Sprowston Recreation Ground

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The formation of The Recreation Ground

There are several anomalies to be sorted out before the history of Sprowston Recreation Ground can be published as a factual article. As a stopgap, we are publishing the details which are quite often conflicting and people reading this article are asked if possible to correct or expand our knowledge.

Land acquisition

Sprowston Parish Council was formed in 1894 and three years later acquired the land which was to become the Recreation Ground. As to whether acquired actually meant leased must be researched since in the Bowls Club history they suggest that the land was not purchased until 1930. It would appear from photographic evidence that sporting fixtures in Sprowston carried on based at Harrison's Meadow on Blue Boar Lane until the recreation ground was officially opened in 1933 by the Lord Mayor of Norwich. This ceremony centred around the new cricket pavilion donated to the parish by Michael Falcon, himself a cricketer and resident of Sprowston Hall for a several years in the 1930s. This is where there is confusion as according to the EDP and the bowls club history the pavilion was donated by Mr. A. Cozens Hardy and this ceremony was to celebrate the opening of the new bowling green.

The facilities provided

The first sports on the new ground seemed to have been cricket and football although plans were already afoot for the inclusion of the sport of bowls as a new green had been laid in 1932. Evidence still has to be gathered as to whether the provision of tennis facilities was part of the original plan but for a short period the Recreation Ground hosted the two Sprowston Cycle Speedway teams in the 1950s. It was the policy that NO BALL GAMES TO BE PLAYED ON SUNDAY was enforced that caused rancour within the parish resulting in a public meeting. Luckily a personal report by one of the attendees has been produced when the Sprowston Cricket Club Sunday Fixture Meeting 1947 brought the matter to a head..

As well as providing sports facilities in the area was open to all parishioners and for the children there was a designated playground with all the normal playground facilities of the slides, swings etc. Being a large open area the parish were also able to hold various events such as carnivals but it also provided facilities for the local schools who did not have a dedicated playing fields. There was one more very important role that the recreation ground was used for being utilised for local defence purposes throughout the duration of World War II especially the Home Guard and other associated groups.

War declared on the Sunday ruling

Sprowston Cricket Club Sunday Fixture Meeting 1947.

A Memory by Victor R. Bennett

It was a joyful occasion in the early 1930s with the long awaited opening of the new Recreation Ground and the Parish Council proud of the hard work in creating this for the expanding population in Sprowston.The locals joined in with the celebration but many had noted a “fly in the ointment” that would haunt the council a decade later on. A Notice Board bold statement “No Ball Games on Sundays” By Order. S.P.C.

The locals did not approve, but as law abiding citizens accepted and considered six days out of seven not a bad deal. Many councils had similar rules not wanting to get tangled up in a legal battle with the Lords Observance Day Society, who were a very powerful group indeed and to maintain Sunday as a day of worship and rest. Blame it on the Second World War, blame it on the emerging force of television, but people’s attitudes and opinions began to change, and it wasn't long before a sports group would challenge the Council and their Sunday rule.

Sprowston Cricket Club with league matches being played on Saturdays, had built up a good reputation, were offered friendly games for Sundays. This caused the club a problem not being unable to return the compliment. An approach to the Council was submitted for three games per season but this was defeated by a narrow margin however, agreed to a public debate. The Central School Hall was the venue. There must have been a lot of drum beating because the turnout was tremendous with standing room only, with an attendance of 150.The public with “for and against” neatly divided on both sides of the hall. Spokesmen for both sides had their say amid few “boos and rubbish ", it was now getting very nasty and easy to spot who was supporting either this or that.

The Chairman called for other views from the floor. Everything began to get personal with jibes and accusations. Quotations like “I was in the army for five years, including Sunday's ", “The Germans bombed us - even on Sunday's ". By now the Chairman realising the meeting was near to mutiny and suggested a vote. Unfortunately, this was not the answer causing a bigger uproar because of who was entitled to vote. With accusations and pointed fingers referring to that lot came from Hellesdon, or Catton, or Thorpe saying they had no business being there let alone voting. Counter claims of half the cricket team came from Norwich and a lot of the youngsters were not old enough to vote, it went on and on and on.

The Chairman draws a halt, consults his colleagues and agreed a three Sunday experiment for the coming season. This is a climb down and the floor showed their pleasure and discontent. At least the cricket club were happy and many sporting groups also put their claims to the council and within a few years the “no ball rule “was consigned to history.

Sunday's of the last three decades have changed considerably - rightly or wrongly - with seven day shopping and a full calendar of events leads one to wonder what all the fuss was about in 1947, in a crowded school hall. I was one of the 150.