killing himself, his co-driver and nine spectators, five of whom were children.

These days, they hold the Mille Miglia Rally for cars which were registered to take part in the original race.

Brian Meredith says: ‘It is emphatically not a race, but this being Italy, the police turn a blind eye to the spectacle of vintage sports car owners showing off and driving really quite quickly around the narrow streets of a historic city like Florence. 

‘I was lucky enough to be there quite by chance one day in May 2013 when they dominated the town for a day. Needless to say, there were no safety barriers in place and pedestrians just wandered amongst the cars at their own risk.’

The 2013 edition saw 420 cars starting, 340 of which finished the course.

Today’s car is a 1949 Jaguar XK120 OTS Alloy, 3445cc.

The model was launched at the 1948 London Motor Show and produced in Coventry until 1954, by which time 12,055 had been made. The ‘120’ in the name referred to the aluminium car’s notional 120mph top speed (actually it was capable of quite a bit more) which made it the world’s fastest production car at the time of its launch. OTS stands for ‘open two-seater’, and it provided little weather protection. Its lightweight folding canvas top and detachable sidescreens were stowed out of sight behind the seats. The doors had no external handles; they were opened by an interior pull-cord, accessed through a flap in the sidescreens when the top was in place. In 1949 the first production model was delivered to Clark Gable. A similar car sold for £302,000 in 2016.

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