June 6 2022: Howard’s way?

Time – about time – for some cricket. There have been mutterings in the shires and, quite likely, in Barnard Castle, too.

The Feversham Cricket League, of which I am a proud vice-president, embraces half-a-dozen clubs in rural North Yorkshire. Mostly it’s not what you’d suppose a level playing field.

Had the ancients played cricket in the Feversham League they’d never have supposed that the earth was flat and Christopher Columbus would have been just another middle-aged matelot.

Former clubs include Bransdale, where the horseflies were called clegs and the clegs were like midges on marijuana, and Spout House where the pitch sloped like a Grenadier guardsman and where Prince Harry twice played under the improbable alias of Spike W.

Among the survivors is Slingsby and in Slingsby there are ructions. At the centre of it are the gentlemen of Castle Howard, nearby.

Slingsby’s between Malton and Helmsley, the sort of village where, if Rupert Brooke were to wander by, he’d wonder if there were honey still for tea.

There’s Yew Tree Cottage, Hollyhock Cottage and Keepers Cottage – not necessarily inhabited by the wickey – and there’s Dossers House, though a dosser in Slingsby may not be the same as, say, a dosser underneath the arches in Newcastle.

A mile to the north is a farm called Dixieland, to the south is Swiss Cottage and Ray Wood, probably not named after the Hebburn lad who became Manchester United’s goalkeeper getting on 70 years ago.

Near the centre of the village is the sports field and, overlooking it, All Saints church where a Victorian parson once rebuked a parishioner for suggesting that drastic action be taken against the jackfaw nibbling his sermon notes.

“There may be jackdaws in heaven” he said.

The sports field, pretty much on the level – football and tennis, too – has been there longer than anyone can remember. The elderly score box may have been there even longer than that.

On one of my forays they’d been impressed by the enthusiasm of a young lady called Sally Harrison and wondered if she might also be available for the next match, at Gillamoor.

Told that she was very sorry but she had to look after Charlie that night, the Slingsby lads suggested that Charlie might get a game as well.

“I doubt it, he’s a dog” said Sally.

“Doesn’t matter” said Slingsby. “They’ll never notice at Gillamoor.”

The Feversham’s like that, and it’s truly wonderful.

Now, however, the idyll is under threat. The Castle Howard estate, owers of the sports field and of much else thereabouts, wants to build houses in Slingsby and, it’s believed, on the cricket field itself.

Slingsby and arrows, villagers are outraged. So is Feversham League secretary Charles Allenby, the most gentle of men, suddenly given to words like “disgraceful” and “contemptible” and to talking of vandalism of the worst sort.

Two weeks ago a packed public meeting in he village was attended by Jasper Hassall, Castle Howard’s interestingly named chief executive. Mr Hassall insisted that it was merely an indicative concept plan – me neither – that it would not jeopardise the provision of sports facilities and might, indeed enhance them.

Whether or not someone asked how a five-bed detached house at deep mid-wicket would enhance the facilties I’ve no idea, but Mr Hassall admitted at the end of the meeting that he’d had a “roasting”. Slingsby insisted that it was a civil roasting.

Developments, as it were, are awaited.

The news has been shared with my sons, both Feversham aficionadoes, and brought an immediate response from the elder of the two. “It’s even worse than you think” he wrote. “Slingsby’s the only club in the league with a bar.”