The Day the County Played at Chingford


Lionel King remembers Peter Smith’s benefit fund cricket match at Chingford one glorious sunny afternoon in June 1947


Smith TPB was a patient cricketer. He waited 18 seasons for a benefit. His penetrating leg breaks and googlies attracted official notice early on. Once following a phone call he turned up at Lord’s on the eve of a Test, only to discover he had been hoaxed.


Seasons which brought hauls of over 100 wickets were interrupted by summers of abject failure. His batting, however developed steadily.


The tour of India for which he was selected was cancelled on the outbreak of World War Two. At 37, Smith returned from war service to county cricket at last playing for England in the Oval Test against India. He toured Australia and New Zealand, gaining three more caps but enjoying only modest success. Consolation came with his inclusion among Wisden’s five players of 1946.


One glorious Sunday afternoon in June 1947, 2500 spectators swamped Chingford Cricket Ground. The visit of an Essex County XI for Peter Smith’s benefit fund was bound to be a big draw. This was the time of postwar austerity and a five and a half day working week. After the worst winter in memory with its fuel shortages, families had longed for days in the sun. Mothers and elder daughters could show off their home-made versions of Dior’s New Look.


I paid 6d admission which included an ill-printed score card. Crafer and Mainwaring were batting confidently. Someone nearby murmured that one of them had piloted bombers over Berlin.


The crowd soon spilled over the short boundary line. An official fussed along it collecting for the beneficiary. I wondered how much he might have taken had he been able to move freely.


Chingford declared at a respectable 188 for eight. Vigar and Dines, a trialist from works cricket, did much of the bowling. Spencer, an amateur, who never made the county eleven, took three cheap wickets. Ray Smith, destined that season to take 130 wickets at 37 runs apiece, a classic case of gross over-bowling in a weak attack, was little used. Tom Wade the wicket-keeper made four dismissals.


In the interval the ladies displayed their fashion while the county players were almost trampled underfoot by autograph hunters. Peter Smith disappeared among the multitude, signing away for dear life. After wintering in the antipodes, his complexion was like tanned leather. I remember his impressive moustache and magnificent striped blazer.


In the Essex innings the attractive stroke-maker, Cray, scored freely. Never a county regular, he joined a Dutch club in 1951 as player-coach. Horsfall, a newcomer from league cricket went in, nervously puffing his cheeks, making 69 with ease, while Ray Smith slogged boundaries at the other end. Cousin Peter came in to an ovation and made 14 quickly. The Chingford total was passed with four wickets in hand. Harwood, Chingford’s vice-captain could proudly remember the day he took five county cricketers’ wickets for 80, three of them clean bowled.


It was a wonderful summer for Peter Smith. Batting at number 11, at his own request after poor form with the bat, against Derbyshire he scored 163 still the highest by the last man in. He took a career best of 172 wickets and completed the double. He remained a hero of mine until his retirement from the game in 1951.


The John Player League virtually ended Sunday fixtures between county sides and clubs. Many towns and villages remote from county grounds lost their playing link with senior cricket. Clubs forfeited their crowd pulling fixture of the season or the decade. Many a youngster’s appetite for the game can never be whetted as it was for me so many years ago.