Heritage Officer David Griffin delves into the past to examine the heritage of what we now know as The County Ground.

The County Ground, Derby, has a rich sporting history which includes horse racing, football as well as international and county cricket.

The first recorded reference of cricket played in Derby was in 1785, when a single wicket match took place on 4 August in what is now the Friar Gate area between Edward Smedley and Thomas Hadley. Smedley won by eight notches, but a dispute then led to a fight between the two men which Smedley also won.

In 1793 a cricket team simply known as Derby was beaten by nine wickets in a game played against Sheffield at South Wingfield. This was a time when pitches were generally very poor and this is reflected in the scores; Derby 54 and 30, Sheffield 52 and 31-1.

The game became more organised in the 19th century and in 1835 the South Derbyshire Cricket Club was formed and played on a ground provided by Henry Wilmot at Chaddesden Hall. One day games took place on every Thursday during the season.

There were two significant events in 1848; firstly, the South Derbyshire club moved from Chaddesden to The Holmes although that ground had seen much better days and was to prove only a temporary home. Secondly, horse racing began at the new Derby Racecourse, on the site we now know as Derbyshire County Cricket Club’s headquarters.

Previously, racing in Derby took place in the 17th century at Sinfin Moor and then relocated to some open fields known as The Siddals.

However, in May 1848 the new racecourse opened which included one of only six-mile-long straights in the UK and had as its centrepiece an elegant and large grandstand which was built on the site where The Gateway now stands.

In addition, there was jockey accommodation, a Judges Box and a large Paddock, all of which stood on the area now occupied by the car parking to the side of the Pavilion.

The start and finish line was in front of where the Grandstand Terrace is now situated, and the horses ran around a course which took them over the land now occupied by the main City End Stand and Tea Bar, turning right in front of what is now the covered stand, and then straight on in a northerly direction past the present Marquee up to Hampshire Road, turning right again and then onto the straight, finishing back in front of the Grandstand Terrace.

In 1863, the South Derbyshire Cricket Club decided to move and although a return to Chaddesden Park was considered, the ground was deemed unsatisfactory.

Instead, they decided to rent an area of land in the centre of the racecourse in a position not dissimilar to where the square is now. They played in an east-west direction, the Grandstand being used for both spectators and players.

The first match on the new ground, between South Derbyshire and Rugby School second eleven, was played on 24-25 June 1863, and in September 1868 South Derbyshire played the touring Australian Aboriginals, winning by 139 runs.

Derbyshire County Cricket Club was formed on 4 November 1870, with many of the South Derbyshire club’s players and officials transferring smoothly from one organisation to the other.

It has been well-documented that Derby County Football Club were formed as a direct result of the cricket club; essentially, the cricketers spent the winter months playing football to maintain their fitness, and a good quality football pitch was prepared on the west side of the ground in the area now occupied by the Marquee and outdoor nets.

In 1884 the ground hosted their first Derbyshire Football Association Cup Final and in the same year, Derbyshire (later Derby) County Football Club was formed playing Blackburn Olympic at the ground on 27th September and losing 4-3.

In 1885, an FA Cup sixth Round replay between Notts County and Queens Park Rangers was staged at Derby, attracting a 13,000 crowd, and during the same year a Pavilion was constructed to serve both cricket and football.

By this time, the cricket ground had become constricted by the widening of the racecourse and so an alternative site was prepared on the land now occupied by the covered stand and hotel.

Football continued to prosper, the 1886 FA Cup Final replay was staged at Derby with Blackburn Rovers defeating West Bromwich Albion 2-0 in front of 15,000 spectators, and in 1888 Derby County played West Bromwich Albion in the inaugural Football League season, losing 2-1 on 15 September.

Five FA Cup semi-finals were staged at Derby over this period and in 1895 a full international match took place with England defeating Northern Ireland 9-0. In the same year, Derby County relocated to the Baseball Ground.

Derbyshire’s cricketing fortunes had fluctuated over these early years; when the 1887 season ended, the county lost their first class status due to the poor quality of the cricketing performances, and although the club still played non first-class fixtures, it wasn’t until 1894 that Derbyshire was re-admitted to the first class ranks.

In 1910, the elegant, but ramshackle grandstand was demolished and within a year a new grandstand, and hotel, were erected on the same site as the former building.

Cricket and horse racing continued alongside each other, albeit on different, but adjacent grounds, until 1939 when the final race took place.

In the same year, a new concrete stand was built alongside the Pavilion to offer an elevated view of the cricket. However, when the season ended, the Second World War began and although cricket was played during the ensuing six-year period, it wasn’t first class.

In 1942, the recreation company’s lease expired, and the council refused to renew it on the grounds that undesirables could be attracted to the town if horse racing took place. Horse racing had therefore ended on the site after almost 100 years.

When organised cricket resumed in 1946, the game was still being played on the ground now occupied by the covered stand and hotel, but plans were afoot to move back to the original position in the centre of the racecourse.

