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A history of the recreation ground – part 1

Recreation Ground/Playing Field

Sadly we shall not soon be enjoying another wonderful Hey Day on the Playing Field but, instead, it is as good a time as any to wonder where, in the past, did the village hold their fetes and play their games?

We know the celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 were held in a field made available by William Woolfrey, owner of The Baker Arms; the village Friendly Society Festival held in 1903 was on a field lent by Frederick Baverstock who owned Gold Hill Farm; and the 1919 Peace Games took place in a field called “Bandy Bottom” owned by John Hiscock.

The only early reference we can find to “Recreation Ground” is in a letter to the Western Gazette in December 1890 by a disgruntled villager complaining at Lord Portman’s decision to fence in his newly acquired land around Hambledon Hill in which he refers to “the recreation grounds enjoyed for centuries by Child Okeford”. I think the use of the term in this context is generic rather than specific and alludes to the historic use of the unfenced land more as we would now use a park for picnics and the suchlike while the more formal events relied upon the good nature of individual landowners.

With regard to a Playing Field, the earliest record we have found so far is a cricket match between Child Okeford and Marnhull in August 1856 which was played at Steepleton Park, as were later matches against Sturminster’s “Vale of Blackmore” team, Shillingstone and Shaftesbury. On one occasion a match against Okeford Fitzpaine was played on a field made available by John Rossiter who owned Manor Farm.

A coloured print of a match underway in Steepleton Park can be seen on the village web site along with a summary of the cricket matches involving a Child Okeford team in the 19th century as far as we have been able to find ( – The Village – Village History and Archive – This month from the archive).

In 1911, newspaper articles refer to a polo team representing Child Okeford which played in tournaments at various places such Sherborne and Roehampton as well as on private grounds. The players mentioned do not appear as village residents in the 1911 census although 3 of them share the same surname as the owners of The Manor House (Grosvenor), Child Okeford House (Dennison) and Hanford House (Livingstone-Learmouth).

From the parish council minute books, the first reference of a recreation field was in April 1896 when “Hon C.B.Portman be asked to allow the use of Ham or Common for a recreation ground”. Unfortunately he refused and the matter was adjourned.

In March 1899 “The Boys of the School” asked the parish council to provide a recreation field as they had “a football and cricket set”. On this occasion the field known as “Ham” was secured.

                                                              (map courtesy of Ordnance Survey)

There was a query over declining use in March 1911 and in January 1917 the tenancy of the field was given up.

In June 1924 a petition from the “young men of this parish” was made to the parish council to again provide a recreation field. A field on the “Shillingstone Road” was identified but debate over the cost rumbled on to October 1926 when a public meeting was held and a ballot taken. The result – For: 1; Against 27; Spoilt: 1.

Nothing further is mentioned until 1945 when a proposal for a playing field was put forward which, years later, saw the creation of the Playing Field/Recreation Ground we know and love today and usually visit in our masses in June to enjoy Hey Day and, recently, in September .

In a later edition this year we’ll look in more detail at the acquisition and development of the ground.

David Pope (861411) [email protected]