THE SOUTH LANCASHIRE LEAGUE PART TWO
The inter-war years were marked by an era of social upheaval, and it is probably no surprise that these are the least well-documented years in Thornham’s history, but the Club’s growth progressed apace once league cricket was restarted in 1919. The Club’s “new” pavilion, unveiled before the global catastrophe of World War One, had seen very little cricket action, and in 1919 came close to destruction itself. A powerful storm lifted the structure clean off its brick foundation, and 24 deposited it many yards away. Painstakingly, members rolled it back onto its base, and amazingly it was found to have suffered very little damage; not one window-pane had been broken, nor a single glass in the bar!
The constitution of the South Lancashire League had changed significantly by this year, many clubs having joined the newly-formed Lancashire and Cheshire League, and the South Lancashire League was increasingly becoming a “works” league, formed of teams representing big companies, such as C.W.S and Avro, and Thornham found itself increasingly isolated as a village side. Nevertheless the game was popular. When Frank Watson was appointed professional in the early 1920s he received handsome payment of £5 per week plus a guaranteed benefit of £25. Roughly this would equate to £240 per week in 2018, with the annual benefit worth £1200! This was possible because benefit matches would attract crowds of 400 to 500 spectators, each paying to watch, and, indirectly, to finance Watson.
Bar opening times were adjusted in 1921, from opening at 8am and remaining open each day except Sunday, to opening only at lunchtime and evening. Whether this had a massively detrimental effect on bar sales is not on record, but it must have been a coveted position to be a committee member at the time, as it is recorded that the Bar Committee were instructed at the end of the season to “dispose of surplus stock in whatever way they consider in good order.”! The good old days!
Tennis was becoming an increasingly popular game, and, in 1922, the Club attracted a very large tennis section, changing its name to “Thornham Cricket and Tennis Club”. Years later, during the Second War, the Club would be singled out by the local Vicar, Reverend Astin, in a scathing attack “of those who choose to play tennis on Sundays in our midst in Thornham, while a war is going on!”
Groundwork was becoming a more far-reaching element of the Club’s planning, which necessitated an unorthodox element in the professional’s terms and conditions of employment: his first duty each day on arrival was to “catch and feed the horse”! This animal was stabled in a shed adjoining the pavilion, and in return it pulled the roller for the square and the cutters for the outfield. No thoroughbred this; after the committee has agreed a motion “that the horse be destroyed by Geo. Eaton and sons”, a replacement was needed and a subsequent motion was passed, “that we purchase a horse from Mr F. Rothwell for £8”. For this sort of money, the roller was pulled by a beast well past its prime.
The First XI toiled rather unobtrusively throughout the inter-war period, though this period did see the first ever championships won by the Second XI. In 1923, they won the Second Division Championship and the Rochdale Cup. This would be the first of three South Lancashire League championships gained by the side, with the last one coming in 1939, when the outbreak of the Second World War curtailed the season; however, Thornham 2nd XI were so far ahead of their pursuers that even had they lost the three games which remained when games were suspended, they could not have been overtaken.
During the Depression of the 1930s many unemployed derived mental and physical recreation throughout the day at Thornham, when there was little else in the world to cheer them up. The Club was a hive of activity and a focal point for the whole village. It had amassed a large membership and playing members had to arrive at the ground before 6.00 p.m. to have any chance of getting a “knock” during practice sessions. Despite the global and local recession, Thornham managed to continue the quest to improve the facilities, and in 1935 a new wooden Tea Pavilion was unveiled. It replaced a tea tent where drinks would be prepared over a primus stove, and marked another significant advance in the estate of the Club. The fact that the Club did not own its own ground had become an irritant to the committee. Because it was only held on leasehold, no matter how apparently secure, investment from outside the Club was problematic.
Therefore in 1936 the committee made a determined effort to purchase the ground, and Messrs. E. Smalley and L. Lord were authorised to spend a maximum of £500 to secure the field. Unfortunately, having considered the conditions of sale and local plans, the scheme was dropped, and the ambition to own the ground was to be thwarted for a further 60 years. During that long period Thornham would continue to struggle to avail of various grants and loans from sporting organisations, because of their lack of security of tenure, and there is no doubt that this acted as a brake on the development of the Club in the years that were to follow the suspension of league cricket as another global conflict eclipsed sport and all other elements of “normal” life.