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Walter Goodyear, Head Groundsman, managed the move and in 1955 the ground re-located to its current position – playing north-south – with players and officials utilising the old Jockey’s Quarters for dressing rooms and offices.

For the start of that 1955 season, a new scoreboard was built; it still stands today, and apart from the brick wall at the southern end of the Grandstand Terrace, is the only remnant of that 1955 incarnation of the ground.

1955 was a busy year – an indoor school was built behind where the current Pavilion is situated, but there were grumbles from members who were forced to watch cricket from a side on position as the only elevated seating was on the Grandstand Terrace.

Accordingly, at the start of the 1964 season, cricket was played east-west once more, as it had been back in the 19th century, offering spectators a view of the game from behind the bowler’s arm.

In 1970, to celebrate the centenary of the club, an extensive tree-planting exercise took place in an attempt to create a barrier against the northerly winds which swept down the mile-long racecourse and across the cricket ground. Since then, thousands of spectators and players have argued that the trees have done little to prevent the biting winds chilling them to the bone at various stages of the season.

In the winter of 1974-75 there was a serious dispute with the then Derby Borough Council over the tenancy of the ground. The result was that no first team cricket was played at Derby between May 1975 and May 1977, all matches being spread around the county, at Burton, Buxton, Chesterfield, Darley Dale, Heanor, Ilkeston and Long Eaton.

Once the dispute had been resolved, and a new 125-year lease put in place, cricket resumed at Derby and work began in 1979 on the creation of the bank at the northern end of the ground – another attempt to hold back the wind; but it was the news that a new pavilion was planned which pleased most spectators, and in particular, the players.

The new Cavendish Pavilion, later re-named the Lund Pavilion after benefactor Harry Lund, opened in 1982, and in 1983 the County Ground was selected as a venue for the ICC World Cup game between New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

A single storey office block was also built to the rear of the Pavilion adjacent to the indoor school providing modern office space for the off field staff.

Even 37 years ago, diversification was the order of the day as former player and then Sales Manager, Colin Tunnicliffe, organised a huge bonfire and firework extravaganza in November 1983. More than 5,000 people attended, offering an early example of alternative uses for the ground beyond cricket.

In 1984 the old concrete stand was demolished. Contemporary accounts stated that when it opened in 1939 it wasn’t much to look at, and as a youngster, this author – not knowing of the ground’s history – was always puzzled by the fact that the stand didn’t face the current pitch, built as it was, to serve the old ground.

A new scoreboard was also built that year – the building now occupied by the ground staff – and in 1986 the Tea Bar and two stands were built on the southern and south-western sides of the ground.

There were no further changes to the ground until the very end of the 20th century when the sale of land now occupied by the gym and hotel brought much-needed funds into the club (shared with their landlord, the now Derby City Council).

In 1999, the ICC awarded another World Cup game to Derby, between New Zealand and Pakistan.

In 2000, after consideration had been given to a comprehensive refurbishment, the Grandstand Hotel was demolished.  The purchase included the Grandstand Terrace and what is known as a ‘ransom strip’ of the outfield; a wedge of the outfield which is no more than 12 feet wide in front of the seating.

With significant changes to the domestic game, and some money in the bank from the land sale, Derbyshire erected permanent flood lights (£200,000) in 2004, and in October of the same year the Gateway was opened by HRH Princess Anne, meaning that once again, a building of significance was on the site occupied by two former grandstands.

The building was largely funded by the government’s New Deal for Communities programmes and Sport England and allowed Derbyshire cricketers to move from the outdated facilities in the original indoor school.

In 2009 the Jockey’s Quarter’s – largely abandoned 25 years earlier and no longer of any use – were demolished and a year later the cricket square was re-oriented – again – following problems with the sun stopping play during day/night matches, requiring the re-positioning of two floodlight pylons.

In the same summer, the Greene King IPA Marquee was erected, offering year-round facilities for up to 300 people, and a new 1,800-seat stand was positioned at the Racecourse End of the ground.

The Pavilion, built in 1982, and both dated and lacking a lift, was given a significant refurbishment in 2014-15, and at the same time, the old indoor school and office accommodation was demolished. The Pavilion refurbishment was combined with changes to the Gateway which allowed the players to move into larger, first floor dressing rooms.

In 2016, the WDS Business & Media Centre, a four storey building, housing office accommodation as well as first-class media facilities opened and the main stand was split into sections with 1,100 seats being moved to the southern end of the ground, and the remainder re-positioned at the Racecourse End,

In 2016 a Fireworks and Funfair event  was held, attracting 10,000 spectators and the following summer saw Derby host the ICC Women’s World Cup opening ceremony, group games and a semi-final, as well as a concert featuring a world-renowned superstar, Elton John, in front of 15,000 people seated on the outfield.

Derby may not have the giant stands of Lord’s, The Oval or Edgbaston, and it’s never hosted a Test match, but the ground does have a rich and varied sporting heritage which is unmatched by the majority of UK sporting venues.

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