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A Shout From The Attic: Brickyard Cricket

The bat was as heavy and as deadly as a war club, and could double for one when the game turned nasty.

The ball was a genuine cricket ball –a ‘corky’ – that had seen better days, but which was still lethal if it hit the face or head.

The pitch was any more or less piece of ground between the two mammoth brick kilns, and the wicket was chalked on a convenient wall, preferably one without windows.

Ronnie Bray recalls the dangerous delights of playing cricket in the brickyard where he worked as a young man.

For more chapters of Ronnie's life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

God give us grace to see
The grandeur in the soul of erranty
Florence Ripley Mastin

After I had worked at Sykes and Tunnicliffe’s, Central Ironworks, and the Co-operative Wholesale Society, I turned my attention to the brickyard at Birchencliffe, where the Huddersfield Brick Tile and Stone Company made common bricks. The major attraction was a better wage.

The mill had paid me a shilling an hour for a forty-four hour week, whereas Broadbent’s had paid me twenty-two shillings and sixpence for the same time, but I was learning a trade. I cannot remember how much I was paid as a driver’s mate for the Co-op, but the brickyard took me up to three pounds and ten shillings for forty hours, and paid overtime.

The brickyard was a veritable treasure-trove of some of the most remarkable characters I have ever met. But, I come not to memorialise those worthies, but to tell about Brickyard Cricket. The name of the game broadly hints at the essential nature of the game. 'Brickyard,' besides being a nominative is also a modifier and directs our attention towards the differences between the civilised game of bat and ball that calmly play out on English village greens during our long, hot summers, and the fight for survival defending a wicket in a brickyard.

The game equipment, for example, is different than that used by grammar schools and above, even though they are made from like substance. But whereas pukka cricket bats are fashioned from willow trees, Brickyard bats are made from any old plank that is lying around and not actually holding up a building.

Willow bats are made on an industrial copy lathe to ensure that each unit is identical to the thousands produced each month in the cricket bat factory, and then fitted by pressure and glue with wound and rubber-sleeved three-spring shock absorbing handles. Brickyard bats are made by first cutting the orphaned plank to length, and then incising long slots a third of the way in on each side and cutting through from the outsides to connect them, leaving a chunky square handle protruding from the integral blade.

No rounding of the handle, no cord-whipping, no rubber sleeve, and no shaped blade apart from, the shape it was when it had been sawn by the Brickyard Bat Maker, who was usually the maintenance man who had access to a powered hacksaw. It was as heavy and as deadly as a war club, and could double for one when the game turned nasty.

The ball was a genuine cricket ball –a ‘corky’ – that had seen better days, but which was still lethal if it hit the face or head.

The pitch was any more or less piece of ground between the two mammoth brick kilns, and the wicket was chalked on a convenient wall, preferably one without windows.

The rules and regulations for Brickyard Cricket are not written down in “The Rules of Cricket,” maintained for almost three hundred years by the Marylebone Cricket Club, but are carried in the hearts of Englishmen of a certain temperament everywhere. The Queen of the Iceni, Boudicca, knew them by heart, and almost beat the Romans, but she was thwarted by their inability to limit their fielding team to eleven men.

The “Rules” state that, “The captains are responsible at all times for ensuring that play is conducted within the spirit and traditions of the game as well as within the Laws.” Brickckyard Cricket has no teams, and no captains, so it is to be little wondered at that at times things get a little robust.

Cricket Proper is a battle between two teams of gentlemen each trying to outscore the other team, and get them ‘out’ in as many ways as possible. It does provide for some spectacular moments when ‘leather on willow’ reaches epic proportions. On the other hand, Brickyard Cricket is epic from the beginning. It starts out epic and gets epicer with each passing second.

The Brickyard game is between all those who are not the one person batting at any given moment and the rest of the players. Any number can play, and there is no provision made that anyone has to be gentle. The fundamental premise is “Get them out or knock them out!” In cases of severe injury, there is no stopping play, no assistance from first-aiders, and no whimpering. The game must go on!

