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Club Focus: Birch Vale

Founder members of the Derbyshire & Cheshire Cricket League in 1952, Birch Vale have won the Bissenden Cup a league record 11 times.

Neil Shaw caught up with Dave Waterhouse of Birch Valve.


According to intensive research, meticulously compiled by former Chairman Peter Burns in the 1990s, the relatively prosperous industrial surroundings of Birch Vale were originally represented by four cricket teams: Birch Vale, Birch Vale Star, Thornsett and Birch Vale Victoria.

The teams were heavily influenced by the Birch Vale Printworks and the Zion Methodist Church, alongside two other churches and the Garrison Works in Thornsett.

The exact motives remain unclear, but circa 1889, the official Birch Vale Cricket Club was born, and historical evidence records two fixtures v New Mills Perseverance and Newtown Star.

The first games were contested on land belonging to the aforementioned Birch Vale Printworks, but in 1900 the club moved to its current location, which was owned by the farmer whose family still own the neighbouring fields. The ground was purchased by New Mills Council in 1974 for the sole purpose of playing cricket, and the club now hold a 99 year lease until 2073.

During a time when travel was severely restricted, Birch had originally joined the North Derbyshire and East Cheshire League 2nd Division (which they won in 1901), before moving to the newly formed High Peak League in 1906. They won the Partington Cup in 1917, and enjoyed 46 years of competitive cricket before finding themselves embroiled in local controversy after winning the 2nd Division in 1951.

New Mills had finished bottom of the First Division and in those days, promotion and relegation wasn’t automatic. There was a vote at the 1951 AGM and with the result tied at 10 votes each, the casting vote fell to the League Chairman Len Wilson (a former Birch Vale Secretary) who voted for New Mills to remain in the First Division in 1952.

Indirectly, this formed the catalyst for 11 First Division clubs, (plus Birch Vale) to breakaway and form the D&CCL.

Time changed, but whereas the closure of the New Mills-Hayfield line might have impacted on the relevance of the village in general, the cricket club simply went from strength to strength.

Club stalwart Dave Waterhouse: “My first memory of Birch Vale and Thornsett CC was of course as a junior, having attended Thornsett Primary School and then at the age of 11, having just started secondary school in the early 1960’s, going to practice on a Wednesday night along with about 15 other hopefuls attempting to get a place in the eleven on the following Monday night.

I was also fortunate enough to score for both the First XI and the Second XI, for which I got 5 shillings, 6 pence per game”

Dave’s earliest memories of Senior Cricket remain crystal clear “My first team debut came about by being in the right place at the right time. I had left school in the summer of 1968, by which time I was playing second team cricket. I went to work at Disley Paper Mill, alongside two D&C legends: namely Roy Ridings of Hawk Green, and Birch Vale’s Billy Hargreaves.

The following summer, Birch Vale were due to play a Thompson Cup evening match away at Buxworth. There was a late cry off and I got the call-up from Bill who was working in the same office. For those who don’t remember the Thompson Cup, It was a knock-out competition arranged by Stockport Sunday School and included all D&CCL clubs plus some from out of the league such as Heaton Mersey & Stockport Georgians. Clubs were expected to play a strong first team. The trophy had been supplied by Alan Thompson, a player and official at SSS”

Birch won the First Division for the first time in 1973, and Dave remembers the players celebrating in the Squirrel Inn on the A6 in New Mills, after drawing at Chapel in the penultimate match. This was still the era of Timed Cricket, whereas Birch were also crowned Champions after the first season of Overs Cricket in 1976

“The great irony was that Birch were one of the clubs who had voted against Overs Cricket”

This was also the season when Billy Hargreaves took 97 wickets with his left arm spin and Dave is quick to suggest that if it wasn’t for the last game being rained-off, then he might have reached 100. “Also, our wicket keeper Andy Medlock took a record 50 victims, the vast majority off Bill’s bowling” By now, another legendary D&C character had emerged as a prominent figure, after playing since the late 1950s, and being appointed First XI Captain in 1973.

“Roy Cartledge became Chairman, and soon facilitated the necessary groundwork to improve the wickets, whilst also arranging for two white portacabins to replace our dated pavilion and refreshment room”

Amazingly, it was only during this period that Birch Vale Cricket Club was finally introduced to mains water.

“ Prior to this, on match days, water was carried in buckets from one of the nearby cottages, up the unmade road at the side of the ground by Len White, who was the husband of one of our long serving tea ladies Gladys White. Gladys and her sister Bessie Simister served the club for over 50 years in the tea room”

By the early 1990s, Roy Cartledge had departed for Hawk Green, but his legendary roller had literally paved the way for arguably the greatest team in the history of the D&C

“Under the new Chairman Peter Burns, Paul Sharp had arrived from New Mills in the late 1980s, alongside the Johnson brothers, Tim, Rick, and Andrew. Those four players combined with Billy Hyde, Steve Burns, Dave Platt, and John Bradshaw, plus John Collinson, and the Australian Chris Reid, who only played for one season, but won the League Batting Averages in 1995. There was also the homegrown Duncan Hibbert who later captained the First XI”

From 1993 to 2009, Birch Vale won the John Isherwood Challenge Cup on 6 occasions and the Bissenden Cup on 11 occasions.

“To an outsider it may appear that we punch above our weight being sandwiched between New Mills and Hayfield. However, players have always been drawn from the two neighbouring settlements. Very few players have actually lived in the villages of Birch Vale or Thornsett, and despite not fielding any junior teams for a couple of seasons, we still have some decent young players who have complemented our existing squad and the future is bright. We will soon be adding to our trophy haul again”

Having been put on the spot, Dave is reluctant to name his All Time First XI, but in fairness, that’s a strong bowling line-up.

1. David Hibbert

2. Bill Hyde

3. John Collinson

4. Rick Johnson

5. Andy Johnson

6. Steve Burns

7. Paul Sharp

8. Andy Medlock (WK)

9. Tim Johnson (Captain)

10. John Bradshaw

11. Bill Hargreaves

Onwards and upwards for Birch Vale!

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derek stocker
derek stocker

Fair play to Dave Waterhouse. I don't know if there was a limit on the length of this article, but I think a couple of inaccuracies and some names of club legends and those others of close to legend status are missing, not only players, members and voluntary workers plus the landlady/owner of the Vine Claris!

My knowledge pre-dates DW's as I was fortunate to be born in the row of terraces next to the club's watering hole - the now sadly closed Vine Tavern. I was born in 54 and lived opposite the ground, albeit at a 45degree angle, until my parents uprooted me to Slough aged 15.

Not quite enough time right now but will continue as soon…

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