How a cricket-mad pub landlord helped turn 'quaint little meadow' into international stadium

By Gurjeet Nanrah

Today it is part of one of the UK's largest pub chains, standing proudly on the corner of a famous and historic cricket ground.

But the Trent Bridge Inn is the reason why the county has its own internationally-recognised cricket stadium in the first place.

The pub on Radcliffe Road actually predates the stadium itself and is said to have been an inn since at least 1782.

The first cricket match was played at Trent Bridge in 1838 when the pub was run by William Clarke - who was the captain of the Nottinghamshire cricket team - and his landlady wife Mary Chapman.

Under them, the sporting history at the world's third oldest test match ground began. Clarke is remembered as a great spin bowler, bowling under-arm in the old style.

Described as "cricket-mad", Clarke managed to convince his wife Mary Chapman to convert a meadow behind the pub into a cricket pitch which today is the cricket stadium in West Bridgford.

Cricket at the Trent Bridge Inn (Nottingham Post / Picture It)

Originally named 'The Three Horse Shoes and Crown', the pub was a country inn providing overnight accommodation for travellers on their way into Nottingham across what was then the town's only bridge across the River Trent.

The original inn was smaller and owned by the Musters family who owned land in West Bridgford. It was demolished after the new inn was completed in 1890.

A plaque at the pub reads: "This long-standing local landmark hadn’t always been known as the Trent Bridge Inn. The 1838 map of the area shows that there was an inn on the site by the name of the Three Horse Shoes and Crown.

"It later became known from its location next to the bridge over the River Trent. The original inn was demolished in 1890, when the present Trent Bridge was built immediately behind."

Like almost all of West Bridgford, the land was owned by John Chaworth Musters. When Musters started to sell off his estate in the 1880s, Clarke bought the land for the cricket ground and for the inn on a 99-year lease in 1884.

Ownership of the land gave him the confidence to invest in the new inn, which opened in 1885.

Before Trent Bridge and cricket being viewed as a public spectacle., Nottinghamshire's first cricket ground was on land known as The Forest (today's Forest Recreational Ground).

In Frank Earp and Joseph Earp's historical book 'Secret Nottingham', the history of Trent Bridge Inn is briefly explored in regard to how the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground came to be.

Inside Trent Bridge Inn (Nottingham Post / Picture It)

It reads: "The inn was owned by widow Mary Chapman who married cricket-mad landlord of The Bell Inn, William Clarke, in 1838.

"One of the things that attracted William to Mary was the 'quaint little Meadow' to the rear of the inn.

"No, it wasn't a conversion to a beer garden that the landlord had in mind, it was a cricket pitch."

William and Mary had the land cleared and a fence was erected. Matches were held here in preference to the former location within the city which had been used since 1835, largely because the players were able to stay at the inn during the matches.

Over the next 60 years, the pub changed hands including being run by Clarke's stepson and by Richard Daft, a well-known cricketer at Trent Bridge who ran the inn at one time as he was a partner in the nearby Radcliffe Brewery.

The story goes that cricket at Trent Bridge began to be seen as a spectacle when, in 1861, the Easter Colts Trials took place.

This was when 22 players were invited to take on the first eleven in a competitive game.

The match was arranged by a local solicitor, John Johnson, who since 1859 had sought to reinvigorate the club by organising a committee and building its first brick pavilion.

Trent Bridge Inn, Radcliffe Road, West Bridgford (Nottingham Post / Picture It)

"The new match attracted audiences to see who was the best batsmen or bowler and of the first 22 contestants, seven went on to play first class cricket for Nottinghamshire.

A statement on the Trent Bridge website reads: "It was in 1859-60 that John Johnson decided that Notts needed a proper structure to promote its county cricket.

"About this time the first brick pavilion was erected on the Trent Bridge Ground and in Easter 1861, Johnson created the annual Colts Trial on the ground, whereby 22 promising young players, nominated by their clubs, opposed the Notts XI in a two-day game.

"This was to remain the principal conduit through which Notts found fresh blood. No less than seven of that first 22 trialists went on to play first-class cricket for the County – S.Biddulph, T.Bignall, C.F.Daft, Walter Price, Alf Shaw, Wm Shaw and V.Tinley."

By the end of the century, despite some struggles and unsuccessful periods along the way, it was an established cricket ground where international matches could be played.

In 1899, Trent Bridge hosted its first test match between England and Australia.

At the end of the First World War the Musters family sold the inn and the ground to Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club but it was quickly sold onto a brewery for a profit.

Eventually, the pub was refurbished as a Wetherspoons in May, 2011, and was reopened with four bars.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: “We have a proud record of restoring historical buildings into Wetherspoon pubs.

“The company invests heavily in terms of finances and time to ensure that our pubs retain their historical feel.

“The Trent Bridge Inn is a wonderful pub with a rich history and this is borne out in the number of photos, artwork and history panels relating to the pub and cricket at Trent Bridge over the years and the history of the area.”

While the sport may be played more internationally today than in the 1800s, Trent Bridge remains the home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club where international matches are also frequently played.


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