The provision of thirty minutes for lunch break does tend to make players frantic to get the batter ‘out’ and get themselves ‘in’ for a few moments of glory - or gory - depending on the unfolding of events and the venom of the bowlers.

Talk of fast-bowling in cricketing circles will never fail to raise the name of 'Fiery' Freddy Trueman, the Yorkshire fast bowler who made strong men’s knees shake and their legs buckle beneath them when they saw the tousle-haired ogre begin his run up to deliver intercontinental missiles disguised as red leathered cricket balls.1.

Freddy wannabes at Birchencliffe could move the ball with equal speed, but had an advantage that regular cricketers did not enjoy. Cricket matches are played on grass, and the twenty-two yard long pitch is cut very short, and rolled flat with a heavy roller, to iron out any lumps and bumps that could deflect the ball in unexpected directions.

The ground inside the brickyard was mostly mud to which was added on an accidental but historical basis lumps of brick, collections of coke, ash, coal, plasterer’s lime, and lumps of wood, together with whatever body parts were knocked off intrepid batsmen who took up their plank-bats and asked for “leg and middle.” That gave the ball plenty of choice to fly off at curious and incredible angles taking the batsman, and sometimes his teeth, by surprise, and in severe cases, by ambulance.

As unlikely as it seems, I still hold the world record for distance travelled by a struck ball. The north end of the old oval kiln opposite the feeding shed was the site of the wicket, and ‘muscle-man’ Farrell, an incredibly strong brick drawer, bowled a Yorkie that came in an almost straight line towards my nose.

In flash of brilliance, such as Nelson showed at Trafalgar, and that caused the Australians to lose Tobruk twice, I swung the bat around with vigour as if I was hurling it away from the deep south side, connected with the ball whilst continuing to describe an arc on a slightly upward trajectory that only ended when I and my bat were actually turned to face the end wall of the kiln.

The ball had lifted high in the air and flown across the row of terraced houses that backed onto the yard at Prince Royd, and entered the open upstairs window of a number forty three Halifax bus on its way back to Huddersfield. It was discovered by cleaners four months later and had travelled an estimated six hundred miles in that time. Surely a world record. As is common with non-legal forms of cricket, I was declared “Six and out!”

That was long ago, and, as William Wordsworth said, “Another race has been, and other palms are won,” – commonly paraphrased as “a lot of water has gone under the bridge” – but there remains some tasks in life that can only be handled properly in the spirit of Brickyard Cricket. It is the only approach to a dangerous and sudden situation when recourse to the safety of a committee to spread the blame is impractical, and an immediate response is essential.

It is in those terrifying moments that I feel again the roughness of the bat’s handle in my grip, and swing at the looming problem with determination, and all my might and main, and feel once more the satisfaction of having knocked the situation for a six over the stone rooftops of the nearby houses.

Despite the lost ball, the inevitable groans from close comrades, and the impatience of all during the hiatus whilst a substitute missile is located, the thrill of having despatched Farrell’s Best Yorkie into another state of existence is exceeded only by the sudden slaying of fire-breathing dragons that disturb the tranquillity of peaceable folks, or threaten the security of the vulnerable.

Whether the intended victim is an adult unable to see the perfidy of someone who has gained their confidence, or a child in the hands of an abuser, the Yorkshire Cricket Response has never failed me yet.

The vision of the idly curious was limited to seeing only men at play with primitive implements: hard working men taking a break from dangerous employments in occupations that could see them crushed by falling rocks, lose limbs to runaway tubs, blown to pieces by dynamite in the quarry, have backs broken and muscles torn as they struggled to right a heavy load of bricks on a barrow whose slick wheel was sliding off a six inch wide metal plate, drenched in rain, or severely burned by ash in the kiln that looked cold and grey on its surface, but which glowed white hot inside. They saw only a pastime in the stream of hard lives; little thinking that the way we played our game instilled lessons in life that could be obtained in no other university.

Brickyard Cricket readies one for the anomalous and unexpected, provides a ready and robust response to intimidation, and sends bullies on their way, not rejoicing, but with something to think about in respect of their future behaviour. Now that’s what I call a sport!


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